Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: Oakland Region

Favorite: Memphis. Prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, I had Pittsburgh as my Final Four pick, but I thought there was four other teams with a chance of winning the region. With the Panthers out of the picture, and Memphis playing their best basketball in a couple of months, the Tigers are the new favorite. In the first round, they scored nearly 100 points in dispatching Oral Roberts, a game in which many people thought we would see the first #16 over a #1 ever. The second round brought another easy win--this time over Bucknell. Memphis is using a balanced offense--no player has scored over 19 points in either game--and a pressure defense--they have forced an average of 16 turnovers per game--to get victories. Their next game brings Bradley, a team that was not expected to be here, and their 7-foot center Patrick O' Bryant. After that, if Memphis wins, they will get either UCLA or Gonzaga. They match up well with both of those teams. Don't be surprised to see Memphis in the Final Four.

Cinderella: Bradley. The lowest-seeded in the Sweet Sixteen right now, the Braves have had two wins in a row in which they jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game the entire team. In the first round, they shot 52% from long-range and forced 18 turnovers to defeat Kansas. In the second round, the Braves held Aaron Gray to 12 points and 4 rebounds to take down Pitt. Bradley is an athletic team with a lot of talent that can play with any team in the country. They play very good defensively, both in the half-court and full-court, and like to disrupt a team's offensive sets. Patrick O' Bryant has become one of the most dominant forces in the NCAA Tournament, while Marcellus Sommerville has been a very good offensive performer. Their three-guard attack, led by Tony Bennett, has been key at both ends of the floor.

Most intriguing personnel matchup: Memphis' Shawne Williams vs. Bradley's Marcellus Sommerville. Two versatile, athletic combo forwards will battle it out for the right to go to the Elite Eight. Both players are terrific offensive players who can score both inside and outside. They each are more efficient going to the basket, but tend to hang out on the perimeter too often. Williams has been one of the best freshmen in the country throughout the season. He can score in a variety of ways, and is also a very good defender. His all-around play and athleticism make him difficult to stop. Sommerville is a very tough one-on-one player because of his versatile scoring ability and athleticism. He sometimes forces shots and tries to take over the game, but with O'Bryant becoming a star, he has adapted well to becoming the second option on the offensive end. It should be an exciting match-up.

First-round knockout that will be here next year: Kansas. The Jayhawks have a chance to be the preason #1 heading into next season with all the talent they have returning. They will return all five starters and will also bring in another perimeter scorer in Sherron Collins. Brandon Rush announced he will return for his sophomore year, giving Kansas a potential All-American. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson became a very solid backcourt, both offensively and defensively. Moreover, Julian Wright is sure to become a household name next season. He might be more versatile than anyone in the country. Inside, C.J. Giles, Sasha Kaun, and Darnell Jackson will be more than enough to compete for a national championship. With the way that Kansas played down the stretch this season combined with all the talent on the roster, it's easy to see why the Jayhawks will be one of the best teams in the country next season.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Ronald Steele, Alabama: 22 ppg, 6 apg
Forward- Adam Morrison, Gonzaga: 24.5 ppg
Forward- Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley: 19.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Center- Patrick O'Bryant, Bradley: 18 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Center- J.P. Batista, Gonzaga: 19 ppg, 8.5 rpg
Sixth Man- Earl Calloway, Indiana: 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.5 apg

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