The three days of waiting are over. Basketball is back. Sixteen teams will be cut in half by Friday night and then down to just the Final Four by Sunday night. Tonight's action features games from the Atlanta and Oakland Regions.
#1 Memphis vs. #13 Bradley 6:27 PM CST
This is the biggest mismatch of seeds left in the tournament. Consequently, it will undoubtedly be seen by only a small portion of the country. The other reason is Duke and LSU play at the same time. That said, this game is worth a look. Is there anyway Bradley's magical run continues? Not likely.
I had the privilege of watching the Memphis Tigers in person for their first two games. John Calipari's team is impressive. I knew they were long and athletic and could turn turnovers into easy baskets faster than Terrell Owens can start running his mouth, but I didn't know they were as good as they are. They are play excellent defense, hit the open three pointer and dictate tempo at will. Memphis has the bench that most college coaches can only dream about. The Tigers have nine players averaging double figures in minutes. They made runs on both Friday and Sunday with starters Darius Washington, Shawne Williams, and Rodney Carney on the bench.
Washington is a solid but possibly overrated point guard. He does have the ability to penetrate and hit the open outside jumper but doesn't control the game enough. Carney is one of the best athletes in college basketball. He plays great defense by using his wingspan to harass opponents. He is also able to hit mid range and three point jumpers with consistency. And if he ever gets the ball on a fast break, be ready to jump out of your seat. Shawne Williams is a super talented freshman with NBA potential and Joey Dorsey provides just enough inside for opponents to play Memphis honestly. The Memphis bench was fantastic in Dallas. Andre Allan was especially impressive as the backup point guard.
I know very little about Bradley. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see any of their first two games. The Braves are not to be taken lightly though. They knocked off two legitimate Final Four contenders in Kansas and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds.
Bradley finished tied for fifth in the Missouri Valley regular season at 11-7. They did however make the conference tournament finals before falling to Southern Illinois and played the best basketball of any team in the MVC down the stretch. The two wins in their conference tournament secured an at-large berth to the NCAAs.
The Braves are led be seven foot sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant. He had a monster 28 point and seven rebound performance in the win over Pitt on Sunday. He is the key to any upset possibility. If Bradley can control tempo, limit turnovers, and get big performances from Bryant on both ends of the floor, then they have a chance. If Memphis is able to force a full court game with their defensive pressure, hit the open three, and control their own turnovers, then the game will be theirs.
Prediction: Bradley is athletic. Memphis is more athletic. Even though Bradley is comfortable with an up tempo game, this one could easily get out of hand. The Braves hang close for a half before foul trouble and / or the difference in talent becomes too much. Memphis wins, 78-71.
#2 UCLA vs. #3 Gonzaga 8:57 PM CST
This contest will decide the best basketball team west of the Big 12. I am not a fan of West Coast basketball and don't really care for either of these teams but it should be a good game.
Gonzaga is of course led by All American Adam Morrison. Morrison had a big first round game in their win over Xavier but followed it up with a lackluster performance in the victory over Indiana. There are rumors the he was and possibly still is suffering from the flu. Morrison is expected to start tonight. While Morrison is outstanding, he won't be able to do it alone. Gonzaga needs a solid game from point guard Derek Raivio. He is an undersized point guard who can hit the open jumper but needs to create more for his teammates. Other than Morrison, the best player on the team is JP Batista. Batista is nearly averaging a double-double for the season with 19 points and over nine rebounds per contest. He is a bruiser on the low block who can score with his back to the basket but is also quick enough to turn and get to the rim. When he gets in foul trouble, the Zags really struggle.
UCLA has one of the best backcourts in the country with Jordan Farmer and Arron Afflalo. Farmer runs to point extremely well. In addition to averaging 13 points per game, Farmer distributes over five assists. Afflalo is an excellent outside shooter and can score in bunches. He averages 16 points per game and also at 6'5" grabs over five boards per game from his guard spot.
UCLA would prefer a game in the 60s or 70s. Gonzaga would prefer the 80s or 90s. Whoever is able to dictate the pace of the game will probably win. I don't think UCLA can outscore the Zags but they won't have to. UCLA is a great defensive team and will be able to control the Zags who rely too heavily on the scoring of just two players. Even with Morrison, the Zags are outmatched at the guard positions but do have an advantage in the paint with Batista.
Prediction: Like in most sports, defense wins. Gonzaga doesn't play it. Coach Howland lives by it at UCLA. The Bruins limit Morrison's scoring and control Batista enough with a platoon of low post players. Gonzaga has survived way too long. They almost lost every game in their conference tournament which was played on their home court and are playing on borrowed time. Their dream dies tonight. UCLA controls tempo with their defense and wins, 72-70.