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Let's take a look at Sunday's NCAA Tournament games, which will complete the round and reduce the field to the Sweet Sixteen. Sunday's action features a bunch of games between top-seeded teams and middle seeds who will face challenges in their bids to hang on.
No. 2 North Carolina and No. 7 Washington kick off the action at 12:15 PM on CBS. No. 1 Duke plays No. 8 Michigan at 2:45 PM, also on CBS. No. 1 Ohio State plays No. 8 George Mason at 5:15 PM on CBS.
At 6:10, No. 4 Texas plays No. 5 Arizona on TNT. No. 3 Purdue faces off against No. 11 VCU at 7:15 on TBS. No. 3 Syracuse plays Big East foe and No. 11 seed Marquette at 7:45 on truTV.
At 8:40, No. 1 Kansas faces No. 9 Illinois on TNT. Finally, at 9:40, No. 2 Notre Dame faces No. 10 Florida State on TBS.
After that, we'll head to the Sweet Sixteen, which will take place next week.
Well, the dream ends here. Not many people would have thought the Mountaineers could win, but when you have an eight point halftime lead, you should win. Unfortunately, today that wasn't the case. Briefly, on the Mountaineers' 71-63 loss to Kentucky:
That slams the door on basketball season. Hope your bracket is still alive, and I'll see you again at Milan Puskar Stadium this fall....
Joe Mazzulla guarding DeMarcus Cousins. Da'Sean Butler pounding his chest. John Flowers doing the John Wall dance. It's something Mountaineer fans will remember forever. No one thought these two would square off again, but here it is, just one scant year later. These are two dramatically different teams. West Virginia lost Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith. Kentucky lost their entire team. While West Virginia's returning players have matured and grown, Kentucky has simply reloaded with another class of talented freshmen led by Brandon Knight and Doran Lamb. While the stakes aren't as high as last year, there are no small games in the tournament. Here's what will be key this afternoon:
I'm off to Gene's, because if it takes a Chili Dog and a Pabst to beat the Wildcats, I'm going to do my part.
The first wave of results from today’s NCAA Tournament games are in, so let’s take a look:
No. 8 Butler beat No. 9 Old Dominion, meaning that Butler will play Pitt, assuming Pitt survives in its game against a No. 16 seed.
No. 4 Kentucky just beat No. 13 Princeton in a squeaker, so the Mountaineers will have a rematch against Kentucky in their next round.
No. 13 seed Morehead State provided the tournament’s first big upset, defeating No. 4 Louisville, 62-61.
Including Penn State’s loss to Temple, there are only five games done, including at least one in each division, so there’s no sense updating the bracket for a few more hours, but we already have a fairly clear picture of what the local teams will be doing in the next round (assuming, again, that Pitt survives, as it appears it will – the Panthers are up by 13). The Nittany Lions will head home, the Panthers will face Butler, and the Mountaineers will face Kentucky – and if they win that one, their next opponent could be No. 1 seed Ohio State.
Win and play on. That was the goal, and it was accomplished by the Mountaineers this afternoon. It wasn't easy, and it was rarely pretty. Instead, the Mountaineers overcame a ten point first half deficit to grit out an 84-76 win to outlast the tired legs of a Tiger team that had played less that 48 hours before.
Here's what's to note as the 'Eers begin to prepare for their
2nd 3rd round matchup against the winner of the Kentucky/Princeton game.
Just a reminder that SBNation.com has a printable March Madness bracket to help you win your office pool and to keep tabs on local teams.
Today, Pitt plays UNC-Asheville, West Virginia plays Clemson, and Penn State plays Temple. Looking ahead on the bracket if those teams win, Pitt will play the winner of Butler and Old Dominion, West Virginia would play Kentucky or Princeton, and Penn State would play the winner of San Diego State and Northern Colorado. All those games are also going on today, so you can dart back and forth between games of local teams and those of their next-round opponents, if they happen to win.
Butler vs. Old Dominion: 12:40, truTV
Kentucky vs. Princeton: 2:45, CBS
SDSU vs. Northern Colorado: 4:40, TNT
Here’s the full schedule of today’s tournament games, and here’s the full slate of first-round games – the rest of them are on the docket for tomorrow.
Here’s the March Madness schedule for Thursday, March 17, as the NCAA Tournament begins in earnest. All three local teams will be playing tomorrow afternoon, with Pitt having a hopefully easy game against a No. 16 seed and West Virginia and Penn State having more challenging ones. All times are EST.
