I've broken down my 2008 NCAA Tournament picks by region and Final Four. Also available are links to my 2008 NCAA Tournament Stats, Facts, Trends and Tips, and NCAA Tournament Credo. I got three out of the four Final Four teams right last year (Florida, Georgetown and UCLA), so hopefully I have similar success this March.
Zzzz... boring. Memphis shouldn't even walk out of the locker room until the first half is at its midway point. Without anyone standing in their way, Texas-Arlington should have like three or four points by then.
Winner: #1 Memphis
#8 Mississippi State (22-10) vs. #9 Oregon (18-13)
I don't think Oregon belongs in the NCAA Tournament, but I won't make a big fuss because I love the fact that Oregon's Cheerleaders will be attending the Big Dance. In fact, I honestly believe the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee put the Ducks in a bracket because of their cheerleaders.
Too bad they won't be around for long. The Ducks shoot the three well, but they have no legitimate point guard in the wake of losing Aaron Brooks to the NBA. Guard play is king in the NCAA Tournament, and the lack of a solid floor general is going to kill Oregon. It's a shame too; if Brooks were still on this squad, I'd have them pegged for the Final Four.
Winner: #8 Mississippi State
#5 Michigan State (25-8) vs. #12 Temple (21-12)
With ESPN analysts bickering about Arizona State being left out of the tournament, they completely missed the biggest injustice this upcoming weekend. Michigan State and Temple will play a 12:30 game in Denver. What's the big deal with that? Well, considering they're in Mountain Time, this game will be early for them, especially the Philadelphia-based Owls (10:30 a.m.). Why would the committee do this? Who's going to come to a game at 10:30 local time?
This game could actually go either way; the Spartans are probably the deeper team and they defend the three much better than the Owls do, but they've also struggled on the road this year. Michigan State, just 4-6 away from East Lansing, has beaten only Bradley, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois as a visitor. Those are some pretty horrible squads. Perhaps the most telling sign that the Spartans suck in away games is the fact that they lost to Penn State. As a Nittany Lions alumnus, I can confidently declare that my alma mater's basketball team is garbage.
If the Spartans can't win on the road, how are they supposed to win in Denver? I'm going with the best player on the court, Temple's Dionte Christmas (20.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
This is not your older brother's Oral Roberts team. The Golden Eagles had a great shot at knocking off No. 3 Washington State last year. Unfortunately, that squad's top two scorers, Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, are both gone. I like junior swingman Moses Ehambe (11.7 ppg); I think he's a really clutch player and an extremely precise long-distance shooter, but he and Robert Jarvis (16.1 ppg) will likely be bogged down by Pittsburgh's outstanding defense. The good news is that Ehambe and Jarvis are both juniors and will be back next season. The bad news is that the Panthers are just way too strong.
Winner: #4 Pittsburgh
#6 Marquette (24-9) vs. #11 Kentucky (18-12)
Kentucky is an automatic play for me because I don't like Marquette's tournament chances one bit. Point guard Dominic James chokes every year. Last March, he was just 5-of-14 from the field in an opening-round loss to Michigan State. As a freshman, he also played poorly in an upset the first day of the tournament. James settles for too many unfavorable shots, which is why he was just 31.7 percent from three-point land this season.
James must have given fellow junior guard Jerel McNeal lessons on how to play offense because McNeal is even worse from area-code three (29.6 percent) despite taking almost 100 shots from beyond the arc. The Wildcats play solid defense and should be able to force the Golden Eagles into some ill-advised shots.
I've been covering the NCAA Tournament for a while now on my site, and I don't ever remember an Ivy League team winning a game in March Madness. In recent years, I've started joking about the Ivy squad being able to outsmart its opponent, but because Cornell is playing Stanford, this year's Ivy representative is screwed on more than one level.
Winner: #3 Stanford
#7 Miami (22-10) vs. #10 Saint Mary's (25-6)
Watching Miami lose to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament left me with a bad taste in my mouth. As soon as the Hurricanes realized that Virginia Tech was exerting maximum effort in a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they folded and stopped trying hard. When looking at the composition of Miami's roster, it's not hard to realize why this happened.
The Hurricanes are a one-man army on offense. It's all about Jack McClinton. At 6-1, McClinton is an excellent scorer, averaging 17 points per game and shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. But he has taken more than 100 field goals than anyone else on the squad. One-man shows seldom advance deep into the tournament. I'll take the more team-oriented Saint Mary's.
Besides the one-man show aspect, I also don't like the Hurricanes because they suck on the road (4-6) and their defense is very mediocre.
Austin Peay's team name is the Governors. Oooh, very scary. What are they going to do, sneak a bunch of hookers into the hotel where the Longhorns are staying?
Winner: #2 Texas
#1 Memphis (33-1) vs. #8 Mississippi State (22-10)
I think Memphis has some serious flaws that will get exposed, but I'm not going to predict that to happen here. Picking eights to upset ones is never a smart idea. First of all, you have no clue if the No. 8 will even survive its first-round matchup. Secondly, of the 24 No. 1 seeds since 2002, 21 have advanced to the Sweet 16.
The Bulldogs have some solid players like junior swingman Jamont Gordon (17.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.8 apg), senior center Charles Rhodes (16.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Ben "Psycho-B" Hansbrough (10.4 ppg), brother of UNC star Tyler. They definitely have a shot against Memphis, but for reasons stated above, I'm going to have the Tigers advancing to Houston.
Unlike the Spartans, Pittsburgh can actually win on the road; we saw that when it won the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden last week. Another advantage Temple loses in this matchup is the fact that Dionte Christmas won't be the best player on the court. Panthers power forward Sam Young (18.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is a load inside and will be too much for the vertically challenged Owls to handle.
