This NCAA regional has no favorite.
The top seed, Michigan, lost to Villanova last week. Now, Villanova (21-10) will play Maryland (25-11) in Friday's first semifinal (WTTG-TV-5 at 8:07 p.m. EST). In January, the Terrapins defeated the Wildcats, 77-74, in Cole Field House.
In the second game, Auburn (22-11), which has a lame-duck coach who says he is reconsidering his resignation, will play North Carolina (26-8), which has a coach who has persuaded his players that this arena is Auburn's home court -- even though Auburn is located more than 100 miles away.
This, then, is the Southeast Regional. Today, as the players tested the floor in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, they and their coaches talked about how tough the opposition is in one breath, then admitted in the next that they'd be disappointed not to win here.
Villanova's Ed Pinckney best summed up how all the players here must be feeling. "Hypothetically," someone asked Pinckney, "how would you feel if you lost to Maryland?"
"That," he answered, "is a very, very hypothetical question."
North Carolina's players kept talking about playing Auburn on its home court. When corrected, forward Dave Popson shrugged and said, "Well, Coach (Dean) Smith told us this was their home court."
Smith, sitting nearby, waved a cigarette and said, "Well, they are 5-0 playing here."
Indeed, they are. And Maryland, having beaten Alabama here in December, is 1-0 playing here. Today, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell and Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino, who are friends in the offseason, traded insults.
"Lefty's gotten big as a house," Massimino said. "That boy better stick to a coat and tie and not wear those sweaters any more, because he's gotten fat."
Driesell noted, "Rollie ain't exactly skinny, either."
All kidding aside, there isn't that much to choose among the four teams, although odds makers favor Villanova by two and North Carolina by 1 1/2 in Friday's games.
Villanova is experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors, and has a great player in Pinckney, who had 29 points and 16 rebounds in the first game against Maryland.
Maryland is not as experienced, but has an even better player in Len Bias (30 points, 14 rebounds the first meeting) and the potential of Adrian Branch, who needs only four points to reach 2,000 for his career.
Tempo could decide this game. Maryland, with point guard Keith Gatlin playing well, took a 12-point lead with an up-tempo offense in the January game. With no clock and that lesson learned, Massimino probably will try to slow things down.
To keep Villanova from doing that, Maryland, outrebounded during the season, must control the backboards. The other key could be motivation. Villanova's seniors -- Pinckney, swing man Dwayne McClain and point guard Gary McLain -- have been to the final eight twice.
"If we lose this game," McClain said, "It will be a big letdown. We've been this far before. We want to go further."
Even Massimino, in very uncoachlike terms, said, "We won't feel content at all if we don't win a game here."
Maryland has not been to the final eight since 1975. Driesell has already labeled the season a success, so what's the motivation?
"The big show, the Final Four," Branch said. "This is my last time, just like the Villanova seniors. I don't want to go home, either."
There is one other angle to this game: The Atlantic Coast Conference-Big East rivalry. Everyone played that down today except Driesell, who would like to see the conferences swap four teams each year.
"That way, I could go to some new places," he said.
A year ago, Smith and North Carolina, the heavy favorite in the tournament, went home after this round, stunned by Indiana. Now, the Tar Heels, without injured guard Steve Hale, face Auburn, a team that won its first two NCAA games ever last weekend. Since Coach Sonny Smith announced his resignation Feb. 8, his players have been taking a "Win One For Sonny" approach. That has worked the last seven games -- including an upset of third-seeded Kansas last Saturday.