It’s awesome, baby!!!
This is where Cinderella happens. This is where draft stocks soar. This is where champions are made. As Dick Vitale would say, “It’s awesome baby!” Yes, March Madness is finally here and office pools and bracket battles are starting all across the country. Who will win it all? Who will come up short? We are here to give you the whole scoop, breaking down each bracket and letting you know who we think will make the Final Four. But with all the madness, don’t blame your monetary losses on us!
By JORDAN FRANK
Don’t tell Memphis head coach John Calipari that the number one seed in a region is supposed to get preferential treatment by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Two years ago, Memphis was a number one seed and was shipped out West, where it lost the regional final against UCLA in Oakland. This year – it’s déjà vu all over again. The Memphis Tigers are the number one seed in the South Region and the regional final site is Houston – which could lead to a potential quasi-road game for Memphis against the number two seed, the Texas Longhorns.
However, it would be a major mistake for either Memphis or Texas to look ahead to its potential regional final battle. Both teams face a difficult path to get through the South Region – most notably in potential regional semifinal matchups. The South Region may not be the toughest bracket top-to-bottom, but it is extremely top-heavy (mmm…top heavy…bow chicka bow bow). The top four seeds — Memphis, Texas, Stanford and Pittsburgh — are all loaded with talent, well-coached, experienced teams who could potentially win this Region.
Although I believe the South Region is top-heavy, there are potential difficult matchups for two of the top four teams in the second round. Memphis and Pittsburgh better beware of potential matchups against Mississippi State and Michigan State, respectively. Both of the underdogs match up well against the favourites and could play spoiler. As for some other potential early upsets, I like Saint Mary’s to knock off Miami and Kentucky to take down Marquette.
The Best Bets
Memphis Tigers (No. 1 Seed): The 33-1 Memphis Tigers are the first school in NCAA history to enter the NCAA tournament with 30 or more wins for the third straight year. The last two runs in the NCAA tournament for the Tigers ended in the regional final, but this year’s team includes sensational freshman point guard Derrick Rose. Memphis played a tough non-conference schedule this year and beat numerous tournament teams including Connecticut, Georgetown, Oklahoma, USC, Arizona and Gonzaga. The Tigers cruised through the Conference USA regular season without a blemish and easily won the conference tournament. Memphis’ only defeat came at home against Tennessee in a tough No. 1 versus No. 2 battle. The Tigers are led by guards Rose (13.9 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (17.2 PPG) who were both first-team All-Conference USA, and forward Joey Dorsey (7.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG) who was on the second-team. The team has struggled with its perimeter shooting all season and ranks 327th of 328 teams in Division I in foul shooting at 59.2 per cent.
Texas Longhorns (No. 2 Seed): After losing Kevin Durant last season, the number two pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, many predicted a down year for the Texas Longhorns. However, they responded with an 11-0 start to the 2007-08 season, which included marquee non-conference wins over UCLA and Tennessee. Additionally, the Longhorns were mere minutes away from beating Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game to capture a berth as a number one seed. The 28-6 Longhorns, who have won 12 of their last 14 games, are seeded number two in the South and their path to the NCAA championship runs through Little Rock, Houston and San Antonio. Texas beat Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas A&M and Kansas State on its way to sharing the Big 12 regular season championship with Kansas, and is led by its stud point guard D.J. Augustin, who was the Big 12’s No. 2 scorer (19.8 PPG) and leader in assists (5.7 APG). Augustin’s backcourt mate, A.J. Abrams, is a deadly outsider shooter who led the team with 89 three pointers and who averages 16.1 PPG and forward Damion James is the Longhorns’ muscle-in-the-middle, averaging 10.5 RPG and 13.2 PPG. It will be critical for the Longhorns to get interior contributions from James, centre Connor Atchley and especially forward Gary Johnson to advance from a potential regional semifinal matchup against Stanford and its twin seven footers.
