by Robert Ferringo - 03/14/2006
There's certainly not going to be much defense going on in the Oakland Region. That seems fitting for the laid-back Left Coast, and Memphis, UCLA and Gonzaga are all capable of scintillating offensive play.
I'm not going so as far as to call these teams "soft," but let's just say that with so many defensively-challenged clubs in one bracket, that could open it up for a hard-nosed team like Pittsburgh or Arkansas to do some damage.
Here's my humble view of the Oakland Region for Doc's 2006 March Madness Preview:
No. 1 Seed: Memphis (30-3 overall, 15-15 against the spread)
I am amazed at how quickly people are dismissing Memphis in this bracket. They have the most athletic team in the field, and a pair of stallions in Rodney Carney and Darius Washington. They are overlooked because they didn't play in a big-time conference, but they dominated inferior competition because of the zeal with which they defend and rebound. Also, they started the year by beating UW-M, Alabama and UCLA - all tournament teams. They lost by three to Duke and by 11 to Texas, but they've beaten Gonzaga and are 8-3 against other schools in the field.
No. 2 Seed: UCLA (27-6 overall, 19-10 ATS)
The Bruins will be a very sheik Final Four pick. And with good reason. They have fabulous guard play, a load of athleticism and youth, and have proven themselves as the Best of the Left (Coast, that is). They are 9-3 outside of Pauley Pavilion, and enter the tourney on a seven-game winning streak. They've won those seven by an average of 17 points, including a 19-point maiming of Cal in the Pac-10 championship, and are on a 9-1 ATS surge. However, since 1999 only one Pac-10 team (Arizona, 2001) has made the Final Four.
No. 3 Seed: Gonzaga (27-3 overall, 12-18 ATS)
This bracket is tailor-made for the Zags. Xavier is a pushover. Indiana and SDSU can't hang. If they advance that far, Gonzaga would meet either UCLA or Marquette and we would see about 400 points in either game. I know that they have been a perennial tournament disappointment since bursting onto the scene in the late 1990s as a bracket buster. But if they're ever going to make a serious move and take their program to the Next Level this might be their best opportunity.
No. 4 Seed: Kansas (27-6 overall, 18-11 ATS)
The Jayhawks are the hottest team entering the NCAA Tournament, winning 15 of their previous 16 games. They have 10 freshman or sophomores on their roster, which makes me extremely nervous. But what they lack in experience they make up for with the hustle, determination and grit that you'd expect from a veteran club. They are the best team in the country in field goal defense, holding opponents to a miserable 36.8 percent shooting. They are also the one of the ten best rebounding teams in the nation.
No. 5 Seed: Pittsburgh (24-7 overall, 15-10-1 ATS)
In a two-on-two game, I may take center Aaron Gray and point guard Carl Krauser over just about anyone in the nation. In fact, the Panthers may be too reliant on their senior engine. They are 0-6 in games that Krauser hasn't led the team in scoring, and if Kent State can find a way to neutralize him, Pitt could face their second consecutive one-and-done. Pitt is 28th in the nation in field goal defense and 11th in defensive rebounding.
Best first-round match up: No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 10 Alabama
I like the Golden Eagles here, but there's one thing holding me back: Marquette has been weak on the road this season. Alabama has been gutsy all year, and was moderately surprised by how their seed slipped. The Crimson Tide have been pretty hot-or-cold in past tournaments, but they never lack for effort. The match-up to watch here is outstanding freshman point guard Dominic James from Marquette against sensational sophomore point guard Ronald Steele from Alabama.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh
>From what I've heard, a lot of the bobbleheads have the winner of this game coming out of the region. They've both been outstanding over the last month, and are both big names from Power Conferences. Expect a low-scoring grinder - which is exactly the type of game where a senior stud like Krauser can make a difference.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 12 Kent State vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh
The dreaded 5-12 meeting. Pittsburgh just has not been a very good NCAA Tournament team over the past few seasons. I think that Krauser can will this team into the Sweet 16, but I also expect them to be a bit worn down after playing four games in four nights in NYC. The Golden Flashes are tournament staples, and have knocked off one of the big boys before. This is more of a "Why Not" pick.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 7 Marquette vs. No. 2 UCLA.
Last year it was West Virginia knocking off Wake Forest in the second round. I think another Big East school will play the spoiler role this year. Remember, the Golden Eagles are one of just three teams that beat UConn this season and they are the ninth-best three-point shooting team in the country. UCLA has a tremendous advantage playing in their back yard, but West Virginia managed to head out to Cali and top the Bruins earlier this season, so they are not impervious to defeat.
Dark Horse team: No. 9 Bucknell
I know that this is a huge reach here, but the Bison are not afraid of anyone. Period. In the last year they have handled Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Kansas. They brought back 12 of their top 13 scorers from last season's tournament team, and are in the top 40 in the nation in field goal percentage and three-point shooting. But what I really like about them is that they are second in the country in points allowed (55.3) and fifth in field goal defense (38.1 percent). They just flat-out get after you defensively. Their first-round game against Arkansas is one of the best match ups we'll see on Thursday or Friday. If they can hold off the Razorbacks, that will be an excellent primer for a meeting with Memphis.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Gonzaga
I noticed something about the Zags while watching them play in the WCC Tournament: Adam Morrison's teammates don't look like they enjoy playing with him. I'm dead serious. I'm a big Morrison Fan, but he's like a prima donna wide receiver that is always open and always wants the ball. I think it wears on his teammates. Did you see them when their seed was announced on Selection Sunday? No emotion. They still don't defend very well, and they think they can outscore opponents. That doesn't win titles.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.