The Committee certainly did top seeded Memphis no favors. At 33-1, they may have been rated the second best #1 seed, but they were given the toughest route to San Antonio. Not only could they see a rugged, hot, and finally healthy Pittsburgh squad in the Sweet 16 as the four seed, but the bottom half has in our opinion the best #2 seed in Texas as well as the best #3 seed in Stanford. More reasons to fret if you are Memphis: If you do survive an athletic Mississippi State team in the second round and Pittsburgh, they could be facing a potential road game to get to the Final Four against Texas in Houston, where UT has a huge alumni base. It will be tough sledding for the Tigers.
Final Four Contenders
#1 Memphis has been a constant in the top three all year long. They have a magnificent backcourt with depth, speed, and scoring ability. Wing Chris Douglas-Roberts should be a first team All-American. He is a scoring machine when he wants to be and has to be. Freshman PG Derrick Rose has been described by Coach John Calipari as “the ultimate teammate.” When he is called upon to score, he scores. When he needs to run the offense and feed the hot hand, he does it. He is a special talent. The depth in the backcourt is pretty amazing. Junior Antonio Anderson is a savvy veteran; Doneal Mack loves to shoot the three-ball. Of his 84 field goals made this year, 63 of them were from deep. Willie Kemp gets 15 minutes a night and can handle the ball if need be. If need be, Freshman Jeff Robinson can be used in a pinch. Late in the season, Calipari went to him and struck gold.
Up front, you have bruiser Joey Dorsey who is as physical as any big man in the country. His main issue is keeping his emotions in check. When he plays smart and stays out of foul trouble, the Tigers are extremely tough to beat. He is a beast on the glass and their best post defender. Next to him is beanpole Robert Dozier. A 6-9, 215, Dozier is more of a finesse guy who scores about 10 a game and grabs six boards. However, he is inconsistent, only scoring in double figures three times in his last 10 games. Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggert has been a godsend for Calipari. He gives them a quality, battle-tested big man to spell Dozier and the often foul plagued Dorsey. This may be Calipari’s best team at Memphis, but the lack of quality opponents over the past three months could derail them if they are locked in a close game late.
We love #2 Texas. This is a team who shoots as well as any in the country. Point Guard D.J. Augustin is a First team All America. He is brilliant with the ball and deadly when shooting. He and SG A.J. Abrams play so well off of each other. Abrams is one of the best catch and shoot players you will find on the college level. The two combine to average 36 points per game. That is what you call production. Then you add in PF Damion James, who has taken his game to another level during conference play. He is a double-double machine and can step out and hit the three. He is an extremely tough guy to defend; he is too strong for a wing player and too quick for normal four men. Center Connor Atchley rebounds like a big man and nails jumpers like a shooting guard. What makes him so different is that he draws his man away from the basket and opens up the lane for Augustin and Abrams to cut to the hole. Justin Mason is the glue guy that Coach Rick Barnes just loves. If this team has a hole, it’s their lack of depth. They play a lot of zone and that keeps them out of foul trouble and more fresh than you’d think, but if James or Atchley gets two quick fouls, Barnes must go to little used bigs Alexis Wangmene and big Dexter Pittman because Freshman sixth man Gary Johnson is nursing an ankle injury. You can bet Abrams and Augustin will play the full 40 in any game that isn’t a blowout. This is a team that could go the distance. Don’t forget, they own wins over UCLA, Kansas, and Tennessee.
Stanford would most likely be a #2 seed if not for two poor officiated games against UCLA during the season. If it’s possible for a team this highly seeded to be under the radar, than the Cardinal are just that. Everyone knows about the Lopez Twins, Brook and Robin, but many don’t know that Brook averaged 19 and eight and outside of Tyler Hansbrough was probably the best pure post player in the nation. The offense runs through him and the opponents know it, yet he manages to come up big in big games. An intriguing matchup would be if he met up with Memphis’ Joey Dorsey in the Elite Eight. His brother Robin is no slouch himself, averaging in double figures and playing solid defense. The Cardinal’s fortunes will rest with their guard play. Anthony Goods is a very capable scorer and a clutch performer. Mitch Johnson is a solid defender and role player who does all the little things. Senior SF Fred Washington provides a veteran presence on the floor and usually guards the opponent’s best perimeter player. Lawrence Hill and Taj Finger provide experience and depth off the bench. Trent Johnson reminds us a lot of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, as he gets the most with the least amount of talent of any coach west of the Mississippi.
While ESPN’s Bob Knight (it still feels weird saying that) picks #4 Pittsburgh to win the National Championship, we just don’t see how they can come out of this tough region, but they deserve mention. PG Levance Fields is back and healthy and has transformed the Panthers into contenders again. Watch out for SF Sam Young and PF Dejuan Blair when they meet Memphis in the Sweet 16.
