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Why Pitt? Why not?
March 19, 2009 - Neil Rudel
OK, I'm getting my pick in before we tip today, just beating the buzzer so to speak.
The real truth is I have no idea which team will win the national title.
With so many programs having lost key players to the NBA in the last couple of years, to me the field features more parity than ever.
So it's a crapshoot, and since it is, I'm going with my heart and taking Pitt.
The Panthers haven't gotten past the Sweet 16 in too many years, and this is the year they should at least accomplish that.
I see Florida State there, though, and that should be enough to make Pitt nervous.
The Mikes on ESPN this morning were talking with Fran Frischella, who assured the games will be called close. That information should not be good news for Pitt, a rough-and-tumble team not built on finesse. Meaning, of course, DeJuan Blair must stay out of foul trouble.
If so or if not, the pressure will be on Sam Young to stay hot and pull the defense out. Levance Fields is a winner and a great leader, but he's not a consistent outside shooter that the tournament demands.
That's why Brad Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon are especially important to the Panther hopes.
If all those parts click, Pitt can beat anybody. After East Tennessee and then big brother Tennessee, which I'm picking over Oke State, the Panthers could well get the 'Noles unless Xavier holds its seed.
That could bring a Big East rematch between Pitt and Villanova, with my old pal Doug West on the Wildcats' bench as an assistant. The 'Cats, though, may have peaked at midseason when they beat Pitt and were scoring 90-plus for a few-game stretch.
Alas, the Final Four, where North Carolina awaits. No reason to pick against now. On the opposite side, I have Wake Forest taking out Louisville because a need somebody lower than a No. 1 seed to shake things up. And lo and behold, which team is awaiting Wake? UConn, of course.
If this holds, this could be a real problem in that it's tough to beat a team three times. Then again, because Pitt has already beaten the Huskies twice, they're the better team.
My first-round upsets (8-9s don't count): 12 Arizona over 5 Utah, 10 USC over 7 BC, 10 Maryland over 7 Cal, 11 VCU over 6 UCLA, 12 Western Kentucky over 5 Illinois. Of those, I see Western coming out to the Sweet 16, along with WVU, which takes out Kansas -- if the Jayhawks beat North Dakota State!
Good luck in your bracket.