Why I won’t be filling out a bracket next year

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I had Marquette beating Davidson yesterday in my bracket. It wasn’t that important because I had Butler beating them next round, but I still wanted them to win the game. When the game got close at the end I found myself really rooting for the Golden Eagles, despite the fantastic game that a huge underdog Davidson was having. All of my friends and I except one cheered as Vander Blue made a layup with a second left to win the game. The other friend couldn’t believe that none of us were rooting for the underdog. Obviously, underdogs and upsets are what make the NCAA Tournament so special. And I started to realize that that is more important than my bracket after the Marquette game.

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Midwest Region Breakdown

Connecticut v Louisville

This is arguably the toughest region which Louisville Cardinals fans might be upset about considering their team earned the No. 1 overall seed. The top four seeds are dangerous and the region is filled with upset potential. Here’s a brief summation of the Midwest Region before you hit submit on your bracket.

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A Crazy Day In College Basketball

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Yesterday was an unbelievable day for college basketball, by far the best of the season and arguably one of the best in a while. No. 1 went down again. The Florida Gators steamrolled a team who apparently was supposed to be good. Another great Big Ten game that proved they are the deepest conference. And the Butler Bulldogs once again proved that they are better at magic than the glorious GOB Bluthe. Here’s everything you need to know about yesterday’s games.

Maryland-North Carolina

 I want to briefly mention this game, mainly because no one cared about it. Which is the way it should be. I completely loathe these two, and its great to see these two in the bottom cellar of the ACC (honestly anything lower than 3rd place is in the cellar). What’s even better, their luck might not get better in future seasons. Maryland will lose their best player Alex Len to the NBA where he’ll be a bust, perhaps an epic one. And soon they’ll head to Big Ten where their football team will have a better chance of being successful than their basketball team will. North Carolina, meanwhile, will have to compete with Syracuse and possibly Notre Dame in the ACC next year and then Louisville the year after. Sure they can compete with these teams and will always be among the top of the conference, but the times of Duke and them dominating the ACC are no longer. Justice is being served.

True Mid-Majors

This section will not include Gonzaga and Butler, because they aren’t mid-majors. Why are people so insistent in calling teams that are constantly ranked in the top 10, beat big teams, and make deep runs in the tournament mid-majors? These two games involve true mid-majors, teams that sneak in with that 12 seed and win one game.

The two best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference went up against each other, with Wichita State beating Creighton. These teams are almost identical. Both are 17-2, 6-1 in conference. They beat good teams in non-conference (Creighton: Wisconsin, Wichita State: VCU). Both are also incredibly hard to judge about how they’ll do in March. I’ll just leave it at I have no idea, but I do have a hunch that Doug McDermott will win Player of the Year.

I didn’t even know that people lived in Wyoming, let alone that some of them play pretty good basketball. The Wyoming Cowboys are 15-2 and were one of the last undefeated teams in the nation. Granted they just beat a vastly overrated No. 15 San Diego State (you should not be ranked if you score 9 points in a half), but they will surely make the field in March. It’s going to be nice to see one of our territories finally represented in the tourney after the University of Puerto Rico has been unjustifiably snubbed every year. Wait, Wyoming’s a state; I really do need to touch up on my geography.

Big East Going Out With a Whimper

This is the last year of the Big East. What has been the best conference for years has picked the wrong year for its decline. There are two great teams followed by a bunch of mediocre teams. Don’t be surprised to see the conference that had 9 teams in the tournament last year, struggle to get 5 this year.

Georgetown followed their impressive non-conference run by losing 3 of their first 5 Big East games, including a bad loss to South Florida. Pitt, Marquette, and Notre Dame are locks but aren’t great teams. Cincinnati has the talent to make a 2nd consecutive Sweet 16, but it is unclear whether they can put it all together. Rutgers, UConn, St. John’s, and Villanova should try again next year.

The two teams at the top are truly great teams. They also put together a great game yesterday that was outdone by an indescribable game. I didn’t watch any of the Syracuse-Louisville game due to fanatic obligation to the Penguins. The last minute was crazy though and the game cemented Michael Carter-Williams as one of the top picks in this year’s NBA Draft. Even though he has a fetish for bathrobes, he still has one of the most complete games in the nation. Just listen to this stat line: 16 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. He can lead this team to great things, although as a Pitt fan I don’t want him to.

Despite this loss, I still think that the Louisville Cardinals are the best team in the country. I know that as a Duke fan, this goes against some moral code but it’s obvious when watching Louisville that they are extremely talented. First off, they’re deep with 9 guys playing more than 12 minutes per game. Russ Smith should also be in the POY debate, Peyton Siva is a good floor general and leader, Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear are lengthy forwards that can give the Cardinals extra scoring, and Gorgui Dieng is the most dominant defensive center in the game. I’m not saying they will win it all, but right now they still hold the belt for the best team.