Not many people are talking about #8 Mississippi State, but we are. They have a very good shot at knocking off Memphis in the second round because they have three game changers on their squad. Wing Jamont Gordon is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. He is a two time all SEC performer, can score on anyone off the dribble, and is as savvy as they come. PF Charles Rhodes is a force on the block, scoring 17 points per game. Jarvis Varnado is the best shot blocker west of UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet. His wingspan changes the game for any guard trying drive to the hole or any big man trying to post him up. Watch out for the Bulldogs.
#12 Temple comes out of the rough and tumble A-10 conference as the Tournament Champs. As a 12 seed, they get a winnable first round game with under-achieving Michigan State. They have two solid guards in Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale leading the way. Together they average over 35 points and 13 boards per game. They lack depth, but have the guards to play into the second weekend of the tournament.
Memphis – Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Willie Kemp, Jeff Robinson
This is a backcourt loaded region with Marquette, Texas, St. Mary, and Temple. As good as D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams, and Justin Mason are for Texas, there is no depth behind them. The Tigers can bring three guys in who give quality minutes. Plus, Rose is a lottery pick and CDR is a first team All-American.
Pittsburgh – Dejuan Blair, Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs, Gilbert Brown
Blair gets you 15 and 10 seemingly every night. Sam Young went from a bench player to a star this year, leading the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game. When these two stay on the floor together, they give opponents fits with the strength and athleticism. Biggs is an excellent role player and Brown, since the injuries to guards Mike Cook and Levance Fields, has gotten more and more minutes and has responded.
Jamie Dixon - Pittsburgh
This is another loaded coaching bracket with guys like Tom Izzo, John Calipari, and Rick Barnes. We almost went Barnes who has done a magnificent job this year, putting together a better team without Kevin Durant, but the nod goes to Dixon who has continued the legacy left behind by Ben Howland when he went to UCLA. His teams aren’t littered with McDonald’s All Americans, yet they are always tougher than the team they play and play solid defense. Dixon’s players would run through a wall for him.
First Round Upset Alert
#12 Temple over #5 Michigan State – The Spartans only seem to play well in East Lansing. They struggled all year away from home. This one is played in Denver, a neutral site, but as this game is close and gets later and later, the crowd will undoubtedly by cheering for the underdog Owls. They have the guards (Christmas and Tyndale) who can outscore and wear down MSU’s Drew Neitzel and Kalin Lucas. It’s not as though they haven’t played good competition this year in a league (A-10) that was better than the Big Ten this year.
Best First Round Matchup
#12 Temple vs. #5 Michigan State – We looked at Mississippi State/Oregon and Miami/St. Mary’s, but truly, there are few first round games we’d rather see than Temple/Michigan State. Great guard play on both sides, battle-tested teams, smart coaches in Tom Izzo and Fran Dunphy. Should be a good show at 10:30 am mountain time.
Juiciest Potential Matchups
2nd Round – #1 Memphis vs. #8 Mississippi State – The Tigers better watch out. They will have a hard time scoring in the post against the beast that is Jarvis Varnado. Who is going to attempt to stop Jamont Gordon on the wing? Can Joey Dorsey slow Charles Rhodes? On the other side, will Memphis makes enough outside shots to set up their press? Chris Douglas-Roberts will be the difference in this one, but it would be no shock to us if the Bulldogs pulled off this stunner.
Sweet 16 – #2 Texas vs. #3 Stanford, #1 Memphis vs. #4 Pittsburgh – This is what makes the South so brutal. All four of these teams are Final Four caliber. Texas/Stanford would be a great contrast in styles. Texas wants to play the game in the 80’s, Stanford in the 60’s. Memphis/Pittsburgh would be an ultra-physical game in the post. We’d love to see this doubleheader.
#1 Memphis vs. #2 Texas – These two teams will get up and down the court all game long. There will be scorers galore on the floor, plus a great coaching matchup in John Calipari vs. Rick Barnes.
Players With the Most to Prove
Anthony Goods – Stanford – The best Guard Stanford has must be the outside compliment to Brook Lopez in the post or else the Cardinal could be done earlier than they would like.
Jamont Gordon – Mississippi State – The ultra-talented Bulldog is usually the best player on the court when he plays, yet he gets no national publicity. This tournament is where he is going to make his NBA money.
Joey Dorsey – Memphis – The Tigers flat out will not go to the Final Four if Dorsey gets in major foul trouble or loses his cool. He is their best big man and an extremely physical presence in the post, but he can be easily rattled.
As we said earlier, this is a brutal region with four legitimate Final Four threats. There is one major advantage here though – Texas gets to play the regionals in Houston, where you can bet there will be burnt orange every where. Memphis will meet them in the Elite Eight, but will be out shot by D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams, Connor Atchley, and Damion James. The type of game the Tigers don’t want to get into is a three-point shooting contest. They aren’t great from deep, but love to shoot threes anyways. It will be their undoing and Rick Barnes will take his Longhorns to the Final Four.