For those people looking for a potential sleeper Final Four team, you have found the region. In fact, the 4-5-6 seeds in the region (Pitt, Michigan State, the good guys) may have as good of a shot making it out of the region as your 1-2-3 seeds (Memphis, Texas, Stanford). Memphis has a strong allergy to playing a grind it out, half-court game (Which will inevitably happen a couple of times along the way), Texas can play matador defense at times, and Stanford lacks the playmaking guards that you need to create a tough shot at times. Meanwhile, you have solid, balanced teams in Michigan State and Pitt who have been here before and know what to expect and how to handle the NCAA Tournament stage. Marquette may be the toughest team to predict in the tournament, and benefit from a benign opening round game that may be all they need to get a run started.
Sleeper Team: Mississippi State
Out of conference, Rick Stansbury's bunch barely resembled a CBI team. However, once they entered the SEC, the Bulldogs really came together on their way to a 12-4 SEC record highlighted by one of the best defensive performances in major conference play. In a potential game against Memphis, shot blocker extraordinaire Jarvis Varnado could disrupt Memphis's dribble drive motion offense. Jamont Gordon has the strength and athleticism to bother Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts on both ends. If Phil Turner, Barry Stewart or Ben Hansbrough hit their perimeter jumpers, you could have your 8 over 1 upset in the second round.
Best First Round Game: Miami v. St Mary's
I am sure that many people, myself included, have St. Mary's winning in the 7-10 "upset". However, Miami has a nice group of guards led by Jack McClinton that could propel the Canes to tournament success. This will be the rare case of the smaller conference team having the edge in the frontcourt, with two of the WCC's best power players in Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. The Gaels hopes may rest on the shoulders of talented freshman point guard Patrick Mills, who has looked brilliant at times but also struggled in many of their high profile (ESPN) games (against Gonzaga, @Santa Clara, Kent State in the Bracket Busters). The winner of this game could give Texas a run in the second round, although the Horns did beat St. Mary's comfortably earlier this season.
Best Chance for an Upset: Oral Roberts over Pittsburgh
This would wreck my bracket, as I have Pitt making a run to the Elite 8. However, they have a tough first round game against an Oral Roberts team that has been to three straight NCAA Tournaments and would be experienced against top competition (wins over teams like Kansas and Oklahoma State the past few seasons). If Oral Roberts's explosive guard Robert Jarvis can get going, Pitt could be in trouble as Jarvis puts up points in bunches. Also, after playing four games in four days (three of them tough, physical affairs against upper echelon NCAA Tourney teams in Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown), Pitt may still be fatigued and face an uphill battle early if ORU starts off the game well. I expect Pitt to win in a close game, but an upset here would not surprise me and could be the roadblock towards a long tourney run for Panthers.
Regional Final: Stanford vs. Memphis
After taking a look at the stats, I have decided to with Memphis over Pitt in the Sweet 16, as the Tigers ability to get offensive rebounds will take out the Panthers.
Projected Winner: Stanford
All teams in this region have flaws, but I will go with the best player in this region (Brook Lopez) and the frontcourt depth of the Cardinal to advance. The Cardinal guards could easily succumb the pressure of Marquette in the second round and struggle to exploit their advantage with the Lopez twins. However, if they can get by that game, I like Stanford to come to San Antonio and beat Texas in their backyard and then knock off whoever comes from the other side of bracket (Memphis, Pitt, Texas or maybe even Mississippi State). Their key may be Lawrence Hill, who has regressed after an All Pac-10 season in 2007 but has the talent to score from anywhere on the court and complement the post play of Brook and Robin Lopez.