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March 26, 2008

SCS.comThe top three seeds in the South - Memphis, Texas, and Stanford - have all advanced to the second weekend, with only fifth-seeded Michigan State making its way to the Sweet Sixteen via a slight upset over fourth-seeded Pittsburgh. What's left of the South features three major conference powers and the best team in the country not from one of the big six conferences. Texas, and even Memphis to a degree, have the home court advantage with these games taking place in Houston, so who will prevail and move west to San Antonio for the Final Four?


(#1) Memphis - The Tigers had little trouble disposing of first round opponent Texas-Arlington, blowing out the Mavericks by 24. The second round was a different story however. Mississippi State simply refused to go away in the second half of Sunday’s second round game. The Bulldogs got within two points with 4.2 seconds to go, but it wasn’t enough as Memphis squeaked by 77-74.
(#5) Michigan State - It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see Michigan State in the Sweet 16. After making quick work of Temple in the first round, the Spartans met up with a red hot Pittsburgh team that had recently won the Big East Tournament. A hard fought game ended with Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas scoring 21 of Michigan State’s final 25 points to aid in an eleven point win.
(#3) Stanford - We all knew that the Cardinal wouldn’t have a problem with Cornell in the first round, but they sure made their second round match up with Marquette an exciting one. A Brook Lopez turn around jump shot with 1.3 seconds to go in overtime stamped Stanford’s ticket to the Sweet 16. Next up is a fantastic match up with second seeded Texas.
(#2) Texas - Continuing with what has been the theme for the top seeds in the South region, Texas had an easy time with first round opponent Austin Peay, but barely put away Miami in the second round. After leading comfortably for the entire game, the Longhorns had to sweat out the final minute of play after a furious comeback by the Hurricanes. However, shooting 13-26 from beyond the arc spells good things if the shooting touch stays the same for Texas in the next round.


(#1) Memphis - Three letters: CDR. Chris Douglas-Roberts has been on a tear, posting averages of 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, while connecting on 50% of his shots in his first two games. Advice for stellar point guard Derrick Rose, keep giving your backcourt mate the ball.
(#5) Michigan State - The Spartans have brought their A game on the defensive end. Temple and Pittsburgh, two teams that shot better than 45% during the regular season, were held to a combine 35% shooting in their match ups with Izzo’s boys. Keeping Memphis cold from the field, a team that is miserable from the free throw line, will go a long way towards Michigan State pulling off an upset.
(#3) Stanford - The Cardinal have been lights out shooting the basketball. In their first two games in the tournament Stanford has connected on 51% of their shots from the field and 47% of their shots from beyond the arc. Earning 38 trips to the foul line in two games is also encouraging.
(#2) Texas - The Longhorns have two things working for them right now: balance on offense and rebounding. Texas has had five different players reach double figures in scoring in their first two games. They also have a +20 margin in rebounds over their two opponents so far. Controlling the glass will be key against Stanford and the Lopez twins.


(#1) Memphis - No surprise with this one, it’s been the same story all season: free throw shooting. The Tigers shot an abysmal 59% from the charity strip during the regular season and things haven’t looked much better. After head coach John Calipari said that the free throws would take care of themselves come the tournament, his team has shot an even lower 55% during the first two rounds.
(#5) Michigan State - There isn’t much to complain about if you’re Tom Izzo, the Spartans have been playing well. One area of possible concern though is fouls. Michigan State had 18 and 17 fouls respectively in their first two games, and top offensive options Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel each had a game where they faced foul trouble.
(#2) Texas - While it isn’t a major concern, D.J. Augustin has not been shooting the ball very well thus far in the tournament. Granted, with the talent he has around him and his ability to get teammates open looks, he hasn’t had to do much scoring. With that said though, Rick Barnes would probably like to see his star sophomore improve on his 6-22 shooting in the tournament’s first two games.
(#3) Stanford - You would think that after hauling in 44 rebounds to Cornell’s 23 in the first round controlling the glass would not be a concern for Stanford, but after getting out rebounded by a smaller Marquette team in the second round, it is. While Texas doesn’t match up evenly in the frontcourt either, they are bigger and more athletic than Marquette, and we saw how much of a battle they gave the Cardinal in round two.


(#5) Michigan State vs (#1) Memphis
Head to Head: Raymar Morgan (Michigan State) vs Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis) - These athletic 6’7” wing players will more than likely find themselves matched up. Both led their respective teams in scoring during the regular season, but the tournament has produced different stories for the talented scorers. Douglas-Roberts has stepped his numbers up in his two games, while Morgan was saddled with foul trouble in the Spartans second round win over Pittsburgh.
For the Spartans to win.... they must keep Memphis from running the open floor and from getting extra shots. The Tigers are in the top 25 in the country in field goals attempted per game, partly due to how fast they play and partly due to the fact that they are ranked 18th in offensive rebounding. Michigan State must also be sharp on offense, Memphis ranks as one of the most efficient defensive teams in the country this season.
For the Tigers to win.... they must force Michigan State to play an up tempo game. The Spartans ranked a miserable 243rd in adjusted pace this season according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency statistics. With super charged Derrick Rose running the point guard position, the Tigers are well equipped to fast break all game if given the chance.
The deciding factor:Who will control the tempo. A faster game clearly favors the speed and athleticism of the Tigers. If Michigan State can slow things to a half court game though, even with Memphis’s prowess on the offensive glass and strong defensive play, with a crafty senior like Drew Neitzel and a scorer like Raymar Morgan, you have to give the Spartans a chance. If this one is close down the stretch, we’ll see if Memphis’s poor free throw shooting comes back to hurt them.
(#3) Stanford vs (#2) Texas
Head to Head: Stanford Frontcourt vs Texas Backcourt - There is too much talent on these two teams and their styles or too contrasting to limit this to simply a single match up. Texas lacks a true dominant presence inside, but the trio of D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damion James is one of the best backcourts in the tournament. The Cardinal lacks strong guard play, but they make up for it with the Lopez twins cleaning up down low. Both squads will be looking for their key players to shoulder the load in the best game the Sweet 16 has to offer.
For the Longhorns to win....will have to body up against the Lopez’s, especially Brook. Texas has size on their roster, but it hasn’t seen much action on the floor. Damion James is a strong rebounder, but at 6’7” will have his work cut out for him. A lot of pressure will fall on the shoulders of Connor Atchley, who at 6’10” is known more for his perimeter shooting than his rebounding.
For the Cardinal to win....they must protect the basketball. Texas stole the ball an average of over six times per game this season, while forcing nearly thirteen turnovers nightly. Stanford had a negative turnover ratio this season, meaning they turned the ball over more often than their opponents did. For a team that relies so much on feeding the ball inside, they must be sure not to waste possessions.
The deciding factor: can Stanford’s guards contain the Texas backcourt? This will likely have a bigger impact on the game than the Longhorns ability to slow down the Lopez’s will. Augustin, Abrams and James are all capable of exploding for a big games which could spell an early finish to this game.
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