Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown: South Region

Favorite: Memphis. My preseason No. 1 heading into the year, the Tigers were just one game from going undefeated – but are still widely-recognized as the worst of the top seeds. When they are hitting on all cylinders, though, they might be the team most capable of going on a game-clinching run. Will that happen late in the NCAA Tournament, though? Memphis dominated Texas-Arlington in round one before struggling for much of the game against Mississippi State. They survived after a game-tying three-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired. The Tigers are one of the deepest and athletic teams in the country. Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts form arguably the best perimeter tandem in the nation. Rose is an outstanding point guard who is NBA-ready, while CDR is one of the best scorers around and a legit All-America. Joey Dorsey is a dominant defensive force, but he tends to get into foul trouble, while Robert Dozier is a tough match-up in the frontcourt. Antonio Anderson is a very solid all-around player. If the Tigers are hitting their free-throws and Dorsey is able to stay on the court, they are going to be difficult to beat.

Cinderella: Michigan State. Considering the Spartans were one of my preseason picks to reach the Final Four, it feels strange using them as my Cinderella choice for this region. To put it simply, though, there are no other options. Michigan State struggled greatly down the stretch of the season, going just 6-6 in its last 12 games. However, the Spartans have bounced back in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Temple handily in the first-round and then knocking off a very hot Pittsburgh team in the second-round. When Drew Neitzel is hitting his shots, this team is tough to beat. Raymar Morgan is a difficult match-up in the frontcourt, while Goran Suton leads a deep group of big men. Kalin Lucas is very quick at the point; he is a future star for Tom Izzo. However, the Spartans have struggled offensively for much of the season – will they revert back to those days against Memphis? The Tigers are quicker and more athletic, and MSU can’t get rattled early if the Tigers force a few turnovers and get off to a hot start.

Most intriguing personnel match-up: Texas’ Damion James vs. Stanford’s Brook Lopez. Wow, what a battle in the frontcourt in the bottom half of the bracket. One is an athletic inside-outside threat who poses match-up problems for most defenders, while the other is one of the most dominant players in college basketball. James has stepped up greatly in the absence of Kevin Durant, and has become one of the better forwards in the Big 12, if not the nation. He is relentless on the offensive glass. Lopez is an All-America, hands-down. He single-handedly took the game over late against Marquette, and has the ability to control the paint at both ends of the floor. He has a size advantage on James, but he might have to come away from the basket and defend him, which will open up driving lanes for D.J. Augustin and co. On the other side, will the athletic James be able to defend the taller Lopez? It will be a great back-and-forth.

First-weekend knockout that will be here next year: Marquette. Going into the season, the Golden Eagles were a popular top-12 pick in the polls, mainly because of their backcourt. However, the same problems that plagued them in the preseason ended up being their demise: lack of a big man and inconsistent long-range shooting. Next year, the entire perimeter group returns, including two-way stud Jerel McNeal, outstanding point guard Dominic James, and do-it-all Wesley Matthews. Forward Lazar Hayward improved greatly as the season went on, and he will also be back. Tom Crean brings in a solid recruiting class, but questions about the frontcourt will still be asked. Dwight Burke and Trevor Mbakwe could play key roles down low.

All-First Weekend Team:
Guard- Derrick Rose, Memphis: 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Guard- Jack McClinton, Miami (Fl.): 28.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Guard- A.J. Abrams, Texas: 26.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 12 three-pointers
Forward- Charles Rhodes, Mississippi State: 24.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg

Center- Robin Lopez, Stanford: 16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.0 bpg
Sixth Man- Jerel McNeal, Marquette: 25.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg

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