On paper, Memphis has the clearest path to Indianapolis of any of the four No. 1 seeds going into this week's Sweet 16 semifinal play of the NCAA Tournament.
The 32-3 Tigers, who beat Oral Roberts and Bucknell by 18 and 16 points, respectively, in first- and second-round games in Dallas, are in an Oakland region in which they've already beaten the 2 (UCLA, 88-80, on Nov. 23 in New York City) and 3 (Gonzaga, 83-72, on Dec. 27 in Memphis) seeds.
And, in the place of the region's 4 (Kansas) or 5 (Pittsburgh) seeds, both of which were projected by many to beat the Tigers in a Sweet 16 matchup, Thursday Coach John Calipari's team will take on a 13 seed in Bradley that came into the tournament with 10 losses.
But here's the beauty of basketball: Way back when Dr. James Naismith invented the sport, he dictated that it be played on a gymnasium floor and not on paper.
UCLA's Bruins, by all accounts, are a considerable better team now than they were on that night in Madison Square Garden.
Since dropping that decision in Memphis two nights after Christmas, the Adam Morrison-led Bulldogs haven't lost, running off a nation's best 20-win streak.
And Bradley has won 13 of its past 15 games, with four of those victories coming against teams in the NCAA Tournament – including the aforementioned Kansas (77-73) and Pittsburgh (72-66) squads.
So that should dash any thinking that the Tigers will have a clear (and relatively easy) trek to the Final Four.
The other two Thursday semifinals will be played in Atlanta, with the top overall seed Duke taking on Southeastern Conference regular-season champion LSU, followed by a game between the region's 2 (Texas) and 6 (West Virginia) seeds.
CBS has staggered the starting times of the Duke-LSU and Gonzaga-UCLA games, with the majority of the viewing markets having those as their two "primary" games.
Gee, do you think the fact that J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison are playing in those games has anything to do with it?
A closer look at Thursday's semifinals:
Projected 2006 NBA Draft first-round selections: (if underclassmen enter draft pool) J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts (all Duke); Tyrus Thomas (LSU); LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson (both Texas); Mike Gansey (West Virginia).
Scout.com preseason ratings: Duke (1); Texas (5); West Virginia (18); LSU (unrated).
Records vs. NCAA Tournament field: Duke (13-2); LSU (9-6); Texas (11-5); West Virginia (9-7).
All times Eastern
No. 1 Duke (32-3) vs. No. 4 LSU (25-8), 7:10 p.m.
Things to consider: The Blue Devils played teams (Southern and George Washington) in the first two rounds that tried to spread the court, drive on the Duke defenders and play a fast tempo. The Tigers will probably (to some extent) follow that strategy but have a much stronger presence in the lane, with a frontcourt of SEC Player of the Year Glen Davis, as well as Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell. The later player, a 6-7 freshman, could cause problems when matched up with shorter defenders (J.J. Redick or DeMarcus Nelson) but Davis and Thomas aren't very likely to outplay Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts. And the Tigers' transition defense will have to be a lot better than it was against Iona and Texas A&M to keep the Blue Devils from getting numerous easy scores. Oh, yes: LSU will also have to keep Redick from getting the ball easily and getting too many clean looks at the rim. Good luck.
Frank's Spin: Duke moves another step closer to Indy.
No. 2 Texas (29-6) vs. No. 6 West Virginia (22-10), 9:40 p.m. (est.)
Things to consider: When the teams met in Kansas City on Nov. 21 (with the Longhorns winning, 76-75), the Mountaineers led most of the way in large part because Mike Gansey (28 points and three steals) had a sensational game and West Virginia's defense (1-3-1) forced 24 Texas turnovers. The Longhorns, who have since made Kenton Paulino their primary ball-handler, would seem better equipped to cope with John Beilein's defense after having played 40 minutes against it. The Mountaineers will need a lot more than a bunch of 3-pointers to beat Texas, which now relies frequently on a zone. If they can score over (or, more likely, around) shot-blocker LaMarcus Aldridge, they could reverse that Kansas City decision.
Frank's Spin: Assuming they trim their turnovers, considerably, from the first meeting, the Longhorns, with Aldridge, P.J. Tucker and Brad Buckman, have too much post firepower for the Mountaineers. Texas moves on to a Saturday clash with Duke.
Projected 2006 NBA Draft first-round selections: (if underclassmen enter draft pool) Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams (both Memphis); Adam Morrison (Gonzaga); Patrick O'Bryant (Bradley).
Scout.com preseason ratings: Gonzaga (4); UCLA (25); Memphis ("just misses"); Bradley (unrated).
Records vs. NCAA Tournament field: Memphis (10-3); Bradley (6-4); UCLA (9-5); Gonzaga (3-3).
All times Eastern
No. 1 Memphis (32-3) vs. No. 13 Bradley (22-10), 7:27 p.m.
Things to consider: Patrick O'Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville, with Zach Andrews and Lawrence Wright coming off the bench, make up the best frontcourt the Tigers have faced since losing to Texas on Jan. 2. John Calipari will likely use Joey Dorsey and Kareem Cooper to take turns to try to wear on the 7-foot O'Bryant in an attempt to keep him from setting up too deep into the post. The Braves want to run but aren't as adept at it as are the Tigers. Bradley's defensive game plan will probably focus on trying to keep Darius Washington, Antonio Anderson and Andre Allen from penetrating and getting into the lane and scoring or dishing to all of the Memphis "finishers" (especially Rodney Carney and Shawne Williams)
Frank's Spin: With the assumption being that the Braves can play as well defensively as they did in the first and second rounds, and that O'Bryant can have the same impact he did against Pittsburgh, Bradley will be the team moving a step closer to Indianapolis.
No. 2 UCLA (29-6) vs. No. 3 Gonzaga (29-3), 9:57 p.m. (est).
Things to consider: The Bulldogs demonstrated, in beating Indiana Saturday (90-80), that their offensive firepower extends well beyond Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista. And the Bruins, through patience on the offensive end, and the stoutest half-court defense Gonzaga will have faced this season, will limit the number of quality shots Morrison and Batista will have. If the Bulldogs are to still be playing Saturday, it will be because they have turned in their most solid defensive performance of the season (especially in not allowing Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar too many open jump shots), and kept UCLA's quicker and deeper frontline from dominating play under the backboards.
Frank's Spin: With the play of senior Cedric Bozeman being the "X" factor (in terms of defending Morrison, scoring and passing), the Bruins are the team to hit the 30-win mark.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com