When the Pittsburgh Panthers and Wichita State Shockers go head to head, don’t expect a high-scoring shootout. It’s going to be a tough, gritty and stingy game in every aspect.
That’s what college basketball is really about.
The Panthers enter the tournament at 24-8, finishing 12-6 in the Big East conference. Their schedule doesn’t have many impressive wins, but they were able to beat Georgetown by 28 earlier in the season. Close losses to Louisville and Michigan have given this team some credibility.
The Shockers come in at 26-8 with a 12-6 record in the Missouri Valley conference. They have wins against VCU and Creighton but haven’t had many other tests. They finished 2-2 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, but that’s about it.
With one of the grittier matchups in the second round, here’s all of the information you need for the big game on Thursday.
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
When: Thursday, March 21, at 1:40 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: PITT -4.5 (via Vegas Insider)
Pittsburgh Injuries: (via USA Today) None
Wichita State Injuries: (via USA Today) G Evan Wessel, Finger, Out
What’s at Stake?
As if this matchup wasn’t tough enough for both teams, the winner will be playing Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West region.
It may not be a fun position to be in, but one of these teams has the potential to pull off a big upset over the Bulldogs. Gonzaga hasn’t been tested much recently and could have their guard down going into the tournament.
Still, Gonzaga is a great team. It has the best record in the NCAA at 31-2. It went undefeated in the West Coast conference, going 16-0. It shot over 50 percent as a team and averaged 77.6 points per game. Kelly Olynyk has been one of the best players in the country, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 65.2 percent from the field.
Other than all of those things, the winner of this game has a chance of beating Gonzaga.
Players to Watch
Pittsburgh: C Steven Adams
Adams may not be the highest scorer on the Panthers, but he is going to be an important player for the team.
The Panthers were thrilled when they landed the freshman center before the start of the season. Originally from New Zealand, Adams was the fifth-best recruit in the nation and a five-star recruit according to Rivals.com.
Now, the Panthers will look for Adams to be an intimidating presence underneath the basket. He’s been great defensively, averaging 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. According to Sports-Reference.com, Adams has 4.5 defensive win shares, which is the ninth-best in the country.
With the all of the size on Wichita State’s roster, Adams will be an important piece in keeping them in check. He has the tools to be in control of the paint, despite his youth.
Wichita State: F Cleanthony Early
Cleanthony Early is just one of those big and tall players on the roster for the Shockers. It just so happens that he is also the team’s leading scorer.
The play of Early has been important to the team all year. Even though he’s a junior, this is his first season actually playing with the team after playing in junior college for the past couple of years. He’s averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, shooting 44.8 percent from the field.
The Shockers will need Early to turn it around after a few bad games. In the last three games, he has gone 5-for-21 shooting while averaging only five points per game. It was a tough stretch for him, but in order for the Shockers to advance, they need him to shake it off and come ready to play on Thursday.
Key Matchup: Collision in the Frontcourt
Like I said earlier, this is going to be a stingy game. With two physical teams like these, the forwards and centers are going to be the players to watch.
The frontcourts of both teams have directly impacted their teams’ impressive defenses. Pittsburgh is holding their opponents to 55.4 points per game, the sixth-best in the NCAA. The Shockers haven’t done too bad either, allowing only 60.7 points per game.
Crashing the boards is also going to be important for these bigger guys. The Shockers average 38.4 rebounds per game, which is 27th in the nation. The Panthers aren’t too far back at 35.3 boards per game.
Both Adams and Early will be big contributors in the front court. They will have to play very physical inside, and both will likely struggle to put up the points that they are accustomed to.
Whoever wins, winning the glass will likely be the reason that they win. Keeping the opponent from getting second-chance points will contribute to a win and a chance to play Gonzaga in the next round.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Wins
As much fun as it is to root for a smaller school from a smaller conference, the Panthers are the more balanced team. They have been tested all season in the Big East, playing in much tougher games.
The Shockers can still make this a game by controlling the glass and getting guys like Adams in foul trouble early on, so this game will still be relatively close.
As far as scoring goes, don’t expect a lot of it. It’s unlikely that both teams, let alone one, break 60 points on the night. Expect the Panthers to have the edge offensively and pull out a win.
Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 60, Wichita State 55
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