Monday, March 23, 2009

Top Seeded Pittsburgh and Louisville In Trouble

After two rounds of play in this year's installment of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, it is pretty obvious that the brackets of some are going to explode by next Sunday night.

Pittsburgh and Louisville, two of the top teams in the land that both came out of the tough Big East Conference, have played underwhelming basketball thus far.

Pittsburgh, for its part, was ranked number one nationally by many pundits from start to finish this year because of their dominating inside presence and excellent shooting, but so far they have played sub par. In fact, they look tired.

Against lowly East Tennessee State in round one, the Buccaneers shot only 30 percent from the floor and a miserable 18 percent from three point land, and still managed to make the Pitt Panthers sweat it out. More revealing, there were several points in the game where East Tennessee State held slim two point leads in the contest.

Against Oklahoma State, a much tougher opponent from the Big 12 Conference, the Panthers trailed at one point in the game 54-50 to start the second half. It appeared the Oklahoma State had too much energy for the lackluster Panthers, but still they found a way to avoid another crippling loss and defeat the Cowboys to advance to the Sweet 16.

The road to the final four will not get easier for Pitt. Villanova and Xavier await, and both these teams are red hot right now. Xavier blew out Wisconsin 60-49 on Sunday, and Portland State 77-59 on Friday. They are shooting 47 percent from the floor and have had a lot of experience in Sweet 16 games.

Villanova has also been in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 several times over the past few years but could never get over the hump. They may be the hottest team in the tournament right now next to Connecticut.

After storming back from a 41-31 halftime deficit against American University on Thursday, the Wild Cats have been unstoppable as they stormed past American in the second half and ran UCLA out of the building on Saturday afternoon. Villanova has won games with their athletic, physical play, which makes them a favorite to beat a small Duke team on Friday.

If Pittsburgh continues to struggle in these games, they are sure to be eliminated by either Xavier or Villanova, whichever comes first.

As for Louisville, well, if there is one thing we know about Louisville it is that they can never be trusted at tournament time. Many a time have we seen Louisville get upended by a lower ranked team in this playoff format. Will it happen again? It almost did on Sunday when Sienna hung tough with Louisville until the end. Sienna even had the lead as late as 2:00 left in the contest. Louisville's road to the final four, on paper, seems easier then Pittsburgh's, but they will have to play an Arizona team with a chip on its shoulder, and, in all likelihood, a Michigan State team that pulled away from USC Sunday evening.

If Louisville is able to make it to the Final Four, they could face tougher competition in UConn or Memphis, both of which are playing extremely well.

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