Commentary

Big East hopes '80s are back in style

Updated: March 16, 2009, 11:55 AM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Emerging from its Westin Hotel bunker on Sunday night, the NCAA tournament selection committee unveiled a bracket that is worthy of its selection chair, Mike Slive. That is to say it looks like an attorney made it -- it's balanced, reasonable and devoid of a whole lot of sex appeal.

If you have a chisel, a hoops history book or at least a good imagination, you can unearth some interesting little nuggets even in this bland bracket.

[+] EnlargeJamie Dixon
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireJamie Dixon's Pitt squad is one of three Big East teams that received No. 1 seeds.

The most obvious? The '80s could be making a comeback.

In 1985, the Final Four turned into the Big East Invitational, with Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova crowding out fourth member Memphis. It's why Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese still says that season was the best his league has ever had, hype this year aside.

That year, Villanova had to shock its way to Lexington, Ky., as a No. 8 seed.

This year, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut could star in "Return of the Big East" in Detroit, and none would have to don a glass slipper to get there. All three earned No. 1 seeds.

But before we get to Detroit, there is plenty of business to be taken care of elsewhere across the country and a bracket to be dissected.

Here's a quick primer:

My Old Kentucky Home: Three schools from the state of Kentucky are in the field. Two schools from the state of Indiana made it. For the first time since 1979, Kentucky and Indiana both are out.

My Old Steel Curtain Home: He was born in Pittsburgh. He played high school basketball in Pittsburgh. He played college basketball at the University of Pittsburgh. He coached at Pitt, and whenever the topic that Jamie Dixon might jump for another job is broached, the automatic first name on the list of potential replacements is Sean Miller.

If Miller and his Xavier team, which finished on the doorstep of the Final Four in 2004 and 2008, want to get over the hump and on to Detroit, they could potentially have to face … oh c'mon, don't be silly. Pittsburgh.

The No. 4 seed Musketeers and the No. 1 seed Panthers are on a Sweet 16 collision course.

Impressive company: In the Midwest Region you can't sneeze without running into a coach with a Final Four on his résumé. Rick Pitino (Louisville), Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Bill Self (Kansas) all have won national championships while Thad Matta (Ohio State) and Bob Huggins (Cincinnati) have been to the Final Four.

Better than that, two first-round games feature former Final Four coaches. In the West, 7-seed Cal takes on 10-seed Maryland. Cal coach Mike Montgomery took Stanford to the Final Four in 1998, and Gary Williams won the national championship with Maryland in 2002.

And in a 7-10 game in the East, Texas' Rick Barnes, a Final Four coach in 2003, faces Minnesota's Tubby Smith, a national championship winner in 1998.

Auditioning for the part of Stephen Curry: As college basketball mourns an NCAA tournament without Steph Curry, the search is on for this year's Steph Curry.

Here's the perfect candidate: Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor. He was actually Steph Curry before Steph Curry came along.

Two years ago, Maynor, the two-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, sank a jumper with 1.5 seconds left to upset Duke in the first round, finishing with 22 points. In the second round, Maynor helped VCU give Pittsburgh the scare of its life. He scored 14 before the Rams lost to the Panthers in overtime.

Note to all UCLA and Villanova fans: The Rams were a No. 11 seed then, too.

Second choice: Siena's Kenny Hasbrouck. He dropped 30 on Vanderbilt in a first-round upset last year and as a 9-seed, pitted against No. 8 Ohio State, should have better odds of the upset this season.

Dayton, the hottest place to be: If you're not real attached to your kidney, you might be able to score a ticket to the sub-regional in Dayton. Otherwise, good luck.

It could be the toughest ticket to find of all of the eight first-round cities.

Fans from Louisville, Pittsburgh and Ohio State (given, it must be noted, an awfully sweet site preference for an 8-seed in a year when the Buckeyes' athletic director, Gene Smith, serves on the committee) will all converge on the University of Dayton Arena, none having to tax themselves for more than a four-hour drive.

An hour after the bracket was announced, upper-level seats already were going for $250 and up on stubhub.com.

Where did I put that scouting report?: BYU and Texas A&M will meet in the 8-9 game in the first round of the West Region.

BYU and Texas A&M met in the 8-9 game in the first round of the West Region last year.

For what it's worth, A&M won 67-62.

Nice to see you again … or not: For John Calipari, the West Region could be like a repetitive visit from the ghost of Christmas past.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Don McPeak/US PresswireJohn Calipari is hoping his ride through the West doesn't bring back bad memories.

Should the seeds hold, Calipari and his Memphis Tigers will first be on a collision course with third-seeded Missouri. That's Missouri, coached by Mike Anderson. That's Mike Anderson, who used to coach at Alabama-Birmingham. That's Alabama-Birmingham, the last Conference USA school to beat Memphis.

Moving on in Calipari's nightmare, if the Tigers can get by Connecticut and move on to the Final Four, they'll face Louisville. That's Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino. That's Rick Pitino, who used to coach at Kentucky. That's Kentucky, the team that beat Calipari's UMass team in an epic regional semifinal in 1992 and ousted the Minutemen again in the Final Four in 1996.

The good news for Connecticut: The Huskies, who are the top seed in the West Regional in Glendale, Ariz., have been shipped to the West twice in recent years. In 1999 and 2004, the Huskies were sent packing to Phoenix. They won the national championship both years.

The bad news for Connecticut: Three years ago, the Huskies began their quest for a third national championship in Philadelphia. They nearly lost to Albany in the first round and ultimately were bounced by George Mason in the Elite Eight.

Fargo, just like Minnesota, only colder: The median winter temperature in Minnesota is 6 degrees. In North Dakota, it's 2 degrees, which may explain why so many Minnesotans feel at home on the North Dakota State roster. The Bison have a roster that includes eight players from Minnesota.

Guess where North Dakota State will make its NCAA tournament debut? Minneapolis, against the No. 3 seed Kansas Jayhawks.

Paging Steve Fisher: Twenty years ago, Michigan fired Bill Frieder after he accepted a job at Arizona State before the NCAA tournament began and turned the job over to Steve Fisher. He was supposed to be a temp. Instead, Fisher led the third-seeded Wolverines to the national championship and a week later, athletic director Bo Schembechler gave Fisher the full-time job.

Russ Pennell assumed the Arizona coaching duties in the wake of Lute Olson's unexpected retirement. Arizona administrators have been very candid about Pennell's status -- he's an interim coach only -- but out of a mess of a season that not even legendary soap opera writer Agnes Nixon could have concocted, Pennell has the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament.

Unlike Fisher, whose team was a No. 3 seed, Pennell's team isn't favored to win. The Wildcats are a 12-seed in the Midwest against Utah.

But every year, a No. 5 seed goes down at the hands of a 12. What if Arizona is the team to pull off the upset? Does Pennell at least get an interview?

Comforts of home: If you want to beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, get the Devils out of North Carolina. Since their last national championship, the Devils are 5-6 in games played outside the boundaries of their home state.

That's the bad news for Binghamton. The Bearcats are traveling to Greensboro, a quick bus ride down I-85 for Duke and a place where the Devils are 10-0 in NCAA tournament games.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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