West Region: No. 7 California (22-10) vs. No. 10 Maryland (20-13)
When: Thursday, 2:55 p.m., EDT
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
1) Lowered Expectations Projected to finish eighth in the pre-season PAC-10 poll, I had all but written the Bears off this year. With the announcement of Mike Montgomery as head coach, there was reason for both hope and skepticism: he had turned hated rival Stanford into a perennial contender, but had done nothing to rejuvenate the Warriors during his brief stint in the NBA. Nevertheless, he had been handed a couple of fantastic-yet-raw talents in point guard Jerome Randle and swingman Patrick Christopher, so there was reason for some cautious optimism. However, 22-9 and 11-7 in conference, including road wins at UNLV, Utah, Arizona and Washington. (Actually a sweep of Washington, yet Romar gets PAC-10 Coach of the Year?) Well played, Montie.
2) Jerome and P.C. in Berkeley Randle, who's roster height of 5'10" was clearly measured while he was suspended in mid-air, is perhaps the fastest and most athletic player in the PAC-10 (sorry Darren Collison). When he
keeps himself under control, he can take over a game with flashy cross-overs, lightning-quick slashes and no-look dishes. And lest you sag off to try to give yourself an extra step, he'll bury you with a deadly three-point barrage (he went 8-11 from deep against Arizona in Tucson last Thursday, and is at 46.7% for the year). Christopher (who looks like LeBron James after a prolonged South Beach Diet), meanwhile, contributes his own perimeter game and has transformed into one of the premier defenders in the conference. He has scored in double-digits 24 times this season, and broken 20 in eight of those games.
3) The Supporting Cast Powerful wingman Theo Robertson (12.8 PPG, 49.5 3PT%), Jamal Boykin (Duke transfer and former California High School Player of the Year), Jodan Wilkes (7-foot senior in the middle), Harper Kamp (classic "glue-guy" and the object of Bobby Knight's undying affection) and Jorge Guttierrez (3.2 Reb, 1.6 Ass, 0.8 Stl in 16 Min/G) round out the "Fightin' Monties". They don't run particularly deep, but with great team speed and athleticism and the leading three-point shooting team in the nation (43.8% as a unit) they will never be out of a game. — Noah Frank
1) Fear la Tortuga An impressive ACC Tournament performance negated the bad losses to Morgan State and Virginia to send #10 Maryland to face the #7 California Golden Bears in Kansas City on Thursday. The two teams met this past season in football, where the Terps beat the Gatorade out of Cal, 35-27. Junior guard Greivis "Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario" Vasquez, the only player in the nation to wear eye black, leads the team in points (17.2), rebounds (5.5) and assists (5.1) per game. The fiery Venezuelan played high school ball with Kevin Durant at Montrose Christian in Rockville, MD. Eric Hayes, Maryland's other starting guard, always looks like he's about to turn the ball over, causing me to yell at my TV and out my window. But then he'll knock down a big three, and all is forgiven … for now. Oafy, yet lovable Dave Neal, whom Terp alum Scott Van Pelt dubs "The Mayor" for some reason, holds his own despite looking like a cross between Paul Blart and Kevin James. The lone senior leads the team in 3-point percentage and SABs (Smiles After Buckets). He's the Jimmy Fallon of basketball. Interchangeable parts Landon Milbourne, Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosely, Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory have had their moments, but the team's success is dependent on the play of Vasquez. In Maryland's 20 wins, Vasquez averaged 19.3 ppg; in losses, he averaged just 11.5.
2) Fun Gestapo Best known for burning couches, Scheyerface, and throwing batteries at Carlos Boozer's mom, Maryland's fans can be a little rambunctious. But at least we do it in unison! So it was sad to see our Commie utopia disrupted when the university shot down the contest-winning nickname for the Comcast Center student section. Campus buzzkills deemed the name "Red Army" offensive to Eastern Europeans, proving once again that Native Americans are the only people colleges can still publicly disparage.
3) Midnight Madness On October 15, 1971, Maryland coach, Lefty Driesell, began the tradition of Midnight Madness in an effort to build up hype around his squad. At midnight, which marked the beginning of the first official day of team practice, Coach Driesell had his players run laps around Byrd Stadium's track. Reflecting on the day, Lefty said, "I got the word around campus and 500 or 600 people showed up. We didn't have (stadium) lights, so the guys ran by car lights." Not to be outdone, current coach and R.J. Bentley's frequenter Gary Williams has carved out his own Madness staple by entering the arena floor in increasingly ridiculous vehicles. A tank is considered a vehicle, right? Here's Gary in a Lambo; on a motorcycle; in a tank! — Brian Lucero