As Selection Sunday came to a close, there was a common theme appearing on my Twitter feed; Duke had once again received the easiest path to the Final Four. I disagree. In fact, I don't think it's all that close. I may even make a case that Duke has the hardest path (of the #1 seeds), but in this post, I'll explain why I think the #3 overall seed (#1 in the Southeast) the Pittsburgh Panthers , WILL make it to the Final Four for the first time since 1941.
Bold prediction, but I think the Panthers wil cruise to Houston, so much so, that their biggest test will be in the field of 32 when they take on the #9 seed, the Old Dominion Monarchs . After the Panthers grind out a close contest (possibly an overtime thriller?) against the Monarchs, I see an easy sweet-sixteen victory against the Tucson field of Kansas St., Wisconsin, or Utah St., (for the record, my pick is KSU) and no, I don't think the Belmont Bruins are capable of wearing the slipper long enough to meet Pittsburgh in New Orleans.
Looking at the first round match-ups in Denver (stop it CBS, I refuse to refer to it as the "second-round" with the play-in games assuming the "first-round" title) , given their respective roster concerns, would anyone be surprised if both SJU and BYU were knocked off early? It's quite possible that Gonzaga meets Wofford in the field of 32, guaranteeing at least one Cinderella's entrance to the sweet sixteen. Speaking of which, am I the only one whose bracket will read Texas over Oakland? I mean, I don't remember the last time we've had such an overwhelming sexy cinderella pick than the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. If I'm a Longhorn, I shouldn't even get off the bus in Tulsa. My prediction? Texas in a rout, slow down, bracketologists.
Moving onto the Tampa field, I don't see the Florida Gators getting out of Florida alive as they'll become the first #2 seed to prove unworthy as they'll fall to the UCLA Bruins during the weekend slate. The Bruins will then end the Cinderella run of Gonzaga (or Wofford), setting up an elite-eight showdown with the Pittsburgh Panthers. A defensive war will ensue with a trip to Houston on the line, but the young Bruins will be defeated by the more experienced ballclub who will better execute offensively down the stretch in the second half.
Now, in the above scenarios, a LOT of upsets need to take place for Pittsburgh to reach Houston the way I see it. With that said, I picked Pittsburgh to have the easiest path, irregardless of potential upsets taking place along the way. Put it this way - whether it's BUT, WIS, SJU, BYU, FLA or MSU taking on the Panthers, I see the end result no different. The Panthers WILL BE among the last four standing for the first time in 70 years.
To briefly touch on the other regions, I think it's possible the #1 overall seed, Ohio State can lose to the remaining top 4 seeds (UNC/SYR/UK/WVU) in the East, alone. In my own bracket, I can't decide whether I've got Syracuse or Ohio State going to Houston, and sadly, I'm leaning Orange. Please convince me otherwise, Pirate fans.
Now, in what I see as the hardest region, Duke will be tested in the second round by Tennessee, before a sweet sixteen showdown with Texas (or your Oakland Golden Grizzlies!), followed by a likely opponent of UConn, SDSU, or Temple. That's no easy task.
Lastly, if I didn't pick Pittsburgh to own the easiest path, I would have given it to Kansas. I don't think the Jayhawks will be tested until they draw Louisville and Pitino's Press in the Sweet Sixteen. Should they escape, Purdue will give them a test, but if it's Notre Dame or Georgetown, the 'Hawks will stroll into Houston nearly as easily as the Panthers.
Agree? Disagree? Your initial reactions to Selection Sunday? Sound off!
Be sure to check out SBN's Cardiac Hill for all things Pittsburgh Panthers as they begin their journey towards Houston.
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