Dome hosts an eastern hoops celebration

Matt Anderson

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to hold the Minneapolis regional somewhere just off Interstate 95.

All four of the teams competing at this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball regional hail from the Eastern seaboard. But rather than competing near the Atlantic Ocean, the squads will trek more than 1,000 miles west to the Metrodome for games Friday and Sunday.

Here are some things to watch for this weekend when Villanova, Florida, Boston College and Georgetown all try to bring a Final Four banner back east.

No. 1 Villanova (27-4)
When senior forward Curtis Sumpter was sidelined for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a preseason practice, coach Jay Wright was forced into an unorthodox four-guard starting lineup.

That seemingly unfortunate turn of events has been beneficial for the Wildcats as Villanova has ridden the backcourt of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry to a second-consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance. Foye leads Villanova with 20.1 points per game and Ray averages 19 a game.

When the Wildcats are hitting from the outside, they’re nearly unbeatable, as evidenced by a Feb. 13 win over then-No. 1 Connecticut when Villanova made seven of nine second-half threes.

But what the team has in quickness and outside shooting it lacks in size. The Wildcats can be outmuscled by physical teams. Each of the other three teams in this bracket has a strong front line, and that could present a problem for Villanova.

No. 4 Boston College (28-7)
It would have been easy to write off the Eagles in January. Boston College, in its first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, dropped its first three conference games.

But the Eagles rolled through the last part of their schedule, scoring a pair of wins over North Carolina and a win at North Carolina State. Boston College ended the conference season in third place and earned coach Al Skinner his first Sweet Sixteen appearance with wins over Pacific and Montana at the Salt Lake City subregional last weekend.

Boston College is long on frontcourt star power, with senior power forward Craig Smith and junior Jared Dudley leading the way.

Dudley has a strong inside-outside game, averaging 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and Smith has 14 double-doubles on the season.

One thing that could hinder the Eagles is how heavily they realy on Smith and Dudley for points. If the pair is shut down, it isn’t certain where additional scoring would come from.

No. 3 Florida (29-6)
Ever since making the national championship game in 2000, the Gators have made a habit of surprisingly early exits from the NCAA Tournament.

Despite earning no worse than a five seed in each subsequent tourney, coach Billy Donovan and Florida couldn’t make it out of the first weekend until this year, winning just a combined three NCAA games over the next five tournaments

Florida is led by sophomore big man Joakim Noah, who averages 13.9 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. Noah is complemented by forwards Corey Brewer and Al Horford who both average double figures in points.

However, the Gators could be in trouble if they can’t get points out of their front line. They’re thin at guard, and in this regional, the opposition’s strong post players could neutralize the Florida frontcourt advantage.

No. 7 Georgetown (23-9)
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Hoyas were the poster boys for Big East basketball.

Coach John Thompson won a national championship and made deep tournament runs on the strength of big-time centers Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, and went to the regional finals in 1996 with guard Allen Iverson.

After Thompson retired, however, tough times hit the team from the nation’s capital. His replacement, Craig Esherick, made just one NCAA Tournament in five seasons at the helm before giving way to Thompson’s son, John Thompson III.

In just his second year as the Hoyas’ head man, John Thompson III put Georgetown back on the national map with a Jan. 21 win over then-undefeated and top-ranked Duke.

Sophomore forward Jeff Green has been a stalwart for the Hoyas in the post, and teams with 7-foot, 2-inch center Roy Hibbert to recall great frontcourts of Georgetown teams past. Each pivot player averages double digits in points and over six rebounds a game.

One issue for the Hoyas is their relative tournament inexperience. Each of the other teams in the Minneapolis bracket boasts NCAA-tested talent.