Dayton has a Sweet 16 feel

March, 19, 2009
DAYTON, Ohio -- It's only a first- and second-round site, but this pod seems to have a Sweet 16 atmosphere.

That's because Dayton is the only site in the bracket with two No. 1 seeds: Pittsburgh (East) and Louisville (Midwest). The pod also includes Ohio State, which will bring many of its fans from nearby Columbus, and big-name schools Tennessee and Oklahoma State.

"Last year, we had to beat American University and Butler to advance," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "There wasn't an Oklahoma State or a Pittsburgh in that pod. So maybe this has more of a Sweet 16 feel for our guys as far as competition is concerned."

Here's a quick rundown of Friday's games at University of Dayton Arena:

No. 8 Oklahoma State (22-11) vs. No. 9 Tennessee (21-12)
Some NCAA tournament games become walk-it-up grinders as teams get nervous and tight. There's little fear of that in this matchup.

The Cowboys and Volunteers promise to play one of the most exciting games of the first round. Tennessee likes to push the pace, press full-court and squeeze off quick shots. Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in scoring, ranks sixth nationally in scoring offense at 81.1 points per game and set school records this year for 3-pointers attempted and made.

"This is what I enjoy: aggressive basketball," first-year Cowboys coach Travis Ford said. "I think you do win championships by playing great defense and rebounding, but you can make offense fun. You can make offense enjoyable for the fans and for the players and give them the freedom to shoot the ball."

Oklahoma State has gone through some wild momentum swings this year, mostly because of its reliance on the outside shot. Ford has little other choice with two starters under 6 feet tall and none bigger than 6-foot-6.

"It will be a game of runs," Pearl said. "No lead is safe with Oklahoma State. They can be ahead by a bunch, and because of the way they play if you can get a few stops you have a chance to crawl back into it. By the same token, if they're down, you better keep scoring, because they're going to keep shooting it."

No. 1 Pittsburgh (28-4) vs. No. 16 East Tennessee State (23-10)
DeJuan Blair knows what other teams see as the recipe for beating Pittsburgh: getting him in early foul trouble.

That's what happened in all four of Pitt's losses this year. The big fella fouled out against Louisville, West Virginia and Providence and was saddled with foul problems at Villanova. The NCAA tournament whistle often blows a little quicker than it does in the rough-and-tumble Big East, which could provide the antidote for the Panthers' formidable center. Because of that, Blair said he's bringing a different mindset into this tournament.

"I'm going to go into the game thinking I've got two fouls," he said. "I talked to my coach and he put that in my mind, saying I've already got two fouls. If I get one more, I'm coming out like always."

Blair's teammates recognize how important he is to their chances and say they've talked to him about protecting himself early in games. "We've reinforced with him that he needs to let some of those early fouls go," forward Sam Young said. "His presence in the game is more important than making that one play early. I think he'll kind of have that on his mind while playing."

Pittsburgh should have enough to get by No. 16 seed East Tennessee State even with Blair bolted to the bench. When Blair is in there, Buccaneers senior Greg Hamlin will try and check him despite surrendering about 55 pounds of beef.

"All of us will be guarding him," ETSU forward Tommy Hubbard said.

Have fun with that, guys. Though Blair will stay mindful of his foul situation, he doesn't plan on being any less physical in the post.

"I'm not going to change anything," he said. "This is what got us here. Of course I got in foul trouble a couple of games, but I'll try to play my game and be smart. Smart is the key."

No. 1 Louisville (28-5) vs. No. 16 Morehead State (20-15)
The NCAA tournament is a big deal in a lot of places. Not so much in Jamaica.

Louisville freshman center Samardo Samuels grew up in that island country and said he didn't know anything about March Madness until 2005, a year after he arrived in the U.S. Then he got hooked.

"That's when I got tuned in to everything, and I was a big North Carolina fan back then," Samuels said. "I had like five brackets, and I was filling them out, having fun and watching all the upsets."

Samuels can't wait to play in his first tournament game when the top-seeded Cardinals face huge underdog Morehead State on Friday night. Everyone he knows in Jamaica will be following along and calling his mom to talk about it.

The 6-foot-9 rookie could be key to a Louisville run. The Cardinals started freshmen at center while winning both their NCAA titles: Rodney McCray in 1980 and Pervis Ellison in 1986. They have two this year in Samuels and the more defensive-minded Terrence Jennings, both of whom should scare the daylights out of diminutive Morehead State's front line. Samuels had 18 points in Louisville's season-opening 38-point bludgeoning of the Eagles at Freedom Hall, but said he's miles ahead of where he was in his first college game.

The rigors of going through the Big East should keep Samuels relatively butterfly-free Friday, and his entire team seems extremely loose despite their stature as the No. 1 overall seed.

Players gathered in the bathroom for a song-and-dance routine during Thursday's open locker-room period. Point guard Edgar Sosa grabbed a hometown TV station's microphone and jokingly interviewed teammates on camera. Then the Cardinals spent much of their open practice attempting half-court shots and horsing around.

"What pressure?" senior Terrence Williams said. "We're only having fun right now because it's media time, and this is the time we're supposed to have fun. When it's game time, we know we've got to be serious. I'll make sure these guys are serious."

No. 8 Ohio State (22-10) vs. No. 9 Siena (26-7)
Ohio State guard Evan Turner understands why some people hold their noses when they watch Big Ten teams play.

"It depends on what you like," Turner said. "I mean, sometimes it might be boring to watch a team score 50 points, win a game 50-48. But it makes you tougher. Once you play nonconference teams, it makes things a lot easier."

Siena's chances of scoring a first-round win for the second straight year depend largely on not getting bogged down in a Big Ten-brand brawl. The Saints thrive on transition and don't want to work in the half court against Ohio State's matchup zone.

"We're going to try to push the ball as best we can," Siena coach Fran McCaffery said. "Hopefully we can get some stops and go. It's no secret in terms of how we play."

The Buckeyes can run if they have to, and have won games in the 80s this season. But they'd rather utilize their clear height and strength edge inside. The style that wins out might determine the winner in this 8 vs. 9 game.

"I think it's an advantage/disadvantage type game," Ohio State forward Dallas Lauderdale said. "The advantage we have is obviously size on them, but then the advantage they have is quickness on us."

The other advantage Ohio State has is proximity, with its campus in Columbus a short drive away.

"Last year in Tampa against Vanderbilt was one thing; the fans started getting behind us," McCaffery said. "We recognize that will not be the case [Friday] night. Maybe some of the Louisville fans will pull for us, but I don't know. We're looking at this as a road game."



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