#21 Pitt upends #3 Villanova, 70-65

This game was decided on Villanova’s defensive glass, as the Panther big men were just too much for the Wildcats inside. Pitt posted 18 offensive rebounds in the game, which enabled the Panthers four extra shot attempts and 18 extra free throws.

The Wildcats have a nice group of guards, and promise to make some noise come tournament time, but they’re going to have major issues when they face a big and determined front line.

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Botched extra point costs PITT in loss to Cincinnati in thrilling Big East finale

They scored 44 points, blocked a punt and saw their freshman running back rack up 194 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries. But in the end, a botched extra point cost Pittsburgh an opportunity to claim a share of the Big East championship and the shot to play in a BCS bowl.

No. 5 Cincinnati rallied to beat No. 15 PITT 45-44 on Saturday in a wild Big East finale, thanks in large part to quarterback Tony Pike’s big second half. His 29-yard touchdown pass to Armon Binns with 33 seconds remaining helped cap the Bearcats’ wild comeback.

But before Pike found Binns for the game-winning score, a botched hold on an extra point attempt gave Cincinnati the opportunity to win the game. After Dion Lewis (what an amazing day he had: 47 carries, 194 yards, 3 TDs) scored on a 5-yard run to give PIT a 44-38 lead with less than two minutes remaining, the Panthers blew the extra point and opened the door for Cincinnati’s comeback.

Of course, it’s important to remember that one play doesn’t determine the outcome of a game. At one point, PITT had a 21-point lead and couldn’t hold onto it. For as good as the Panthers’ defense has played this season, they couldn’t limit the big plays and it cost them in the end. And even though everyone will look at the failed extra point as the difference, PITT’s defense still could have stopped Cincinnati on the final drive and hung on for the win.

What an incredible victory for the Bearcats. They looked doomed from the start, but they never gave up and they kept fighting. Once again, their offense was outstanding and it’s understandable why Notre Dame is heavily considering Brian Kelly as their next head coach.

Now the Bearcats have to root for Nebraska to beat Texas in the Big 12 Championship tonight. They would still have trouble leaping over TCU in the standings even if the Longhorns do lose, but at least Kelly’s team has put themselves in position with this victory.

Pitt falls, UConn advances

It’s all right there in the title — my bracket is f*#kd.

The Pittsburgh Panthers played with fire for the entire tournament and they finally got burned. In the first three games, they showed tremendous poise in the clutch. But when they had a chance to put this game away, they blew it.

Up four with the ball and 2:56 remaining, Pitt brought the ball up against Villanova’s full court pressure. If Pitt converts there and goes up six or seven, it would be a tough road to hoe for Villanova. But Jermaine Dixon made a bad decision at half court, which led to a steal and eventually to a three-point play for Villanova. On Pitt’s next possession, Sam Young turned the ball over in the lane. And just like that, the Panthers’ four point lead turned into a one-point deficit.

Down four with 0:12 to play, it looked like all was lost, but DeJuan Blair slipped to the hoop for a bucket and the Wildcats turned the ball over going for the home run. Levance Fields was fouled and knocked down two free throws to tie the game with 5.5 seconds to play. One more stop and Pitt was going to force an overtime when they had absolutely no business doing so. But they made a mistake on the inbound play, allowing ‘Nova to catch the ball near halfcourt, where it was flipped to Scottie Reynolds who was streaking down the sideline. The long pass covered a lot of ground when Pitt should have forced Villanova to dribble the entire length of the court. Make them catch it in front of you!

Reynolds drove into the lane and hit a tough game-winner.


Give credit to Villanova for playing a great game. As a team, the Wildcats shot 22 of 23 from the free throw line, which is outstanding given the pressure of an Elite Eight game. It’s going to be fun to see them play in the Final Four.

In the other Saturday game, UConn fended off a feisty Missouri team with a 12-5 run over the last two minutes. UConn looked a little out of sorts in the second half, but freshman Kemba Walker scored 23 points off the bench to put the Huskies over the top.

