The East Region: Who Can Stop Pitt?

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2009

The East Region is headlined by the most balanced team in the tournament. The Pitt Panthers are the region’s No. 1 seed, and of all the number ones they have the best draw.


DeJuan Blair patrols the paint, Levance Fields dishes the rock, and Sam Young is capable of putting up 30 points on any given night. Blair finished in the top five in the nation in rebounding with 12.2 boards per game, Fields was in the top five in assists with 7.6 dishes a game, and Sam Young averages 18.7 points a game to go with 6.1 rebounds.


Pitt (28-4, 15-3) has a mixture of size and athleticism that is unrivaled in the region. They get contributions from everyone on the roster, and can play as many as eight or nine deep. They can run the transition game with anyone in college basketball, and they can clamp down with stingy man-to-man half court defense.


Duke (28-6, 11-5), the region’s No. 2 seed, has improved drastically since freshman Elliot Williams joined the starting rotation in mid-February. The addition of Jon Scheyer taking over the point seemed to be the missing link for the Blue Devils.


The Blue Devils have become better perimeter defenders, and they don’t turn the ball over as much. There are still questions in regards to their interior game, they lost to UNC twice and never really controlled Tyler Hansbrough, and a potential matchup with Pitt, and Blair, could be brutal for Duke. Great guard play in the early rounds could spell trouble as well.


The region’s No. 3 seed Villanova (26-7, 13-5), is a real threat to reach Detroit. They hold a victory over Pitt earlier this season in conference play, and have a very balanced perimeter attack. They are a patient group that waits for the right shot. Rarely do the Wildcats lose the turnover battle.


Villanova’s Achilles heel could be their height, or lack there of it. If the Wildcat’s cross paths with the Panthers again, you can rest assured that Blair will be a huge factor in that game.


‘Nova gets a tough first round opponent in American (24-7, 13-1). American has won 19 of their last 20 games, and are led by a starting five consisting of five seniors. They are in the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense. If Garrison Carr, American’s three-point shooting sharpshooter, gets hot, American could pose a serious threat to the Wildcats.


Xavier (25-7, 12-4), the region’s No. 4 seed, could also be tested early by Portland State (23-9, 11-5).


Portland State is led by 5’6” guard Jeremiah Dominguez. Don’t let his size fool you, he can make the big shot when needed. They lack the size to really make a deep run in this bracket, but if they start sinking their perimeter shots they could surprise a team or two.


Portland State won at Gonzaga, and lost at Washington by one point.


Xavier will counter with some strong outside shooting. B.J. Raymond and Brad Redford, who was in the top-10 nationally in three-point percentage, lead the assault from beyond the arc. Xavier has big wins over Memphis, Missouri, and LSU.


The Musketeers downfall could be their young backcourt. Dante Jackson and Terrell Holloway are uber talented, but can make mistakes under pressure. If Portland State controls the tempo of the game an upset could be lurking.


Florida State (25-9, 10-6) rode a wave of momentum from the ACC Tournament, and a victory over UNC, to become the region’s No. 5 team. The ‘Noles are led by their star guard Toney Douglas. He is the only Florida State player averaging double digit points per game (21.3).


Big aggressive teams give Florida State problems. They are prone to being out-rebounded and consistently lose the turnover battle. The Seminoles fell to Duke three times this season, as well as Pitt early in the season.


Florida State will be challenged by Wisconsin in the first round. The No. 12 seeded Badgers (19-12, 10-8) lack a true scoring threat. Their ability to limit turnovers has kept them in games this season, but it is unlikely that they will advance out of the first round. They are not as talented as Wisconsin teams of yesteryear.


A potential upset lurks when the No. 6 seeded Bruins of UCLA take on VCU.


VCU (24-9, 14-4) has become a sexy pick to upset UCLA in the first round. Senior guard Eric Maynor is the only player left from VCU’s 2007 upset of Duke. The Rams are not as strong on offense as they were in ’07, but they are far better on the defensive end. Larry Sanders is a force in the paint, and VCU is very capable of hanging with any team in the bracket not named Pitt.


UCLA (25-8, 13-5) is the best field-goal-shooting team in the nation. They also shoot over 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp are as good a one-two punch as any team in the tournament. UCLA can beat you from close range, deep range, and the free throw line.


UCLA has been sporadic with it’s play this season. A good UCLA team will be a tough out. The team that lost to Michigan, Washington, and Arizona State (twice) is a sitting duck that can be steamrolled by the Rams of VCU.


Texas (22-11, 9-7) and Minnesota (22-10, 9-9) highlight the region’s seven-10 game.


The Longhorns sorely miss D.J. Augustine. Varez Ward has filled in at the point nicely, but something has been missing from this team as opposed to last year’s. Texas still has the size and talent to compete with everyone in the region, but their inconsistent play makes them vulnerable to every team they face.


A.J. Abrams has carried Texas all season. If the Longhorns are to make any kind of run they will need consistent play from everyone around Abrams. Consistent play only makes him better.


The Golden Gophers have limped to the finish line this season. They defend well and generate a lot of turnovers. Their downfall could be in their inability to protect the ball on the offensive end. Minnesota has only one player averaging in double digits; Lawrence Westbrook averages 12.4 points a game.


The Gophers can score, but the real question is who is going to be doing the scoring?


The region’s No. 8 seed, Oklahoma State (22-11, 9-7), takes on the No. 9 seed, Tennessee (21-12, 10-6), in what could be the most exciting game of the first round. Both teams like to run, and both are weak defensively.


Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Byron Eaton will push the pace for the Cowboys. If offense were all that mattered, the Cowboys would be unstoppable. They lack size and tough defense. They often get caught up in shootouts, and that’s exactly what this first round game should turn into.


Tennessee thrives when Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism are playing at a high level. The Vols are young, deep, and big. Tennessee has a bad knack for taking bad shots, missing free-throws, and losing defensive focus. This shouldn’t hurt Tennessee against Oklahoma State, as the game figures to be high scoring with both teams playing lackadaisical defense.


One thing to look for is a potential Pitt and UCLA match-up in the Elite Eight. If things were to pan out to allow this to happen, it could be the most publicized game of the tournament with Ben Howland taking on his successor Jamie Dixon.


Howland brought the Pitt program to prominence, and Dixon brought it to the elite level it is at now. Pitt ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time in school history this year, and will look to accomplish another first by advancing past the Sweet 16.


Villanova is a team to watch in this region as well. They have shown their worth in a strong Big East Conference, and hold a victory over Pitt as well.


The class of this bracket is evident. The Pitt Panthers should find themselves in Detroit. Anything less would be an immense disappointment.


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