It's a team recovering from a slump vs. a team on a roll.
It's a team from the storied Atlantic Coast Conference vs. a team from the much-maligned Western Athletic Conference.It's a team that went 6-8 in league play vs. a team that finished second in league play but still had to win a postseason tournament to assure itself of an NCAA berth.
It's Virginia, the seventh-seeded favorite, vs. BYU, the 10th-seeded underdog, 6 p.m. Thursday at the Huntsman Center, and it has the potential to be one of the best first-round games of this NCAA Tournament.
Both teams appear capable of causing each other matchup problems.
Perhaps the biggest matchup of the contest could occur at center, where BYU's 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, an Associated Press All-America honorable mention, will encounter Virginia's 6-9, 240-pound sophomore, Ted Jeffries, who is backed up by 6-7 Matt Blundin. Bradley averages 15 points and eight rebounds a game; the Virginia duo averages nine points, nine rebounds.
The challenge for the entire Virginia team will be adjusting to a center of Bradley's altitude. The teams that have caused BYU the most defensive problems have had quick guards who can shoot outside, and outside shooting hasn't been Virginia's strength. With Bradley in the game, teams have found it a challenge to get good inside shots. When he doesn't block them, he changes them.
"I watched BYU on television Saturday night winning their conference championship, and they were very impressive," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones. "Shawn Bradley is a scary player."
On the other end, however, Jeffries and Blundin are the kinds of centers that have caused Bradley the most trouble this season. The BYU freshman has been known to lose his composure when confronted with constant physical abuse.
"When players push and grab and hold a lot, it bugs me," Bradley acknowledged. And when Bradley lets himself get bugged, he tends to commit fouls and get himself removed from games. Backup center Gary Trost has been a pleasant offensive surprise for the Cougars, but he isn't the defensive force that Bradley is.
Jones said he hopes to get some help in preparing to face Bradley from Terry Holland, the ESPN college basketball announcer who was Virginia's coach last year and has seen Bradley play several times this season.
"I don't know if he'll be willing to give me too much of an inside scoop," Jones said, "but I certainly will ask him."
Maybe Jones figures a little inside information will offset what he sees as a homecourt advantage for BYU.
"They should enjoy a homecourt advantage similar to what we enjoyed last year in Richmond," Jones said. Richmond wasn't the Cavs' homecourt, but it is in Virginia, and the Cavaliers defeated Notre Dame there.
Bradley thinks playing in the Huntsman will be a distinct advantage for the Cougs, with one reservation.
"It's definitely going to be an advantage for us, as long as the Utah fans don't show up," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if Utah fans showed up and cheered for Virginia. I'm not putting Utah fans down, that's just the kind of rivalry we have."
BYU coach Roger Reid predictably has downplayed any talk of homecourt advantage. He said his team is getting used to being booed wherever it goes, especially in the WAC, where resentment for BYU's long-term success runs deep.
"Crowds shouldn't affect you one way or another anyway," he said. "You have to win the game on the floor."
A key to doing that will be the battle for the boards. Both teams outrebounded opponents this season, and both showed a strong correlation between rebounding success and victories. Virginia was 14-3 in games in which it outrebounded its foe.
On paper, BYU would seem to have an edge in the rebound department. The Cougars' starting frontline averages four inches taller than the Cavs', and the 6-10 Trost makes them even bigger. But BYU was bigger than Utah, too, and got outrebounded by the Utes in two of three games - the ones they lost.
Another area where BYU seems to have an edge is on the bench. When the Cavs go to their bench it isn't for scoring help. Their six reserves have a combined scoring average of 12 points per game, while the Cougs have two players - Trost and guard Mark Heslop - who combine to average more than that. The teams are similar, however, in that there are basically seven players who get appreciable playing time.
BYU and Virginia have had one common opponent, South Carolina, and both games were on a neutral floor. The Cougars lost to the Gamecocks 52-49 in the opening game of the Holiday Festival in New York City, while the Cavs defeated the Gamecocks 65-59 in the second round of the Great Alaska Shootout.
Of course, back then, the experienced Cavs were just embarking on the roll that put them at 17-4 and No. 11 in the country, while the youthful Cougars were just trying to stay above .500.
Now the Cougars have won 9 of 11, and gained a lot of experience, while the Cavs have lost seven of 11, and raised a lot of questions.
Thursday, some of them may be answered.
GAME NOTES: Holland reportedly said recently that Bradley was further along at this stage of his career than famed Virginia center Ralph Sampson at the same stage . . . Virginia forward Bryant Stith earned honorable mention on both the UPI and AP All-America teams . . . In the final AP poll, BYU finished 32nd, with 20 votes, while Virginia was right behind with 17 votes. BYU was also among four teams listed as "Others receiving votes" on the UPI poll.