The Big East Conference received the most bids in the 2013 NCAA Tournament (8), and we’re going through team-by-team previewing each one from the lowest seed to the highest.
Seed line: #8 in the West Region
First opponent: #9 Wichita St. Shockers
Time of first game: Thursday, March 21 at 1:40 PM on TBS
Player to watch: Steven Adams – the 7-foot 250-pound freshman center from New Zealand may not get the most playing time (only gets 55.8% of available minutes), but he has game-changer potential when on the court. His fundamentals and skills are still very raw, but his sheer size evens out the fight against teams with big front courts. If the Panthers are able to get by their first game, it will likely take a big performance from Adams against Kelly Olynyk and the Gonzaga Bulldogs for them to upset the #1 seed in their region.
What to know: The Pittsburgh Panthers seemed to have gotten no love from the selection committee as most expert bracketeers leading up to Selection Sunday had the Panthers slated in the 5-6 range. So needless to say, getting thrown into the 8-9 game was an unlucky draw. Throughout the season the advanced analytics (KenPom.com and Sagarin for example) have been particularly fond of the Panthers as they have been extremely efficient on both offense and defense – which translated into a significant turnaround from the previous season and a double-bye in this year’s Big East tournament. However, this team plays slow (339th slowest in the country), so when they aren’t hitting shots they can find themselves in a hole quickly. But after missing the NCAA Tournament last year, expect senior point guard Tray Woodall and the rest of the Pitt Panthers to enter postseason play with something to prove.
Tournament prospects: We already touched on the unluckiness of getting tossed into the 8-9 game, both due to the fact that they seem to be under-seeded and because of the #1 seed that awaits in the next game. However, it could be Wichita St. that is the true unlucky one here by being pinned against an opponent that seems to be more of a 5 or 6 seed rather than an 8. If Pittsburgh is to get by the Shockers they would then get to square off with Gonzaga on Saturday afternoon. Of all the 1-seeds that you could see, this is probably the one that they would want. Not that Gonzaga is a bad team, because this team is good. Whenever you can go undefeated in your league, win the conference tournament and ride a 14 game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament, you are doing something right. But this team hasn’t seen a quality opponent in more than two months (sorry St. Mary’s and Butler, but your size and athleticism is not quite as good as Pittsburgh’s), so the Panthers may catch them a bit apprehensive and overwhelmed. Pittsburgh may have gotten unlucky with their draw, but don’t be surprised if they make the most noise on opening weekend.