SWEET 16 PREVIEW: March 20
South Region: PITT (3) vs. KENT STATE (10) | Thursday, 9:55 p.m. ET
Kent State's players have a certain strut to them. This is an experienced team, and they feel special -- and that's half the battle. After a 4-4 start, they won the MAC regular-season and tournament titles. They believe in their leader, first-year head coach Stan Heath, and they have confidence with a 20-game win streak.
Will foul shooting be a problem for Pittsburgh? Pitt is shooting less than 50 percent from the line in the tourney.
This program made a name for itself last year by upsetting Indiana in the NCAA Tournament under Gary Waters, now the coach at Rutgers. Heath has continued to build on the winning success. Beating two marquee teams in this tournament -- Oklahoma State of the Big 12 and Alabama of the SEC -- makes the Golden Flashes secure that they can make even more noise.
Kent State guard Trevor Huffman is a believer. He is a physical specimen -- he has sat out just two minutes in the first two games -- and he has tremendous ability to penetrate and make the open shot. Huffman is a special player who is finally getting the recognition he deserves, shooting 60 percent from the floor while averaging 19 ppg in the Tournament.
Kent State has talent beyond Huffman. Andrew Mitchell is a workhorse who has sat just five minutes in the first two games. Antonio Gates can rebound and score.
Pittsburgh, the surprise winner of the Big East's West Division, has point guard Brandin Knight leading the way. Forget about the question of an injury, as he has shown his ability to pass and shoot. Julius Page is shooting 65 percent from the field and averaging 16.5 ppg in the Tournament.
Naismith coach of the year Ben Howland has done a super job getting solid play up front from Ontario Lett, Donates Zavackas and unheralded Chevy Troutman.
Will foul shooting be a problem for the Panthers? Pitt is shooting less than 50 percent from the line in the Tournament, and Knight is below 50 percent for the season.
This is going to be a barn-burner, pitting two outstanding defensive teams. Will the Golden Flashes have enough to march on? I give the slight edge on the interior to Pittsburgh, but something tells me Huffman will not allow Kent State to lose.
I believe Kent State will make the Mid-American Conference proud and advance to the Elite Eight in another Maalox masher! Free-throw shooting at the end could be the difference.