The Pittsburgh Panthers had the easiest time of any team on Thursday in NCAA tournament play. The Panthers rolled to a 33-9 lead over the Colorado Buffaloes in the first 15 minutes of the game, built a 46-18 halftime lead and was never threatened in a matchup of ninth and eighth seeds. Now they’ll take their momentum into a game with top-seeded Florida.
The Panthers can win because…
The Panthers can win this game primarily because they're playing their best basketball of the year. Pittsburgh really hadn't beaten many good teams during the regular season, but now the Panthers are beating NCAA tournament teams. They defeated North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, and then they ripped Colorado on Thursday. This team knows that it underachieved during the regular season, and head coach Jamie Dixon has clearly been able to emphasize to his players that these weeks in March can undo all the failures of the past few months. The Panthers, throughout their roster, are intent on taking care of what they feel is unfinished business. They are so much in sync right now, and post player Talib Zanna is becoming the force Dixon and the coaching staff always hoped and thought he could be. If Zanna can outplay Florida's Patric Young in a very enticing matchup of big men, Pittsburgh could establish a territorial advantage in the paint and would be in position to beat Florida as long as the Gators do not get hot from three-point land. There's definitely a scenario in which the Panthers win this game and Vegas seems to know that. Otherwise, the spread would be much larger than five points.
Gators can win because…
The Gators can win this game because they received a good test from Albany in the first round. Some might say with good reason that Florida looked a little too shaky against Albany, but the Gators established control in that game midway through the second half and were never too much in trouble in the final three to four minutes of regulation. Florida got its feet wet in this tournament and realizes that it needs to be much better on defense. The Gators know what is at stake, and they're going to come at Pittsburgh with a much bigger effort than what they showed against Albany.
Another thing to say about this game is that Florida's best player, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, did not try to be a ballhog against Albany. He got his teammates into the flow of things, and he stayed back in a facilitator's role for much of that game. In this game, expect Wilbekin to be more proactive and to look for his shot a little more. Pittsburgh's going to have a very difficult time matching up with Wilbekin, and that's going to be a big reason the Gators should be able to win this game by 10 points or slightly more. Take them with your NCAA basketball picks.
Outlook & Pick
Pittsburgh won easily on Thursday, while Florida did not. It's easy to think that Pittsburgh will therefore have a really good chance of winning this game, but Florida is better at four of the five positions on the court. Only Pittsburgh's Lamar Patterson is better than his counterpart for Florida. The Gators will get it done near their home in Orlando.
Pick: Florida -5 at Bookmaker