Stanford Cardinal (No. 3 Seed): Stanford has been under the radar for most of the season due to the team’s soft non-conference schedule and the suspension of Brook Lopez for the first semester. Don’t look now, but Stanford has won nine of its last 13 in a loaded conference and settled for second place in the Pac-10 after a controversial call at UCLA ended its hopes of a regular season championship. The Cardinal are a defensive juggernaut and are in the nation’s top ten in both two-point field goal defense and overall effective field goal defense. The team also ranks in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive rebounding. The Cardinal can overwhelm teams inside with its twin seven-footers Brook and Robin Lopez. Brook leads the team by averaging 19.2 PPG and 8.5 RPG, while his brother Robin averages 10.0 PPG and 5.6 RPG. Anthony Goods (10.8 PPG) is the main 3-point threat and point guard Mitch Johnson averages 4.8 APG.
Pittsburgh Panthers (No. 4 Seed): To call the Panthers a dark horse is a bit of a stretch, but this team has overcome significant injuries and is as dangerous as any team in the country. The Panthers won the Big East Conference tournament by beating Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown in a four-day span. Despite the injuries, Pittsburgh finished with a school-record seventh consecutive 20-win season. Junior point guard Levance Fields, who averages 11.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 5.4 APG, returned in mid-February after missing 12 games with a broken left foot, and the team lost Mike Cook (10.4 PPG) for the season. The Panthers depend on tough, aggressive defense and the inside scoring of DeJuan Blair (11.7 PPG and 9.1 RPG) and Sam Young (18.3 PPG and 6.4 RPG). Because of its strong and tenacious team defense, Pittsburgh could be a difficult matchup for Memphis in a potential regional semifinal.
Players to Watch
Derrick Rose – Memphis: The freshman guard for the Tigers is arguably the top point guard in the country and is a sure-fire lottery pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. While Rose’s raw stats are solid (13.9 PPG, 4.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG), it is his intangibles that are making NBA scouts salivate. Rose has fantastic vision on the court and has an incredible knack of making his teammates better. He has the ability to take over games with his size and athleticism and can get to the rim with ease.
Brook Lopez – Stanford: Lopez is another player destined to be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft. He is a fundamentally sound and strong big man who averaged 19.2 points, 8.5 boards and 1.9 blocks per game this season. Lopez has a strong work ethic and has improved his shooting from both the field and the free throw line this season. As true seven-footers, Brook and his brother Robin will pose a tough matchup for smaller teams in the tournament.
D.J. Augustin – Texas: The floor general for the Longhorns is the second best point guard in the country (see above). Augustin is a pure point guard who models his game after Steve Nash. In his sophomore season, Augustin is averaging 19.8 points, 5.7 dimes, 2.9 boards and 1.3 steals. He is an incredible ball-handler who runs the pick-and-roll to perfection and can easily dribble-penetrate to find the open man.
Jamont Gordon – Mississippi State: Gordon is an explosive guard who averages 17 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Bulldogs. In his junior season, he was a unanimous selection to the All-SEC first team and has shown incredible versatility in leading the Bulldogs into the tournament. Gordon uses his size (6’4”, 230) and strength to get to the hole and his improved shooting has garnered the attention of NBA scouts.
Patrick Mills – Saint Mary’s: Mills is a 5’11” Australian freshman guard who is lightning-quick and could shock some teams in the tournament with his scoring ability. Earlier this season, Mills led Saint Mary’s to a victory over Oregon (who was ranked No. 11 at the time) by scoring 37 points. He averages 14.5 points, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals for the Gaels.
Others to Watch
Jarvis Varnado – Mississippi State
Dominic James – Marquette
Chris Douglas-Roberts – Memphis
Dionte Christmas – Temple
Joe Crawford – Kentucky
Projected Region Winner
The Texas Longhorns will benefit from the favourable venues and cut the nets in Houston on their way to San Antonio.
By ANDY GOLDSTEIN
At first, I was pretty bummed about getting stuck covering the Midwest. I mean, it’s the antithesis of flash. Instead, I get to go on about muckers (UNLV), grinders (Wisconsin), and plodders (Georgetown). Yes, the Midwest is the slowest region in the whole tournament, but there’s beauty in molassas ball, right? Who doesn’t love a 53-50 second round nailbiter!? I live to see the shot clock in the corner go from serene white to impending-doom-red! Every time! Okay, I can’t do this anymore. Seriously, I must have upset the March Madness gods. I hate stone-age basketball. They might as well get rid of the shot clock altogether. Oh no. I just realized Wisconsin could end up facing Georgetown in the third round. That narcolepsy-inducing game should come with a warning: please don’t listen on the radio if you’re operating a vehicle.
