East Region: No. 6 UCLA (25-8) vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (24-9)
When: Thursday, 9:50 p.m., EDT
Where: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1) Sometimes when lose, you actually win. Disappointed with losing to Memphis and failing to bring home a 12th banner to UCLA, Darren Collison decided to put his NBA dreams on hold and returned for his senior season. Josh Shipp lost some of his explosiveness after suffering hip injuries in consecutive seasons, but now finds himself the quiet leader of this team. The loss of Kevin Love thrust Alfred Aboya into the starting role at center and was a compelling factor in Aboya's decision to come back to UCLA for one more year (he has already received his bachelor's degree). As a result, despite not winning a championship, the three players now comprise the winningest senior class in UCLA's storied history. Three consecutive Final Fours will do that. So will playing in an era of 33 game regular seasons, expanded tournaments, and freshman eligibility.
2) The House That Wooden Built. In many ways, Pauley Pavilion is like old Yankee Stadium. It has been the home to some of the greatest legends in the history of the game, seen more championships than any other franchise ... and is not so secretly kind of a dump. The highest paying donors sit in bleacher seats with very little access to restrooms—there is literally one urinal in the entire lower section—and baseline seating is very far removed from the action relative to modern arenas. While it's pretty widely recognized amongst alumni that Pauley is in need of a major overhaul, it's unlikely that the athletic department will get the large donations required to make that happen in the current economic climate. So in the meantime, UCLA fans will have to think of Pauley's antiquity as part of its charm.
3) The Dream Team returned for one more run Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were all key parts of last year's Final Four team and all declared early for the NBA draft. While there's been a drop off in talent on the court, the talent on the sidelines is just as strong as ever. All nine members of the 07-08 dance team returned for their senior year. If that isn't a reason to root for UCLA to make it deep into the tournament, I don't know what is. — Derek (insomniacslounge)
1) The Circle of Good Genes The Rams were (very) briefly the most popular team in America two springs ago after they upset Duke in the first round of the 2007 tournament. One of the players on that Duke team was Gerald Henderson Jr. and his father, Gerald Henderson Sr., was a star for the Rams in the 1970s before spending 13 years in the NBA. Even more spooky—neither one of them is actually named Gerald.
2) Back for more VCU didn't make it back to the Dance in '08 after getting upset themselves in the Colonial conference tournament, but they managed to pull off the double conference win again this year and find themselves right back where they started—an 11-seed with a chance to take down another team that folks to love hate, the UCLA Bruins. Eric Maynor, now a senior, hit the game-winning shot in that Duke game and the incredible joy of that moment obviously propelled him to become the school's career leader in points and assists.
3) Sounds like socialism to me Technically, Virginia is a Commonwealth and not a state, but there is really no difference politically or legally between the two. In fact, the only effect so far as I can tell is that the school is not called Virginia State University, but that doesn't explain why Pennsylvania (also a commonwealth) has Penn State, but not Penn Commonwealth. That identity confusion is probably why the Nittany Lions are in the NIT. — Dashiell