After yesterday’s Opening Round games, four out of six Big East teams advanced to the second round. Lousville and St. John’s are heading home earlier than expected, but UCONN, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati had relatively easy games. West Virginia had a huge mid-game rally, which propelled them past Clemson. The name of the game at this time of year is just ‘Win Baby, Win’.
#5 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #4 Kentucky Wildcats
Both teams had ‘wild’ first round match-ups. West Virginia used a 28-8 mid-game rally to get past the tired legs of #12 Clemson who played only two days before. Despite losing the turnover battle 11-9, West Virginia used their size inside to beat the Tigers on the glass, 32-29. They’ll need that size advantage when they take on Kentucky.
The #4 Kentucky Wildcats had a close call against the Ivy League Champions, the #13 Princeton Tigers. The Wildcats squeaked out a two-point win behind Darius Miller’s 17 points. Highly touted freshman point guard, Brandon Knight had only one bucket, but it’s the only one that counted. Knight’s layup with two seconds left gave the young Wildcats a first round victory and left Princeton stunned.
Going into this Kentucky/West Virginia match-up, a few key things stand out for me. West Virginia’s size is going to give Kentucky some issues. WVU is very good on the glass and Kentucky was out-rebounded by Princeton. Both squads boast top coaches in Bob Huggins and John Calipari.
Pick: West Virginia
Kentucky’s win left a lot to be desired. The Wildcats really showed their youth against the Tigers and a more formitable opponent in West Virginia will expose early mistakes. The Mountaineers had an early scare against Clemson, but turned it on at the right time. Darryl Bryant was instrumental in the win and this Pepper kid was something else. I like the Mountaineers to reach the Sweet 16.
#1 Pittsburgh Panthers vs. #8 Butler Bulldogs
The Pitt Panthers had virtually no challenge in their first round match-up while the Butler Bulldogs relied on a buzzer beating shot to top #9 Old Dominion. Butler only shot 40% from the field, but held Old Dominion to 35%. The Bulldogs were a little sloppy with the ball, committing 15 turnovers, but were aggressive on the glass, collecting 15 offensive rebounds. One thing stands out in my mind though: Butler’s Matt Howard. Howard made the game winning layup with less than a second remaining to the Bulldogs a dramatic win.
Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. They are a great rebounding team, efficient on the offensive end, and played in the nation’s toughest conference.
This will be a close game. Butler has tournament experience and a scrappy player in Howard, but Pittsburgh has so many weapons on the offensive end. If Howard gets into foul trouble early, this game will be over very quickly. I can see the Panthers winning this game by five points or so, but expect Butler to put up a fight.
#3 UCONN Huskies vs. #6 Cincinnati Bearcats
The Huskies had virtually no problems in their Opening Round match-up against #14 Bucknell. UCONN won by 29 points with Kemba Walker leading the way with 18. UCONN crushed Bucknell on the glass, 43-21 while only committing six turnovers. #6 Cincinnati had little trouble with the erratic #11 Missouri Tigers. The Bearcats shot 54% from the field and 37% from three-point land. The Bearcats out-rebounded the Tigers 33 to 27 and led the entire game. The 78-63 score represents a much closer game than it really was.
The Huskies are extremely hot right now, winning their last six games dating back to the Big East tournament. In addition, the Huskies defeated the Bearcats in Cincinnati, 67-59 in late February. Kemba Walker only scored 16 points in the game, but eleven of those sixteen came in the second half. UCONN led for all but 29 seconds in the contest. UCONN won the turnover battle, 14 to 17 while shooting 53% from three-point land. Kemba Walker continues to dazzle on the court and will lead the Huskies to the Sweet 16.