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The Case For Pittsburgh

Depth, versatility, athleticism: the defining qualities of Pittsburgh, the No. 1 seed in the East. Led by seniors Levance Fields and Sam Young, along with sophomore DeJuan Blair, the Panthers are primed for a deep run in the Tournament.

Despite not being crowned Big East champion in the regular season or the conference tournament, Pittsburgh certainly proved its merit through its rigorous conference schedule. Sweeping fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut bodes well for the other tough competition the Panthers will face in the upcoming weeks, and their big three will be key in taking them there.

Blair, a power forward, may be the most agile post player in the nation. His 6-foot-7 frame stands shorter than most top low-post threats. But despite his height, the co-Big East Player of the Year pulled down an average of 12.2 rebounds per game, good for fourth-best in the nation.

Complementing Blair's dominance on the boards is Young, a small forward who led the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game. A skilled slasher and outside shooter, Young adds versatility to the Panthers roster.

And perhaps the unsung hero of the team, Fields, the point guard, is the glue that holds the players together. Fields sparks his teammates' play in averaging 7.6 assists per game, good for second in the country.

The senior's most impressive statistic is his sparkling 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, proving that he not only knows how to distribute, but protect the ball as well.

Pittsburgh certainly has the talent to beat any team in the nation, and its depth pushes it over the top.

With eight players averaging more than 10 minutes per game, head coach Jamie Dixon has the ability to substitute and keep players fresh for a deep Tournament run.

This team has numerous strengths, but it is plagued by history. The Panthers have lost four straight times in the Sweet 16 and Dixon has a sub-par 18-21 record in the Tournament. The difference this year is the maturity of the senior stars and the squad's battle-tested mentality going into the postseason.

Although history is not on Pittsburgh's side, the 2008-09 team has problems of its own. In close games, free throws become that much more important, and at an abysmal 67 percent, Pittsburgh could run into some trouble giving away points at the charity stripe.

Just like all the teams in the field, the Panthers need to play to their strengths. The difference between Pittsburgh and the other 64, though, is that its strengths will never be outmatched.


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