Breaking Down the Brackets: Southeast Region Part I

Steve O Speak

Number 1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers:

Why they can win the region?

While a number of fans might look at the Panthers and think they are a weaker one seed, given their previous tournament history and disappointing Big East Tournament, I wouldn’t count them to be knocked off early.

The Panthers are a deep team that can beat you inside or outside. They ranked 2nd in the Big Eats in 3-point percentage, led by star guard Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs was top ten in the nation in his 3-point %, and also the Panther’s top scorer. While the Panthers can no doubt hit the 3 ball they don’t rely solely on it which makes them extremely dangerous. They have guards who can drive to the basket, and athletic forwards who can finish. Even center Gary McGhee, has become an offensive threat if he has an opening to dunk it. Pitt also benefits from having one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, with getting a 2nd chance 42.7% of the time.

While the Panthers offense can impress, it is really their defense that gives them a chance to go far in this region. The Panthers gave up just 61 points a game, while playing in the toughest conference in college basketball. What’s even more scary is the fact that they actually were even stingier against the Big East than everyone else. From Jan 8th, until their loss in the Big East Tournament, the Panthers never gave up more than 66 points in a single game. This despite playing against some of the top offenses in the nation.

The Panthers also benefit from having a very deep and veteran team. All 5 of the Panthers starters are juniors or seniors, which means they were here for the Panthers Elite 8 run two years ago. In terms of depth, I’m not sure if another team in the tournament is as deep as the Panthers. Pittsburgh is legitimately 11 men deep, when they are healthy. In addition to being deep, they are also balanced. Pitt has multiple smaller faster guards, athletic wing players, and strong big men, which allows them to matchup against any type of team in the country.

Why The Panthers won’t win:

For as good as the Panthers have been this past decade, they’ve also been a disappointment. Despite making the tournament year-in-year-out they don’t have a single Final Four appearance to their name.

Pitt’s three biggest weaknesses throughout the year (and this past decade) are the following: When the start off slow, and fall behind early they can’t overcome big deficits. When they do jump out to big leads, they can’t put team’s away. This was very clear in the Big East Tournament, where Pitt jumped out to an early lead against UConn in both halves, but could never put the game away. And finally their biggest weakness is and always has been their Free Throw shooting. Outside of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown their free throw shooting is awful. Overall it is better than it has been in the past, but it still could hurt them late in close games.

The other issue that could hurt the Panthers is the injury to Talib Zanna. Zanna is their 2nd best forward/center off the bench, but also one of the team’s best rebounders. Considering the Panthers could have a matchup against ODU, one of the best rebounding teams, in the 2nd round, not having Zanna could really hurt them. Overall the Panthers depth should make up for the loss of Zanna, but he is a key contributor so it could end up making a difference.

First round Predictions: Predicted winner in Bold

1. Pittsburgh vs 16. UNC Ashville

2. Florida vs 15.  UC Santa Barbra

3. BYU vs 14. Wofford

4. Wisconsin vs. 13 Belmont

5. Kansas State vs 12. Utah State

6. St. John’s vs 11. Gonzaga

7. UCLA vs. Michigan

8. Butler vs 9. Old Dominion

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