Doug's Friday picks

Although I wasn't perfect yesterday, going three-for-four is a big improvement over my previous prognostications. Only Pitt stopped me from acing the day's action, so I feel pretty confident with Friday's picks.<BR>Yesterday might have had a good day because I went with all the favorites. Today I went out on a limb to ride some dogs.

East Region (Albany, NY)

No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Butler
There is no other team wearing Cinderella's slipper better than Butler. In doing so, the Bulldogs will have everyone except the "die-hard" Sooner fans on their side when the ball goes up Friday. Butler has been riding the shooting arms of Darnell Archey, Brandon Miller and Mike Monserez. Archey hit 8-of-9 three-pointers and Monserez had a career high nine assists in the Bulldogs' upset of Louisville.
As Hollis Price goes so go the Sooners, and Price is nursing a pulled groin muscle that would keep most players on the sideline. Price says he's 99 percent sure he'll play and that might be inspiration enough for his teammates to carry a bigger load. There is no doubt Price will be somewhat slowed and that gives the Bulldogs a chance. If the Sooners don't get a stronger contribution from Quannas White and Ebe Eri, it could be a long day for Oklahoma and their fans.
Also, don't take your eyes off the inside play of Butler's Joel Cornette and Sooner freshman Kevin Bookout. The winner in the paint might actually decide the outcome as much as anything. This game will be very, very close. Oklahoma advances while Cinderella will go home.

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 10 Auburn
It is simply amazing that a freshman, 6-7 wing forward Carmelo Anthony, has carried the Orangemen as far as he has. But another freshman, point guard Gerry McNamara, has also stepped up his play to give Syracuse a solid and steady floor general. McNamara, who averages 13.3 ppg and 4.6 apg, had 20 points off the bench and was as much a factor in the Orangemen's win over Oklahoma State as anyone on his team.
The Tigers have gotten great play from Marquis Daniels (18.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg), but he'll need help shooting over Syracuse' 2-3 zone if Auburn is to advance. Albany is a home game for Syracuse and Auburn has already overstayed its welcome in the tournament. The Orangemen advance.

South Region (San Antonio, Tex.)

No. 1 Texas vs. No. 5 UConn
The Longhorns have the best player in college basketball, TJ Ford. Emeka Okafor (149 blocked shots this season) is the most intimidating presence in the paint in all of college basketball. James Thomas is an equalizing force on the glass for the Longhorns and chips in 11 ppg, but he is not the defender Okafor is. The Longhorns will need a big effort from Thomas to survive.
Ford (7.4 apg) does his best work penetrating defenses and finding the open man. But if UConn can stop Ford's penetration, it could come down to a three-point shooting contest. If that happens, and I think it will, UConn wins.

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Drew Nicholas' hit the biggest shot of his career to get the Terrapins out of round one with a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer. It was a lucky shot, but not that lucky. Nicholas is hitting 44 percent of his threes this season and averaging 17.8 ppg. Maryland has actually been a balanced scoring team for most of the year. Steve Blake (11.6 ppg, 7.3 apg) is one of the nation's best point guards, while Ryan Randle (13 ppg, 7.3 rpg) gives the Terrapins solid play in the paint.
Michigan State is playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time and if Chris Hill gets hot from beyond the arc it could send Maryland back to the East Coast early. The Spartans struggle to score, but they seldom lose the battle of the boards. Stop Nicholas and the Spartans win. I'm going with Michigan State in another close game.

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