East Rutherford Regional

March 25, 2004|By Mike Huguenin | Mike Huguenin,Orlando Sentinel

No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh

Time: 7:27 p.m.

Records: Oklahoma State 29-3, Pittsburgh 31-4.

How they got here: Oklahoma State defeated No. 15 Eastern Washington, 75-56, defeated No. 7 Memphis, 70-53; Pitt defeated No. 14 Central Florida, 53-44, defeated No. 6 Wisconsin, 59-55.

What to watch for: This has the potential to be one of the tournament's best games. The reason: These teams are really good and should not be meeting in a regional semifinal. A national semifinal or a regional final, OK. But not a regional semifinal. Oklahoma State is known for its defense, and the Cowboys do play good defense. But they average 78.3 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field. Their aggressive defense (8.1 steals a game) leads to a lot of transition baskets. John Lucas and Tony Allen form one of the best backcourts in the country. Pitt often struggles offensively, but physical defense is a constant. The Panthers need offensive production from freshman C Chris Taft, who is better than any Oklahoma State big man.

Keys to the game: Pitt has to limit Oklahoma State's transition baskets and pound the ball inside to Taft, F Chevon Troutman and reserve F Mark McCarroll. Oklahoma State's biggest weakness is a lack of size up front, so if Pitt can score consistently in its half-court offense, it can win. One concern for Pitt: It is mediocre (65.4 percent) from the foul line and bad from three-point range (31.1 percent).

Projected winner: Oklahoma State.

The line: Oklahoma State by 2.

No. 1 Saint Joseph's vs. No. 4 Wake Forest

Time: 9:57 p.m. (approximate)

Records: Saint Joseph's 29-1, Wake Forest 21-9.

How they got here: Saint Joseph's beat No. 16 Liberty, 82-63, beat No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-65; Wake Forest defeated No. 13 Virginia Commonwealth, 79-78, beat No. 12 Manhattan, 84-80.

What to watch for: If you like good guards, watching this game is a must. Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, Tyrone Barley and Pat Carroll will be going against Chris Paul, Justin Gray and Taron Downey. The Nelson-Paul matchup should be mesmerizing. Saint Joseph is fifth in the nation in three-point percentage at 40.4 percent, and the Hawks have five guys who are legit long-distance threats (the four guards plus swingman Chet Stachitas). But there is no inside game to speak of on offense. Wake hits 38.3 percent of its three-pointers, but also has an inside presence with Eric Williams, Jamaal Levy and freshman Kyle Visser.

Keys to the game: Expect a ton of points. Wake is third in the nation in scoring offense (83.7), Saint Joseph's 21st (77.7). Both want an up-tempo game, and neither is shy about taking a lot of three-pointers. Saint Joseph's has lived on the edge all season because of its lack of a low-post game, and it may catch up to the Hawks today. Then again, if Williams -- who seemingly commits a foul every time he takes a breath -- can't stay on the court, Wake likely struggles down low, too.

Projected winner: Wake Forest.

The line: Saint Joseph's by 2 1/2 .

PHOENIX REGIONAL

No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt

Time: 7:10 p.m.

Records: Connecticut 29-6, Vanderbilt 23-9.

How they got here: Connecticut beat No. 15 Vermont, 70-53, defeated No. 7 DePaul, 72-55; Vanderbilt defeated No. 11 Western Michigan, 71-58, beat No. 3 North Carolina State, 75-73.

What to watch for: Vanderbilt played better than expected in getting here, but it's going to take a great effort on the offensive end plus some UConn bumbling if the Commodores are to advance again. UConn shouldn't have any problems scoring against Vandy, so that means Commodores F Matt Freije needs a monster game offensively. Freije is a solid outside shooter and also has some nice low-post skills. But Vandy won't want to challenge UConn C Emeka Okafor too often. Vandy has received a spark from a deep bench all season, and the reserves must be offensively productive tonight if Vandy is to have any chance at the upset. UConn should have its way on the boards, and the Huskies also should find it easy to score in the paint.

Keys to the game: Vandy is more athletic than most people think, but UConn is on a different plateau than the Commodores. Vandy is solid from three-point range (Freije, PG Mario Moore and 7-foot-2 F Dawid Przybyszewski are the guys to watch), and the Commodores need to fire away at will tonight to have a shot at the huge upset.

Projected winner: Connecticut.

The line: Connecticut by 9.

No. 5 Syracuse vs. No. 8 Alabama

Time: 9:40 p.m. (approximate)

Records: Syracuse 23-7, Alabama 19-12.

How they got here: Syracuse defeated No. 12 Brigham Young, 80-75, beat No. 4 Maryland, 72-70; Alabama defeated No. 9 Southern Illinois, 65-64, beat No. 1 Stanford, 70-67.

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