Having brought Kansas and Tennessee to the Final Four in Part 1 of the NCAA Tournament preview Tuesday, let's turn to the right side of the bracket and see who'll be there with them.
The suspense is killing me. You?
Note: All times p.m., EDT
Little Rock, Friday
(1) Memphis vs. (16) UT-Arlington, 9:55 p.m.
Memphis spent a good part of the season undefeated and ranked No. 1 before losing to Tennessee at home on Feb. 23. That's still their only loss, but a lot of people who think about this sort of thing think the Tigers' poor free-throw shooting will do them in. Maybe, but I think having to play Texas in Houston in the Elite 8, if the top two seeds avoid upset, is what'll do it. First Tournament appearance for the Mavericks.
Second round: Win over Oregon
(8) Mississippi State vs. (9) Oregon, 7:25
If the threes are falling for 5-6 Oregon guard Tajuan Porter, look out. Otherwise, the Ducks will go down quickly. Mississippi State is a good defensive club, but Porter doesn't care. He hoists 'em from 30 feet. I'll go with Porter's jumper for one game. What the heck.
Second round: Loss to Memphis
(5) Michigan State vs. (12) Temple, 12:30
You can never really write off Michigan State, even when the Spartans aren't an obvious Final Four team. Drew Neitzel, a freshman starter on the 2005 Final Four team, is the leader now. They'll go as far as he can take them, which is probably two wins at the most. Temple got hot at the end of the year and won the Atlantic 10 tournament, giving the Owls a post-John Chaney return to the Tournament a little quicker than expected. An upset win here -- insert obligatory comment about how some 12 always beats a 5 -- would likely set up a cool second-round game for Temple.
Second round: Loss to Pittsburgh
(4) Pittsburgh vs. (13) Oral Roberts, 3:00
Pittsburgh struggled with injuries this year and wasn't able to play the tough man-to-man defense that's the Panthers' trademark. But they've gotten healthy and come into the Tournament off a win in the Big East tournament. Junior guard Levance Fields, whose injury knocked Pitt off-stride, is back, and while the Panthers have gotten hot again, they don't look as good as they were looking just before Christmas when they beat Duke.
Second round: Win over Michigan State
(6) Marquette vs. (11) Kentucky, 2:30
With a different word on the front of the jerseys, no way Kentucky's in this Tournament, never mind seeded 11th. The Wildcats only won 18, lost to Gardner-Webb and dropped one to Vanderbilt by 41. Still, they've won 11 of 14 and have a win over Tennessee, so they're not to be taken lightly. Marquette, with one of the nation's best backcourts, will win as long as it doesn't make that mistake.
Second round: Loss to Stanford
(3) Stanford vs. (14) Cornell, 5:00
In the shades-of-red bowl, the Cardinal will test my theory that it's interior play, not guard play, that's key at Tournament time. Stanford is huge in the middle with the 7-foot Lopez twins and forward Lawrence Hill. Another test of this theory will come in the second round, when Stanford figures to play the guard-heavy GoldenEagleWarriors. The Big Red will try to ride a shooting-team's chance to the first Tournament win for an Ivy League team since 1998.
Second round: Win over Marquette
Little Rock, Friday
(7) Miami vs. (10) St. Mary's, 12:30
The Gaels take over the old Gonzaga role of being the underseeded team from the West Coast Conference. Same exact team playing in the Northeast would be a 7. In fact, if these teams switched uniforms but were otherwise the same, the seeds wouldn't change. Miami has to hope Jack McClinton heats up from beyond the arc. St. Mary's is deep, can score on the run or in the half-court, plays defense and is lousy with Australian guys. The Gaels are tough.
Second round: Loss to Texas
(2) Texas vs. (15) Austin Peay, 3:00
The Longhorns, like North Carolina, get to play near-home games through the Elite 8. Memphis will be the darling in Little Rock, but Texas won't have to play the Tigers till Houston. I've got that home-state-court advantage down as the thing that gets Texas to the Final Four, and sensational sophomore D.J. Augustin as what gets them all the way to the all-Big XII title game. The Governors -- love that nickname, and they have one of the nation's best cheers, too, one that briefly became appropriate at Kansas State this year -- drew praise from John Calipari after Memphis beat them by 22 in November.
Second round: Win over St. Mary's
South Sweet 16: Memphis over Pittsburgh, Texas over Stanford
South Elite 8: Texas over Memphis
(1) UCLA vs. (16) Mississippi Valley State, 9:55
Here's what I think of UCLA, and if you repeat this I'll deny it. I think the Bruins are going to win the Tournament. Freshman center Kevin Love has turned UCLA from a Final Four team to a championship team. They can score all kinds of ways and they play Ben Howland-style defense. Their only real negative is a lack of depth, which makes them susceptible to foul trouble. But. You don't win this column's Panel o' Experts -- which I've never come close to doing -- without guessing right about one big upset. I think. I've never really thought about it, actually. But I've spent the better part of a half-century rooting against UCLA, so whattaya say after they get their two near-home wins in Anaheim we have 'em getting knocked off in the Sweet 16 by UConn?
