AT A GLANCE
The Memphis Tigers lived up to expectations this season and earned a top seed in this year's Big Dance. They are followed in the Oakland Region by a large number of teams that seem to be hitting their stride especially well heading into the Tournament. UCLA finished off the PAC-10 competition with little problem over the last few weeks, Gonzaga dominated the WCC all year long, Kansas is fresh off a Big XII Tournament title, Indiana and Arkansas were resurrected from the dead in mid-February to work their way in, Bradley won seven of their last eight to slip in as one of the final at-large squads, and Xavier is coming off an upset victory at the A-10 Tourney.
One seeding question in this region grabs your eye immediately. Pittsburgh won ten games in the nation's toughest conference, made the Big East Tournament title game, carries an RPI of 11, and was named the fifth best team in the Oakland Region! Hmm. I'm not sure I agree with that, but this region has a number of other quality teams in addition to those already mentioned, including Kent State, who dominated the MAC all season long, and Bucknell, who is making their second straight appearance after running away with the Patriot League championship.
(11) San Diego State : I really don't see anyone that obviously fills this spot, but the Aztecs are probably the closest thing to overrated in the Oakland Region. SDSU played in a relatively weak MWC and didn't ever seem to dismantle the competition like one might expect. Still, they're a quality team and fill this category just because someone has to.
(5) Pittsburgh : We discussed the Panthers above, but I'll ask it again. How does a team with a RPI of 11 who won ten games in the Big East and made the tournament title game not earn better than a 5-seed? I just don't understand.
(2) UCLA : The Bruins were in a dog fight out in the PAC 10 for most of the year but capped off the regular season with four straight wins to take home the regular season title. UCLA then stayed in town and captured three straight victories in the conference tournament to take home that trophy as well.
(10) Alabama : The Tide boucned back from the Chuck Davis injury to put together a solid SEC season but ended up limping to the finish by losing three of their last six conference games and then bowing out in their first game in the SEC Tournament. Though three of their late-season wins came against NCAA teams, two of the losses came against teams not in the field of 65.
BEST FIRST ROUND MATCHUP
(5) Pittsburgh vs (12) Kent State & (4) Kansas vs (13) Bradley : Both of these matchups have upset written all over them. The Panthers have to be miffed at their 5-seed, but they also better watch out for the Flashes. Kent State lost just three MAC games and only eight contests overall on the season. Bradley, meanwhile, could take advantage of a young and inexperienced Jayhawk squad as three of the Braves' top four scorers are seniors. BU has won seven of their last eight, three of those victories over NCAA-bound teams.
BEST BET FOR A FIRST ROUND UPSET
(10) Alabama over (7) Marquette : Sure, it isn't much of an upset, so if you don't like this choice, go with one of the two games above. I just don't get the feeling that Marquette is that tough to beat, and 'Bama has shown they can hang with the big boys by beating both Florida and Tennessee over the last few weeks of the season.
BEST POTENTIAL SECOND ROUND MATCHUP
(4) Kansas vs (5) Pittsburgh : If both can avoid the first-round upset, this would be a great matchup between two very strong teams from power conferences. Each is capable of making a Final Four run if the pieces fall into place.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP
Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) vs Ben Howland (UCLA) & Mike Davis (Indiana) vs Mark Gottfried (Alabama) & John Calipari (Memphis) vs Stan Heath (Arkansas) : OK, so I went a little overboard here, but all of these potential matchups are very intriguing. Dixon is the former Panther assistant coach who took over when Howland left Pittsburgh for UCLA. Those two could go head-to-head with a Final Four appearance on the line. Davis is an Alabama native who both coached and played for the Crimson Tide. He could matchup with his old school in the Sweet Sixteen. Finally, Calipari and Heath do battle all the time, just not on the floor. Arkansas recruits the Memphis area annually for top talent, and the two schools have been known to cross paths a time or two along the way. That pair could meet in the second round.
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE (PROBABLY) NEVER HEARD OF
Caleb Green, F, Oral Roberts : The junior averages more than 20 points per game while also grabbing nearly 9 boards each night out. The 6'8" Green shoots 53% from the floor and is even an occasional threat from beyond the arc.
G: Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh
Honorable Mention: Steve Novak (Marquette), Brandon Rush (Kansas), Brandon Heath (San Diego State), Aaron Afflalo (UCLA), Marcellus Sommerville (Bradley)