There should be a lot of excitement on Saturday as the first two tickets for the Final Four are punched. It's ACC vs. Pac-10 in both the West and the East regional finals, so pride is also at stake (seeds are in parentheses):
Stanford (1) vs. Maryland (3)
Two heavyweights go head-to-head. The key to the game is whether Maryland can convert some shots from the trifecta. The Terps aren't going to win if they shoot 1-for-9 from three-point range, as they did against Georgetown.
Terence Morris has to be a factor with his athletic ability and versatility. He really struggled against the Hoyas, hitting just 1-of-11 shots and finishing with four points. A performance like that against the Cardinal won't get Maryland to the Metrodome.
Stanford has great balance, and that is its key. You can't concentrate on defending against just one player. The Cardinal also finds a way to get to the foul line often, showing inside strength. When they get to the line, they kill you.
Ryan Mendez is the best free-throw shooter in America. Michael McDonald is so underrated; you never hear his name mentioned, yet he is solid and steady. Just look at his turnover-to-ssist ratio and you'll be impressed. McDonald is impressive from long distance, hitting 50 percent from three-point range.
Casey Jacobsen is as good as it gets. He is a fierce competitor, not intimidated by anyone. Jacobsen also loves to take the big shot; I am sure Maryland looked at tape of his performance at the end of the Duke game, baby! Jacobsen made one clutch play after another. He put the dagger in when he made the fallaway jumper to give Duke its first L.
Stanford's power inside game, with twins Jarron and Jason Collins, will give Maryland trouble. Jason has been sensational in the tourney. Jarron is a force in the low blocks.
A positive for Gary Williams' club is the depth factor. Maryland has had several reserves step up and contribute. Tahj Holden, Mike Mardesich, Danny Miller, Drew Nicholas and Chris Wilcox have to be factors, providing productive minutes.
I feel this will be an absolute Maalox Masher. This will be a classic heavyweight battle. Maryland, once 15-9 and coming off an embarrassing home loss to Florida State, is ready to make up for its mid-season struggle.
I believe Maryland will make its first trip to the Final Four. The Terps have to beat one of America's premier programs, one of the top coaches in Mike Montgomery and one of the top players in Jacobsen. It will not be easy, but the tough games against Duke have Maryland believing it can win.
Lonny Baxter has to have his "A" game on, as he has the last two games against Georgia State and Georgetown. He must come through to neutralize the strength of the Collins' kids on the interior.
Duke (1) vs. USC (6)
A lot of people were disappointed that a 1992 rematch between Kentucky and Duke fell through. Give credit to the Trojans for jumping out to a big lead (31-10) and holding on against the Wildcats.
USC spoiled the party with its athleticism. David Bluthenthal has been super, scintillating, sensational in the last two games. He had 20 points against Boston College and 27 versus Kentucky. Bluthenthal has made clutch free throws, and his three big trifectas made a difference against the 'Cats.
Sam Clancy gives the Trojans a physical force, a power guy on the glass. USC did a better job handling the rock against Kentucky, cutting down on turnovers.
Duke shot 8-for-31 from the trifecta against UCLA. It was an All-America performance by Jason Williams, who scored 19 straight points at one stretch. Shane Battier had 24 points, 10 rebounds and played a typical Battier-like game.
The good news for Coach K was the return of Carlos Boozer against the Bruins. Though he wasn't as effective as he had been in the past, having him on the floor was a plus. He gives another inside player to neutralize Clancy, Bluthenthal and Brian Scalabrine up front.
Duke needs an inside-outside game. Its ability to pressure on the defensive end and shoot the three makes the Blue Devils the choice to go back to Minneapolis. Remember, back in 1992, the Dukies cut down the nets, capturing the Final Four in Minny.
Imagine, Duke-Maryland IV or Duke-Stanford II. Either would be special.
Coach K could go to his ninth Final Four in 16 years. That's awesome, baby, with a capital A!