Had the NCAA East Regional gone as planned, America would have spent today overdosing on Dean Smith anecdotes or trying to understand a single word spoken by Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, whose New England accent is as thick as a bowl of chowder. At the very worst, there would have been Indiana's Bob Knight, who would have done nicely in a pinch.

Instead, the legends and near-legends are gone, replaced in today's regional final by one guy who still fears for his job and another guy whose program needs a note of explanation.

Welcome to the NCAA office pool nightmare: No. 9-seeded Boston College vs. No. 3 Florida.

Don't let the Gators' high seeding fool you. Other than Coach Lon Kruger and immediate family members, almost nobody thought Florida would do the Star Trek thing and go where no Gator team has gone before. But here they are, a victory away from the Final Four.

"I think a lot of people had UConn vs. North Carolina . . . Donyell Marshall vs. Dean Smith," said Florida center Andrew DeCler.

That would have made sense. The No. 1 Tar Heels against the No. 2 Huskies. Logical. Probable. A good TV matchup.

But that was before Florida and Boston College crashed the party.

The Gators, your basic unknown outside Gainesville and the Southeastern Conference, squirmed past James Madison by two points, beat Pennsylvania by 12 and then defeated Connecticut in overtime last Friday.

"People were trying to hype up UConn, but we play better teams than UConn," Florida guard Dan Cross said.

All Connecticut did, of course, was win the Big East Conference by three games, outscore its opponents by an average of 17 points and feature one of the best five players in the country, the aforementioned Marshall.

"I saw who we had to beat," said Cross. "I saw the pairings. I think once you make it this far, everybody's No. 1."

Meanwhile, Coach Jim O'Brien's Boston College team was busy beating Washington State, shocking North Carolina and disposing of Indiana. Not bad for a coach who said he won't feel totally secure until he signs a long-term contract.

So here you have it, the clash of the unknowns. One writer here mockingly referred to the meeting, the first ever between the two schools on a basketball court, as "something you'd expect in the Hall of Fame Bowl, not the Final Eight."

Too bad, said the Eagles and Gators. Like it or not, the Final Four is going to get one of them.

"If I would have filled out (an office pool bracket), I would have had to put us all the way to the championship game," DeClercq said. "You have to think positive thoughts."

Any more positive thoughts and the Gators (28-7) will be picking out Final Four championship rings. The same goes for Boston College's players, who have quit trying to explain how any of this happened. They play. They win. What's there to understand?

So confident are the Eagles (22-10), that they didn't exactly rush home to their TV sets Friday evening to watch the Connecticut-Florida contest.

"I only saw the last three seconds of the game," Eagle center Bill Curley said. "I really didn't care who won. Our focus is on getting to the Final Four, and we don't count on ending our careers here, but so be it."

This might not be the most glamorous matchup of the day, but it will be the loudest. Seismic equipment in California might even record the shock waves created when Gator forward Dametri Hill and Eagle forward Danya Abrams meet in the paint. Hill is 6-7, 286 pounds ( down from 350) and Abrams is 6-7, 265 pounds. At least that's what it says in the respective media guides.

"I don't know if when they start posting up if there's going to be a whole lot of room in there for anyone else," O'Brien said.

Curley will find a way to sneak in. He had better or Boston College could be in trouble. Curley, the Eagles' leading scorer and rebounder, averages 20.0 points and 9.0 rebounds.

Actually, the Gators and Eagles are remarkably similar. Both teams feature World Wrestling Federation-sized forwards in Abrams and Hill. Both teams feature one other inside player, Curley for Boston College and DeCler for Florida. Both teams feature very good perimeter attacks. The Eagles have Gerrod Abram, Howard Eisley and Malcolm Huckaby, the Gators have Dan Cross and Craig Brown. Both teams play solid defense. And both teams were ignored at tournament's beginning.

"I can understand where people are coming from, because there's no big name on this team," said DeClercq, who easily could have been speaking about the Eagles. "We don't have a Donyell Marshall, a Jason Kidd, a Glenn Robinson--the marquee names. But we find a way to win every time we come out on the court."

So this isn't Carolina-Connecticut, or Deano waxing poetic about his days coaching Air Jordan, or Knight fielding questions about his burial preferences. Then again, there's something to be said for the unpredictable. Just ask two of the best, Boston College and Florida.

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