Tigers tops in the South
March 12th, 2007
Joe Kendall, CT Sports Editor
The South Region is perhaps the most harebrained set of sixteen schools ever assembled for the purpose of playing basketball. None of the teams are very scary on paper, and the matchups, at least at first-glance, fail to present any really compelling storylines.
The No. 1/No. 16 game pits Ohio State against a Central Connecticut State that came on strong at the end of the season. The Central Connecticut Blue Devils won 18 of their last 19, including impressive victories over Mount St. Mary's (RPI 256), St. Francis (RPI 280), and Wagner (RPI 299). They also sport a solid core of upperclassmen and a stocked roster that can play nine deep (due in part to the fact the roster contains only nine players). Ohio State has Greg Oden. Advantage: Ohio State.
After Ohio State is done mopping the floor with the Blue Devils, Brigham Young University and Xavier. they will duke it out for the chance to lose to the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Even though they'll blow through their first two games, Ohio State isn't a shoe-in for the Final Four. Watching the Big 10 Championship last Sunday, I saw a game that more closely resembled a Friday night high school contest than a conference title match-up between two of the supposed best three teams in the country. Both teams missed layups, threw the ball away with unsettling regularity and failed to convert open shots. The offensively inept Big 10 is the most overrated conference in the country and its crowned champions are the most vulnerable of No. 1 seeds.
Ohio State's best player and alleged demigod (I'm told four out of five media members agree), Greg Oden is going to be a very good pro but he's been hobbled by a hand injury much of the season and hasn't blossomed into an offensive force. Right now he looks like a shorter, less muscular Dikembe Mutumbo who lacks a signature catch phrase like Dikembe's "Who wants to sex Mutumbo?" (for those of you who don't know, this was allegedly Mutumbo's calling card at D.C. nightclubs during his time at Georgetown). Outside of Oden, the only Buckeye worth noting is Mike Conley Jr., a slasher with a decent outside shot and a penchant for playing second fiddle.
Moving along, No. 5 seed Tennessee needed a miracle three from Chris Lofton to escape what would have been an embarrassing first-round exit at the hands of Winthrop last year when the Volunteers were a No. 2 seed. No such luck for Lofton this time around. Long Beach State takes on Tennessee in Columbus where their former head coach Seth Greenberg will be in town leading the Hokies. The No. 12 seed 49ers will get a few tips from the ol' ball coach and are my pick for an upset special over the Volunteers.
The Long Beach win sets the (gasp) No. 4 seed Virginia Cavaliers up for an easy run to the Sweet Sixteen and a date with Ohio State. UVa head coach Dave Leitao has to like his team's prospects of making the Elite Eight, and I (double-gasp) can't blame him. The Wahoos' excellent guard play will pose problems for the Buckeyes and between centers Laurynas Mikalauskas and Tunji Soroye. The Cavs should have enough foreign footage to keep Oden in check.
In the bottom half of the bracket I have Louisville, Texas A&M, Creighton and Memphis winning their first round games.
The TAMU-Louisville matchup in the round of 32 will be one of least talked about but cleanest played games of the tournament. Both teams pass well, don't commit many turnovers and the Aggies's Acie Law IV is the best player in the NCAA whose name is obligatorily followed by a Roman numeral. Unfortunately, for the long line of Acie Laws out there, Louisville and leader Terrence Williams will advance to the Sweet Sixteen and get a crack at Memphis, who my psychic tells me handily defeat Creighton.
This could set up an all-Italian coaching matchup that would make Dick Vitale, half the city of Boston and the entirety of northern Jersey proud to call the boot home. John Calipari and Rick Pitino are former Conference-USA rivals and two of the most seasoned coaches in the country. Calipari and the Tigers will run away with this one, extending their school record winning streak to 25 games.
The Tigers are the toughest team in the field to read. Coming out of the talent-poor Conference-USA, Memphis has faced a light schedule all season but has continually blown out opponents. They have nine players who play 10 or more minutes per game, and are eerily similar to last year's champion the Florida Gators. The Tigers don't have any one standout player, rather they have a very balanced line-up, with only one player averaging more than 25 minutes per game and with four players who pose serious scoring threats on any given night. Have they beaten anyone worth noting so far this season? No. But with North Texas, Creighton, Louisville and UVa standing in their way, they won't have to beat anyone worth noting on their way to Final Four either.
The Memphis Tigers will torch a path through the South like Sherman, straight to Atlanta. Unfortunately for the Tigers, like Sherman they'll meet formidable opposition in Atlanta and be quickly defeated. Actually, I'm being told that Sherman was met with little resistance in Atlanta and razed the city to the ground. In that case, Memphis will win the title and John Calipari will be charged with 133 counts of arson.
I personally guarantee these picks to be right and I'll put my money where my mouth is on that. The Collegiate Times will fiscally compensate anyone who loses in an office or dorm pool while following my selections (Note: This offer is pending EMCVT review, offer expires March 12, limit one per customer).