- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

THE FIELD

1. Memphis

Record: 33-1

Conf: C-USA

Previous NCAA appearances: 20

2. Texas

Record: 28-6

Conf: Big 12

Previous NCAA appearances: 22

3. Stanford

Record: 26-7

Conf: Pac-10

Previous NCAA appearances: 15

4. Pittsburgh

Record: 26-9

Conf: Big East

Previous NCAA appearances: 18

5. Michigan State

Record: 25-8

Conf: Big Ten

Previous NCAA appearances: 21

6. Marquette

Record: 24-9

Conf: Big East

Previous NCAA appearances: 8

7. Miami

Record: 22-10

Conf: ACC

Previous NCAA appearances: 5

8. Mississippi State

Record: 22-10

Conf: SEC

Previous NCAA appearances: 9

9. Oregon

Record: 18-13

Conf: Pac-10

Previous NCAA appearances: 5

10. St. Mary’s, Calif.

Record: 25-6

Conf: West Coast

Previous NCAA appearances: 3

11. Kentucky

Record: 18-12

Conf: SEC

Previous NCAA appearances: 48

12. Temple

Record: 21-12

Conf: Atlantic 10

Previous NCAA appearances: 25

13. Oral Roberts

Record: 24-8

Conf: Summit League

Previous NCAA appearances: 4

14. Cornell

Record: 20-5

Conf: Ivy League

Previous NCAA appearances: 1

15. Austin Peay

Record: 24-10

Conf: Ohio Valley

Previous NCAA appearances: 5

16. Texas-Arlington

Record: 21-11

Conf: Southland

Previous NCAA appearances: 0

BRACKET BULLIES

Memphis: Oh, does this come with a caveat. No team that shoots free throws like Memphis will win a national championship. It just won’t happen. But the Tigers still have the talent to make a deep run, maybe even reach the final weekend for the first time since 1985. Beware the dribble-drive motion if Memphis plays the way it wants to, it is nearly unstoppable.

Texas: If you like resumes, the Longhorns are your team. Texas’ list of victims reads like a who’s who: Tennessee, UCLA, Saint Mary’s, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas. Rick Barnes has done the impossible, making the Longhorns better without Kevin Durant. The Initials Gang in the backcourt D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams will take Texas far.

BRACKET BUSTS

Marquette: This year’s alternate spelling of “boring” is “M-A-R-Q-U-E-T-T-E.” The Golden Eagles have hovered around the bottom on the top 25 all season, occasionally snagging a decent victory and more often than not losing to superior opponents, often by a lot. Marquette faces Kentucky in the opener and probably won’t survive the first weekend.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels might still pop up on some radars despite losing to San Diego in the West Coast semifinals, but they really shouldn’t. They have some nice wins (Drake, Gonzaga) and Patrick Mills is one of several fine players on the well-coached roster. But just because this team was ranked not long ago, it doesn’t mean it is a good bet to do much damage.

DREAM DRAWS

Memphis: In some ways, up-tempo Oregon with its perimeter stars is a scarier opponent in than second round than either Pittsburgh or Michigan State would be in the regional semifinals. The road to the Elite Eight looks good.

Stanford: The Cardinal might have some trouble with Marquette in the second round, but things appear reasonably clear to move onto the second weekend.

NIGHTMARE DRAWS

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs did not need to run into athletic teams smart enough to find open shots. No one will nominate Memphis or Oregon for Mensa membership, but neither is a team the boys from Stark Vegas wanted to see.

Michigan State: The Spartans, who seem to fall apart nearly every time they cross the Michigan state line, get a well-coached team from eastern Pennsylvania (Temple) and then probably a well-coached team from western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh). Oh, and the games are in Denver. Not good.

BRACKET BESTS

Best chic offense Memphis, Dribble-drive motion: Its creator ex-Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg is out of a job, but the dribble-drive motion has fetched plenty of ink and spawned more than enough fear for the Tigers’ opponents. Memphis has seen every defense imaginable sagging zone, matchup zone, triangle-and-two, you name it to be kept out of a scheme that relies on attacking the basket rather than motion and screens.

Best Houdini act Miami: How do you turn a 12-20 team into one that reaches the NCAA tournament. Add a dash of frontcourt and POOF! your problems go away. While health has helped the Hurricanes punch their first tournament ticket since 2002, they also managed to overcome a 1-6 midseason slide to materialize as the ACC’s fourth-best team.

Best unheralded frontcourt Mississippi State: Quick, name the nation’s leader in blocked shots. It’s the Bulldogs’ Jarvis Varnado, whose triple-double against Kentucky is one of the season’s best performance. Varnado teams with Charles Rhodes to make Mississippi State an intriguing sleeper possibility for an extended run. Why don’t people know about these guys? Probably because the SEC West is middling.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Miami vs. Saint Mary’s: The Hurricanes are in the tournament for the first time since 2002, and coach Frank Haith could get a shot at mentor Rick Barnes of Texas in the second round. But first up are the Gaels, who could be more than just a pest in the first round.

Patrick Stevens and Stephen Whyno

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