No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Louisville
WHERE: Bobcats Arena, Charlotte
TIME: 8:05 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas.
RECORDS: North Carolina 35-2, Louisville 27-8.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: North Carolina d. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's 113-74, d. No. 9 Arkansas 108-77, d. No. 4 Washington State 68-47; Louisville d. No. 14 Boise State 79-61, d. No. 6 Oklahoma 78-48, d. No. 2 Tennessee 79-60.
THE BUZZ: North Carolina has absolutely mauled opponents in the NCAA tournament. However, so has Louisville - and the Cardinals' competition has been better. Louisville's defense - a mix of aggressive man-to-man and a zone - has been superb in the second half of the season. It will need to continue to be so if the Cardinals are to win this game. So much ink is given to Tar Heels forward Tyler Hansbrough that many folks overlook UNC's other players. Ty Lawson is one of the nation's best point guards. Wayne Ellington has great range and also can get into the lane. Danny Green is a big-time scorer off the bench. Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson are effective garbage-men around the basket. In short, the Heels are loaded. UNC does a lot of its damage from 15 feet in, not surprising given Hansbrough's presence. In fact, the Tar Heels average just 5.6 three-pointers per game. UNC leads the nation in offensive rebounds and also gets to the line more than any other team. Louisville has the height to negate UNC's usual advantage on the boards. If the Cardinals are to pull the upset in what essentially is a UNC home game, they have to win the rebounding battle. UNC outrebounds foes by about 12 per game; Louisville is at plus-3.2. Louisville has had a propensity to be sloppy with the ball, and UNC will turn those turnovers into transition baskets. Look for Louisville center David Padgett to be more involved in the offense. Earl Clark has been a beast off the bench, and he'll be a matchup problem for the Heels. Louisville has four effective three-point shooters, and if those guys are knocking down some perimeter shots, Louisville becomes extremely difficult to defend. Look for the Cardinals to try to make this somewhat of a grind-it-out affair. Louisville isn't going to win a track meet with the Tar Heels.
THE LINE: North Carolina by 5.5.
HUGUENIN'S PICK: Louisville by 3.
McCLELLAN'S PICK: UNC by 5.
SKWARA'S PICK: UNC by 3.
No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 3 Xavier
WHERE: U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix.
TIME: 5:40 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.
RECORDS: UCLA 34-3, Xavier 30-6.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: UCLA d. No. 16 Mississippi Valley State 70-29, d. No. 9 Texas A&M; 51-49, d. No. 12 Western Kentucky 88-78; Xavier d. No. 14 Georgia 73-61, d. No. 6 Purdue 85-78, d. No. 7 West Virginia 79-75 (OT).
THE BUZZ: UCLA hasn't looked all that good the past two rounds. The Bruins had a 21-point halftime lead against Western Kentucky, but the Hilltoppers were in the game until the final minute. The Bruins barely got past Texas A&M; in the second round, thanks to a ferocious defensive effort. In short, the Bruins look vulnerable. Xavier has the type of team to take advantage of that vulnerability. Whether the Musketeers can pull it off is another matter. Xavier has five players averaging in double figures, but the Musketeers absolutely need a big game from 6-9 forward Josh Duncan, whose perimeter game opens up the lane for Xavier's slashers. Xavier also is a good rebounding team, and the Musketeers have more depth and more athleticism in their frontcourt than UCLA. The Bruins could use a return to form from swingman Josh Shipp, a solid all-around player whose shot has deserted him of late (he's 15 of 46 from the floor in the past six games, including 4-for-22 from three-point range - and two of those three-pointers were against Western Kentucky). The Bruins also need a steady game from Darren Collison, who was thoroughly outplayed by Western's Tyrone Brazelton. UCLA guard Russell Westbrook is the wild card. His quickness makes him a handful on both ends. If Xavier puts lockdown defender Stanley Burrell on Westbrook, Collison and/or Shipp could have big games. UCLA's biggest weapon is freshman big man Kevin Love, who has been almost unstoppable in the second half of the season. His presence is why UCLA outrebounds opponents by more than eight per game.
THE LINE: UCLA by 6.
HUGUENIN'S PICK: UCLA by 3.
McCLELLAN'S PICK: UCLA by 7.
SKWARA'S PICK: UCLA by 7.