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March 15, 2011
Tournament Preview
Pitt in the Southeast

by Asher Fusco

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Pitt cemented its status as the NCAA tournament's third No. 1 seed with an exceptional 12-1 non-conference run and a fairly dominant 15-3 showing in the Big East. A disappointing exit at the hands of Connecticut early in the Big East tournament didn't change those essentials. For their trouble, the Panthers received a region with a 3-seed missing its second-best player, a 2-seed that's more solid than scary, and the field's least impressive 5-6-7 trio, in the estimation of Ken Pomeroy.

Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy

Seed	               Rd3   Sweet16  Elite8  Final4  Final   Champ
 1    Pitt             95.1    76.5    47.4    31.8    16.8     7.5
 3    Brigham Young    85.4    55.7    35.4    17.0     7.5     2.7
 4    Wisconsin        61.0    38.5    20.4    12.8     6.2     2.5
 2    Florida          87.8    57.8    29.4    12.2     4.6     1.4
12    Utah St.         60.1    26.9    11.9     6.4     2.5     0.8
13    Belmont          39.0    20.5     8.7     4.6     1.7     0.5
11    Gonzaga          53.0    22.2    11.1     3.9     1.2     0.3
 6    St. John's       47.0    18.5     8.7     2.8     0.8     0.2
 5    Kansas St.       39.9    14.0     5.0     2.2     0.7     0.2
10    Michigan St.     55.0    22.9     8.6     2.5     0.6     0.1
 7    UCLA             45.0    16.8     5.6     1.4     0.3     0.05
 9    Old Dominion     51.1    11.8     3.5     1.2     0.3     0.05
 8    Butler           48.9    10.9     3.1     1.0     0.2     0.04
14    Wofford          14.6     3.6     0.9     0.1     0.02    0.001
15    UC Santa Barbara 12.2     2.6     0.3     0.03    0.003   0.0002
16    UNC Asheville     4.0     0.8     0.08    0.009   0.0007  0.00003
16    Ark. Little Rock  0.9     0.09    0.004   0.0003  0.000009 0.0000002

This region is notable for the strength of its bottom-half teams. Utah State and Belmont both occupy space in Pomeroy's overall top 20, while Gonzaga sits at No. 27. A solid (at least efficiency-wise) Michigan State team in the 10th position and a good Wofford team at No. 14 round out what is the tourney's best second tier.

Despite the lack of middle-seed punch and the Southeast's relatively under-powered 2 and 3 seeds, Pomeroy's log5 numbers give Pitt a smaller chance of making the Final Four than the tournament's other top seeds. One reason for that is the Panthers' status as the ratings' least-favorite 1 seed. Pitt sits in fifth in the nation in overall efficiency, right behind the other top seeds and Texas. The Log5 analysis and Pomeroy's efficiency numbers also like BYU a little more than one might expect, considering the team's uninspiring post-Brandon Davies performance. Since losing their starting big man, the Cougars are 3-2 with two 18-point losses and a close call against a bottom-feeding TCU team. Still, Dave Rose's team hasn't performed poorly enough to fall out of Pomeroy's top 15 nationally, giving them enough of a statistical profile to have a 17 percent chance at the Final Four, a number that looks awfully high at present.

Another problem Pitt could face is Wisconsin, amazingly only the third best of a rather ridiculously strong group of 4 seeds. Despite their seeding, which probably stems in part from a two-game losing streak to end the season, the Badgers are legitimate contenders to topple Pitt, if not reach the Final Four.

(16) UNC-Asheville/Arkansas-LIttle Rock vs. (1) Pitt (Washington, D.C.: Thursday, 3:10 on truTV)
Pitt spent all season building a nearly fault-free resume, in the process separating itself from the rest of the Big East by a fair margin, and what do the Panthers get? A measly 95 percent chance at beating UNC-Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock, according to Ken Pomeroy's log5 analysis. Panther fans probably shouldn't panic: Kentucky was given "just" a 95 percent chance of topping East Tennesee State last season and ended up winning by 29.

Assuming Pitt's size is enough to lift it past either UNCA or UALR, it will face one of two very interesting opponents in Butler or Old Dominion. The Panthers win with their shooting and the extra shots they generate through offensive rebounding. An excellent defensive rebounding team like Butler could present an intriguing challenge for Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna, the Panthers' Big East-tested big men.

Past that challenge, Pitt came away from the bracketing process in pretty good shape. St. John's is a proven Pitt-beater and Wisconsin's offense poses problems for any potential opponent, but BYU and Florida aren't pick-of-the-litter second and third seeds.

(9) Old Dominion vs. (8) Butler (Washington, D.C.: Thursday, 12:40 on truTV)
One year removed from its trip to the national title game, Butler faces a tough climb out of its first matchup. This game appears one of the most evenly matched of the opening rounds, as the two teams sit just three spots away from one another in Pomeroy's overall rankings (Old Dominion is 51st, Butler 54th). Log5 gives Old Dominion the slight edge but doesn't care much for either team's long-term chances: Tennessee is the only 8 or 9 given a smaller chance of winning the title.