12:15 No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Clemson, CBS
12:40 No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion, truTV
1:40 No. 13 Morehead State vs. No. 4 Louisville, TBS
2:10 No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State, TNT
2:45 No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Princeton, CBS
3:10 No. 1 Pitt vs. No. 16 UNC-Asheville, truTV
4:10 No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Richmond, TBS
4:40 No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado, TNT
6:50 No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 UC-Santa Barbara, TBS
7:15 No. 3 BYU vs. No. 14 Wofford, CBS
7:20 No. 3 UConn vs. No. 14 Bucknell, TNT
7:27 No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Belmont, truTV
9:20 No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State, TBS
9:45 No. 6 St. John’s vs. No. 11 Gonzaga, CBS
9:50 No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Missouri, TNT
9:57 No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Utah, truTV
It's the eve of the NCAA tournament. In my house, that puts this night somewhere around Christmas eve in the hierarchy of holidays. As a West Virginia Mountaineer fan who grew up during the days of WVU's time in the Atlantic 10, I'm always amazed when it's March and the ‘Eers are still playing. Last March they kept playing and playing and playing - it was like a dream. Can that happen again? Doubtful, but here's what will be going through my head just after noon tomorrow when the Mountaineers square off with the Clemson Tigers:
What's at stake? Everything! This is the tournament, people. This is where players go from anonymity to super-stardom. This is the road to the championship, but most importantly: it's win or go home. The Mountaineers face a quick trip back to Morgantown if they lose, and these five seniors know it. If they win, the likely outcome is another date with Kentucky, whose shocking defeat was the Mountaineers' highest point last season. I, for one, am extremely nervous about the prospect of that matchup. The law of probability tells me that won't happen two years in a row, despite the fact that Kentucky is an entirely different team than they were last year. Either way, it's an enticing match-up for folks in the Mountain State.
What's Clemson bringing? The Tigers are led onto the court by a dynamic tandem of guards, Demontez Stitt and Andre Young, just the sorts that have given the Mountaineers fits this season. That said, the Mountaineers' tough man-to-man defense should jam up Clemson's cutters. The Tigers can crash the boards, but West Virginia has been much improved in that department lately. The principal issue for the Mountaineers will be keep Clemson's guards out in front of them, and only let them shoot challenged shots. If that happens, the Mountaineer Defense should control the court.
Are the Mountaineers' problems the same as all season? Yep. Scoring and smart offense are the Mountaineers' Achilles heels. West Virginia had been playing really good basketball before a letdown in the Big East tournament. In getting beat by Marquette, WVU went nine minutes without a field goal in the second half. That just can't happen in the tournament. Just. Can't. Happen. The Mountaineers have come out on top in nearly every game where their offense didn't disappear. Let's hope this is one of them.
Can the Mountaineer guards lift this team to victory? If the Mountaineers are going to go deep into this tournament, they need Joe Mazzulla, Truck Bryant and Casey Mitchell to score. Mazzulla needs to put the ball on the deck to create for himself and free up outside shots for Mitchell and Bryant. Then, of course, those two have to hit some of them. Mitchell hit two huge threes in a win against Louisville, so you have to imagine that the senior is brimming with confidence. Bryant, not so much. The shooting slump he's endured this season has been epic, but has shown moments of breaking. Hopefully that comes sometime in this tournament. While Mazzulla's been scoring the ball much more of late, his most important task is making the offense run. If he can make that happen, this team can surprise some people in this tournament.
Who's doing the dirty work? For the ‘Eers, it's going to have to be their front court. In the late season win against Louisville Kevin Jones broke out with the kind of game most WVU fans had been hoping for all season long. If Jones can occupy space in the paint and score the basketball, then things are looking up. John Flowers can be counted on to rebound, block shots and lock down the opposition's best player. In this tournament, he'll do all those things but the Mountaineers will need a couple buckets out of him as well. Deniz Kilicli has been an enigma this season, but with some great inside play he could be one of the tournament's breakout players. Unfortunately for the Big Turk, in order to do that he's going to have to rebound and defend with the best of them. Jamming the middle and staying out of foul trouble are the goals of all three Mountaineer big men, and for WVU to beat anybody, they're going to have to do that.
I'll be reprising my lucky habits of last season and will be watching the game whilst enjoying a hot dog at Gene's in South Park. Let's do this again Mounties, shall we?
Clemson beat UAB in Dayton Tuesday night, 70-52, meaning the Tigers will go on to face West Virginia on Thursday in Florida.
Clemson leaped out to a ten-point lead five minutes into the first half and never relinquished it, taking a 12-point lead into halftime and building on it in the second half.
Clemson has a 22-11 record overall and a 9-7 record in the ACC, but lost most of its games against top teams. The Tigers lost to North Carolina three times (two in close games), while also losing to Duke, Michigan and Old Dominion. The Tigers did beat Florida State and Virginia Tech. This should be a very winnable game for the Mountaineers.
UNC-Asheville defeated Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday and will therefore be Pitt’s first opponent in the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Asheville were down throughout the game, but a late outburst of scoring by Matt Dickey (who had 22 points, including 14 in the last eight and a half minutes in regulation) led UNC-Asheville to overtime, where it ultimately emerged victorious.
UNC-Asheville doesn’t have much of a prayer against Pitt, frankly – the Bulldogs were 11-7 in the lowly Big South conference. They played Ohio State, Georgetown and North Carolina this year and lost to all three, including a 96-49 blowout at the hands of the Buckeyes.
Clemson currently holds an eight-point lead on UAB late in the first half in the game that will decide who West Virginia’s first opponent will be.
