UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Today's NCAA East Regional opener at the Nassau Coliseum is about high-profile teams with high-profile players, the Big East vs. the Atlantic 10 and two coaches who have known each other for years.
The second game is about low-profile teams with low-profile players and excellent tactical coaches.
The first game has second-seeded Connecticut of the Big East trying to avoid an upset by 10th-seeded George Washington of the Atlantic 10. In the second game, third-seeded Florida is even more vulnerable after escaping with a two-point victory over James Madison and running into an 11th-seeded Penn team that played better than anyone here Thursday.
Much ado was made at yesterday's news conference about the rivalry-friendship between Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and George Washington's Mike Jarvis, who coached together at Northeastern and against each other when Jarvis moved to nearby Boston University.
Calhoun threw the first jab, claiming Jarvis "has that blue-collar mentality. He could make his team believe it's an underdog even if it's a 20-point favorite."
Jarvis countered by saying, "Everyone knows Jim Calhoun never lies." He said they had some heated battles when Jarvis was coaching the freshmen and Calhoun the varsity at Northeastern, and later in their intracity games.
"We were trying to build up the intensity between BU and Northeastern, to get people to come," Jarvis said. "But he had Reggie Lewis and I didn't. I just hope he has stolen some of my plays, because few of them work."
They became good friends last summer as assistant coaches for the United States' 22-and-under team that toured South America.
Today's game will be a contrast of styles, with the Huskies trying to force 7-foot-1 Colonials center Yinka Dare to play "from the top of the key to the top of the key," according to Calhoun. GW will be looking for a more patterned, half-court battle.
The Connecticut players said they came out tight against Rider, but should be more relaxed against GW. All-American Donyell Marshall said GW's makeup and physical approach "will be more to our advantage. We'll be more used to it. Yesterday [against Rider] they were smaller guys, and not getting bumped and bumping yourselves makes you feel like you're out of your habitat."
Marshall will present matchup problems for the Colonials because of his ability to play inside and outside, but GW works hard on defense and can lessen his effectiveness in the paint with Dare's presence.
"We're like two heavyweights," said Jarvis. "Connecticut may comeout and go for a quick knockout. It's very important for us to keep standing and try to win the decision."
As the underdog from the Ivy League, Penn has become the favorite of fans at the Nassau Coliseum.
"It's a lot easier to go in as an underdog," said forward Barry Pierce. "But there aren't any easy ones once you get to this level."
Coach Fran Dunphy said Penn is simply in an up cycle. "It's our turn, so to speak," he said. "We're going to ride this as long as we can."
Florida certainly will not underestimate the Quakers, who overpowered Nebraska, 90-80, in the opening round.
"This is a whole new ball game," said Florida guard Craig Brown. "They don't get any extra points for winning big and we aren't docked for the way we won."
Florida coach Lon Kruger said he hopes to avoid the kind of flat first half his team had against James Madison, adding, "Penn doesn't fit the [Ivy] stereotype. They are very athletic."
! TODAY'S GAMES at Uniondale, N.Y. 2. Connecticut (28-4) vs. 10. George Washington (18-11), 2:25 11. Penn (25-2) vs. 3. Florida (26-7), 4:55 p.m. approx.
UConn-GW: The Huskies, ranked fourth nationally, will need to be less uptight than they were in a 64-46 struggle against Rider on Thursday. Connecticut All-American Donyell Marshall woke up after halftime to finish with 19 points. Yinka Dare, GW's 7-foot-1 center, presents a different challenge for Connecticut, but one that is more familiar than Rider's spread-the-court approach. The Colonials beat Alabama-Birmingham, 51-46, making all the right plays after blowing a 13-point lead. Dare had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Connecticut will want an up-tempo game played end to end; the Colonials prefer a half-court approach. They have never met in NCAA play.
LTC Penn-Florida: Penn will not be able to sneak up on Florida as it did against Big Eight tournament champion Nebraska in an 90-80 victory Thursday, the Ivy League's first NCAA tournament win in 10 years. Florida stumbled through the first half of a James Madison slowdown, but recovered to hold off the Dukes, 64-62, on a driving basket by Dan Cross. This game matches excellent backcourts -- Cross (16 points in the opener) and Craig Brown (15 points) against Penn's Jerome Allen (18 points, 10 assists) and Matt Maloney (12 points, 10 assists).