Pittsburgh's defensively stout guards will lock down Temple's backcourt. Conversely, the Owls, who have major problems defending the three ball (35.9% opp 3fg), won't be able to keep Young (39.3 percent), Keith Benjamin (37.9) or Ronald Ramon (38.0) in check.
Winner: #4 Pittsburgh
#3 Stanford (26-7) vs. #11 Kentucky (18-12)
Stanford has a relatively easy trip to the Sweet 16. If Marquette makes it here, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal will simply take shots from half court while being triple-teamed. And if Kentucky advances, as I've predicted, the Wildcats may have problems winning on an unfamiliar court against a top-notch opponent. Kentucky is 4-6 on the road this year, as its only victory against a winning squad is against Georgia, who until the SEC Tournament, pretty much sucked.
The Wildcats were once stronger in the front court; Patrick Patterson (16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is an outstanding player, but is injured and won't be back for the tournament. Stanford is bigger and better in the paint with its 7-foot Lopez twins. As e-mailer Doug points out, "The only player down low for kentucky is Perry Stevenson who will be eaten alive by the Lopez twins."
Talk about a Freudian slip; I actually did the write-up for Texas-Stanford before this one by accident. Guess that shows how much faith I have in Saint Mary's ability to win this contest.
The Gaels are a nice story, but it's not happening here - simply way too much firepower from the Longhorns. I'll discuss them in more detail deeper in the tournament.
Winner: #2 Texas
#1 Memphis (33-1) vs. #4 Pittsburgh (26-9)
I think this is a good place to talk about Memphis' problems, because, well, I don't think they're going to make it past Pittsburgh. There are four reasons why I believe the Tigers will have major problems advancing deep in the tournament. I'll address them one at a time.
The one everyone knows about is Memphis' horrific free-throw shooting. The Tigers, as a team, are just 59.6 percent from the charity stripe. No one on the squad shoots better than 69.6 percent from there. Seriously, that's really embarrassing. It's not like they're some drunk frat boys being ushered to the free-throw line during some sort of drinking game. They're going to school for free to play basketball. One of the fundamentals of basketball is free-throw shooting. How any professional or big-time college player can be worse than 70 percent is beyond me.
The second thing I don't like about the Tigers is their weak conference. They've only played one tough game since dispatching Arizona on Dec. 29. That happened to be against No. 2 Tennessee. Memphis, unprepared for the rigors of playing a top opponent, predictably lost. I don't see how playing junk teams like Tulsa, Southern Miss, Tulane, UAB and SMU can possibly get you ready for an elite squad like Pittsburgh.
Third, I'm not a big fan of Memphis' offense. It seems like the team easily gets frustrated and settles for the three ball too often. That's fine if you're Drake or Butler, but the Tigers are only 35 percent as a team from long distance. Pittsburgh's outstanding perimeter defense will put the clamps on Memphis' backcourt.
And speaking of the backcourt, the final reason I don't like the Tigers is point guard Derrick Rose. Don't get me wrong; I love Rose's game, and I wouldn't hesitate to spend a top-five selection on him. But the fact remains that freshmen floor generals seldom advance deep into the tournament. Mike Conley was a rare exception last year. I seriously doubt that happens again anytime soon.
Stanford's relatively easy run into the Sweet 16 comes to an unceremonious halt. I don't think they have a shot at knocking off the Longhorns. I'll explain why.
First of all, I don't trust Cardinal head coach Trent Johnson. Last year, Stanford was quickly expelled from the NCAA Tournament because the team wasn't prepared for Louisville's full-court press. As a Division-I college coach, how do you not prepare your squad for the press in March!? Ridiculous. I can't say I trust Johnson in a big game.
Furthermore, the NCAA Tournament is all about guard play. The Longhorns definitely have that with D.J. Augustin (19.8 ppg, 5.7 apg) and A.J. Abrams (16.1 ppg). Stanford? Not so much. They have Anthony Goods (10.4 ppg), but that's about it. And even Goods pales in comparison to Texas' second-most talented guard.
Unlike the Wildcats, the Longhorns have the size to combat Brook (19.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Robin (10.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) Lopez. Center Connor Atchley is a solid defensive presence, while Damion James' ability to hit outside jumpers will force one of the Lopez brothers to step away from the paint.
Winner: #2 Texas
#2 Texas (28-6) vs. #4 Pittsburgh (26-9)
Tough to pick a winner between these two squads. Both are extremely talented, and have a great chance to advance to San Antonio and compete for the national title.
With a gun pointed at my head, I'd have to select the Longhorns for a pair of reasons. The first being there's a greater chance they'll be here. The Panthers have to go through Memphis. I think they'll beat the South's No. 1 seed, but you never know. Texas, on the other hand, has a much easier road than the Panthers. Stanford just doesn't match up athletically, while the winner of Miami-Saint Mary's won't put up much of a challenge. I think Texas is an Elite Eight lock, whereas Pittsburgh being here is more of a very good chance.
Another reason I'd choose Texas over Pittsburgh is guard play. Now, don't get me wrong; Levance Fields (11.1 ppg, 5.4 apg) and Ronald Ramon (8.6 ppg, 3.7 apg) are both brilliant and were instrumental to the Panthers' Big East championship. However, even they pale in comparison to D.J. Augustin (19.8 ppg, 5.7 apg) and A.J. Abrams (16.1 ppg). Point guard play is extremely vital in the NCAA Tournament, and Augustin could be the tournament's best player at the position, although Fields is no slouch himself.
With that in mind, it wouldn't shock me at all if Pittsburgh represented the South bracket in the Final Four. But for the two reasons I stated above, I'm going with the Longhorns here.