Here's part 2 of our guide to the NCAA regionals - the South and Midwest Regionals.
South Region - The Wink Martindale Region
This is the toughest region to pick. I think the Longhorns are going to beat the Spartans to reach the final four.
The Cardinal are led by twin big men Brook and Robin Lopez. These guys are "actual" twin towers. Really, they're twins. Do you think they'll mention that during the telecast? The Cardinal last made the final four in 1998. They have won one NCAA championship - in 1942. There were 8 teams in the tournament. Since all able-bodied men were off fighting in WWII, the starting lineup consisted of two semi-crippled overweight engineers, two large lesbians, and a golden retriever. Notable Stanford alums include President Herbert Hoover, former Vice Presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale (Perot's running mate), filmmaker Roger Corman, actor Jack Palance, poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, and Vintner Robert Mondavi (but not his son Shawn Mondavi). In fact, there are so many "notable" Stanford alumni, that I could not list all the astronauts, supreme court justices, etc. Suffice to say, Stanford wins just about any argument regarding significant alums.
What you need to know to watch the game: Their mascot is a tree. And the nickname is "Cardinal." Singular. It's cardinal, as in "the color red." As far as I know, they are the only college team with a color as their nickname - or a tree as their mascot. Lots of teams have color in their names (Blue Devils, Red Storm, Golden Hurricanes, etc), but Stanford is the only color as their name. Stanford has won the NACDA Director's Cup, awarded annually to the college or university with the most success in collegiate athletics, for 13 consecutive years (1994-95 to 2006-07). Also, did you know that Stanford has twin brothers on their team?
The Austin campus has over 33,000 undergrads, placing it behind only Penn State, Texas A&M, and Ohio State in total undergrad enrollment. The basketball team has landed on its feet after Kevin Durant left after just one season in Austin. They lost only six times all year, and three of those were to teams that are still alive in the NCAA tournament. If it's true that guard play is what leads to NCAA tournament success, Texas is in pretty good shape. Their top two scorers are guards. The Longhorns have never won a national title, but they last made the final four in 2003. They've always been known as a football school. Notable UT alums include cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), 70s wank fantasy Farrah Fawcett, singer Janis Joplin, record exec David Geffen, actor Fess Parker (Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett), ugly actor Eli Wallach, cheater Roger Clemens, and Ima Hogg (daughter of former Texas governor).
What you need to know to watch the game: Texas will be playing close to home in Houston. In addition, if they get out of the region, the final four is in San Antonio, which is about the same distance from Austin as Houston is. There is a serious possibility for a Texas advantage here. Also, their burnt orange is not nearly as annoying and retina-scarring as the Tennessee creamsicle orange.
This school was known as Memphis State University until 1994, when they changed the name to University of Memphis. Their basketball team has enjoyed a resurgence under head coach John Calipari and since his arrival in 2000, and have made the postseason every year he has been there. The Tigers have made the elite 8 the last two years. In order to do it again, they'll have to deal with a pesky MSU squad. Notable alums include actor and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, game show host Wink Martindale, and civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks.
What you need to know to watch the game: Since they are playing in Texas on Friday night, I expect that there will be some inane discussion by the broadcast crews in-studio and on-site of the merits of Texas barbecue vs. Memphis barbecue. Prepare to be bored by it.
As I wrote previously, MSU has enjoyed some serious consistent success lately. This will be their seventh sweet 16 appearance in the last 11 years. Coach Tom Izzo (known as "God" in East Lansing) has built an elite program that is consistently contending not only for Big Ten titles, but for national titles as well. The Spartans have won two national titles (most recently in 2000), and they've been to four final fours in the last 9 years. This year's team was very inconsistent (a loss to Iowa in which the Spartans scored just 36 points, and losses to Illinois and Penn State), but Izzo has them peeking at tournament time yet again. Notable alumni include TV's Robert Urich, actor James Caan, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, and ambulance-chasing attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
What you need to know to watch the game: Izzo is known for his fierce rebounding drills, in which players often don football pads. The Spartans are always near the top of the Big Ten in rebounding, despite their somewhat undersized lineup. In fact, this year they led the conference in rebounding, as well as FG% and assists per game.
Midwest Region - The Chris Farley Region
I think Kansas is just too tough. Jayhawks over the Badgers for a trip to San Antonio.
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan is becoming the Tom Izzo of Wisconsin. The Badgers somehow consistently finish atop the Big Ten standings despite their overall whiteness, and the fact that players have to be convinced to come to school in Wisconsin. The Badgers simply outwork other teams and are surprisingly athletic - and very well coached. Wisconsin last made the final four in 2000, the year MSU took the title. While their plodding style is not always pretty, they know how to win. Not only that, but they've got a nice list of alumni. The list includes actress Joan Cusack, second lady Lynne Cheney, musician Steve Miller, actor Tom Wopat (Dukes of Hazzard), filmmakers David and Larry Zucker (Airplane!), actor Chris Farley, naturalist John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club).
What you need to know to watch the game: The Badgers' defensive stopper, Michael Flowers, will undoubtedly be assigned to Davidson leading scorer Curry. If anyone can stop Curry, Flowers is the guy. He held MSU's Drew Neitzel to a 1-for-10 shooting performance in their meeting earlier this year.
Davidson is a small private college in Davidson, NC. When I say "small," I mean small. The undergraduate enrollment is 1700. They won their conference title this year, and their best player (Stephen Curry) could probably start for any team in the country, including some NBA teams. His dad is longtime NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry. Their alumni list is surprisingly interesting, and it includes President Woodrow Wilson, former secretary of state Dean Rusk (1960s), former Clinton white house counsel Vince Foster, and former
Fox News republican shill (sorry - redundancy alert) White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
What you need to know to watch the game: If the Badgers can stop Stephen Curry - say, hold him to 20 points or less - they have a good chance of advancing. If Curry is able to get Flowers off the floor with foul trouble, or is able to get open and score 30+, look out Badgers.
Rock-chalk-Jayhawk! What the hell does that mean? I don't know what it means. I'm just a caveman. But there's one thing I do know: Kansas is good. They're making their sixth sweet sixteen appearance in eight years. They last made the final four in 2003, and they won the most recent of their two national titles in 1988, led by Danny Manning. In fact, I attended the regional final game that year in the Pontiac Silverdome. They played Mitch Richmond and the KSU Wildcats. Bill Self has been widely criticized for failing to get Kansas into the final four. He's trying to fill some mighty big shoes. The Jayhawks first coach was none other than the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Notable alumni include senator Bob Dole, actor Don Johnson, actor Paul Rudd, and baseball stat guru Bill James.
What you need to know to watch the game: Kansas has a very balance attack, with five players averaging between 9.5 and 13.1 ppg. Kansas leads the nation in scoring margin at 21 ppg.
Villanova is a catholic university located in Philadelphia. They may have been the last team invited to the tournament to fill out the field. A midseason five-game losing streak (including an embarrassing 22 point loss at St. Johns and a loss to Rutgers) almost doomed them. They have taken advantage of the opportunity with two tourney wins to make it to the sweet 16 for the third time in four years. They last made the final four in 1985, the same year that they upset Georgetown for their only national championship. Notable Villanova alumni include singer Jim Croce and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
What you need to know to watch the game: Suggested drinking game - drink whenever reference is made to the 1985 national championship team. You'll be flat on your ass by the time the pregame show is over.
So, there you have it. My completely uninformed opinion about this weekend's games. Good luck with your brackets.