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National powers coming to Pittsburgh for NCAA Tournament

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, March 12, 2012

With national powers Syracuse and Ohio State coming to town for second- and third-round games in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, Consol Energy Center could be the site of games on both ends of the competitive spectrum.

There could be a historic upset or two — plus routs of epic proportions.

Syracuse (31-2), a No. 1 seed for the second time in three years, was ranked No. 2 in the nation before its 71-68 loss to Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament semifinals Friday. No. 2 seed Ohio State (27-7) was ranked seventh before losing, 68-64, to Michigan State on Sunday in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament.

Pittsburgh, hosting men's tournament games for the first time in 10 years, is one of two subregional sites with both a No. 1 and No. 2 team. There will be four games Thursday, with the winners meeting each other in two games Saturday.

The lineup for Thursday's second round includes a 1/16 matchup (Syracuse vs. the Big South's UNC Asheville), a 2/15 (Ohio State vs. the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's Loyola, Md.), a 7/10 (West Virginia vs. Gonzaga, an at-large pick from the West Coast Conference) and an 8/9 (Kansas State vs. Southern Miss, at-large squads from the Big 12 and Conference USA).

Saturday's third round could match West Virginia and Ohio State. Gonzaga and West Virginia may present interesting matchup problems for the Buckeyes. Gonzaga features 7-foot, 260-pound senior center Robert Sacre; West Virginia's best inside player is Kevin Jones, a 6-8, 260-pound forward.

"Either one of those teams would be a stiff test for Ohio State because of what they possess on the front line and the quality of their perimeter play," CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg said.

Barring a historic upset, Syracuse would play the Kansas State/Southern Miss winner. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was predictably complimentary of UNC Asheville. Syracuse has not played the Bulldogs since 2003 — on its way to a national championship — and the teams have met just three times, all Syracuse wins.

"We've had tough games with them," said Boeheim, who has Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament for the 29th time. "I am shocked they are a 16 seed."

Syracuse has a 12-2 record against the field.

"I doubt if too many teams have won 12 games against teams in the tournament," Boeheim said. "That's a pretty good record. We have been tested all year."

Boeheim said the semifinal loss at Madison Square Garden may have worked in his team's favor.

"We had two good practices we wouldn't have gotten in," he said.

UNC Asheville (24-9), coached by Edgewood native Ed Biedenbach, never lost more than two games in a row. It ran through its conference tournament, winning it for the second consecutive season, with 25-, 27- and 16-point victories. It hasn't played since March 3, when it beat VMI, 80-64, for the title.

"It's a real great bracket, a difficult bracket," Boeheim said. "They all look the same to me. They all look hard."

Ohio State was the No. 1 seed last season and most likely fell to No. 2 because of its loss to Michigan State.

coming to pittsburgh


Record: 31-2, 17-1 Big East

Coach: Jim Boeheim (36th season)

Best win: Beat eventual Big East Tournament champion Louisville on the road, 52-51 in mid-February

Worst loss: Fell to Cincinnati, 71-68, in Big East semifinals on Friday.

Strength: Orange can go 11 deep, and Boeheim says he has six players capable of scoring 20 points in a game. Traditional 2-3 zone has been especially aggressive (10th nationally in FG pct, 38.4 percent).

Weakness: Shaky foul shooting (10th in Big East, 157th in country),

Player to watch: Senior forward Kris Joseph (13.8 ppg) led Orange In scoring.


• Orange has made three Final Four appearances, each time after losing in Big East tournament.

• Joseph was rewarded for his all-around game by making first team all-conference.

• Sophomore center Fab Melo is Big East defensive player of the year and sophomore guard Dion Waiters won the league's Sixth Man award.


Record: 24-9, 16-2 Big South

Coach: Eddie Biedenbach (16th season)

Best win: Beat VMI in Big South tournament championship last week to gain automatic bid.

Worst loss: Lost at Western Carolina (218 RPI) by 19 points in late December.

Strength: Bulldogs can score. They rank fifth nationally in points (81.2 ppg) and 16th in field goal percentage (48.4).

Weakness: Lack of size. Tallest starter is 6-5 forward Quinard Jackson.

Player to watch: Senior guard Matt Dickey, the Bulldogs' top scorer (16.5 ppg), is a two-time Big South player of the year.


• Bulldogs started out 6-6 with losses to North Carolina, Connecticut, North Carolina State and Tennessee.

• Bulldogs coach Biedenbach grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Edgewood High School.

• Playing top-seeded Syracuse, Bulldogs will try to become the first 16th seed ever to win a tournament game. Teams seeded 16th are 0-108.

Ohio State

Record: 27-7, 13-5 Big Ten

Coach: Thad Matta (8th season)

Best win: Decisively beat Duke), 85-63, in a nonconference game Nov. 29.

Worst loss: Fell at Illinois, which has since fired coach Bruce Weber, 79-74, on Jan. 10.

Strength: The Buckeyes easily led the Big Ten in scoring margin, and have three players averaging almost 15 points per game.

Weakness: Finished last among 12 Big Ten teams in 3-pointers made, averaging 4.9 per game.

Player to watch: Sophomore Jared Sullinger averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.


• Ohio State was denied a third consecutive conference tournament championship Sunday, losing to Michigan State, 68-64.

• For each of his 12 seasons as a head coach, Matta has guided his team to at least 20 wins. Among active coaches, only Gonzaga's Mark Few has more consecutive 20-win seasons (13) to start a career.

• Sullinger was named a first-team All-American for the second year in a row by The Sporting News.

Loyola (Md.)

Record: 24-8, 13-5 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Coach: Jimmy Patsos (8th season)

Best win: Beat regular-season champion Iona, 87-81, at home on Feb. 10.