This game presents an extreme case of strength against strength, as Butler's excellent defensive rebounding (11th in the nation) meets Old Dominion's top-ranked offensive rebounding. The matchup to watch here is Butler's Matt Howard against Old Dominion's Frank Hassell. Each flew under the radar this season, posting offensive ratings above 117 while using more than 25 percent of their teams' possessions and grabbing heaps of rebounds.

(12) Utah State vs. (5) Kansas State (Tucson: Thursday, 9:57 on truTV)
At first glance this one looks like your classic upset special, a notion supported by the log5 numbers in resounding fashion. Utah State is a 30-game winner with a dominant big man in Tai Wesley and dangerous outside shooter in Brian Green. Kansas State is a team with a couple not-so-explainable losses and a heavy reliance on one player, guard Jacob Pullen, to carry the load on offense.

This game will have a couple of interesting things to watch: Whether the Aggies' exceptional perimeter defense will meet its match in Pullen, and whether the Wildcats can keep bigs Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels out of foul trouble long enough to neutralize Wesley and fellow USU forward Brady Jardine.

(13) Belmont vs. (4) Wisconsin (Tucson: Thursday, 7:27 on truTV)
Poor Belmont. All those victories, all that well-deserved hype, that spot in Pomeroy's top 20...and the Bruins get Wisconsin, which, last week's 36-33 stinker against Penn State notwithstanding, is a lot better than your average 4 seed. Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor are two of the nation's more efficient high-usage performers, and Keaton Nankivil and Josh Gasser are just about the best role players you could ask for. The Badgers are the nation's second-most efficient offensive team.

If Belmont can't survive the Badgers, it will be an unfortunate consequence of its draw, because the Bruins could give almost any team in the nation a run for its money. The Bruins have won 12 in a row and lost just once since Christmas, winning the Atlantic Sun title game by 41(!) points. Slight guard Ian Clark is Rick Byrd's featured performer, but the ability of 6-10 post Scott Saunders and 6-9 forward Mick Hedgepeth to compete against Leuer and Nankivil could be the key.

(11) Gonzaga vs. (6) St. John's (Denver: Thursday, 9:45 on CBS)
For all the differences in how they're perceived -- Gonzaga the "down year" West Coasters, St. John's the resurgent program conveniently located a short trip down the road from ESPN -- the teams actually possess fairly similar statistical profiles. Each plays at a moderate pace and is solid but unremarkable on both ends of the court. The Bulldogs do just enough better than the Red Storm to warrant a 53-47 edge in the log5 analysis.

In terms of on-court strategy and roster make-up, the two have some differences. Gonzaga has a point guard's point guard in David Stockton, a center's center in Robert Sacre and a pair of versatile forwards in Steven Gray and Elias Harris. On the other hand, St. John's relies on a much more fluid group of wing-type players to slash and create aggressively on offense. The loss of D.J. Kennedy could be big -- he did a little of everything for the Red Storm.

(14) Wofford vs. (3) BYU (Denver; Thursday, 7:15 on CBS)
BYU without Brandon Davies is far from a bad team by any stretch of the imagination. But the Cougars' even heavier post-Davies reliance on Jimmer Fredette isn't a great thing to lean on heading into the tournament. BYU probably won't need to sweat Wofford, a decent team with its own uber-scorer in Noah Dahlman, but a second-round matchup against St. John's or Gonzaga certainly won't hold as much intrigue sans Davies.

As for this first-round matchup, the Fredette-Dahlman duo could provide the most firepower of any in the region, if not the entire tournament. Dahlman used nearly 30 percent of Wofford's trips during his time on the court this season and recorded an effective FG percentage of 61. Then again this Jimmer guy can do a bit of shooting, too.

(10) Michigan State vs. (7) UCLA (Tampa: Thursday, 9:20 on TBS)
Ben Howland versus Tom Izzo: a meeting of two of the college game's biggest personalities, two of the nation's most celebrated and most successful coaches. But this isn't the Final Four. One of them will pack up and leave the tournament after just one game.

Dig through the mountain of disappointment covering the Spartans' 19-14 (9-9 Big Ten) campaign and you'll find a pretty decent team anchored by two solid interior players, Draymond Green and Delvon Roe. Unfortunately you'll also find a team that won just half of its conference games and posted an effective FG percentage in the nation's lower half. The Bruins looked much better than Michigan State against conference competition, but they faced their own struggles in the forms of unsteady guard play and a tendency to commit turnovers.

(2) Florida vs. (15) UC-Santa Barbara (Tampa: Thursday, 6:50 on TBS)
It's not exactly the Brewer-Noah-Green-Horford murderers' row that Billy Donovan had back in the day, but this year's Florida team has a very efficient core of contributors centered on do-it-all wing Chandler Parsons. If the Gators escape the Gauchos, things set up well for Donovan's bunch all the way to a potential matchup with Pitt or Wisconsin. Pomeroy's numbers don't like the Gators as much as they do BYU, but a Davies-less group of Cougars would match up pretty poorly up front with Florida.

Asher Fusco is a writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at AsherFusco.

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