Out West, Connecticut is happy to be playing in Glendale, Ariz.
My friends, the Huskies won the national championship in 1999 and 2004. In both of those seasons, the route to the Final Four went through the state of Arizona. I guess Jim Calhoun and company love the idea of visiting the Valley of the Sun!
Can anyone beat the Huskies? Let's look at the regional semifinal pairings:
CONNECTICUT (1) VS. PURDUE (5)
The Huskies have been absolutely dominant so far in the tournament. They have been blowing people away, winning their two games by a total margin of 92 points. The last victory over Texas A&M came without great numbers by All-Solid Gold center Hasheem Thabeet. He had six points, four rebounds and two blocks against the Aggies.
Calhoun is a Hall of Famer who has his team on a roll. Connecticut shot over 50 percent in both of its wins, showing tremendous offensive efficiency.
Thabeet is still a force on the defensive end, changing shots, blocking shots and making a difference. He gets into the heads of the opposition with his presence, protecting the basket.
A.J. Price has been on fire, averaging 23.5 points so far in the Big Dance. His penetration ability and knack for making good passes stands out. Jeff Adrien gives Connecticut that power guy inside and he has been outstanding, shooting 15-of-23 from the field over the past two games.
I love everything about this Connecticut team. It has played well despite the absence of Jerome Dyson. Stanley Robinson's athleticism is another big plus -- he has averaged 18 points per game in the tournament.
Purdue is a club that likes to control tempo. In its big win over Washington, JaJuan Johnson came up with two big blocked shots. He saved the game at the end and he has been a special player.
I just don't feel the Boilermakers have enough to slow down the Huskies. Matt Painter's team needs a greater contribution from Robbie Hummel, who has totaled 17 points in the first two games of the tourney. E'Twaun Moore can flat out play and Chris Kramer is a defensive dynamo.
Price, Adrien, Robinson and Thabeet are too strong, too talented and too well-coached to be denied by Purdue.
MEMPHIS (2) VS. MISSOURI (3)
The Tigers were scary against Maryland. They dominated right out of the gate with their defense looking super. Memphis came out and made shots, something that it has struggled with in some games. The defense has bailed the Tigers out.
They need to get a little more scoring out of Antonio Anderson, but he has done a terrific job distributing the rock (20 assists in two tourney games).
John Calipari has to rank among the premier coaches in America as he tries to lead the Tigers to a fourth straight Elite Eight appearance. He knows how to win.
Missouri has to avoid turnovers against the Memphis defense. So far in the tournament, Missouri has been outstanding in that area, losing just 11 turnovers in two games. That was a key in jumping out to a big lead against Marquette.
I look at Memphis and this team is amazing defensively. The Tigers are so long and athletic. I saw some of the quotes from the Maryland players after the second-round meeting and the Terps players said the video didn't do the defense justice. Memphis is so athletic at every position.
Calipari has done an incredible job considering the talent lost from last year's championship game roster -- Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey. This team is better than people thought.
I like Memphis to survive and advance in a thriller.