ARIZONA vs. NOTRE DAME
STORY LINE: Arizona lost the No. 1 ranking to Kentucky shortly before the NCAA tournament began after being upset by UCLA in the Pacific 10 tournament. But not being No. 1 in the polls and still being a No. 1-seeded team is no handicap. Whether the UCLA loss and the close call against Gonzaga in the second round were signs of trouble or the sort of games that sometimes punctuate a run to a national championship remains to be seen. Notre Dame was most impressive in the second round against Illinois, but it probably would take another display of lights-out three-point shooting to beat Arizona.
HOW THEY ADVANCED: Arizona blew by Vermont, 80-51, then had its Final Four hopes nearly doused in a 96-95 double-overtime classic against Gonzaga in the second round. Notre Dame survived an upset bid by Wisconsin Milwaukee in the first round, 70-69, when Dylan Page missed a two-footer at the buzzer. In the second round, the Irish defeated Illinois, 68-60, by making 13 of 24 three-pointers.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Notre Dame defeated Texas, 98-92, in December, led by 21 points from freshman forward Torin Francis. Arizona defeated the Longhorns soon after that game, 73-70.
STYLE OF PLAY: Arizona likes to run, but the Wildcats can also take advantage of the playmaking of Jason Gardner and Luke Walton in the halfcourt. The Irish probably would need outstanding three-point shooting from Matt Carroll and Dan Miller to win.
X FACTORS: Salim Stoudamire has had his ups and downs, but he is Arizona’s best outside shooter. For Notre Dame, it’s Miller, who reached the Final Four as a Maryland reserve in 2001.
WHAT TO EXPECT: It could be a battle of point guards: Gardner against Notre Dame’s Chris Thomas. Gardner doesn’t often win these on talent, but somehow he quite often is the last man standing.
KANSAS vs. DUKE
STORY LINE: The basketball pedigrees of the schools and the coaching matchup between Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of Kansas make it sound like a Final Four game. Between them, Duke and Kansas have played in 24 Final Fours, 13 for Duke and 11 for Kansas.
HOW THEY ADVANCED: Kansas reached the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row, but the Jayhawks had some trouble with Big West tournament champion Utah State in the first round before winning, 64-61. They had no such difficulty with Arizona State in the second, taking a 108-76 victory. Duke’s road to the Sweet 16 doesn’t usually meander through the Mountain West and the Mid-American conferences, but all the Blue Devils had to do was beat Colorado State, 67-57, and cruise past Central Michigan, 86-60.
COMMON OPPONENTS: Both teams defeated UCLA. Duke was an 84-73 winner over the Bruins in November in Indianapolis. Kansas defeated UCLA, 87-70, in December in Lawrence. Both teams also played North Carolina, with Duke going 2-1 against the Tar Heels. Kansas lost to North Carolina, 67-56, in the preseason NIT.
STYLE OF PLAY: Both teams love to run, and both can get hot from three-point range.
X FACTORS: Much of the focus falls on Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, but guard Keith Langford has been a star for Kansas during the NCAA tournament, averaging 20.5 points and making 56% of his shots. Duke senior Dahntay Jones has scored 51 points in the Blue Devils’ two tournament games, but the eye-popping talent on the team is freshman J.J. Redick.
WHAT TO EXPECT: This could be a high-scoring game. Surprisingly, Duke leads the series with Kansas, 6-1. The only Jayhawk victory was in a 1988 NCAA semifinal before Kansas went on to win the national title.