EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The mere mention of Jameer Nelson's enormous tattoo brings a bright smile from John Lucas.
"Yep ... "All Eyes on Me,"' the Oklahoma State guard said. "I think it's great. That's how he feels. He plays that way, and he lives up to it."
Lucas will get his chance to see Nelson up close when he leads the second-seeded Cowboys against Saint Joseph's in the East Rutherford Region final.
"(Tonight), maybe all eyes will be on me," Lucas said Friday. "This is the moment I've been hoping for and praying for my whole life."
In Nelson and Delonte West, the top-seeded Hawks have what many consider the best backcourt in the nation. Lucas and Tony Allen are pretty talented, too, and intend to prove it with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
Lucas, son of the former NBA star of the same name, has seen a lot of Nelson this season. So have a lot of people: Nelson was a unanimous All-America pick.
"I've been watching him all year. I like what he does," Lucas said. "He's a terrific player. I take a little of what he does off him for my game."
Naturally, Lucas noticed the tattoo that stretches in big letters across Nelson's upper back, from shoulder to shoulder. Nelson got it last summer to go with a smaller one reading "No Fear" on his right arm.
"It took about three hours," the senior said. "It cost enough."
Nelson brings his dizzying array of drives, spins and clever shots into a matchup that Saint Joseph's sees as speed vs. strength. Coach Phil Martelli described Oklahoma State's bulky front players as looking "like linemen."
As for suggestions that the guard tandems will decide it, Allen disagrees. He's not being ornery, either; like Lucas, he stuck around to see some of the Hawks' 84-80 win over Wake Forest on Thursday night and was impressed.
"I think it's all about buckets," Allen said. "The game ain't going to be judged on quickness. You can be Carl Lewis, but the game is going to come down to buckets."
Nelson pushes the Hawks at both ends of the court. He and West open up a lot 3-point tries; Saint Joseph's takes 24 per game, twice as many as Oklahoma State.
"From Day 1, I had the green light to do whatever I wanted to do," Nelson said. "Coach will usually leave it up to us."
Nelson has scored 81 in three NCAA Tournament games, and West has added 57. Their improvised style is a lot different than the one employed by Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton.
Martelli said he got one hour of sleep after the Hawks' latest win, instead staying up most of the night and morning to study tape of the Cowboys. He said he jotted down 40 pages of their plays, some of them signaled in by flash cards held up by assistant coaches.
"They run a play every time down the court," Martelli said.
Said Sutton: "I don't know if it's 40 or not, but we've got a lot. ...
"We do run a lot of set plays. I don't think it's that complicated or confusing."
As of Friday afternoon, Sutton said he had not decided how he'd guard the Hawks. Allen is the Cowboys' best defender and leads the team with a 16-point average.
Allen scored 23 to highlight a 63-51 win over Pittsburgh in the region semifinal. Lucas was held to seven.
Chances are, Lucas will have to do much better for the Cowboys to advance.