Fast Break Points

Beautiful, Oh Beautiful Butler

Like I said, the Gonzaga-Butler game was indescribable. So I won’t bother trying. I’ll just say that I absolutely love this Butler team. They are the definition of college basketball. Brad Stevens in my opinion is currently the 2nd best coach (Coach K still holds the title). The kids he brings in are never great players, but they make for the perfect team. Hinkle Fieldhouse rivals Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as the most magical place. And they keep outdoing themselves on ways to win games. There was this win against Xavier in 2009. Then this Matt Howard buzzer beater in the first round of the 2011 tournament against Old Dominion (bad quality, power through). What about this ridiculous Rotnei Clark buzzer beater in last year’s Maui Invitational. My favorite though was the one that just happened. Here you go, the greatest 5 seconds of college basketball this season:

Panthers Come March

This Pittsburgh Panthers basketball team is unbelievably hard to judge. The best recent example is their absolute annihilation of No. 19 (at the time) Georgetown in the nation’s capital. They followed that big win with basically doing very little right at home against Marquette in a game the Golden Eagles were begging to lose. They somehow managed a Lamar Patterson buzzer beater that sent the game to overtime, but the Panthers continued to look like the barely standing drunk guy on the basketball game at Dave & Busters from the line going 13-26 and eventually losing 74, 67.

Now things seem to have been directed back to the main course after solid wins at Villanova and home against Connecticut. The Connecticut game was one of the best game they’ve played all year, because even though they blew a 14-point lead in the 2nd half only to retake the lead and sail away with the game, they were good in almost all aspects of the game. They improved from the line, shot 42% from 3, cleaned up on the offensive boards, and implemented a combo man and zone that frustrated the UConn offense into turnovers.

So where does this leave Pitt come March? This depends of how this relatively young team can improve through the season. The players are finally starting to make their offense sets not look as dull and static as they once did. The 2-3 zone that Jamie Dixon implemented has started to become suffocating, especially the wrinkle that has Talib Zanna cheat up towards the wing creating a trap situation at the high post. Finally, Freshmen James Robinson and Steve Adams have proven themselves starters due to Robinson’s clutch factor and Adams’ vast improvement.

I think their ceiling is a 5 seed, provided they beat either Louisville or Syracuse and win the games they should. Their basement, not considering the possibility they completely tank and end up as back-to-back CBI champions, is an 11 seed. The more realistic range is within that 7 to 10 seed area. Their terrible non-conference schedule consisting of the Washington Generals and the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy (I know you saw this Disney Channel movie) will definitely hurt them in getting the highest seed.

A couple of quick things that need to go right/continue to stay the same for them to get the best draw possible:

Consistent Play of Tray Woodall

Woodall is the de-facto leader of this group. Yet sometimes, his play hasn’t reflected it. Against Marquette, he did not score after getting injured late in the 1st half. At Villanova, he had 8 points on 2-of-8 shooting. Today he did have 13 points and 6 assists, but he also had 2 fouls within seven minutes of the first half. Making smart decisions on the floor, especially staying out of foul trouble, something that has been a problem, and still providing that scoring is how Woodall can lead his team to the best-possible seed.

Bench Performance

The Panthers are so deep off the bench that they have had two players transfer to seek playing time. JJ Moore provides length and athleticism. Cam Wright can do all the intangibles and is a great finisher at the basket. Dante Taylor is another big body that rebounds at an above-average level. Trey Zeigler, who severely struggled, has found his niche as a guy who can penetrate and finish. Finally, Durand Johnson can drain threes when he’s hot. All of them are coming into their own at the right time for the Panthers.

Steve Adams

If you watched Steve Adams play early in the season, it was hard to understand why he was the 6th ranked recruit on the ESPN 100.  Apparently, Adams is an extremely hard worker in practice and it’s easy to see in how improved his game has become. At the early moments of the season his offense game was non-existent, unaware that posting up was how you get the ball. His post game still has a long way to go but now its functional. He’s become great at creating space for himself and his post moves are starting to increase, with his repertoire including a good right hook, developing left hook, and a newly introduced spin move.

Where he’s made his greatest strides is on the defensive side. Being 7 foot meant that rebounds and blocks have been easy to come by all season. It’s the other things he’s gotten better at, help defense being the most important of them. Adams was sometimes late to rotate to protect the lane at start, but now he’s there right on time leading to an increase in his blocks. Another reason the 2-3 zone has been effective is because he understands where he needs to move to, making him a dominant presence in the middle.

So far their Big East play has been mediocre, but things seem to be looking up. A team that really didn’t have any chemistry at the beginning of the season is starting to mesh. Big match-ups against Syracuse and Louisville will be even better evaluations of where exactly they stand. But it seems their stock is rising as we head towards March.