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Pre-game notes from Dayton

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*** With the Big East playing so well in the opening rounds of the tournament – Connecticut, Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville (and No. 1 seed Pitt in the second round) – talk in the media room at UD Arena turned to the chance of an all-Big East Final Four in Detroit. No one dismissed the notion as absurdly unrealistic.

When I asked Big East associate commissioner John Paquette about the possibility, he smiled and asked, “Do you know how many other conferences would hate us?” A reporter from Louisville answered, “Yeah, but they’d get over it.” It was then suggested the Final Four be moved to Madison Square Garden if the Big East made history with all four semifinalists. “That,” Paquette said, “would be nice.”

*** There was genuine shock at UD Arena with the news that Marquette senior guard Dominic James is cleared to play against Missouri in a second-round game in Boise, Idaho today.

“That came out of nowhere,” said Paquette, who learned the news in an e-mail late Saturday night. James had surgery on Feb. 27 to repair a broken fifth metatarsel in his left foot – the same injury that sidelined Levance Fields for five weeks last season. James has been a thorn in the side of Pittsburgh basketball for three years and there’s no love-loss between the Marquette guard and the Panthers fans, but you have to respect his effort to return.

*** The loss by Ohio State in the first round served as a benefit to any Pitt fans headed to Dayton without tickets for this afternoon’s game. There are dozens of scalpers outside the UD Arena and at the nearby hotels with cut-rate tickets for today’s Session Three with Pitt-Oklahoma State at 2:50 p.m. followed by Louisville at about 5:30 p.m.

Many tickets can be had for less than the $70 face value, as the migration back to Columbus began yesterday.

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