During Sunday's Selection Show, Pitt was given the No. 8 seed out in the West Region. Before we all go crazy, with as up and down as this team's been and how awful our non-conference schedule was, this was always a possibility. Let's be real though - I'd rather see Pittsburgh's name show up in the NCAA Tournament as opposed to seeing them miss the tournament every day of the week.
They will match up against the Wichita State Shockers out of the Missouri Valley Conference on Thursday at 1:40 P.M. in Salt Lake City with Spero Dedes and Doug Gottlieb as announcers. Out in Salt Lake City and still a start time that interferes with work for the average person and with notorious Pitt hater Doug Gottlieb as an analyst. Unbelievable
Anyways, the Shockers are a really good team out of the always competitive MVC and made it to the MVC Championship Game, where they lost to Creighton. WSU had a great shot to win the Missouri Valley regular season title, but lost couple games in conference play to bad teams. They were swept by Evansville and lost at last place Southern Illinois.
If you were to look at both teams side-by-side, you'd find two very similar teams. Both teams are great at rebounding. Both teams defend well and score around the same number of points per game. The Shockers don't go 10-deep like the Panthers, but they do have a deep rotation and starting lineup full of experience. If you're looking for differences, the Shockers turn the ball over more than Pitt while the Panthers are worse at the free throw line. But they truly are very similar teams and should provide for a really entertaining tournament game. Or completely nerve-wracking for Pitt fans.
The guys to watch for the Shockers are in their front court. They have a bunch of guys who are at least 6'8", starting with Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, two seniors whose length can alter shots and can score on second chance opportunities. Those two are also the top two scorers for Wichita State. Steven Adams, Talib Zanna, and Dante Taylor will have to be at their best defensively and fight for every rebound, something they have shown they can do, but not consistently. The good news is that while WSU has one player at 7'0" in Ehimen Orukpe, he isn't that big of a player for them. Pitt will have the height advantage inside for most of the game. But don't let that make you think Pitt can win the rebounding battle - the Shockers were outrebounded in only one of their losses. Yes, the Big East is much tougher than the Valley, but it still is going to be a tough match up on the glass.
In the backcourt, the Shockers will look towards seniors Malcolm Armstead and Demetric Williams who are decent shooters and great defenders. As a whole, they aren't great from the perimeter for a team that jacks up a bunch of them - Wichita State takes about 20 attempts from the perimeter, yet are about 33% from three. Needless to say, Pitt's backcourt will have to keep them cold from the perimeter. Thankfully, Wichita State doesn't have a James Southerland on the roster.
On defense, WSU is going to play pressure D. They're going to try and force turnovers with Armstead and Williams, who combine for about 3 steals a game. The Shockers also do a great job at preventing second-chance opportunities, allowing opponents to grab just 25% of their missed shots (Pitt, on the other hand, grabs about 40% of their misses). If the Panthers can control the offensive glass and actually finish their second-chance points, Pitt will win.
I want to say we can slip by Wichita State, but we've seen this program lose in more shocking fashion to other teams that Pitt was favored to beat. I can't even say the Panthers will be a favorite. I do know it's going to be a great game and hopefully the Panthers get by to set up another really good game with the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.