- Brian Bennett, College Football
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CLEVELAND -- This city has known more than its share of sports disappointments, from The Drive to The Decision, from Jordan over Ehlo to Modell's moving vans. Maybe this weekend can provide a little brightness.
Two Ohio schools are here for the East Regional second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament, including the bracket's No. 1 overall seed. Xavier coach Chris Mack, who was born in Cleveland, wasn't above a little pandering for support.
"If it helps sway the Clevelanders to come to the game ... Drew Carey, forever; Art Modell, never," he said.
Ticket sales shouldn't be a problem for the afternoon slate of events, as No. 1 Ohio State takes the floor in its home state. Starter David Lighty is from Cleveland, while big man Dallas Lauderdale and reserve Eddie Days hail from just outside the city limits. They spent the past several days scrambling for extra tickets.
"I got a couple extra tickets, but I know 80 million people here," Lighty said.
The Buckeyes would love nothing more than to begin a championship run in their home away from home. But first things first. Let's take a look at the Friday afternoon session:
What to watch: Which Villanova team shows up -- the one that began the season 16-1 or the one that wheezed to a 5-10 finish, including a first-round upset in the Big East tournament to South Florida? George Mason knows something about streakiness, too, having won a school-record 16 straight games before bowing out of the Colonial Athletic tournament against VCU. This shapes up as a good matchup of athletic, guard-oriented teams that like to get up and down the floor.
Who to watch: Like with 1980s teen movies, you have to watch the two Coreys when it comes to Villanova. Senior guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher make the Wildcats go, but both battled injuries during the team's slide -- Stokes had turf toe and hamstring problems, while Fisher dealt with knee tendinitis. They will have had nine days off before this game to get well, and both they say they are healthy now. Cam Long is George Mason's top scorer and a guy who can stroke it from long range.
Why to watch: Villanova looked like it was heading for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed before its late-season malaise. George Mason probably would have been seeded higher than No. 8 if it had won its conference tournament. So both these teams are talented and could get on a roll if everything comes together. It should be an entertaining game to watch. And the last time George Mason earned an at-large bid was 2006, when the Patriots advanced all the way to the Final Four.
What they're saying: "I never get tired of talking about '06. Who would get tired of people talking about a great time in your life? It just brings back great memories every time it's mentioned. And whether I'm at the barber shop getting a haircut or in the airport or restaurant, someone always comes up to me or even the guys on my staff or the players on the team, and they talk about, 'Hey, I was at the game,' or 'I met my wife at a bar the night you guys beat Connecticut.' And our president, Dr. Alan Merten, uses the quote that it's the gift that keeps on giving." -- George Mason coach Jim Larranaga on remembering the magical 2006 run.
"Being the underdog is good, but we don't consider ourselves being the underdog. We know how good we are." -- Villanova guard Corey Fisher.
Of note: Larranaga said he wasn't concerned about the ankle injuries that starters Andre Cornelius and Luke Hancock suffered during Tuesday's practice before the team left for Cleveland. Both practiced during the public workout Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena. ... The two teams played last season in Puerto Rico, with Villanova winning by one point.
What to watch: The top overall seed in the tournament begins what it hopes is a six-game run. Texas-San Antonio won its first-ever NCAA tournament game on Wednesday in Dayton but will need a miracle to upset the Buckeyes in a virtual road game.
Who to watch: Take your pick among the star-studded Buckeyes starting lineup, but the guy to keep an eye on is freshman Jared Sullinger. On an otherwise veteran team, he's the newbie, and he said he feels like a high school freshman all over again this week. Still, UTSA doesn't have the size inside to handle him. For the Roadrunners, guard Melvin Johnson III scored 29 points in the First Four win over Alabama State. If he gets hot again, he could shoot his team into the game.
Why to watch: Because you want to see how Ohio State comes out in its first game, since many of you picked the Buckeyes to at least make the Final Four in your bracket. Realistically, this should be little more than a warmup game for nation's top-ranked team.
What they're saying: "Anything is possible in the tournament. If you're not ready to play, you'll end up getting beat. Every team is in the tournament for a reason. They wouldn't be here if they weren't great." -- Ohio State guard David Lighty.
Of note: A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 of course, but Ohio State coach Thad Matta was an assistant on the Western Carolina team that nearly shocked top-seeded Purdue in the 1996 first round. "I definitely know what those guys are thinking over there," he said of UTSA. ... Wednesday's win by the Roadrunners was the first NCAA tournament victory in any sport in the 30-year history of the school.
CLEVELAND -- This city has known more than its share of sports disappointments, from The Drive to The Decision, from Jordan over Ehlo to Modell's moving vans.