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NCAA Tournament Preview Southeast Region - First Round (1) Pittsburgh v. (16) Winner of North Carolina-Asheville/Arkansas-Little Rock

Thursday, March 17 - Approximately 3:10 PM ET

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After a bruising Big East schedule, which saw the Pittsburgh Panthers play and win the conference’s regular season championship, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee awarded head coach Jamie Dixon’s club a number-one seed. Despite losing to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Pitt has shown the toughness and personnel capable of making a deep run in Bracketville. The Panthers are simply one of the best teams in the nation. A tremendous balance of shotmakers and primetime defenders makes Pittsburgh a team to be reckoned with.

It all begins with All-Big East selection Ashton Gibbs. The tremendous junior guard scored 16 points per game and was one of the best shooters in the nation. Time after time, Gibbs stepped up in clutch situations to deliver the goods. His Pittsburgh ballclub is one of the most efficient in the nation at both ends of the floor. Guard Brad Wanamaker is a great complement to Gibbs’s style of play. Wanamaker seemingly is everywhere on the basketball floor and provides lunch-pail grit in addition to Gibbs’s perimeter shooting.

In a matchup with a 16-seed, Pittsburgh can point to a recent case study. The Panthers were pushed to the final two minutes two years ago against East Tennessee State. No 16-seed has ever defeated a one-seed and the Panthers do not want to make history on Thursday afternoon. Pittsburgh doesn’t appear to be a team that could lose to such a low seed. The Panthers were the class of the best conference in the nation and have a bench that could move on to the second round if required.

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With Arkansas Little-Rock and North Carolina-Asheville squaring off in one of this year’s play-in games, the Panthers will have to wait to see who they will face in the first round. Arkansas Little-Rock, the tournament champion of the Sun Belt, gained access to the NCAA Tournament by means of a last-second buzzer beater in the conference tournament’s title game. The Trojans are led by Solomon Bozeman, a six-foot senior guard with an ability to score in manifold ways. Bozeman led the Trojans in minutes played and field goals attempted while shooting 46 percent from long distance. To score improbable upsets in the NCAA Tournament, the underdog must hit from the outside. Over 30 percent of UALR’s offense has come from the three-pointer, a fact that proves UALR has the David-like slingshot needed to make things interesting against Goliath.

North Carolina-Asheville is one of the smallest schools competing at the Division 1 level. The Bulldogs, tournament champions of the Big South Conference, have one of the lowest athletic budgets in the country. A win over UALR in the play-in game would give the Bulldogs a shot to make history for 16 seeds everywhere. The Bulldogs are a balanced squad, with no one person capturing the attention of opponents. Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm form a terrific guard combo with ability to get to the rim, find teammates in open spaces, and step into passing lanes at the defensive end of the floor.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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