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Big East is sending its best to play here
No. 1 seed Syracuse, W. Virginia in field

HSBC Arena will be home to college basketball's Beasts of the East this weekend when first round games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament take over the downtown facility.

Syracuse, the Big East Conference regular season champion, and West Virginia, the Big East Tournament champion, headline the eight teams that will play East and West regional games here Friday and Sunday.

West Virginia will get things started against Morgan State at 12:15 p.m. Friday. Clemson and Missouri will meet 30 minutes following the first game. Gonzaga and Florida State will meet at 7:10 p.m., followed by Syracuse's game against Vermont.

With Syracuse a little more than two hours away and WVU less than five hours away, both should attract a big following, and tickets for the three sessions may be at a premium.

Syracuse followers hope they won't deja vu when the Orange faces America East Conference champion Vermont. The last time Vermont made it to the Big Dance, the Catamounts upset Syracuse, 60-57, in the first round in Worcester, Mass.

Syracuse (28-4) is the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. Vermont (25-9) is seeded No. 16.

Vermont's standout is forward Marqus Blakely, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a one-point victory over the University at Buffalo in Alumni Arena last November.

West Virginia (27-6), the No. 2 seed in the East Regional, is coming in off its dramatic 60-58 victory over Georgetown in the Big East championship game Saturday night in Madison Square Garden.

The Mountaineers will face a No. 15 seed in the Morgan State Bears (27-9) of the Mideastern Athletic Conference. The Baltimore school is led by 6-4 senior Reggie Holmes, who is averaging 21.8 points per game.

While Syracuse and West Virginia are big favorites to advance to Sunday afternoon's second round, the other Friday games look more competitive -- on paper.

The No. 8 seed in the West, Gonzaga (26-6), the regular season champion of the West Coast Conference, will face No. 9 Florida State (22-9). The Zags are led by 6-5 senior Matt Boulden. The Seminoles feature sophomore big men -- 7-foot 1 Solomon Alabi and 6-9 Chris Singleton.

It will be an all-Tiger matchup when Clemson (21-10), the No. 7 seed in the East, takes on No. 10 Missouri (22-10) of the Big 12. Clemson's Tigers are led by 6-7 Trevor Booker.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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