UNLV Runnin' Rebels (26-7) vs. Kent State Golden Flashes (28-6)
When: Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
UNLV RUNNIN' REBELS
1. Who are these guys? The Rebels lost four starters from last year's Sweet 16 Cinderella squad, including their leading scorer, rebounder, shot blocker and assist man. While they were expected to be rebuilding towards a contending season next year, UNLV has ridden a great defense led by "veterans" Wink Adams, Curtis Terry and Joe Darger. These same guys have helped UNLV lead the Mountain West in three pointers attempted, averaging 23 attempted 3's a game, many of which are H-O-R-S-E style shots. The great equalizer combined with great defense has helped UNLV dramatically overachieve this season.
2. My two moms. Junior forward Joe Darger has shown a knack for making the big shot late in games. However, last year's tournament appearance brought the rather unique story angle of his religious background. Darger is a devout Mormon from Utah who happens to have two mothers and 17 siblings ranging in age from 2 to 40. If he were to ever make it to the NBA, he'd probably go broke on complimentary tickets for his family.
3. The UNLV Tiny-Tots. Early in the season UNLV coach Lon Kruger dismissed 6-10 center Emmanuel Adeife after he complained about playing time. While it's commendable of Kruger to draw a line in the sand, it also left the Rebels with Joe Darger, a 6-7 forward, and Matt Shaw, a 6-8 forward, splitting the majority of minutes at center. Suffice it to say, there are many high school teams with larger front lines than UNLV's less than traditional "4 guard - 1 forward" offense. — David Fucillo
KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES
1. The Original Bracket Buster. Before there was George Mason, there was Kent State. Back in 2002 the Golden Flashes, behind three stud senior guards (Trevor Huffman, Andrew Mitchell and current FIBA scoring-record holder Demetric Shaw) and current NFL all-pro tight end Antonio Gates (who was an All-American in hoops at Kent and had not played football since high school when he signed with the Chargers), set the standard for Cinderellas when they made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national runner-up Indiana. Kent State took out three nationally ranked foes- Alabama, Oklahoma State and Pitt, not to mention several office pool brackets- on its way to the regional finals and top-12 national ranking.
2. But do they have Buzz Beer on tap? Before he was Bob Barker's Price is Right replacement - and using his status as hero of the everyman to date every stripper in LA - Drew Carey was a student at Kent State University. And the beer-guzzling comic never forgot his roots. When the Golden Flashes made their shocking run to the Elite Eight in 2002, Drew watched every game with KSU students in Kent's version of the Warsaw Tavern. It's called Ray's Place, and after every win, he celebrated by buying a round for everyone in the bar. You can bet KSU students will be lining up at Ray's again this year, hoping to rub elbows with Carey, and maybe get a chance to join him in a game of Plinko.
3. And you are? Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Al Fisher came to Kent State after being recruited by... well, no one on the KSU staff actually saw Fisher play in person. In fact, no one really knew what he looked like until he stepped foot on campus. Fisher, who previously played at Siena and Redlands Community College, was offered a scholarship late in the summer based on videotape and conversations with his former coaches. Of course, he could have received one of genetics alone. His cousin is Niagara's Charron Fisher, the nation's leading scorer.
Quick Flashes ... Kent State is making its fifth tournament appearance since 1999, and second in the last three years... KSU has won at least 20 games in each of the past 10 seasons. The only other schools with such a streak include Duke, Creighton, Florida, Gonzaga, Kansas and Kentucky [Arizona gets there with one win in the PAC-10 tourney]... eccentric forward and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Haminn Quaintance, aka "Q", is the only player in NCAA Division I history with over 1,200 points, 850 rebounds, 250 blocks, 250 assists and 200 steals in his career... MAC Coach of the Year Jim Christian is the winningest coach in MAC history with a .703 winning percentage (135-57)... other notable alumni include Batman (actor Michael Keaton), NFL Hall of Famer Jack Lambert, talk-show host Arsenio Hall, and national championship winning coaches Nick Saban and Lou Holtz. Come to think of it, if the Flashes need a pep talk before the big game...
— Jason Tirotta