Friday Five - NCAA edition

This is the ninth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. The first round continues today with another full slate of games, capped tonight by Syracuse making its first appearance.

The NCAA Tournament is the re-set button for the college basketball season. The Big East Conference saw half of its members receive bids to the Big Dance, but after one crazy day, three of the 8 teams have been sent home.

The five storylines:

1 -             West Virginia was worthy of a No. 1 seed, but the struggle will be keeping interest against Morgan State. Let’s call it Villanova-itis. The Wildcats played like they should be get the red carpet, and head coach Jay Wright took a gamble by discplining guards Scottie Reynolds and Corrie Fisher with a benching. Now’s not the time to rest on past laurels or make statements, each game is do-or-die mentality.

2 -            Pittsburgh, a team that this writer has in his Final Four bracket (follow the Halftime Snack bracket challenge), is located near the Oakland section of the western Pennsylvania city. That’s all we got. Oakland (the team from Michigan, not California) is in the tournament for the first time in five years, and gets the fleet and physical Panthers.

3 -            Georgetown has three NBA-caliber players, but little team cohesion. That’s remarkable considering the offense is predicated on reads, not set plays, and they had a chance to bond around the diagnosis of diabetes in guard Austin Freeman.

4 -             This #4 spot is reserved for Syracuse, and specifically, Wes Johnson. A rare starting lineup change for the Orange has Kris Joseph out there for the tip (replacing injured Arinze Onuaku). Johnson loves the lime light and will look to get going early against Vermont. Opponents always underestimate the elevation and poise on Johnson’s catch-and-shoot from the right side of the floor.  

5-             The No.8-No.9 games don’t get as much publicity as the sexy 5-12 games, but Louisville/California is full of storylines. Our favorite is the coaches: California’s Mike Montgomery and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. Both had success in college (Stanford and Kentucky, respectively), bumbled in the NBA and then returned to the college game to in-state rivals of their former squads. The game tilts in the Cardinals’ favor with Montgomery having to suspend his starting forward, Omondi Amoke.

Big East predictions:

Pittsburgh 74, Oakland 68
Louisville 78, California 70
Syracuse 84, Vermont 65

(Editor’s Note: West Virginia game was concluded when this was posted)

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