Look who will play basketball in the Pit Thursday night:
Sure, as expected, the Albuquerque (formerly known as the West) region is playing host to its No. 1 (Washington) and No. 4 (Louisville) seeds, who hook up in the first Sweet 16 semifinal played at the site Thursday.
But, lo and behold, guess who we have after the Huskies and Cardinals finish scorching the shine off the Pit floor Thursday:
Texas Tech and West Virginia!
Thats right, a couple of teams that were surprises to most outside of Lubbock and Morgantown by winning enough games within their respective conferences (the Big 12 and Big East) to merit at-large bids.
Texas Tech (knocking off Gonzaga
Saturday afternoon in Tucson) and West Virginia (stunning Wake Forest in Cleveland Saturday night) eliminated
the No.s 3 and 2 seeds to earn trips to New
Mexico this week.
In Washington and Louisville, well see a couple of teams whose players might have the most subtle of chips on their shoulders. The Huskies hear many people saying and writing that they shouldnt have gotten the No. 1 seed. And the Cardinals might agree with those who believe that they should have gotten the top nod.
A look at the Thursday games in the Pit:
The Pit (Albuquerque, N.M.)
SCANNING THE REGION:
THE SURPRISE: West Virginia (which upset the regions No. 2 seed, Wake Forest, in double overtime in Round II) and, to a lesser extent, Texas Tech (which toppled No. 3 seed Gonzaga by two points Saturday in Tucson).
HALL OF FAME PRESENCE: A fellow named Bob Knight (Texas Tech), inducted 1991, is taking a team to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994. In case you werent aware of it, three of his Indiana clubs (1976, 1981 and 1987) won national titles. Louisvilles Rick Pitino took Providence and Kentucky teams to Final Fours and, either this season or sometime soon, will take a third program to the final weekend of the season, too. If they take bets on such a thing, its a safe wager that he is Springfield, Mass.-bound.
SENIOR MOMENTS: Ronald Ross and Devonne Giles (Texas Tech); Tyrone Sally and Dor Fischer (West Virginia); Will Conroy and Tre Simmons (Washington); and Larry OBannon and Ellis Myles (Louisville). No one in any of the regionals did more for his team in Rounds I&II than did Ross. Sally had the game-winning dunk in Round I vs. Creighton.
BEST PLAYMAKER/FLOOR LEADER: Hes not a point guard, per se, but 6-7 junior Francisco Garcia is where all of the Louisville offense is initiated.
BEST REBOUNDER: Ellis Myles. His career could have ended with a broken patella/torn knee ligament during a game with Marquette two years ago. Hes now the most underrated element of this Louisville teams success.
BEST JUMP SHOOTER: Tre Simmons (Washington). He was almost as feared from deep range in the Pac 10 as was Salim Stoudamire.
BEST DEFENDER: Bobby Jones (Washington). He is the most versatile defender in the Pac-10 and has guarded and well every position. He can be susceptible to foul problems, though.
THE BEST PLAYER/RIGHT NOW: Nate Robinson (Washington) and Ronald Ross (Texas Tech) are close but were giving the nod to Francisco Garcia (Louisville). THE TOP FRESHMAN: Martin Zeno (Texas Tech) but just barely over Juan Palacios (Louisville).
THE BEST PLAYER/FIVE YEARS HENCE: This is a toughie but well go with the 6-9, multiple-skilled Juan Palacios. We wouldnt be surprised if its Nate Robinson, though, even with his 5-8ish stature. Athletically, hes on a different level than most residents of Earth.
CHECKING OUT THE GAMES: (local starting times)
No. 1 Washington (29-5) vs. No. 4 Louisville (31-4), 5:10 p.m.
ITS COMPELLING VIEWING BECAUSE: The Huskies are the most entertaining open-court team in the tournament (although North Carolina is nipping at their heels). Louisville isnt quite vintage Doctors of Dunk but the Cardinals, led by one of the most versatile players in the country in Francisco Garcia, turned in the most impressive single-game performance of the tourney so far in beating Georgia Tech by 22 points Sunday in Nashville.
WHATS LIABLE TO TAKE PLACE: How many times has Rick Pitino (Louisville) coached a team that wasnt the most transition-oriented club on a floor? Thats the case Thursday night. The last time the Huskies were beaten in an all-out, 94-foot sprint was in the first round of the 2004 tournament, when Alabama-Birmingham prevailed in overtime, 102-100. Look for the Cardinals to not back off from any transition opportunities but, if there arent good numbers, to try to make Washington play half-court defense for 25 to 30 seconds and isolate Ellis Myles, Francisco Garcia and Juan Palacios inside. Defensively, the Huskies will pressure all Louisville ball-handlers and hard for 40 minutes.
WHO WILL BE PLAYING SATURDAY? Louisville.
No. 6 Texas Tech (22-10) vs. No. 7 West Virginia (23-10), approximately 7:40 p.m.
ITS COMPELLING VIEWING BECAUSE: Bob Knight is coaching Texas Tech and because West Virginia had the most thrilling pair of victories (Creighton and Wake Forest) of any team still standing. This is a game in which players who finally became relative household names last week in college hoops, Ronald Ross (Texas Tech) and Mike Gansey (West Virginia), will have at least another couple of hours of national TV exposure to demonstrate their skills.
WHATS LIABLE TO TAKE PLACE: Only novices to college basketball are not aware of what Bob Knights motion offense is capable of doing to man-to-man defenses. But look for West Virginia to use the 1-3-1 half-court zone that was a major part of the Mountaineers surprising Big East and NCAA tournament success this season. On offense, West Virginia will attempt to stretch the Red Raiders man to man with Coach John Beileins modified version of a Princeton-style offense. His offensive attack, with big men who shoot well from the perimeter and strong driving/jump-shooting perimeter players, should provide a tougher test than Texas Tech faced against UCLA or Gonzaga in Tucson.
WHO WILL BE PLAYING SATURDAY? West Virginia.
Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com.