So, we may meet again
If the Gators get past UC-Santa Barbara, Florida will get an NCAA rematch in the third round. The Gators beat UCLA in the 2006 championship game for Florida's first national title, but there's a history with Michigan State as well. Florida was a No. 2 seed in Tampa in 2003 when it met Michigan State in the second round of the St. Pete Times Forum. The Gators lost 68-46, and a freshman in that game, Adrian Moss, went on to be the only senior on the 2006 championship team.
Three West Virginia seniors — Joe Mazzullo, John Flowers and Jonnie West — played in the Times Forum as freshmen, beating USF 69-52 in 2008. It may give the Mountaineers an edge in familiarity Thursday against either Alabama-Birmingham or Clemson. Mazzullo played well in the USF game, with 11 points off the bench and stout defensive play.
Michigan State (19-14) wasn't a lock for the NCAA field entering this week, but the Spartans helped themselves by knocking off No. 9 Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals to solidify a return to the tournament. Michigan State's 14 losses match the most of any at-large team that made the NCAA cut, matching Marquette, Tennessee, Penn State and Southern Cal.
West Virginia won't know its opponent in Tampa until Tuesday night, when Clemson and Alabama-Birmingham meet in a "First Four" first-round game in Dayton, Ohio. "This is all new to me because these play-in games have always been for the 16th seed," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told his school's official website. "I don't know if it was expanding the field a little bit or upsets in conference tournaments, but the so-called play-in game, the seed has risen dramatically." West Virginia last played Clemson in the 2007 National Invitation Tournament title game, which the Mountaineers won; they last played UAB in 1991.
Michigan State is making its fourth NCAA appearance in the Tampa area in the past 17 years, and the good news for the Spartans is that Duke isn't here. Michigan State played in the Thunderdome in 1994 — current coach Tom Izzo was the top assistant for Jud Heathcote, right — and was eliminated by Duke. Five years later, the Spartans returned to what had become Tropicana Field but again, Michigan State was eliminated by Duke. In 2003, Michigan State played in the St. Pete Times Forum, winning its two games and advancing to the Elite Eight. UCLA and Kentucky know this area as well; they played at Tropicana Field in 1998's regional, with the Wildcats eliminating the Bruins, then beating Duke in the region final to advance to the Final Four.
One and done?
Just as Kentucky coach John Calipari saw the key components from last season's team bolt for the NBA draft, the Wildcats could see the same thing after this season. Two freshman standouts, forward Terrence Jones and guard Brandon Knight, are listed among the top 25 NBA prospects, according to ESPN's Chad Ford, who also has Florida freshman forward Patric Young in his draft database. Another potential lottery pick would have been at Kentucky this year. but forward Enes Kanter of Turkey was ruled ineligible.
Should Clemson beat Alabama-Birmingham, one of the Tigers' reserve guards should be memorable for USF fans. DeAndre Hopkins, a talented freshman receiver who had nine catches for 105 yards in the Bulls' win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, joined the basketball team after football season. Hopkins, a 6-foot-2 guard, has played sparingly, logging just 10 minutes in seven games this season, with one rebound and one assist.
West Virginia guard Jonnie West is the son of former Mountaineers and NBA great Jerry West. The 6-foot-3 senior has played in 21 games this season, averaging 3.0 points off the bench. He's not the only notable son on West Virginia's roster. Sophomore guard Craig Carey is the son of Mike Carey, who is the Mountaineers' women's basketball head coach.