The Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference might have a half nelson on the NCAA tournament right now, but the four teams in Thursday's Midwest Regional will tell you the action is here.
The ACC and the Big East have half the teams remaining in the tournament, and only one of them is in Dallas. However, the Midwest Regional has three top 10 teams and a precocious little dark horse. Those teams are No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Memphis State, No. 8 Louisiana Tech and Boston College.
The Eagles, who finished fourth in the Big East, are the only unranked ones in the bunch. They have the dubious pleasure of Memphis State's company Thursday in Reunion Arena at 9:09 (EST), preceded by Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech (6:35).
If you want drama, how about Oklahoma, at 30-5 considered the team to beat here, against Louisiana Tech, the unknown factor out of the Southland Conference with a 29-2 record? If you want a suspense story, how about Boston College, the poor relation at 20-10 with no size and a killer press, against 29-2 Memphis State, with most of the size in the regional in 6-11 Keith Lee and 7-foot William Bedford?
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again," Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs said. "Whoever comes out of here the winner will be in the championship game."
Tubbs, an irascible sort who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jack Nicholson, has complained all week that the Midwest Regional has not gotten the attention it deserves because of the ACC and Big East dominance this year.
"How can they have a regional without an ACC team?" he asked sarcastically. "It kind of makes you feel like the bastard child at a family reunion."
The Sooners' Wayman Tisdale against Louisiana Tech's Karl (Mailman) Malone, a couple of musclebound wrestlers, might make for the matchup of the regional. Tisdale, the Olympian who averages 25.7 points a game, is better away from the basket. Malone, whose stated ambition is to own a trucking company, likes to shatter backboards. Louisiana Tech has been considered by some as a one-man team with Malone, but it has a 6-10 center in Willie Simmons.
Louisiana Tech was badly beaten in a regular-season meeting between the two teams. Oklahoma took a 17-point lead at halftime and came out the winner, 84-72. Malone had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Tisdale had only 12 points and nine rebounds, and the Sooners still won.
"We have the advantage. We know we can beat them," Tisdale said. "It's just a matter of doing it . . . It's lights out. When somebody has you up against the wall with a gun, you'll do anything to get out of it. That's what this tournament is about."
Tisdale predicted a physical encounter with Malone, but said he would have to avoid foul trouble.
"I won't be able to gamble as much on the defensive end early, I won't go for the blocked shots," he said. "But it will get aggressive later in the game."
Despite beating Pitt and Ohio State by an average of 17 points in the first two rounds, Louisiana Tech is still considered something of a mystery. The Bulldogs might have even surprised themselves, another reason Oklahoma probably has the advantage.
Malone was reduced to stuttering when asked if he expected the Bulldogs to be this successful.
"I never could have imagined this," he said. "The way we thought going in was, if things happened, they happened. And they happened.
"They have to be on the lookout for us as much as we are for them. Everybody calls us unknown. That's to our advantage."
Louisiana Tech's origins in the Southland Conference perhaps is perhaps one reason why this regional may not have receved as much attention as others. Coach Andy Russo was as tired as Tubbs of the other conferences getting all the accolades.
"My solution is that we change the name of the Southland Conference to the Big Southland," he said. "That way we can get to be big, too." It's hard not to be won over by Boston College, which has been to the regionals four of the last five years, and always with the same sort of team: short and irritatingly dogged. But the Eagles might not be the underdogs that everyone presumes them to be. Of their 10 losses, four came against the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the country in St. John's and Georgetown. All 10 came against Big East opponents.
"Our success is based on how people count us out, and people count us out all the time," guard Michael Adams said.
Although much has been made of Memphis State's height advantage, one of the more important matchups will be between Adams and Andre Turner. BC's press, which was mainly responsible for the Eagles' upset of Duke last week, could cause serious problems for Turner, who was nicknamed "Andre Turnover" in the Metro Conference last year.
"We start pressing on Oct. 15, just to let them know that's the way its going to be for the rest of the season," Boston College Coach Gary Williams said. "Now everybody knows that it's the BC style of basketball. If a team presses the whole game, people will say 'Oh, you play like BC.' We take a lot of pride in that, even if we are ugly."
Turner has improved this season in the turnover category and in the first two games of the tournament averaged 19.5 points and 7.6 assists. Adams is averaging 15.4 points, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals a game.
Memphis State has been to the round of 16 four straight times but never has made it to the Final Four. The Tigers have a habit of coasting when they have a lead, a bad idea against a team that runs as well as BC.
"We tend to be overconfident a little," Turner said. "We get a lead for five minutes, and then we sit back and watch the other team play for five minutes."
But theTigers are hungry for the Final Four after four straight years of disappointment. "We've got a lot of confidence," Coach Dana Kirk said. "We're so confident, I just let them go eat by themselves."