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This year's March Madness features expected intrigue - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

This year’s March Madness features expected intrigue

By The Pitt News Staff

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With a field of 68 teams, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament always provides countless players and storylines to track. Here are some that The Pitt News Sports Desk are looking at heading into the Big Dance.

Cinderella team

Stephen F. Austin State University’s “sharing is caring” motto, and its three returning starters give the squad a definite Cinderella team possibility. SFA ranks first in the country in assists at 17.8 per game, which has been a huge contributor to the team’s success. After upsetting No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth University in last year’s NCAA Tournament — and losing to No. 4 seed UCLA in the next round — the Lumberjacks’ returning conference MVP Thomas Walkup, who averages 16.8 points per game, will lead a redemption-hungry charge in the tournament this year.

-Jessica Boddy

Player to watch

Villanova University’s senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston has seen it all over the course of his career, facing potential expulsion and surviving a MRSA scare. In his five years on campus, he’s grown from an immature kid from Brooklyn to the undisputed leader of the latest, least-talked-about 32-2 team. Pinkston wants to end his career with a bang, and, if everyone keeps underestimating Nova’s abilities, he might get what he’s looking for. Check him out Thursday against Lafayette College at the Consol Energy Center.

-Alex Wise

Conference performances

TheUniversity of Kentucky has dominated headlines in college basketball all season long, but its conference, the SEC, was in the middle of the pack on Selection Sunday, getting five teams into the dance. The “Big” winners in terms of conference this year were the Big 10 and Big 12, both of which landed seven teams in the tournament. The ACC managed to send six teams in, headlined by the No. 1 seed in the South Region, Duke University. Other conferences with strong representation include the Big East with six teams and the Pac 12 with four. 

-Logan Hitchcock

Best matchup

The most intriguing first round matchup takes place in Portland, Ore., where the No. 12 seed SFA Lumberjacks take on the No. 5 seed University of Utah. The Southland Conference champs can pile on the points at a rate of just under 80 points per game, and they lead the country in assists per game with 17.1. This style of play clashes with a defensive-minded Runnin’  Utes team that only allows 56.9 points per game. The Utes also pride themselves on getting in your face with their length and shot blocking ability, which will make for a fair challenge. Prediction: ‘Jacks 71, Utes 67.

-Brandon Duerr

Upset candidate

Out of all the No. 1 seeds in the tournament, Villanova is the team most likely to face an upset. This Wildcats team may be one of the best squads in the school’s history, capable of overcoming any opponent in the country when it gets into a rhythm, but it still lives and dies by the 3-point shot. It consists of high-powered shooters at every position, but if more than a few players are having an off day, then it will struggle to score.

-Alex Fischbein

Pittsburgh matchups

The Consol Energy Center will host four NCAA Tournament games in the first weekend of the tournament. The most intriguing matchup in the Steel City is No. 8 seed North Carolina State against No. 9 seed Louisiana State University. Pitt fans likely remember the Wolfpack’s dominant ACC Tournament victory against the Panthers, but the Panther faithful shouldn’t sleep on the Tigers, who barely lost to No. 1 Kentucky on Feb. 10 and has also beaten strong West Virginia and Arkansas teams this season. Redshirt junior guard Trevor Lacey leads NC State with 15.8 points per game, compared to sophomore forward Jarell Martin, who leads LSU with 16.9 points per game.

-Chris Puzia

Best storyline

Most people will remember University of Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury against Duke in the 2013 Elite Eight. After doctors inserted a metal rod into his tibia, Ware attempted to return to action but quietly decided to move closer to his home state of Georgia, transferring to Georgia State University. This past weekend, Ware tallied 18 points in his team’s Sun Belt conference championship win over Georgia Southern University, propelling it to the NCAA Tournament. As a No. 14 seed, his team faces an uphill battle against No. 3 seed Baylor University, but getting Ware back in the tournament will be an inspirational sight by itself.

-Dan Sostek

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This year’s March Madness features expected intrigue