The Best Bets
Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 seed): The Big 12 Champions will be hard to stop behind a senior-laden team. A high power offense will be thrust forth in the early rounds of the tournament and my guess is they will make the Final Four.
Georgetown Hoyas (No. 2 seed): The Hoyas made a huge run in last year’s tournament and look to follow that up this season. Roy Hibbert elected to come back for his senior season instead of going pro and will lead a team with plenty of experience and a great shot in a tough bracket to make the Final Four.
Wisconsin Badgers (No. 3 seed): The Badgers probably feel snubbed. After winning the Big Ten tournament, as well as being ranked fifth in the country, they were only awarded a three seed in the Midwest. If Wisconsin can play as well as its coach Bo Ryan does the dance to Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat,” count them in to at least the Elite Eight with a great shot at making the Final Four.
Michael Beasley’s Kansas State squad strikes me as the team that could surprise the most. Obviously, they will have the best player in every game, which is a nice starting point. Maybe more importantly, they play a faster paced game than anyone else in the region, and they’re the only low-ranked team that will have a shot at controlling the tempo against the high seeds. While I do see them beating USC in first round, I think they’ll run into a wall against the Badgers. The only other double digit seed that I see with a chance to make a Sweet 16 run would be the Villanova Wildcats, who garnered a 12 seed. Interestingly, their first game against Clemson in the 5-12 matchup will be tougher than the second round matchups. Vanderbilt is a very weak No. 4, but Siena isn’t exactly a dangerous 13 seed, so the winner of Clemson-‘Nova should make it another round. I am not that bold, since Clemson is very strong and the Wildcats are too inconsistent, but if they do pull the upset, I totally called it.
Players to Watch
Mario Chalmers-Kansas: Kansas, clearly one of the best teams in the country, is a team that has a number of quality players. It’s almost unfair to single just one or two out, but guard Mario Chalmers has been playing well of late. Against Texas in the Big 12 title game, he scored a career-high 30 points.
Roy Hibbert-Georgetown: The centre from Georgetown can have a big impact on this bracket. Unfortunately, he’s shown a tendency to put himself in foul trouble, which cuts his minutes significantly. But he has plenty of experience after last year’s run.
Michael Beasley-Kansas State: The National Player of the Year runner up, he is an extreme force to be reckoned with. Averaging a double-double, Beasley can almost single-handedly lead his Wildcats to an upset over first round opponent USC and O.J. Mayo.
Others to Watch
Delonte Huff-Portland State
Projected Region Winner
I hate picking chalk. I despise it. I can’t think of anything worse. But the one redeeming part of having to slog through the Midwest Region is that I get to explain that Kansas is not only going to win the bracket, but also the National Championship. It has the balance to get through anyone.
Other than UCLA – a legitimate threat to win it all this year – the West Region isn’t exactly brimming with tourney contenders. Duke as a two seed? This is a team that couldn’t even win the ACC regular season title or the conference tournament. And now the Blue Devils have to travel far from home to try to win their region. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if they survive until the Elite Eight.
There are some interesting schools here, however. Drake, who shocked many by sweeping its way through the always fascinating MVC tourney; Jim Calhoun’s UConn Huskies, who seem to be rounding into form at the right time; and the Purdue Boilermakers, who have done an amazing job of turning the program around.
The Best Bets
UCLA (No. 1 seed): The Bruins probably have the easiest road to the Final Four of any of the No. 1 seeds. After wrapping up a third straight Pac-10 regular season title, UCLA swept through a tourney that featured six teams headed to the dance, and it came away unscathed, stretching an overall winning streak to 10 games. This club, capable of controlling games with its defense, has plenty of experience, having made it to the last two Final Fours. In fact, only Kentucky has more tournament appearances in its history. As long as Kevin Love’s back doesn’t act up again and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s ankle is okay, this team will roll.
Xavier (No. 3 seed): The Musketeers, normally a superb 3-point shooing team, went ice cold in the Atlantic 10 semis, sinking just 1-of-14. The result? Xavier was held to just 53 points, its lowest output of the season. But this team was headed to the dance either way, and the Musketeers, an excellent FT shooting team, are poised for a very deep tournament run.
