|2008 NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: SOUTH
March 19, 2008
Joey, SCS.com Staff Writer
The South is loaded with star power this year and can easily lay claim to being the toughest region in the field. With names like Memphis, Texas, Stanford, Pittsburgh, and Michigan State lacing up and taking the floor for a chance to play in San Antonio, there is the potential for plenty of exciting matchups as the bracket plays out and moves to the later rounds. Memphis’s quest to finally get to a national championship after several dominant seasons will be a major story line in the region, but with a number of players looking to boost their stock in the upcoming NBA draft, there will be plenty of other plot lines to follow as well.
(#1) Memphis - There may be no team in the country with more athleticism than the Tigers. Despite playing in what some would consider a weak C-USA, Calipari’s boys played a very tough non-conference schedule that included wins over UConn, Oklahoma, USC and Gonzaga. The combination of Derrick Rose and Chris-Douglas Roberts may be the best backcourt in the country this year.
(#2) Texas - The Longhorns have a stellar trio of wing players in D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damion James. All three players are well into double-figure scoring averages and Augustin has blossomed into of the nation’s top point guards as a sophomore. Texas has been on a roll; prior to losing the Big 12 title game to Kansas on Saturday they had won 12 of 13 games.
(#3) Stanford - The Cardinal will need star big man Brook Lopez to be at his best in order to make a real run in the tournament. A run to the Pac-10 tournament championship game and a tough three-point loss to UCLA is a good sign for Stanford. In a region stacked with guards, a huge key for Stanford is going to be the play of their backcourt.
(#5) Michigan State - Two reasons why you can’t count out the Spartans from making a run to the Final Four: Tom Izzo and Drew Neitzel. Izzo’s teams always step up their play in March and he has more experience going deep into the tournament than almost any other active coach. Neitzel has been to a Final Four already and is the most experienced big game point guard in the country.
(#4) Pittsburgh - A four seed may not seem like a team that qualifies as a sleeper, but Pitt fell out of national attention after suffering injuries to Mike Cook and Levance Fields early in the season. Finishing 7th in the Big East certainly didn’t help out Pitt very much either. After winning the Big East tournament this weekend though, suddenly the Panthers look like a team that could make a legitimate run.
Most Over-Seeded Team - Miami: A seven-seed was probably a little too generous for the ‘Canes. A .500 record in the ACC, especially in a somewhat down year for the conference, doesn’t look to appealing. More importantly getting hammered by Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament doesn’t look too good either.
Runner-Up: Oregon: Many pundits feel the Ducks should have been one of the last four teams in, let alone a 9-seed. Oregon has struggled tremendously down the stretch.
Most Under-Seeded Team - Saint Mary’s: The Gaels were better during the regular season than a ten seed. Let’s not forget this is a team that spent a good portion of the season ranked in the top 25, and they also have wins over Gonzaga, Drake and Oregon, all tournament teams.
Runner-Up: Pittsburgh: Winning the Big East Championship after a solid regular season should earn you higher than a four seed in my opinion. However, I can’t argue with the three teams seeded higher than the Panthers.
Team On a Roll - Pittsburgh: Yup, Pitt is making another appearance on this list. The Panthers weren’t on anybody’s radar as a potential Big East champ, yet four wins in four days has them in the spotlight now.
Runner-Up: Memphis: The Tigers steamrolled through the C-USA tournament, including a 26-point win in the championship game over Tulsa. Clearly, the loss a few weeks ago to Tennessee was a wake up call they listened to.
Team In a Slump - Oregon: The Ducks haven’t been in top form down the stretch of their season. Having lost four of their last seven games coming into the tournament, Oregon has picked a bad time to go cold.
Runner-Up: Marquette: Losing three out of your last six games is never a good run going into the tournament, especially when one of those losses is to a struggling Syracuse team.
Best First Round Matchup - Michigan State vs Temple: This is going to be a fun one to watch. Clearly the Spartans are the better team top to bottom, but Temple has been on a role winning seven straight, including the A-10 Tournament. Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale are a couple of big time backcourt scorers and will be an intriguing match up for Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan.
Runner-Up: Miami vs Saint Mary’s: This one will be a hotly contested game simply because it is the case of a middle of the road “major” team battling with a very solid “mid-major.”
Best Potential Second Round Matchup - Pittsburgh vs Michigan State: While this may not be tremendously appealing, none of the potential second round games in this region really are. This represents the most evenly matched teams taking aim at one another on their way to a Sweet 16 birth.
Runner-Up: Stanford vs Marquette: I like this matchup due to the contrast of strengths. The Cardinal rely on the inside play of Brooke Lopez while Marquette looks to their backcourt with Dominic James and Jerel McNeal.
Best First Round Coaching Matchup - Tom Izzo vs Fran Dunphy: Izzo is one of the best coaches of this generation, making Final Four appearances a regular occurrence for Michigan State. Dunphy has restored the Temple basketball program to an NCAA tournament caliber team after taking over a floundering program in the years following the departure of legendary coach John Chaney.
Best Bet for a First Round Upset - Saint Mary’s over Miami: As previously mentioned, I the Gaels are a much better team than their 10 seed would have you think. Patrick Mills and Diamon Simpson are a fantastic duo and will be a handful for Miami to handle.
Runner-Up: Temple over Michigan State: This is a long shot since the Spartans in my mind are a dark horse in the region, but Temple has been hot and if they stay hot, they could pose some problems.
Best Player You Know All About - Derrick Rose: The freshman phenom point guard has been spearheading the high flying Tiger attack from the moment he stepped on campus. A likely top-5 pick in the draft if he declares, Rose is the most physically gifted freshman floor general to hit the college ranks this decade.
Runner-Up: D.J. Augustin: Augustin has gotten less hype than Rose this year, but is definitely the better point guard right now.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of - Diamon Simpson: The big, long, athletic forward from Saint Mary’s has been overshadowed by teammate Patrick Mills all season. Averaging nearly a double-double, while coming in as the school’s all-time shot blocking leader, Simpson will garner some NBA interest next season.
Runner-Up: Jamont Gordon: Gordon may be the best pro prospect not named Rose in this region, however he is only a runner up here because he is still fairly known in basketball circles.
Best Name - Dionte Christmas: The junior guard has been delivering gifts to Owls fans all season long. Christmas is a big time scorer, dropping over 20 points per game and adding 6 rebounds to boot. He will garner plenty of attention from the Michigan State defense in their first round match up.
Runner-Up: Fabio Nass: Do you even have to ask?
Best Reason to Watch this Region - If you like solid guard play, you’ve come to the right place. With names like Derrick Rose, D.J. Augustin, Drew Netizel, Jerel McNeal, Dionte Christmas and Patrick Mills, the South is chock full of strong backcourt performers.
Runner-Up: To watch Austin Peay’s unlikely run to the Final Four.
G: D.J. Augustin, Texas
G: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
F: Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
F: Damion James, Texas
C: Brook Lopez, Stanford
This is definitely a small team, but a potent one. In Gordon and Douglas-Roberts you have two tremendously talent scorers on the wing. Augustin may be the best point guard in the country. Lopez and James bring great athleticism and rebounding to the post. Also, Lopez has a tremendously refined post game and can score in a variety of ways.
The South really poses a lot of interesting potentials. Memphis is a very vulnerable top seed due mainly to their horrific free throw shooting. A close game does not likely favor the Tigers. Both Texas and Stanford are Final Four quality teams, there is no doubting that. Michigan State has the experience to make it there, while Pittsburgh and Temple are both red hot right now and could continue their runs and win a couple of more games. In all, the South has more potential to cause brackets to go awry than most.