- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009


Given the patsy-lined path the committee gave Pittsburgh, no one would ever know Louisville was actually the over No. 1 seed.

The Panthers have been a popular pick to win it all since they went into No. 1 Connecticut a month ago and humbled the Huskies behind sophomore forward DeJuan Blair’s 22-point, 23-rebound opus. The East Region bracket only strengthens suspicions that the Panthers are the most likely to cut down the nets in Detroit.

In the brawny Blair (15.6 points, 12.2 rebounds), leading scorer and swingman Sam Young (18.7 points, 6.1 rebounds) and senior point guard Levance Fields (7.6 assists), the Panthers have the best combination of balance, talent and experience across the key positions.

Then consider the Nos. 2-4 seeds the committee gave them. Xavier looks like the weakest No. 4. And both Villanova and Duke are guard-centric teams ill-equipped to deal with an interior presence like Blair and his buddy Tyrell Biggs.

The Panthers’ toughest game before Detroit could come in the second round against the winner of the Oklahoma State/Tennessee matchup. The Cowboys are among the worst rebounding teams in the tournament and thus a woeful matchup for a Pittsburgh crew ranked second in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-9.9).

But if Tennessee escapes its opening game with the far-more-disciplined Cowboys, the Volunteers are a dangerous No. 9 seed more capable than other 8/9 combos of ousting a No. 1. The Volunteers are nothing like Bruce Pearl’s recent teams in that they play shoddy defense and are poor from behind the 3-point arc. But athletes abound, and Tennessee is a good nine deep with legitimate options. Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith and Brian Williams give the Volunteers the frontcourt bodies to upset Blair and the Panthers if Pittsburgh has an off-day on the offensive end.

The East’s upset special, however, belongs to Virginia Commonwealth and special senior guard Eric Maynor (22.4 points, 6.2 assists). The Rams definitely have the chance to bounce perimeter-heavy UCLA.

Expect Xavier to join UCLA in the bust category with Binghamton’s extremely athletic roster giving Duke a closer-than-expected game in the opener.

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