Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet 16 Preview: South Region

In the second most chalky region, Memphis has a tough road to get to the final four.

Texas -2 vs. Stanford: Texas was my final four pick, and I'm sticking with them, even though I'm a little nervous for this Stanford game and the Lopez twins.

Stanford showed they can handle a guard-oriented team in beating Marquette last round, and at the same time showed they are vulnerable to that type of team as well, as at one point it looked like the Golden Eagles were going to run away with it. Obviously, the biggest concern if you're playing the Cardinal are the twins, Robin and Brook Lopez. There's not a ton to worry about offensively outside of those two, but you have to seriously worry about them, as Brook put up 30 against Marquette and Robin had 18.

If you're Texas, you have to be concerned, because they're very similar to Marquette. Guard oriented, and not very deep. Where Marquette was able to throw four decent guys with size at the Lopezes (Lopi?), Texas will bring just Connor Atchley, and try to make due with a couple of 6-7 guys in Damion James and Gary Johnson. They do have three 6-10 guys on the bench, but they only average 15 minutes per game between the three of them and only Dexter Pittman has played any kind of meaningful minutes in the tournament so far, 8 of them. Additionally, Texas basically plays just five guys most of the minutes - only the starters played more than 8 minutes in the Miami game last round.

The good news for the Longhorns is how good the guards are. DJ Augustin might be the best point guard in the nation. He's really struggled shooting the ball so far in the first two rounds, but makes up for it by setting up his teammates, and has 8 assists in each of the first two games. Fellow guard AJ Abrams has picked up the slack, with 6 threes and 26 points in each of the first two games. Swingman Damion James might be the biggest key for Texas, since he plays the role of post man for them despite being just 6-7. He's grabbed a double double in each of their first two games, and will be counted on to control the Lopi.

Seeing as how Marquette's Jerel McNeal was able to go off for 30 against Stanford, and the Eagles were able to outrebound the Cardinal 38-31 despite being way outsized, I have no worries about the Longhorns. They should win and cover, and it may be close for a while, but they'll pull away in the end.

Memphis -4.5 vs. Michigan State: It's no secret what Memphis's strengths are - athleticism and good defense. If there's one Big Ten team that has a shot against them it's the Spartans. The Spartans play good defense as well, and with Raymar Morgan, Kalin Lucas, and Chris Allen, they have some athletes to help out against the guys on Memphis.

In reality, I don't see how the Spartans can hang with the Tigers. Of course, I also thought they'd lose to Temple and get killed by Pitt, so I don't really have a good handle on this team. Izzo is one of the best coaches in history in the tournament, and getting the most out of his team, so that's what has me worried. Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and company are much more talented, and I still expect them to run away with it. With Dozier and Dorsey, they have the size to neutralize the Spartans rebounding advantage they have over most teams, and are better on the perimeter too.

The key for MSU would be to slow the game down, take care of the basketball, don't let Memphis run, control the boards, and find a way to keep Rose and CDR out of the lane. If any coach can pull it off, it's Izzo, but I don't see it. Memphis wins in the biggest blowout of the sweet sixteen. Memphis better hope it's not close in the end, as I can see the Spartans making them pay for their inability to hit free throws and pulling off a miracle.

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