Drake (No. 5 seed): I’m going out on a limb here a bit, but those Missouri Valley schools have made sexy choices in recent years, and this team did win 28 games this season. The only thing holding the Bulldogs back is experience – they haven’t made the tourney since 1971. But any team capable of ending the No. 1 seed jinx in the MVC (they’re the first club to win the tourney as the top seed in that conference in a decade) must have some kismet on their side. Besides, did you see what Drake did to Illinois State in the tourney final? Woah. The Bulldogs are capable of shredding opponents with an array of 3-point shooters, featuring four players who average well over one trey per game, including Josh Young and Klayton Korver, who both average better than two per game. Assuming Drake can get by a powerful Western Kentucky squad (and those No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups are always a minefield), this team has a chance to make some serious noise in the tourney.
West Virginia (No. 7 seed): Because of its ability to get hot and light it up, West Virginia will always be a threat. The Mountaineers showed this when they knocked off UConn in the Big East quarterfinals. I have my doubts about Duke’s ability to get past the Sweet 16, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Devils bow to WVU in the second round. The Mountaineers have an upset in them waiting to be unleashed.
Players to Watch
Jerryd Bayless-Arizona: The athletic and fast Bayless will be a lottery pick, but whether his NBA future is as a PG or a combo guard remains to be seen. Now is his chance to prove he can run an offense. Compared by some to Gilbert Arenas, another less-than-true PG who is an explosive scorer, Bayless averaged 20 PPG but he turns the ball over too much.
DeAndre Jordan-Texas A&M: With Jordan, it’s not so much what’s he done as what he might do. This seven-footer is blessed with a man-child’s body a la Dwight Howard, so NBA scouts are drooling as they consider him for a lottery pick slot. Coming off the bench this year, Jordan didn’t exactly wow anyone in his freshman season, but with his ability to be a fantastic, young low-post presence similar to Andrew Bynum, teams will be coveting this brimming-with-potential, athletic big man.
Russell Westbrook-UCLA: The first of a host of UCLA stars expected to be drafted this summer, this soph exploded onto the scene this year, and was blazing down the stretch, scoring in double figures in eight straight games until the Stanford game Saturday. Westbrook wears No. 0 but is anything but in scouts’ minds, establishing himself as a clear lottery pick with his athleticism and quickness. This lefty combo guard, compared to Monta Ellis, will need to add strength, and is certainly not someone who will step in to the NBA and make an immediate impact, but Westbrook has a chance to cement his status as a top 10 pick with a big tourney.
Hasheem Thabeet-Connecticut: This dude is a serious blocking machine, recording at least two swats per game for the past 14 contests. At 7’3″, he is an incredibly intimidating presence under his own basket, earlier this year putting up a 10-block game. However, as dominating as Thabeet is on D, he is a weak post player, only capable of scoring when he gets position within a few feet of the bucket. Still, Thabeet, who averaged 4.5 BPG this season, looks like he’ll be a lottery pick and take his place as the next Dikembe Mutombo, throwing nightly block parties in the NBA.
Kevin Love-UCLA: Love has scouts drooling with his combination of size (6’10”, 271), strength and skills. There’s almost nothing he can’t do, whether it’s scoring, rebounding, blocking or stepping behind the arc to can a 3-pointer. Gifted with a great jump shot as well as superb post skills, Love looks like a mid first round pick right now, but a big tourney could vault him into a lottery slot. The only major knock on Love is his lack of speed, so he’s best suited to thrive on a half-court team.
Others to Watch
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute-UCLA
Courtney Lee-Western Kentucky
Projected Region Winner
UCLA is on its way to a third straight Final Four, and is a good bet to go to the Championship game.
By DANIEL OLSEN
In this writer’s humble opinion, the East is the toughest region in the tournament. Not only does it have the number one overall seed in UNC, but Indiana is an eight seed! The Hoosiers have obviously struggled since the dismissal of cheater, ahem, coach Kelvin Sampson, but still they had a very solid year in a strong Big Ten Conference.
Speaking of Indiana, look for a potential huge matchup with UNC in the second round, assuming the Hoosiers can escape Arkansas in a tough opening round contest.
Also in this bracket you have a previously ranked number one (Tennessee), a former Cinderella mid-major in George Mason, always tough Louisville, and a new Pac-10 powerhouse in Washington State.