Elite Eight Preview & Picks: UConn/Mizzou, Pitt/Nova

#3-seed Missouri vs. #1-seed UConn
Tip-Off: 4:40 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: UConn (94.21), Mizzou (91.04)
Line: UConn -5.5

Missouri’s strength is their forward duo of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll, but guard J.T. Tiller scored a season-high 23 points against Memphis. Mizzou got Memphis to play at its pace, but I don’t think that the Tigers are going to find the Huskies as willing to run with them. UConn plays its best defense when Hasheem Thabeet is planted firmly in the lane. They don’t foul (Memphis sent Mizzou to the line 45 times on Thursday) and they are pretty efficient offensively, which one of the flaws of John Calipari’s team. If UConn gets into an up-and-down affair, Thabeet is far more likely to find himself in sitting on the bench in foul trouble. I’d expect UConn to push when they have the advantage but otherwise slow the tempo down. Mizzou’s run has been great, but UConn is playing as well as anyone in the tournament and given the Huskies’ balance of talent, that’s a pretty scary proposition. But 5.5 points is a lot to give the Tigers, who are playing the best basketball of their season right now. I think I’d stay away from this one wager-wise, but UConn is my pick to win it.

#3-seed Villanova vs. #1-seed Pittsburgh
Tip-Off: 7:05 PM ET
Sagarin Ratings: Pittsburgh (91.97), Villanova (89.59)
Line: Pittsburgh -2

I picked Pitt to win the whole thing and every game they love to scare the ever-loving crap out of me. Needless to say, I’m not as optimistic about the Panthers making it to the Final Four much less win the whole thing. The one thing that they’re doing better than anyone else this in this tournament is keeping their poise in the clutch. They have three of the best players in the college game in Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, but they aren’t getting much offensive help from any of their other players. In each of the three tournament games, they’ve kept it in about second or third gear for much of the game before flipping a switch in the waning minutes. This is a dangerous game to be playing, especially against a Villanova squad that looks so good right now. The Wildcats have blown out two pretty good teams (UCLA and Duke) and they beat Pitt by 10 at home in the two teams’ only meeting this season. In that game, Blair was saddled with foul trouble, so Pitt should fare better if he’s able to play his usual minutes. So with the Panthers favored by two, we have a team that isn’t playing very well (but is winning) favored by a bucket over a team that is as hot as a pistol and already won the previous meeting. If I were a betting man and you put a gun to my head, I think I’d take the Wildcats and the points, though if the game is tied or within one with two minutes to play, Pitt probably covers (if that makes any sense). The thing that really worries me about laying any money on Nova is the fact that Panthers have already lost to the Wildcats and they know they have to take them seriously. I’d stay away from this one too. My brain is saying Nova and my gut is saying Pitt, but my pick is Pitt. I think they play better and win a tight one.

March Madness News & Notes: Sunday

48 games over four days is going to produce some drama, and Sunday’s action was no different…

– #1 seed Pitt gave another scare to those that had the Panthers going to the Final Four (or in my case, all the way to a title) with a less than stellar effort against Oklahoma State. They continue to underwhelm, but they’ve been getting the job done in crunch time. They’re not going to be able to phone in a win against Xavier next week, however, so they better bring their “A” game.

– Syracuse continues its hot run that started in the Big East tournament. Arizona State pushed them a bit in the second half but the Orangemen were able to limit James Harden by utilizing their patented zone defense. I like Harden, but he has a tendency to disappear at times. There were long stretches over the two tournament games where he faded into the background.

– Dayton pushed Kansas for a while, but the Jayhawks were able to pull away in the second half. Cole Aldrich had an unlikely triple-double — 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks — to lead the way for Kansas. The Jayhawks have a nice inside-outside game with Aldrich and point guard Sherron Collins (25 points, seven rebounds).

– Arizona ended #13-seed Cleveland State’s Cinderella run, but in a way, the Wildcats have been fitted with their own glass slipper. It will be interesting to see how Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Co. can fare against Louisville next week. Everyone knew that Arizona was capable of winning a couple of games in the tourney, but they’ll really be tested against the Cardinals.

– Tough finish for Marquette, who had a chance to tie (or win the game with a three) when Lazar Hayward stepped on the end line when trying to inbound the ball. In his defense, the inbounds play wasn’t drawn out very well, so the guy he was thinking about throwing the ball too was “kind of” open. Anytime you put a player in a position of indecisiveness, bad things can happen. Hayward had a nice game (13 points, 12 rebounds), so the Golden Eagles wouldn’t have even been in that position without him. Down four, Marquette head coach Buzz Williams wanted a foul on Maurice Acker’s three-point attempt, but there wasn’t much contact there and Acker was the one who created it. Williams was acting like a petulant child on the sideline down the stretch. Basketball is the only sport where a grown man can throw a two-hour tantrum and get away with it.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for a complete preview of the Sweet Sixteen.

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