March Madness: South Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/19/2008
Here's a breakdown of the South Regional:
No. 1 Seed: Memphis (33-1 SU, 15-17-2 ATS)
The Tigers were the best team in the country for the overwhelming majority of the regular season and, in my mind, is still the most complete and cohesive unit in the nation. They have a big-time coach in John Calipari, a first-team All-American and legit go-to guy in Chris Douglas-Roberts, tournament experience up and down the roster, and a flashy and talented freshman point guard running the show. What's not to like?
No. 2 Seed: Texas (28-6 SU, 15-12-1 ATS)
D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams give the Longhorns the best backcourt in the country and are the triggermen for one of the top offenses in the nation. Texas has played one of the most challenging schedules in the country, scoring wins over Tennessee on a neutral court, over Kansas at home, and winning at UCLA. They have a great glue guy (Justin Mason), an extremely athletic frontcourt, and a coach with Final Four experience. Throw in the fact that they wouldn't have to leave the Lone Star State after the first round and the Longhorns have as good a shot as cutting down the nets as anyone. If there is a weakness it is that they go with a short rotation. After three games last weekend they could be worn out before the Sweet 16.
No. 3 Seed: Stanford (26-7 SU, 17-16 ATS)
Every region needs a villain. In the South that villain is the Cardinal. The Lopez twins - Brook and Robin - are a pair of seven-foot thrashers that dunk, block shots, intimidate opponents, and taunt opposing fans. Think Hanson Brothers. Stanford dominates the glass and owns a Top 20 defense. But if they have a weakness it's in the backcourt. Their guards are serviceable, but not exactly championship caliber. Also, the Cardinal have virtually no nonconference resume to speak of. In fact, they lost to the only other tourney team they played (Siena) in the noncon. I think they are a little undervalued (seriously, have you heard anyone pick them for the Final Four?) but let the buyer beware with this group.
No. 4 Seed: Pittsburgh (26-9 SU, 17-13 ATS)
The Big East Tournament champions ran through Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown last weekend and are one of the hottest teams in the country. Injuries sidetracked what had been a Top 10 club, but they are as healthy as they've been in months and playing their best ball at the right time (5-2 ATS run). Their backcourt of Lavance Fields and Ronald Ramon is as experienced as any in the country, they have a go-to guy in Sam Young, and DeJuan Blair is one of the most enjoyable players in the nation to watch. However, the Panthers always seem to peak at MSG and then flame out in the tourney. They actually haven't won three games in the tourney in this millennia.
No. 5 Seed: Michigan State (25-8 SU, 13-14-2 ATS)
Is there a shakier team in the NCAA Tournament? I say no. The Spartans were a Top 10 team at the beginning of the season but have lost in just about every big game that they've played since Christmas. They have a pair of top talents in Drew Neitzel and Raymor Morgan, but this team has little chemistry and no cohesion.
Best First-Round Matchup: No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Kentucky
The Wildcats were one of the last teams in the field and take on one of the nation's underachievers in the Golden Eagles. Both teams are led by talented and experienced guards, so this game will come down to execution and which club can consistently knock down perimeter shots. Marquette's guards smother the perimeter, but UK has been great at running their sets, working the shot clock, and hanging around with better teams.
Best Potential Second-Round Matchup: No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Michigan State
Either one of these teams has a legitimate shot at taking down top-seeded Memphis in the Sweet 16, which will add a little extra verve to this contest.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 13 Oral Roberts vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh
One week after cutting down the nets in Madison Square Garden, after toppling such statues of basketball talent as Louisville and Georgetown, the Panthers will take the court in Denver to play a bunch of crazy Christians. Something about this game stinks. Last year every No. 4 seed managed to win its first round game. That has never happened two years in a row.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 9 Oregon over No. 1 Memphis
If you are a Tigers supporter this matchup has to make you a bit nervous. Oregon has shooters all over the court and can get hot in a hurry. Remember, the core of this team made the Elite Eight last season so they understand what a tourney run is all about. The Ducks have matched up with some of the best teams in the nation in the Pac-10 so they won't be scared of the Tigers. They are playing with house money and have nothing to lose.
Dark Horse Team: No. 3 Stanford
Is it possible that a Top 10 team can be a dark horse? Most definitely. I have yet to come across the person that has picked the Cardinal to play on into the Final Four. And why not? Their interior dominance forces teams to make jumpers. If they catch Texas on an off night then they could spring the upset and then their strength plays right into Memphis' weakness.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 5 Michigan State
This one is a no-brainer. The Spartans have Top 10 talent but Bottom 10 brains. This team could get absolutely hammered by Temple in the first round, or I could see them knocking off Memphis. I'm leaning towards the former, and a short stay in the Dance. But considering where this team was in November this is a colossal fall.