This might be the most wide-open of regions going into the Sweet 16, which makes sense because it was the most wide-open region coming in. Unlike other regions, which had the Western Kentuckys and Washington States of the world advance, you can name any of the four teams left and see them in the Final Four. With Memphis, Texas, Stanford and Michigan State, you have teams that have been there before or have an excess of talent.
It’ll be interesting to see how this region breaks down. This is my take.
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Memphis
The Spartans that were expected to be a force in the beginning of the season came out big time in Denver, as MSU dispatched two red-hot teams in Memphis and Pittsburgh with impressive flair. Michigan State is experienced, has good guard play, athleticism on the wing and a bunch of big guys who, at the very least, can rebound and defend.
Memphis has scads of talent and can probably run circles around any team in the field, except possibly Kansas and North Carolina, in a pickup game. Problem is, college basketball isn’t a pick up game and Tom Izzo does a great job of making teams play the Spartans’ tempo during tourney time. MSU will keep it close, allowing Memphis’ team free-throw percentage of 57 percent to rear its ugly head. One of the No. 1 seeds have to lose before the Elite 8 and Memphis is my pick to do just that.
Pick: Michigan State
No. 3 Stanford vs. No. 2 Texas
I was concerned about this matchup for the Longhorns coming in, as 7-foot twins Brook and Robin Lopez are two inches taller than anyone that Texas plays regularly. I’m not as concerned any more after seeing Stanford almost lose to Marquette. Marquette, despite having 6-6 Lazar Hayward having to guard one of the Lopezes most of the game, was able to come within 1.2 seconds of beating the Cardinal thanks to a backcourt quickness advantage.
The Warriors’ threesome of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews had a field day driving by the Stanford guards and creating shots, be it 12-footers or layup opportunties. Texas’ backcourt of D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason are arguably more skilled than what Marquette has, while big guys Connor Atchley and Dexter Pittman are undoubtedly bigger than the Marquette interior. Texas has the personnel to beat Stanford and if it paid attention to the Marquette game, now has the blueprint.