West Region: No. 4 Washington (25-8) vs. No. 13 Mississippi State (23-12)
When: Thursday, 4:55 p.m., EDT
Where: Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
1) Balanced Squad The Huskies are a very balanced team with 4 players averaging over 11 points per game. If you had to pick some "star" players they are Senior forward Jon Brockman who averages 14.9 PPG and 11.2 REB and Freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas who averages 15.4 PPG. Isaiah was given his name because his dad lost a bet on the NBA Finals (Lakers v. Pistons) with a friend and had to name his soon to be born son after Isiah Thomas. The mom only signed off on the deal after she was able to change the spelling to the biblical version of the name.
2) How they made the Dance After making it to the Sweet 16 as a 5-seed in 2006, the Huskies suffered (as if Seattle hasn't suffered enough) through two mediocre season in 2007 and 2008. They were expected to make the tourney but the season didn't get off to a great start as they went 2-3 in their first 5 games, with losses to Kansas, Florida, and the mighty Portland Pilots. Despite the slow start they have 9 wins over teams currently in the tournament; UCLA, USC (2), Arizona, Arizona State (2), Cleveland State, Oklahoma State, and Portland State.
3) What they are good at The Huskies have an up-tempo offense that led the Pac-10 in points per game at 78.9. They also rebound like maniacs, leading the Pac-10 at 41 per game while the next closest Pac-10 team averaged 33. Finally, they get to the free throw line at an absurd pace. The craziest stat of the year is that UW made more free throws than 6 teams in the Pac-10 attempted. — Porter, Seattle WA
1) One Night in March Several years before Texas Western beat Kentucky to become the Brown vs. Board of Education of college hoops, Babe McCarthy's SEC Champion Mississippi State team snuck out of the state under the cover of darkness to play in the 1963 NCAA Tournament against Loyola (Chicago), a school that started four black players. They lost the game, but their courage helped advance the civil rights movement by showing that players just want to play, regardless of the color of the skin of their opponents. Some forty-one years later, MSU continued to blaze trails into a post-racial society when it hired the first black head coach at an SEC football program. (We'll just stop there and not discuss that hire any further.)
2) A Time To Kill, Indeed It's rival Ole Miss that gets all the cred for southern and genteel, but the Magnolia State's greatest contemporary writer actually got his bachelor's at Mississippi State. John Grisham was class of 1977 at MSU before taking his law degree at the "other" college over in Oxford. He spent seven years serving as a Democrat in the Mississippi House, but it was his first manuscript about the rape of a young girl and her father's response that sent him on to worldwide acclaim. Grisham's novels have now sold over 250 million copies worldwide, and he still lives in Mississippi.
3) Eraser Man You Don't Know Everyone knows UConn's Hasheem Thabeet puts the fear of Russell in would-be lane drivers, but it's MSU 6'9", 210-lb center Jarvis Varnado, who with his 7'4" wingspan and uncannily quick elevation off the floor, led the nation this season in blocked shots with 4.7 sendbacks per game. He broke the 7'1" Shaquille O'Neal's SEC record for blocked shots in a season during the SEC Tournament, where he upped that average to 5.5 per game in the Bulldogs' four wins. Varnado is a trip-dub threat each time he walks onto the court, having had two games this season where he missed the mark by a mere two blocks. Washington may feel it has an advantage with the much burlier Jon Brockman underneath, but the Huskies would do well to remember that Varnado rejected five of national runner-up Memphis' shots in a second-round game last season. — Rush The Court