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Etching a new route with chalk

March 15, 2007 - Neil Rudel

Going against the chalk never seems to work for me in predicting the NCAA Tournament.

So I'll buck an old philosophy of "anybody can pick the top seed," (evidenced by all the ESPN heads) and go with Ohio State.

Having seen the Buckeyes once in person at PSU -- never mind that I left at halftime -- and several times on TV, they appear to have the kind of mix that can go all the way. That's a stable of good shooters, savvy guard play, smart coaching and a tremendous defensive presence in freshman center Greg Oden, who looks like a young Bill Russell.

The tourney can't arrive without resurrecting my haunting mid-1990s memory of picking Arizona to win it, only to find out that the Wildcats were beaten by Ball State in the first round. In those days, the Mirror was an afternoon paper and my pick was dead before most of the papers were delivered. It's a proud prediction I never want to live down! I don't know what was funnier -- my pick or Ray Eckenrode's glee in informing me about it.

The team with the most interest locally will be Pitt. The Panthers, to their credit, have been knocking at the door for the last half-decade plus, but haven't been able to kick it in. That's in part because they've lacked the superstar player who can carry them in tournament play, the guy who can break down the defense and go one-on-one when the halfcourt game is magnified.

Pitt can't afford a loss to Wright State and should have a decent chance to beat a beatable Duke team in the second round. That's if Duke gets by Virginia Commonwealth in the first round. Then again, the longer Duke stays alive, the more Coach K's shadow grows.

The best part of the tourney begins today when you'll inevitably flip on the tube and see some No. 14 with a No. 3 on the ropes.





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