1. Memphis beats 16. Texas-Arlington in Little Rock, Ark. I was a bit surprised to find that the Mavericks play at a faster tempo than the Tigers and are ranked 35th in three-point defense. But that just means I’ll know more than nothing about UT-A when the blowout begins.
9. Oregon beats 8. Mississippi State in Little Rock. Oregon’s offense has the fourth-ranked effective FG %, the 11th-ranked 3-point FG % and the 12th-ranked 2-point FG %. Mississippi State’s defense has the third-ranked eFG %, the top ranked 2-point 2-point FG % and the second-ranked block percentage.
So why pick Oregon? Because I’ll take an offense that ran up those numbers in the Pac-10 over a defense that did its work in the SEC. The Bulldogs’ best win by Pomeroy ranking is over No. 42 Missouri; the Ducks have No. 10 Stanford, at No. 15 Kansas State and No. 22 Arizona twice.
12. Temple beats 5. Michigan State in Denver, Colo. Drew Neitzel is a good player, but the Owls have far more skill in their backcourt than the Spartans do. The Spartans’ defense is ranked 288th in turnover percentage forced, which says to me that Fran Dunphy’s motion offense will be able to get the ball around the floor. That’s a very good thing.
4. Pittsburgh beats 13. Oral Roberts in Denver. Well now, wait a minute here. The Golden Eagles’ defense is ranked 27th in efficiency, 15th in eFG % and 12th in two-point FG %. The Panthers, despite their bruising reputation, are only 210th in free throw rate.
Oh, heck. They beat Duke and won the Big East, and DeJuan Blair is a rather different challenge from the players you find in the Summit League. With Villanova’s bruises bearing witness, Pitt takes it.
6. Marquette beats 11. Kentucky in Anaheim, Calif. The Wildcats have talent, and are playing their best basketball of the season right now (Georgia notwithstanding). But I count seven juniors and seniors for the Golden Eagles to no juniors and two seniors for Big Blue. Experience matters... but man, will people go nuts if Kentucky wins.
3. Stanford beats 14. Cornell in Anaheim. The very talented Cardinal win the battle of the smart schools by two seven-footers (Brook and Robin Lopez) to one (Jeff Foote) – and Foote isn’t the Big Red’s best big guy anyway. Just don’t foul Cornell guard Louis Dale, who made 52 straight free throws at one point this year.
Big Red sharpshooter Ryan Wittman will pose a bit of a challenge for Stanford, but this game will be won on the inside.
10. Saint Mary’s, Calif. over 7. Miami, Fla. in Little Rock. Jack McClinton is a good three-point shooter, but the Hurricanes lost eight times in conference play. Beating Clemson, Maryland and Duke at home means nothing, nor does the ACC Tournament win over N.C. State. The Hurricanes’ best non-conference win is at Misssissippi State, which also won’t get out of the first round.
Gaels guard Patty Mills’ talents are well-known, but backcourt mate Todd Golden is No. 1 in the country in eFG % and Pomeroy’s offensive rating.
2. Texas over 15. Austin Peay in Little Rock. The Governors’ defense is No. 1 in steal percentage, but 316th in eFG %. I’ll take D.J. Augustin and the Longhorns, whose offense ranks No. 2 in steal percentage given up to far better opposition. Austin Peay’s best win this season is over Pomeroy No. 151-ranked Georgia Southern.
1. Memphis over 9. Oregon in Little Rock. Maarty Leunen and Joey Dorsey were both at the Pan Am Games trials last summer, so Leunen should be well aware of the beating he’s going to take in this agme.
4. Pittsburgh over 12. Temple in Denver. Yes, that’s 2-0 for the Big East against the Big 5, but I see the Panthers winning a really ugly game. I have a bad feeling that Blair and Sam Young get Sergio Olmos and Lavoy Allen in foul trouble early. The Panthers’ defense is 57th in 3-point percentage allowed, and the offense is ranked 23rd in efficiency.
3. Stanford over 6. Marquette in Anaheim. The Cardinal defense ranks eighth in eFG % given up, while the Golden Eagle offense is ranked in the 130s in the major offensive categories. It’s also ranked 210th in offensive rebounding percentage, so the Lopez twins should have their fair share of chances on the boards.
2. Texas over 7. St. Mary’s in Little Rock. Mr. Mills, meet Mr. Augustin. The Gaels are certainly worthy of an at-large bid, but not good enough to stop one of the college game’s elite point guards.
Regional Semifinals in Houston, Texas
4. Pittsburgh over 1. Memphis. It will crush Bruiser Flint, Dick Jerardi and many others who have the Tigers winning it all, but I see them tripping against a Panthers team that will be fully ready for a street brawl in the low block.
At the perimeter, as great as Memphis freshman guard Derrick Rose is, Pitt’s backcourt has two seniors and a stud junior in Levance Fields. Experience wins again, crushing John Calipari’s dreams for another year.
3. Stanford over 2. Texas. The biggest upset of all the ones I’m picking because of the huge burnt orange throng that will pack Reliant Stadium. But I see a breakout night for the Lopez twins against a Longhorns squad whose tallest regular players are both 6-foot-10: freshman Clint Chapman and sophomore Dexter Pittman. They’ve played 16.8 and 14.2 percent of possible minutes this season, which isn’t a good sign for Rick Barnes.
I see post play overcoming the big advantage Augustin has on turnover-prone Cardinal point guard Mitch Johnson.
Regional Final in Houston
3. Stanford over 4. Pittsburgh
I’ve been very impressed with Stanford on the rare occasions when I’ve been able to find Pac-10 games on TV. I bet more people on this side of the country would like the Cardinal if they were were on ESPN at 7 p.m. Eastern on Mondays instead of Fox Sports Net affiliates at 11 p.m. on Thursdays. And Comcast SportsNet sometimes finds other programming to carry anyway.
Pitt’s small roster has played incredibly well over the last month and a half. But the run finally ends here as the Cardinal proves its defensive mettle.