NCAA Tournament: Big East runs give Pitt, WVU a bump

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NEW YORK -- The Big East Conference planted the seed when the NCAA selection committee met last month for a mock selection Sunday.

League officials told the committee that their toughest task in terms of seeding would be figuring out what to do with Pitt.

The reason was the Panthers' injury situation with point guard Levance Fields, who had to sit out nearly seven weeks with a fractured left foot. At the time of the meeting, Fields had not yet returned to the lineup.

It turns out the Big East will be right. Despite nine losses, which included four of the final seven regular-season games, Pitt is playing as well as any team in the conference -- and perhaps any team in the country -- entering last night's Big East championship game against Georgetown.

The committee must not only decide what is fair to Pitt, but what is fair to its first- and potential second-round opponents. In years past it was fairly easy to guess where the Panthers would be seeded. This year, it's anyone's guess.

  • What: NCAA selection show.
  • When: 6 p.m.
  • TV: KDKA

Before last night's championship game, Pitt was pegged as a No. 5 or 6 seed on various college basketball Web sites that specialize in predicting NCAA seeding. A week ago, the Panthers were projected as a No. 9 or 10 seed.

With their run at the Big East tournament, the Panthers have already taken themselves out of consideration for an 8-9 game and a second-round matchup with a No. 1 seed, and it appears they will not be seeded any lower than a No. 6.

Not bad for four day's work.

West Virginia also worked hard last week to avoid an 8-9 game. The Mountaineers defeated Providence and Connecticut before falling to the top-seeded Hoyas in a semifinal game Friday night, 72-55.

West Virginia players were hoping that the 18-point loss would not erase the fact that they beat the Huskies in the quarterfinal round.

"Hopefully, this loss won't hurt our seeding too bad," West Virginia senior center Jamie Smalligan said. "Hopefully, we won't be stuck in an 8-9 game, playing another high-major team [in the second round]."

Despite the blowout loss to Georgetown, the Mountaineers are feeling good about themselves heading into the NCAA tournament. They have won six of their past eight games.

"I feel really good about going into the tournament right now," said forward Joe Alexander, who has developed into West Virginia's top player. "I feel like we put ourselves in good position. I think the team is really looking forward to it."

Smalligan said the key for the Mountaineers is to play the way they did in the first two games of the Big East tournament against Providence and Connecticut.

"As long as we are able to bounce back and go into every game hungry and ready to go and leave everything out there, we can surprise a lot of people," Smalligan said. "But if we go out like we did against Georgetown, a little timid, then it may be an early exit for us."

It appears as if the Big East will get only seven teams in the tournament. The conference is hoping for eight. Villanova is on the bubble and projected as "out" by many Web sites.

North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis and Tennessee appear to be in line for No. 1 seeds.

Florida, the two-time defending national champions, is not expected to receive an invitation. Ohio State, last year's runner-up, is being projected as one of the last teams to get in.


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