Now that we are down to just sixteen teams, STF will profile each Regional lineup to see how we got here, what the Sweet 16 really means to each participating school, and who has the best chance to advance to San Antonio. The final here, the South Region.
Stanford vs. Texas, 7:27 pm, Friday
#3 Stanford Cardinal
Last Weekend: Defeated #14 Cornell 77-53, defeated #6 Marquette 82-81.
How Stanford Got Here: Brook Lopez. The Cardinal big man scored 28 of his 30 points against Marquette in the 2nd half Saturday. Including the game winner with 1.3 seconds left on the clock that sent the Cardinal to the Sweet 16. Brook, one half of the Cardinal's twin towers, has emerged as the go-to-guy in Palo Alto this season and if they are to reach the Final Four, he'll have to continue to cash in with the game on the line. Just as importantly, Mitch Johnson dished out a career-high 16 assists and hit 3-3 from three point land against the Golden Eagles. If he's doing that the Cardinal are going to be tough to beat.
What the Sweet 16 Means to the Cardinal: That they're back. After spending the last few years as a non-factor nationally, Trent Johnson has the Cardinal back where they belong among the west coast's elite teams and national title contenders. That said, getting any further would be just a bonus for this Cardinal team whose most important players are underclassmen. Though, they're far from likely to be back next year so they might want to make this run count.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Roughly 25 percent. The Cardinal are a virtual pick 'em against Texas on Friday, and their odds are likely to be the same regardless of who they meet next. The Longhorns provide a similar challenge to that of Marquette: great guard play, which happens to be the Cardinal's biggest weakness. If they expect to get past this one they'll need similar performances form their big men and an equally good performance from Mitch Johnson. And this time it'd probably be in the team's best interest if its coach wasn't sent to the showers before the first half even ended.
#2 Texas Longhorns
Last Weekend: Defeated #15 Austin Peay 74-54, defeated #7 Miami 75-72.
How Texas Got Here: Pretty much the normal way for a 2-seed. They cruised against an overmatched Austin Peay team, then had a bit more of a challenge against former Texas assistant Frank Haith and his Miami Hurricanes. The team effort is chugging along, with Augustin scoring an dishing, James scoring and rebounding, and Atchley chipping in 15 points on Easter Sunday. The real story was A.J. Abrams, who put up 26 to help beat the Hurricanes.
What the Sweet 16 Means to the Longhorns: They belong. Texas took the Big 12 regular-season crown from the Jayhawks this year, but couldn't grab the conference's auto-bid despite making the championship game for the third straight year. This is a team that beat Tennessee and UCLA this season, so they feel they can make the Final Four.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Fair-to-middlin'. The Longhorns have a starting five that's tough to deny, but their bench is ridiculously short. If they can't get some quality minutes out of their role players, it's going to be very difficult to get past Stanford, let alone the winner of the Memphis/Michigan State game. D.J. Augustin is the key, whether as a scorer or dropping off sweet passes for his teammates. If he is stymied, the Longhorns are toast.
Michigan State vs. Memphis, 9:57 pm Friday
#5 Michigan State Spartans
Last Weekend: Defeated #12 Temple 72-61, defeated #4 Pitt 65-54
How Michigan State Got Here: Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan. Neitzel's senior leadership and clutch shooting has paced the Spartans all season long, and he showed up big against Pitt with 5-8 three-point shooting. Raymar Morgan carried the load when Neitzel struggled against Temple, which will be very helpful against a fast, deep Memphis team.
What the Sweet 16 Means to the Spartans: Delivery on Potential. Before the season began, many people predicted the Spartans would win the Big Ten and advance to at least the Sweet 16. As the season went on however, that opinion changed. The Spartans are finally playing the kind of basketball that fans have been waiting for - and just when it counts, too.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: Memphis' tourney time is winding down to a close. Their lack of free throw shooting and inability to safely put close games away will hurt them - but not in this game. Michigan State gives up too much athleticism to the Tigers, who should live for at least one more week. But credit Tom Izzo, he got his guys to play their tails off to finish out the year.
#1 Memphis Tigers
Last Weekend: Defeated #16 Texas-Arlington 87-63, defeated #8 Mississippi State 77-74
How Memphis Got Here: The emergence of Derrick Rose as the team leader and avoiding the upset bug. Just about everyone is going to focus on the atrocious foul-shooting, but the emergence of a freshman as the team's go-to guy in clutch games has been the difference. Starting with 23-point performance in the Tennessee game when no other Tiger could hit a shot to save their life, Rose has been the difference maker. He scored 17 points in each of the Tigers' wins last weekend and turned the ball over only twice for the weekend. The Tigers were also able to survive against a Mississippi State team that matched up against them perfectly.
What the Sweet 16 Means to the Tigers: More than any other team still playing, the Sweet 16 means absolutely nothing to Memphis. Hell, the Elite Eight really means nothing to the Tigers. This team needs to reach the Final Four for Memphis to legitimize its dominance over shaky competition over the past three seasons. No Final Four this season, no one is taking Memphis seriously again if they finish 30-2 next season.
Chances to Reach San Antonio: You have to think that it's the worst of the remaining #1 seeds, and not just because they are in the most difficult region remaining, but because they may also have to defeat Texas in Houston. Still, this team only lost one game for a reason, and no one seems to think they will be able to score on Michigan State. A wise college basketball writer once told me to never bet against a John Calipari-coached team when he has the team thinking no one believes in them or if there is a possible large sum or money or pay increase dependent on a victory. We'll go with Memphis for at least one more game.
Hope you enjoyed the regional breakdowns. Our ongoing March Madness coverage has been a group effort featuring much of the talented STF crew, including Brandon Darling, Mike White, and Matt Mattucci. Thanks, guys!