West Region: No. 2 Memphis (31-3) vs. No. 15 Cal State Northridge (17-13)
When: Thursday, 12:25 p.m., EDT
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
1) A little charity? Last year, everyone told Memphis that their horrendous free-throw shooting would come back to haunt them, but no one really thought it would come back in the final minute of the national championship game. (We all know how that turned out.) This year's team has made a huge leap, bring their overall free throw shooting from 61% up to 70% and only once this season has poor shooting at the line really seemed to bite them. (They were 15-30 in a November loss to Xavier.) So since that one bad game is out of the way, all their problems are should be solved!
2) The artist formerly known as When the school reached its first final four back in 1985, it was known as Memphis State. Then they ran into some uh ... issues, eventually changed their name to the University of Memphis (I'm sure there were no other non-basketball reasons for that), settled into that snazzy new, yet somehow already defunct Pyramid thingy and got on with their lives. But that was not the school's first name change. In the 1950s, they were known as Memphis State College and before that, West Tennessee State, and before that West Tennessee State Normal School. You know ... a school for normals.
3) Senior citizens A lot of people probably figured Memphis would not be back here again after losing three NBA draft picks in Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey. Oh, sure they would be back here in the tournament, since they're clearly the class of Conference USA, but not here as in running the table for their fourth consecutive 30-win season—an NCAA record. Seniors Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson and Chance McGrady have won more games than any class in the history of the sport and all three will graduate on time, which is also probably some kind of college basketball record. — Dashiell
1) But how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? There's never a good time of year to steal $6,600 worth of merchandise from a Best Buy. But there are certainly bad times, such as the middle of the basketball season! Apparently, no one thought to alert three Cal State Northridge players, who allegedly attempted to make off with the merchandise without paying on New Year's Day, and are facing stiff legal penalties that could include prison time. Among the future Rhodes Scholars: a Northridge reserve, the team's leading scorer, and the son of head coach Bobby Braswell. None of the players have suited up since the incident and Braswell refused to post bail for his son while he spent four days in jail. The Matadors seemed to pull closer together through it all and turned around a ship that began the season 1-6, until they were derailed again when starting point guard Josh Jenkins was a passenger in a February car accident that killed the driver. Jenkins suffered critical internal injuries, and the conference leader in assists has not played since. Still, the Matadors pulled together and finished the season on an 11-3 run.
2) A local boy, eh? Northridge was a perennial bottom-feeder until the arrival of Braswell—a CSUN alum who graduated in 1985—already the school's all-time winningest coach after thirteen seasons at the helm. He earned his first coaching stripes at local Cleveland High, where he guided an unheralded prospect named Lucious Harris, who would eventually play twelve seasons in the NBA. Braswell followed his star to an assistant job at Long Beach State, eventually serving five years as an assistant at Oregon before captaining his alma mater. So Braswell knows the area, which you may remember as the center-point of the 1994 earthquake that crippled greater Los Angeles. The university finally completed renovations to the school only two years ago.
3) Who hasn't "shocked" UCLA? The Matadors' last tournament appearance was in 2001, when a scrappy young team shocked the UCLA Bruins early in the season, and went on to win the (now extinct) Big Sky Conference. This year, Northridge fell to UCLA by 18 and went on to win the (ever-worsening) Big West, which never gets more than one bid and hasn't won a Tourney game since 2005. Despite the off-court difficulties listed above, the Matadors ranked among the conference's best in hustle categories like steals (first), rebounding margin (first), and blocks (second), winning both the Big West regular season and tournament championships—though they'd prefer you ignore their conference-worst 15.9 turnovers per game. Guard Rodrigue Mels emerged in the vacancy at guard to score 25.5 points per game in the Big West Tournament and earn MVP honors, while 6'9" forward Tremaine Townsend is the conference's best defender. Unfortunately, none of this will matter against Memphis. — Ryan ZumMallen (Long Beach Post Sports)