If someone says to you, “First prize is an all expenses-paid weekend in Detroit,” naturally you’re going to ask, “What’s the second prize?” Ordinarily. But for Villanova and Pittsburgh, these aren’t ordinary times, and the Motor City might as well be Club Med or the Isle of Capri. This is why tonight at the Garden the Wildcats and Panthers will be scratching and clawing to get there.

If someone says to you, “First prize is an all expenses-paid weekend in Detroit,” naturally you’re going to ask, “What’s the second prize?”

Ordinarily.

But for Villanova and Pittsburgh, these aren’t ordinary times, and the Motor City might as well be Club Med or the Isle of Capri. This is why tonight at the Garden the Wildcats and Panthers will be scratching and clawing to get there. DETROIT! That’s where the Final 4 will be played out, and if you’re into college hoops, that’s the only place to be. The NCAA could play the Final Four on the moon. Who cares?

Villanova and Pittsburgh are Big East brethren, which means they don’t much like each other. They played once this year, the Wildcats winning 67-57. Which of course means nothing tonight, except that it’s a proud moment for the conference.

“I think everybody in the Big East likes this,” said ‘Nova coach Jay Wright. “You know what, if we’re not going to win, and get to the Final 4, I’ll be glad it’s Pitt.”

But before anyone could yell “liar,” Wright smiled and said, “but I hope it’s us.”

Villanova took some of the shine off Duke, 77-54, on Thursday, while Pittsburgh took a tougher road by outlasting Xavier, 60-55.

It must have been tiring for both teams to be constantly asked about their first meeting.

“We played bad, but we were still up eight with two minutes to go,” said DeJuan Blair.

Anyway, it was a long time ago.

“A lot of changes in two months,” said starry Pitt point guard Levance Fields. “Both teams are better than they were two months ago.”

The Panthers had foul problems in that game, the 6-7 Blair most significantly. But it’s not like that game has been weighing heavily on his mind.

“I don’t know what happened a month ago,” he smiled, eliciting a round of laughter in the interview room Friday. “This (Villanova) is a bigger game, a bigger stage.”

It’s no laughing matter as to how much the Panthers desperately need Blair’s board work. He rounded up 17 rebounds (eight offensive) in the Xavier game.

Pitt’s minutes man is Sam Young, a 6-6 bruiser who doesn‘t leave the floor much, not that he’s complaining.

“To be honest, I don’t even think about it. I never want to come out of the game anyway.”

Young’s 19 points was game-high Thursday night. By the way, Young gets points for being a straight shooter, on and off the court.

Interviewer: What’s your first memory of the Big East?

Young: “To be honest, I didn’t watch college basketball until I got to college.”

Both Pitt and Villanova start three seniors. With both teams from the great state of Pennsylvania, recruiting is a cut-throat business. Dante Cunningham (14 points, 11 rebounds against Duke) is a Villanova stud.

“I remember being in Dante’s home, and I thought we were going to get him,” said Dixon. “We thought he was going to be a very good player.”

He was right, VERY good for somebody else up the road a piece.

Dixon has been coaching for 10 years in the bruising Big East, but he’s from the West Coast (born in Burbank, Calif.). His parents were from, of all places, the Bronx. Can’t get much further culturally from Burbank than the Bronx. Like Chazz Palminteri, Dixon has a Bronx Tale of his own.

“I was the only guy that summered in the Bronx. We would drive across the country and I would stay with my grandparents in the Bronx. Because of my family and my roots and New York, the Big East has even more of a special meaning than a typical kid out west. … It was a draw to me when I came to Pittsburgh 10 years ago.” He was named head coach in 2003.

Dixon played at TCU before he got into the coaching racket. He made stops at Northern Arizona, Hawaii, Cal-Santa Barbara. “Don’t forget LA Valley College,” he said. “And TeAute College in New Zealand. That was my first coaching job. I coached kids.”

He didn’t exactly have high-flung ambitions back then. “I wanted to be a California junior college coach. I thought that would be a great way to coach and be around kids. It wasn’t about the level. It was about coaching, being around the game, being around the kids and the competition.”

The competition tonight is a bit more sophisticated. The welcoming arms of Detroit are spread wide for the winner.

Lenny Megliola is a MetroWest Daily News columnist. His e-mail is lennymegs@aol.com