Wednesday, March 19, 2008

South Region First-Round Previews


Memphis vs. Texas-Arlington: The Tigers seemed to have regained the swagger they lost when they fell to Tennessee and barely beat UAB back in February; they are ready to go after a national title. That road will start against a UT-Arlington team that has a talent but has been inconsistent all season long. Jermaine Griffin is a go-to big guy for UTA, but don’t expect much of a game.

Mississippi State vs. Oregon: This is going to be one of the better games of the region. Mississippi State was arguably the second-best team in the SEC throughout most of conference play, but the Bulldogs were relegated to the dreaded 8-9 game. They play outstanding defense, and will need it against an Oregon team that shouldn’t even be in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks have a lot of weapons, but struggle defensively. The difference could be the battle between Jamont Gordon and Malik Hairston on the perimeter.

Michigan State vs. Temple: Michigan State was expected to contend for the Big Ten title heading into the season and even a Final Four spot, while Temple was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic-10. However, this could be a potential upset – I think that Tom Izzo’s experience and the physicality of the Spartans will prevail, but look out. Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale can really fill it up for the Owls, and the A-10 Tournament champions are hot at the right time.

Pittsburgh vs. Oral Roberts: Even though Pitt was struggling before they won the Big East Tournament, the Panthers’ bandwagon is pretty much filled up by now. They played very well in the conference tourney, and some are even picking them to upset Memphis in the Sweet 16. Let me be the first to tell you: be careful with Pitt. They may be emotionally drained after their great run. Oral Roberts is not the same team it has been over the past few seasons, but the Crusaders are still solid.

Marquette vs. Kentucky: Could be one of the best first-round match-ups in the region. Both teams rely heavily on their perimeter groups. Marquette has Dominic James and Jerel McNeal leading the way, while Kentucky counters with seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. Since UK lost Patrick Patterson, the inside game hasn’t been there, but Marquette doesn’t have much down low either. The key could be Marquette’s Lazar Hayward going against UK’s frontcourt. He is an inside-outside threat that can make a difference.

Stanford vs. Cornell: Two of the smartest schools in the Tournament, this is not going to be a battle of wits on the court. Stanford is coming in on a bit of a sour note, having lost three of its last five games heading into the NCAA Tournament. Cornell ran through the Ivy undefeated, led by Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Adam Gore on the perimeter. However, the Big Red have absolutely no one to defend Brook and Robin Lopez down low for the Cardinal.

Miami (Fl.) vs. Saint Mary’s: This might be the least exciting 7-10 game of the Tournament. Neither team is coming into the Big Dance on much of a high note, and I’m not sure Miami even deserved a seven seed. The Hurricanes have lost three of their last six, while St. Mary’s dropped three of its last five heading into the Tournament. However, both teams have plenty of options offensively and have shown the ability to beat high-quality teams. Can Miami stop Diamon Simpson up front, and can the Gaels slow down Jack McClinton on the perimeter?

Texas vs. Austin Peay: The Longhorns seem to be the one of the chic picks to reach the Final Four as a No. 2 seed. If they can get this game, and then get by the winner of the Miami-St. Mary’s game, they will be heading to Houston for the regionals. That gives them a huge edge in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Austin Peay is very balanced and has a lot of offensive weapons, but they don’t have the quickness on the perimeter to deal with D.J. Augustin and co.

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