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Saunders: Still Plenty to Watch for in March

Saunders: Still Plenty to Watch for in March

As expected, none of the local or or regional basketball teams advanced to the 2019 NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, and that was expected because it was a pretty rough season for the local squads.

Pitt (14-19) made incremental progress from last season in Jeff Capel’s first year but still has a long way to go to find postseason basketball. Duquesne (19-13) showed plenty of promise with a young squad but the Dukes’ season was derailed by injuries and a first-game exit in the Atlantic-10 tournament sealed any hopes of playing late into March. Robert Morris (17-16) finished in striking distance in the one-bid Northeast Conference, but couldn’t overcome eventual champs Fairleigh Dickinson in the semifinals.

Extending outward from Pittsburgh, that same FDU team knocked off St. Francis (18-14) to keep the Red Flash out of NEC’s auto-bid. West Virginia (14-20) made a nice charge in the Big 12 tournament before running into perennial buzzsaw Kansas, but it was a disappointing season overall for the Mountaineers. Despite finishing the regular season as winners of six of their last eight, including victories over No. 6 Michigan and No. 17 Maryland, Penn State (14-18) was toppled in the first round of Big 10 tourney play by Minnesota.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty to watch for this March.

LOCAL ANGLES

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart grad and Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson earned a No. 1 seed with North Carolina. The Tar Heels will play No. 16 seed Iona on Friday and could face Kansas in the Sweet 16.

🏀 There aren’t a lot of other former WPIAL players in the dance, either. Kentucky walk-on Jonny David (Mt. Lebanon) and the Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region with Johnson’s Tar Heels. Of course, David’s head coach is Moon Township native John Calipari, who made some headlines on Sunday with his ridiculous living room jersey flex during his interview on ESPN.

🏀 In the South Region, Colgate is the No. 15-seed and drew Tennessee in the first round. Former Lincoln Park star Nelly Cummings is with the Raiders this season, but is sitting out after transferring from Bowling Green.

🏀 In the first four, North Carolina Central will play North Dakota State for the right to face Duke. NC Central features Pittsburgh native Jibri Blount, the son of Steelers great Mel Blount, who played his high school ball at The Linsly School in Wheeling, West Virginia and St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio.

PLAYING ON

While none of the local or regional men’s basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament, the Robert Morris women punched their ticket to the Big Dance on Sunday, and several other teams either have made or could make a postseason tournament.

🏀 The St. Francis men made the NIT as an automatic qualifier by virtue of winning the NEC regular season and the Red Flash drew a No. 8 seed in the tournament. They will visit No. 1 Indiana in first-round action in the 32-team field. That game will be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.

🏀 West Virginia has elected to participate in the 16-team College Basketball Invitational, better known as the CBI. The Mountaineers will host WAC runner up Grand Canyon in their first round game on Wednesday, March 20. Will Kennedy Catholic alum Sagaba Konate play? He was rumored to be close to a return while the Mountaineers were in the Big 12 tournament, and even took warmups, but never saw the floor.

🏀 The Robert Morris men will also play postseason hoops at home, as the Colonials will host Cornell in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament or CIT. The CIT does not have a set bracket, with the teams being re-seeded after each round.

Robert Morris to Host Cornell in 1st Round of CIT

🏀 Despite falling short in the A10 tournament, the Duquesne women have a shot at postseason play and will learn their fate on Monday.

🏀 The West Virginia women are considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament by most prognosticators.

WANNA BET?

This coming week will be a huge one at the still-new Rivers Casino sports book. The NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest betting events of the year, with the American Gaming Association estimating over $10 billion in wagers.

Whether it’s a traditional bracket, a bet on a long shot to win it all, or game-by-game wagers, there’s plenty of ways to have an in on the action.

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