Time to head to Oakland, home of the Bash Brothers, MC Hammer and crime. Here is the breakdown:
Memphis v Oral Roberts
The first contest of the Oakland regions is truly a contrast in styles, a team that has a reputation of being thuggish but is actually filled with intelligent, interesting players versus a team named after a preacher, who just so happens to be a criminal. The Memphis Tigers have been the top notch team that no one in the country really knows. They are coached by John Calipari, an individual who did the normal coaching path (lead a major university to national success, coach in the NBA, fail, run back with your tail between your legs to where kids will actually listen to you rather than simply mock you) and has led Memphis back to national prominence. By now most know the story of Darius Washington, who had three free throws to beat Louisville and send Memphis to the NCAA Tournament last season, but missed two, thus causing a loss and constant tears from Elliot Perry. But you may not know that Darius Washington was a top 5 recruit coming out of high school and once killed a man just for Kool-Aid.
On the other side of the aisle is Oral Roberts University, a school that comes to us from the Evangelist conference where it beat Jimmy Swaggert College, Jim Baker Institute and the Jerry Falwell "Tinky-Winkys" to reach the Big Dance. Oral Roberts is coached by Scott Sutton, who when not taking his father to AA meetings, has found time to build a decent small college program at the only University named after a known felon (EDIT: My mom tells me that Oral Roberts is not a felon....I am sorry for the mistake....I get these tele-evangelists confused) in the tournament (well except that noted traitor George Washington). Sutton hopes to become the first coach to lead a 16 seed over a 1 seed (and a couple of journalists are picking that this is the time it will happen) and in doing so restore the name of Oral Roberts to the tip of our nation's tongues....right where it belongs.
Memphis wins by 17 and Calipari takes Eddie out for a beer after the game.
Arkansas v Bucknell
The 8-9 matchup in this region pits the Arkansas Pig Sooeys versus the Bucknell "Hey everybody, remember we beat Kansas!" Bison. Arkansas has seen a mini-resurgence in recent years to the old days when Nolan Richardson paraded the sideline and brought in a host of Academic All Americans such as Todd Day, Oliver Miller and Scotty "CBA" Thurman. The coach is Stan Heath, who parlayed a Sweet 16 run at Kent St into his job in Fayetteville, and unlike his predecessor Richardson, has yet to have anyone shoot his horse. The Hogs are led by Ronnie Brewer, who while not known by many national fans, is known by NBA scouts who love his jump shot, athleticism and big ears that are emphasized by his white headband. Arkansas is a sleeper team in this tournament and as long as the fashion of the fanbase is not a criteria for success (as anyone who has ever seen an old grandmother Arkansas fan wearing a hog on her head and a homemade sweater with pictures of hogs on it can attest), the Razorbacks could make some noise.
The Bucknell Bison became America's darlings last year when they knocked off a senior-laden Kansas team to prove to America that anything is possible in the NCAA Tournament, especially if you are one of the few teams in your conference to break the rule against giving scholarships. When not appearing in John Feinstein's dreams, the Bison are located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, an area of the country obviously known for its bison and a place that I defy anyone reading this to locate on a map. The Bison return all five starters from last year's team and have been rewarded with a nine seed, the highest seed given to a Patriot League team since the tournament expanded to 64. While Bucknell will surely blow the seed and lose to the Razorbacks, we should all enjoy the year of the respected mid-major.....because it will not soon return.
Arkansas by 3 in a thriller.
Pitt v Kent St
The Pitt Panthers once again come into the tournament as a highly ranked team in a major conference that no one in America ever realizes is good until the tournament begins. Led by guard Carl Krauser, the Panthers exceeded expectations this season, getting to the finals of the Big East Tournament, and in the process, poking Allan Ray's eye out and causing an internet video that rivals "Lazy Tuesday" in popularity. Pitt is coached by Jamie Dixon, a handsome young man, who is part of a coaching family, with his sister being the women's coach at Army. Both coaches made the NCAA Tournament although it is debatable which team (Pitt's men or Army's women" contains more attractive females (we kid the armed services because we love). When not distracted by Dave Wannstedt's moustace, the Pitt Panthers play a physical style of basketball that should have tournament success written all over it, but usually ends up wiht disappointing losses, thus making the highlight of Pitt basketball history, Bill Rafferty's line "Send it in Jerome!" when Jerome Lane broke a backboard in the early 90s.
Their opponent Kent (dropped the St so we would forget about the National Guard shooting in the 70s....but we havent Kent...and as long as this blog exists, we wont) comes out of the MAC, which in recent years has given us such basketball talents as Wally Sczerbiack and.....well, how about Ben Roethlisberger? Kent is part of a new wave of teams that eschews normal nicknames for something a bit different and a bit more catchy....like the "Golden Flashes." We dont know what flashes Kent is talking about, but it may be flashes of greatness as Kent is one of only 12 Division I schools to win 20 games for the last seven seasons. It was only four years ago that Kent made the Elite Eight, in one of the great mid-major runs in history (which occurred in Lexington), and the Flashes hope for a repeat performance this season....and if they dont get it, they will just send the National Guard in to shoot the other team.
Kansas v Bradley
The Kansas Jayhawks enter the tournament with one of the nation's youngest teams, a tradition that is among the greatest in college basketball and a chant, "Rock Chalk Jayhawk", that when done in Allen Fieldhouse is among the most haunting in all of sports. OK those are the good things. Now for the bad. The Jayhawks are also blessed with an utterly absurd fanbase, who earlier in the season were calling for Coach Bill Self's job after a slow start and spent most of their time "trying to get Roy back." This Jayhawk team has some amazing athletes, none better than Brandon Rush who is of the famous basketball Rush brothers (say hello to Kareem and JaRon when you get a chance) and has the ability to jump higher than Quinn Snyder when the NCAA Infractions Committee comes a callin. Also playing well is Sasha Kaun who, when not singing soulful R&B ballads, is a solid contributor on this young team of stars. The Jayhawks are reeling from last year's upset loss to Bucknell and thus must be weary of....
the Bradley Braves, a team that you havent thought about in many, many years. Best known for the great career of Hershey Hawkins, who was the first mid-major player of the ESPN era to get "Steve McNair" coverage, allowing fans to watch his games and see him break scoring marks even though no one cared what his team did, this Bradley team is not your daddy's Bradley team. This one is much more boring. Playing in the suddenly powerful Missouri Valley Conference, the Braves are located in Peoria, Illinois and thus are often distracted by people coming up to them and asking how things are playing in their town. Bradley was one of the last two at-large teams let into the NCAA Tournament, thus showing that the NCAA Selection Committee understood the greatness that is Bradley basketball, and when deciding who the last teams should be in the Big Dance, went alphabetically, taking Air Force and Bradley, but leaving out Cincinnati and Florida St.
Bradley apparently has a lot of players, but Kansas' are better. Jayhawks by 12
In the second round, take the Razorbacks to pull the stunner over Memphis and the Jayhawks to roll over the Panthers....giving us Hogs and Hawks in the Sweet 16.