(8) Pittsburgh vs. (9) Wichita State
(8) Pittsburgh Panthers
After missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year, the Panthers (24-8, 12-6) are back in the big dance. They are one of the deepest teams in the field, with 10 players averaging 11 minutes or more. Senior guard Tray Woodall leads the team in points (11.8) and assists (5.2), but he’s one of only two seniors on this otherwise youthful Panthers team. They are a top 10 defensive team in the country, giving up just 55 points a night on 39 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from deep. Freshman big man Steven Adams is their anchor defensively, leading the team in rebounds (6.2) and blocks (2). Offensively, they play a very unselfish brand of basketball as everyone scores at least four a game and average 16.5 assist a contest. They take great care of the basketball, but they don’t shoot it particularly well. They only make five threes a game at a 36 percent clip and they made just 66 percent of their free throws on the season. The Panthers finished the regular season with a strength of schedule ranked 68 and a top 50 RPI. They went 4-7 against teams in the same range. They only have one bad loss on their schedule and have the depth and defense to outlast most opponents. They’re built to survive past the first weekend for the first time since 2009.
(9) Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers lost a lot from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but still managed a way to earn their way back into the field of 68 for the second consecutive year. This season they are led by Cleanthony Early, Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead. They provide the Shockers with nearly half of their offense and veteran leadership. The Shockers are aggressive defensively, getting 7.5 steals a game while holding the opposition to 60 points on average. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country, outboarding their opponents by eight a night. They had a strength of schedule ranked just inside the top 100 and their RPI was in the top 40. They went 2-2 against the RPI top 25, knocking off VCU and Creighton, while falling on two other occasions to the Bluejays. The three point shot is a big part of their attack offensively as they average just under seven makes from three a game. They play off of each other very well and should not be taken lightly by whoever draws them in the first round. If the Shockers are still alive after the opening weekend, they’ll be in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006 and just the third time in school history.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Pittsburgh. The tough Panthers will outlast the Shockers for the victory.