Second round: Win over BYU
(8) BYU vs. (9) Texas A&M, 7:25
BYU is one of those maddeningly -- if you're the other team -- efficient, fundamentally sound teams. The Cougars move the ball, they don't turn it over, they take good shots, they play solid defense. They probably clean their rooms too. It serves them well against inconsistent, turnover-prone teams like the Aggies. Against UCLA, not enough.
Second round: Loss to UCLA
(5) Drake vs. (12) Western Kentucky, 12:30
Quick: Where's Drake? Des Moines. I can never remember that. Not too many conference MVPs have Adam Emmenecker's résumé: He's a former walk-on who averaged all of 7.7 points per game. But his leadership of the drive-and-dish offense is what got the Bulldogs this far. They're a jump-shooting team that can hang around with anyone if the shots are falling. The Hilltoppers are athletic and capable of playing a tough man-to-man defense that does the same for them. They lost tough road games to higher seeds Tennessee, Gonzaga and South Alabama. They don't appear to match up well with Drake.
Second round: Loss to Connecticut
(4) Connecticut vs. (13) San Diego, 3:00
UConn is the beneficiary of my irrational hatred of UCLA, which gets the Huskies to the Elite 8 in my bracket. UConn has that inside-outside thing I like at Tournament time, with point guard A.J. Price and a huge, physical front court led on the defensive end by 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. They don't have the experience thing I like, and if you don't have that, you need a ton of talent. UConn has a lot, but maybe not a ton. San Diego got here by winning the WCC tournament in its own gym, surprising Gonzaga in the title game.
Second round: Win over Drake
(6) Purdue vs. (11) Baylor, 2:50
One of the great moments of the year, and certainly the greatest moment of Sunday's selection TV show, Billy Packer included, was the intensely joyous reaction of Baylor's players and fans to the news that the Bears had captured the very last at-large spot. This is a program that five years ago was as low as low can go in the aftermath of a murder on the team and the coach's depraved attempt to smear the name of the victim to cover up NCAA rules violations. Coach Scott Drew took over in 2003 and has worked a near-miracle, turning around a program that only two years ago went 4-13 in a season in which it played only conference games as part of its punishment for the earlier mess.
Baylor defines scrappy, simply playing harder and faster than anybody else. That can lead a team to win more games than its talent gives them a right to win, though the victories get harder to come by right about now. Purdue is a grinding defensive team that should beat Baylor, but the Boilermakers are very young, and the combination of the bright lights and Baylor's intensity could be dangerous. The pick here is Purdue, but wouldn't it be something if Baylor went on a run from a double-digit seed?
Second round: Loss to Xavier
(3) Xavier vs. (14) Georgia, 5:20
Baylor aside, Georgia has the most amazing story in the Tournament, coming from nowhere to win the tornado-damaged SEC tournament by winning two games in one day -- then the title game the next day. But I'm sorry to say that under my newly proposed rule, the Bulldogs wouldn't even be here. That rule again: If you're from a big conference and you're not good enough to get seeded 10 or higher, it's off to the NIT with you. I'm also sorry to say the Bulldogs aren't that good. They just got hot in a crazy tournament. Xavier is good, a big, deep, athletic team that likes to run. Slow the Musketeers down and you've got something, but that's easier said than done. It seems like Drew Lavender has been leading this team since there really were musketeers. I know this is going to be the year when all four No. 1's make the Final Four, but I've got two second seeds and a 3 going. Xavier is the 3.
Second round: Win over Purdue
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(7) West Virginia vs. (10) Arizona, 9:40
The Mountaineers are led by juniors and seniors, they play defense and they have one of the hottest players in the country in Joe Alexander. They probably lack the inside presence to really make a run, but with their shooting ability, it wouldn't be out of the question to see them next weekend. It's been a rough season for Arizona without coach Lute Olson, who'll return from a leave of absence next year. The Wildcats are probably not a legitimate Tournament team, though they have their moments, and they're tough defensively, so they do have a chance to shut down West Virginia and advance to a second-round beating.
Second round: Loss to Duke
(2) Duke vs. (15) Belmont, 7:10
How did Duke get to be a 2-seed? I guess going 27-5 against an ACC schedule will do it, but the Blue Devils don't really have that look this year, do they? They lack size and strength inside, and while they've been able to win with a perimeter team, that sort of thing usually doesn't carry a team to April. I've got them winning twice before running into an Xavier team I'm finding myself more enamored of than I thought I had been. But first I've got the bomb-shooting Belmont Bruins hanging with them for 30 minutes before Duke pulls away.
Second round: Win over West Virginia
West Sweet 16: Connecticut over UCLA, Xavier over Duke
West Elite 8: Xavier over Connecticut
Final Four: Kansas over Tennessee, Texas over Xavier
Championship Game: Kansas over Texas
Previous column: NCAA Tournament preview, Part 1
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