Worst loss: Lost at Marist (222 RPI), 72-54, on Feb. 15.

Strength: Greyhounds have good scoring balance with four players averaging in double-figures and a fifth averaging more than nine points a game.

Weakness: Shooting. Only junior forward Erik Etherly shot 50 percent or better from the field among the regulars.

Player to watch: Ethlerly led the Greyhounds in scoring (13.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.5) and shot 53.1 percent from the field.


• This is the Greyhounds' first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994, when Skip Prosser was the coach.

• Greyhounds had their first 20-win season since becoming a Division 1 program 30 years ago.

• Loyola shot 33 percent in the MAAC championship game but still beat Fairfield, which shot 29 percent.

Kansas State

Record: 21-10, 10-8 Big 12

Coach: Frank Martin (5th season)

Best win: Beat Top 10 teams Baylor and Missouri back-to-back on the road in February.

Worst loss: Fell twice to Big 12 weakling Oklahoma.

Strength: Wildcats play tough defense, holding opponents to 40.8 percent shooting and 63.7 points per game.

Weakness: Cats were next-to-last in the Big 12 in free-throw percentage.

Player to watch: Junior guard Rodney McGruder led the Cats in scoring (15.4 ppg) and three-point shooting and tied for second in rebounds.


• Martin has led the Cats to five 20-win seasons in his five years. In 12 seasons prior to his arrival, K-State had one 20-win season.

• 6-11 junior forward Jordan Henriquez had a career-best 22 points, plus 14 rebounds, in the Cats' 82-74 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

• Martin, whose parents escaped the reign of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in 1960, was the first person in his family to be born in the U.S.

Southern Miss

Record: 25-8, 11-5 Conference-USA

Coach: Larry Eustachy (eighth season)

Best win: Topped visiting C-USA champion Memphis, 75-72, on Feb. 1.

Worst loss: Fell to host Houston (214 RPI) by a 73-71 score on Feb. 18.

Strength: The Golden Eagles are a strong rebounding team, ranking third in the C-USA and tied for 40th in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-4.8 per game.

Weakness: Southern Miss averaged 71.6 points per game, but ranked dead last in the conference and 248th in the nation in field-goal percentage (41.6 percent).

Player to watch: Neil Watson, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound sophomore guard, was named second-team all-C-USA despite coming off the bench. He is averaging a team-best 12.2 points and ranks third in the conference at 4.6 assists per game.


• Senior forward Darnell Dodson is a Kentucky transfer who enrolled at Pitt as part of the Class of 2007 before transferring due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues. He is averaging 11.1 points off the bench.

• Southern Miss has made only two previous NCAA Tournament appearances, losing in the first round in 1990 and 1991.

• The 25 wins are the most since the Golden Eagles started playing Division I basketball and the most at any level since 1952-53. The previous D-I mark of 23 was set in 1986-87.


Record: 25-6, 13-3 West Coast Conference

Coach: Mark Few (13th season)

Best win: Routed eventual WCC Tournament champ and arch-rival St. Mary's, 83-62, on the road on Jan. 12.

Worst loss: Suffered a 66-65 loss at San Francisco (135 RPI) on Feb. 18.

Strength: Gonzaga is one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. Led by Elias Harris and WCC Defensive Player of the Year Robert Sacre, the Bulldogs have a plus-6.5 rebound margin, good for top-20 in D-I.

Weakness: The Bulldogs can be careless with the ball, averaging 13.4 turnovers per game and ranking 201st in the nation in turnover margin (minus-0.4).

Player to watch: Elias Harris, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound junior forward from Germany, is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds while earning all-WCC honors.


• This is Gonzaga's 14th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer streaks.

• The Bulldogs are 7-13 all-time against the Big East.

• Few has a .793 career winning percentage, which trails only North Carolina's Roy Williams among coaches with at least five years as a head coach.

West Virginia

Record: 19-13, 9-9 Big East

Coach: Bob Huggins (5th season)

Best win: Defeated NCAA No. 3 seed Georgetown, 74-62, on Jan. 7

Worst loss: Lost to visiting Kent State, 70-60, on Nov. 15

Strength: Can go after the ball. WVU ranked 23rd nationally in rebounding, with 38.4 rpg, and 14th in rebounding margin.

Weakness: Shooting can be a problem. The Mountaineers ranked 15th out of 16 Big East teams in 3-point shooting percentage and 14th in free-throw shooting.

Player to watch: Kevin Jones, a senior forward, is only the third player in Big East history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding. He ranked 14th nationally (20.1 ppg) in scoring and fifth (11.1) in rebounding.


• A Huggins-coached team has made the NCAA Tournament 19 times in the past 20 years. The Mountaineers are 23-9 in March under Huggins.

• Starting Jan. 25, West Virginia went 4-8, culminating with a second-round loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament.

• The Mountaineers are 4-0 this season when playing on a Thursday.

Additional Information:

By the numbers

A look at the eight teams • Syracuse, UNC Asheville, Ohio State, Loyola (Md.), West Virginia, Gonzaga, Kansas State and Southern Miss • who will play at Consol Energy Center this week:

• 5,217 • Combined miles the teams will travel to get to Pittsburgh

• 2,232 • Miles that Gonzaga will travel from Spokane, Wash., the longest trip

• 55 • Miles that West Virginia will travel from Morgantown, W.Va., the shortest trip

• 196-63 • Collective record of the teams

• 31 • Most victories (Syracuse)

• 19 • Fewest victories (West Virginia)

• 20 • Longest winning streak by any of the teams (Syracuse from Nov. 12-Jan. 16)

• 3 • Longest losing streak (West Virginia from Jan. 25-30)

• 2 • Subregional sites out of eight with No. 1 and 2 seeds (Pittsburgh and Greensboro, N.C.)

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