With the exception of a few of the lower ranked teams, just about anyone could potentially win this bracket.
The Best Bets
UNC (No. 1 seed):
Tell me you want to bet against the number one overall seed in the tournament and team who finished number one in the final AP rankings. Then I will tell you that you’re crazy. Led by centre Tyler Hansbrough and guard Ty Lawson, this team is tough. Fresh off the ACC championship, the Tar Heels are gunning for the national championship and are poised to make a huge run led by coach Roy Williams. However, after round one, there will be no easy games for the Tar Heels.
Tennessee (No. 2 seed): While the Volunteers stumbled a bit after briefly being ranked number one in the nation, they still finished with a two seed in the East and look poised to dominate the bottom half of the East bracket. Chris Lofton will have to continue to be a super stroker for Tennesse to make a run at the Final Four. With Bruce Pearl at the helm, it looks like the sky might be the limit for the Volunteers. They have plenty of experience with a team that made a deep run into the tournament last season as well.
Washington State (No. 4 seed): Sure they are from Pullman, Washington (where?) and are only making their second tournament appearance in the last 14 seasons. But, it is their second tournament appearance in a row and is being led by one of the most promising young coaches in the nation in Tony Bennett (just ask Indiana, a school that can’t stop gazing at him after the dismissal of Sampson). The Cougars are a senior-led team with guards Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low. They can shoot the three almost as well as anyone in the country with four legitimate three-point threats on the team. Factor in the Pac-10’s best defense statistically, and they could advance to at least the Sweet Sixteen.
George Mason (No. 12 seed): These guys know how to win. Just two years ago they made it to the Final Four out of nowhere! They still have two starters from that squad in Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas. The Patriots have had some big wins this season, including one over Beasley’s Kansas State. They have plenty enough offense, but they will have to play big time defense in order to have a chance in this tournament.
Players to Watch
Kyle Weaver-Washington State: The 6’6″ senior guard is one of the best defensive players in the land and has had a shutdown season leading him to be a probable late first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. While he doesn’t always light up the scoreboard with points like Beasley and Mayo, he will chip in 10-15 points a game and a couple of steals per contest. He is the heart and soul of the Cougars.
Tyler Hansbrough-UNC: He’s only the National Player of the Year. No big deal right? Wrong. Hansbrough is unstoppable at times and the centre will only continue to shine in the tournament. Look for him to have a double-double in every contest in the tournament and drop even more scouts’ jaws with his uncanny ability to score and rebound. He should be leading his Tar Heels deep in the tournament.
Reggie Larry-Boise State: Sure, the Broncos are from the mediocre WAC conference, but Larry is definitely something to write home about. The forward is averaging 19.6 points per contest as well as pulling down 9.3 rebounds. The team barely made the tournament after a triple overtime victory in the WAC championship against New Mexico State. What did Larry do in that contest? Oh, he merely poured in 31 points and pulled down 16 points. No big deal.
Luke Harangody-Notre Dame: No one said anything about Harangody prior to the season. Now, the whole nation is raving about him. Going into the tournament, the forward is averaging a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds per game. Notre Dame will need him if it has any chance of advancing, as it has no easy games in the bracket, starting off with Cinderella special George Mason. But, Harangody has shown he has what it takes to lead the Fighting Irish and he will do just that.
Chris Lofton-Tennessee: This senior rainmaker has led Tennessee all season in three-point shooting at a 40 per cent clip while averaging 16 points per game. This is his last chance to shine in the NCAA tournament and he hopes to impress NBA scouts and improve his draft stock which he should be able to do as his Volunteers have a favourable first few games.
Others to Watch
Derrick Low-Washington State
Projected Region Winner
I hate being the guy to just go with the obvious, but I will do it anyways. The winner has to be UNC. I do not think anyone can really match up with Hansbrough, and he will dominate all the big men in the bracket. That being said, Tennessee is the one team that can challenge the Heels. But still, go ahead and pick UNC.
The Final Four
Based on our predictions, the Final Four will consist of Texas, Kansas, UCLA, and UNC. That’s right, three number one seeds. Guess we like to play it safe, huh?
Bold prediction: the winner of the best Conference in the land (the Pac-10) will win the 2008 Tournament. Yah, UCLA all the way!