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East Regional notes

State grad ---Ohio State has been placed in a negative light recently because of a football scandal but last Sunday in Cleveland there was cause for celebration.

Seniors Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty and Nicola Kecman were surprised with an impromptu graduation ceremony prior to the George Mason game at Quicken Loans Arena. Miechelle Willis, Ohio State’s senior associate athletic director, came up with the idea.

“She had the ceremony put together for us and called out our names,’’ Lighty said. “We kind of walked up, shook her hand and got it. It was something it special for us since we couldn't make it down to Columbus and be with the rest of our classmates. For them to do that, it was real special.’’

Diebler said it caught the seniors by surprise.

“It was kind of crazy to get that diploma, but it was very nice for Miss Miechelle to do that and the university,’’ he said. “We didn't get to walk with our classmates. For them to take the time to do that and be thinking of us means a lot.”

---North Carolina State is in the market for a coach again but things might have been different if Kentucky's John Calipari took the job when it was offered six years ago.

“Yes, I was close to taking the job,’’ Calipari said. “And what had me saying I want to do that, I just wanted to be on the same footing with the Dukes and the North Carolinas. Now let’s go. We’re in the same league, let’s go have at it. That’s what interested me. But it’s obviously a terrific job and someone will go in there and do well.’’

---Hard to believe, but Friday will be one of the few times Kentucky will be an underdog. Ohio State has lost two games all season – Wisconsin and Purdue who were both seeded high coming into the tournament – and is the overall No. 1 seed.

But Calipari isn’t worried about the Buckeyes.

“We are worried about us,’’ he said. “We are worried about us playing well. We’ll give them what they need to play this game. But to this point we have been focused on us and I am not worried about who is favored, who is not favored, who is the underdog or who is the favorite. None of that matters in this stuff.’’

---It’s been quite a roller coaster ride the last three years for Tyler Zeller and North Carolina who went from national champions to the NIT to No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament.

“My freshman year was a great year, I didn’t do a whole lot, I was injured most of the year but to be able to be part of the ride was an amazing ride,’’ he said. “”Last year was very difficult. I mean we had a mediocre start and then AP preseason came around and we kind of plummeted and then we put ourselves in the NIT, made a little bit of a run and just couldn't pull off the last game.’’

The Heels started slowly again this year by going 6-4 in their first 10 games.

“I don’t remember when we had the meeting, but we had a meeting and … our team chemistry got better,’’ Zeller said. “We all pulled together and then I think throughout the whole season we've done a great job of just supporting each other and being confident in what everybody can do.’’

---After Carolina missed last year’s tournament, coach Roy Williams re-evaluated his system extensively. The last time he did so much soul searching was after the 1997 season when his Kansas team featuring All-Americans Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz were upset by Arizona.

“I thought we were clearly the best in the country and didn’t even get to the Final Four,’’ Williams said. “I have been doing [self evaluation] a long time now. It’s hard to, you know, evaluate everything you are doing over and over and over and over. But I try to do it a little bit every summer. And over the course of the summer you get a little more excited about what might be able to happen in the coming season and I think that's good for everybody.’’

---Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom is from Raleigh, N.C., home of N.C. State but also a place where many Tar Heel fans reside. Probably not too many Golden Eagles fans, however.

“I do have quite a few friends that do attend North Carolina and they have been giving me all types of jokes and things prior to the game,’’ he said. “They tell me that they are going to support me, but they are going to support their Tar Heels at the same time.’’

---Rodney McKissic


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