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East Regional loaded with intrigue; Red-hot Ohio State headlines foursome

The sign outside the Prudential Center claims this is the East Regional but looks can be deceiving. Seems more like a Final Four.

You have top-seeded Ohio State (34-2) who rampaged through Cleveland in the second and third rounds like a team with rooms already booked in Houston for the Final Four. You have No. 2 seed North Carolina (28-7) whose only two losses since mid-January are to its bitter rival, Duke.

There's No. 4 seed Kentucky (27-8) which lost five starters to the NBA and managed to advance to the Sweet 16 once again. And you have a Cinderella in No. 11 seed Marquette (22-14), if you can call a team from the, um, mighty Big East a Cinderella.

So there you have it, all the spicy ingredients necessary for a tasty Final Four rolled up into the East Regional beginning at 7:15 p.m. today with Marquette-North Carolina followed by Kentucky-Ohio State at approximately 9:45 p.m. Both games are on Ch. 4.

"We will have our hands full from the start," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "But we're thankful to be here."

Ohio State's performance last weekend was breathtaking to say the least, beating Texas-San Antonio by 29 points and George Mason by 32. But the Buckeyes expect a much bigger challenge from the athletic Wildcats, who feature freshmen Terrence Jones (16.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Brandon Knight, who scored a personal-best 30 points in their win last week over West Virginia.

"They are a great team," said Ohio State's David Lighty, who was 9 of 10 overall and 7 of 7 from three-point range in the Buckeyes' win over George Mason. "They are athletic, they get out and run, they push the pace. They have bigs, they have wings and they have a guard who can pretty much do it all so if we don't come ready to play, it's going to be a long night for us."

Could be a long one for Marquette, although the same was said last week when they played Xavier and after they beat the Musketeers it was said again when they faced No. 3 seed Syracuse.

The Tar Heels, nevertheless, have lost just twice since Jan. 16, both times to Duke which is seeded No. 1 in the West Region.

"We are both in the Sweet 16 and we're both really good teams," Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom said.

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Kansas in driver's seat?

SAN ANTONIO -- So far in this NCAA Tournament, the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks are riding an easy-looking path toward the Final Four.

The Jayhawks (34-2) have beaten a 16 seed (Boston U.), a nine (Illinois) and will face a No. 12 seed in the Richmond Spiders today (7:15 p.m., TBS). After that, they'd play either a 10 or 11 seed in the Elite Eight.

If the Jayhawks (34-2) return to the Final Four this year, they'll join Michigan State in 2001 and North Carolina in 1991 as the only schools to get that far without having to beat a seed higher than nine. Awaiting Kansas if it beats Richmond will be the winner of 11th-seeded VCU against 10th-seeded Florida State (9:55 p.m., TBS).

The Jayhawks won their last championship in 2008 after playing no seed higher than eight before making the Final Four.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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