EAST REGION GAME PREVIEWS – PART TWO (By Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore)
Once again, we will be picking the East Regional games, while also pitting non-basketball alums from each school in a no-holds barred battle for March supremacy.
Friday’s Games – Dayton, Ohio
(8) Oklahoma State vs. (9) Tennessee (12:25 p.m.)
DZ: This match-up is about as even as they come. Both teams play fast-paced, high-scoring basketball. The Cowboys’ James Anderson (18.6 ppg) will be the best player on the court, but the Vols are stronger in the interior with Tyler Smith (17 ppg) and Wayne Chism (13.8 ppg). I’ll go with Bruce Pearl and the Vols here – but you might be better off just flipping a coin.
SM: Usually, these 8 vs. 9 games include at least one so-called mid-major team against a BCS conference team, and I usually lean toward the little guy with my pick. But as the only 8/9 game between two mediocre big boys, this is a total toss up. I have to go with the team I know more about, and that would be Tyler Smith and Tennessee. The real question is whether Bruce Pearl will break out the day-glo orange blazer.
Alumni Throwdown – Gary Busey (Oklahoma State) vs. Chris Hadfield (Tennessee)
DZ: Like the real game, this has all the makings of a great match-up with an actor lost in space going up against the first Canadian to walk in space. But the astronaut wins when Busey gets distracted trying to figure out the life force of a basketball.
SM: Busey had a great turn in a recent season of Entourage. But once you’ve appeared on a reality show called Celebrity Rehab, you’re disqualified. I’ll go with the Canadian astronaut, eh?
(16) East Tennessee State vs. (1) Pittsburgh (2:55 p.m.)
DZ: If the national championship hopeful Panthers have a hard time with this one, they could be in trouble. High-scoring guard Kevin Tiggs (21.5 ppg) helped ETSU win the Atlantic Sun tournament championship, but you may have heard Pitt has a couple of stars in its own in DeJuan Blair (15.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg) and Sam Young (18.8 ppg). The Panthers coast into the second round.
SM: I’ll lay it on the line – Pitt is my pick to win it all. So if they show ANY signs of trouble against a school whose finest alum is a late bishop, my bracket could be in trouble. Tiggs may be a small-conference gunner against Lipscomb and South Carolina-Upstate (yeah, that’s a real school), but DeJuan Blair is a big enough force to block out the (Atlantic) Sun. Panthers rest the starters late, and still run away by 20-plus.
Alumni Throwdown – Bishop Earl G. Hunt Jr. (East Tennessee State) vs. Mark Cuban (Pittsburgh)
DZ: It will take a wing and prayer for ETSU to beat Pitt, but prayers are what the late bishop has (sorry, there aren’t many famous ETSU alums). Look for the bishop to prove faith is stronger than money by knocking off the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks in the feel-good upset of the (fake) tournament.
SM: I don’t want to vote against a bishop, but I also don’t want Mark Cuban to rip me on his blog or his Twitter or whatever it is the kids are doing these days. Cuban politely edges Bishop Hunt in this one, but then gets fined by David Stern for excessive celebration.
Friday’s Games – Boise, Idaho
(4) Xavier vs. (13) Portland State (7:25 p.m.)
DZ: The Musketeers notched some signature wins early but have just a .500 record since Feb. 7. Meanwhile, pint-sized guard Jeremiah Dominguez, the two-time Big Sky MVP, fuels a very good shooting Portland State team that knocked off Gonzaga, on the road, earlier in the season. Xavier is a tourney-tested team under head coach Sean Miller, but I like Portland State here in the East Region’s upset special.
SM: I’m on record saying Xavier is a little high as a four seed, but Portland State may be the one team in this region with an even more favorable ranking. I was the one person who watched the Vikings win the Big Sky title at the buzzer, and they did not look like a 13 seed. The Musketeers handle their business rather easily in this one. After that, though, I make no promises.
Alumni Throwdown – Robert Romanus (Xavier) vs. Holly Madison (Portland State)
DZ: Madison, one of Heff’s girlfriends on Girls Next Door, matched up against the actor who played Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High? This one would be over before it starts with the Playboy model easily wooing the overconfident sleazeball. (“I woke up in a great mood. I don’t know what the hell happened.”)
SM: Blondes aren’t usually my thing, but in this matchup, it’s a no-brainer. I mean she’s a Playmate, for goodness sake. Personally, I would’ve gone with Phillies legend and Xavier grad Jim Bunning, but a certain Mets’ fan picked this alumni matchup. At least he has a World Series title to back it … oh, wait.
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Wisconsin (9:55 p.m.)
DZ: Averaging over 20 points per game, the Seminoles’ Toney Douglas is one of the best players in the region. But Wisconsin is a pretty solid team for a 12 seed, allowing less than 60 points per contest. Florida State should win a close one, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 12-13 game in Round 2 here.
SM: I’m much higher on the Big Ten than most folks this year (Purdue to the Elite 8!), but not in this case. The Badgers have been totally unimpressive this year, and first-round games are often decided by the best player on the floor. In this case, that is FSU’s Toney Douglas – this year’s breakout star in the East Region. The ’Noles win a tight one late, possibly on a Douglas trifecta.
Alumni Throwdown – Burt Reynolds (Florida State) vs. Stephen Ambrose (Wisconsin)
DZ: Because why wouldn’t we pit a famous actor and former Florida State football player against a late historian and author of Band of Brothers? I’m going with cool guy Reynolds since Ambrose was accused of plagiarizing one of my old professors at Penn.
SM: That’s the best a large state school like Wisconsin has to offer? No Bud Selig, Steve Miller, Joan Cusack, or Charles Lindbergh? This one goes to Burt Reynolds in a landslide. The man nearly stole the show in Boogie Nights – a film that included Heather Graham and not a lot of clothing.