Tomorrow’s action features Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State playing for the right to face Ohio State, and Virginia Commonwealth and USC vying for the right to face Georgetown. Action really gets underway on Thursday, however, when there will be 16 games, including Pitt (in Washington DC at 3:15 EST; truTV) and West Virginia (12:15 PM in Tampa; CBS)
The verdict is out and many pundits across the country are calling Pitt’s Southeast region the easiest of the four. But while Pitt may have one of its easiest paths ever to the Final Four, there are still some traps ahead. Here are a few of the potential March Madness challenges for Pitt:
Old Dominion – Pitt fans should be hoping for a Butler win over Old Dominion in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs are no doubt a very capable team, but ODU could pose a serious challenge to the Panthers. The Monarchs have a Pitt-like 27-6 record and have won their past nine contests. They lost a tough opener to Georgetown by three points, but have some pretty impressive wins over some good teams such as Xavier, Richmond, Clemson, and George Mason. Playing in D.C., Old Dominion (in nearby Virginia) will have a favorable crowd.
Kansas State – Should Pitt advance, in the next game the Panthers will have its hands full if it ends up playing either Kansas State or Wisconsin (or maybe even Belmont or Utah State). But of the four, Kansas State is a hot team right now and one Pitt should want to avoid. They were highly-touted in the beginning of the season, but kind of fell off the radar after a nasty 2-5 mid-season skid. However, one thing you don’t hear much about is the fact that none of those games were necessarily bad losses. The Wildcats were defeated by NCAA teams Kansas, Texas A&M, and Missouri on the road. Colorado was, in most eyes, an NCAA tournament team, and a road loss to NIT-bound Oklahoma State was a tough game. Down the stretch, KSU beat teams like Kansas, Texas, and Missouri, and they could be just hitting their stride. The Wildcats also have a bonafide star guard in Jacob Pullen, who averages more than 19 points per game. Pitt’s best hope is for Kansas State to get knocked out before the third round.
Elite Eight Game (Anyone) – Face it – any team that Pitt plays here will be a tough matchup. It could be No. 2 seed Florida, a Tom Izzo Michigan State team that always plays well come tournament time, a St. John’s team that already defeated the Panthers, or even another team. Regardless of who Pitt squares off against, it should be a tough game. Pitt will likely have at least a few jitters at the prospect of going where no Pitt team has gone before … and no, the 1941 Final Four team doesn’t count. The good news for Pitt is that if they make it this far, the team will be down to a single game to reach the Final Four.
Those of you hunting for a March Madness bracket template can find a printable bracket at SBNation.com.
Here’s the schedule of games for tonight. There are two games, both of which have relevance regionally. At 6:30 PM on truTV, UNC-Asheville plays Arkansas-Little Rock in a game that will determine which team wins the right to be blown out by Pitt. At 9:00, Clemson plays UAB, also on truTV, with the winner taking on West Virginia.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), Texas-San Antonio plays Alabama State at 6:30 and VCU takes on USC at 9:00. Both games are, again, on truTV.
The tournament begins in earnest on Thursday, with West Virginia having the first game, at 12:15 on CBS. Pitt plays on truTV at 3:15.
Unless your office pool lets you skip out on the first couple days of games, you only have a few hours left, so get those brackets in. The Seattle Times has some good advice – doing pick millions of upsets. They’re really sexy when you predict them correctly, but you’ll usually get them wrong.
If you're still scrambling to turn in your NCAA Tournament picks, SB Nation has a printable bracket for you. Here's a look at some bracket predictions. First up is SBNation.com's. SB Nation has Pitt actually losing in its second game, against Old Dominion:
No. 9 Old Dominion over No. 1 Pittsburgh, as the Panthers struggle with their rough Colonial equivalent.
That's the sort of pick that will make you look like a genius in your office pool if you're right, but only because you'll so rarely actually be right. The Monarchs have 27 wins so far this year, but most of those came against schools like Hofstra and William & Mary. Meanwhile, ODU lost against Georgetown and got blown out by Missouri, and its biggest win was against Xavier (who, admittedly, is seeded higher than ODU is). Not that Old Dominion played the country's easiest schedule or anything, but the difference between their slate of games and the Big East gauntlet Pitt walked is enormous. You should pick Pitt to win that game, and probably to continue winning up to the Final Four, since its opponents along the way will be relatively easy to beat.
SB Nation also picks Temple to beat Penn State.
FOX Sports' Jeff Goodman picks Pitt to advance to the Final Four before eventually losing to Kansas:
Top seed Pittsburgh drew the easiest region and the Panthers should make their first-ever Final Four appearance. Butler was fortunate to go dancing, but last year’s Cinderella will make an early exit to Old Dominion. Kansas State has turned it around, but I don’t have much confidence in anyone except for Jake Pullen — and he can’t carry this team for long.
The Sporting News notes that Pitt's bracket is a favorable one but still picks Kansas State to advance to the Final Four.
Three of six prognosticators at Sports Illustrated predict that Pitt will go to the Final Four. Two more pick Florida, and one picks Wisconsin.
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