Madness hard to define this time

Notes and observations from the sports world as winter grudgingly gives way to spring:

n This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament doesn’t feature any clear-cut favorites, which makes it one of the more intriguing in some time.

None of the top seeds – Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas or Indiana – are overwhelming bets to make it to the championship game, or even to the Final Four. Last year’s champion, Kentucky, didn’t even make the cut into this year’s field.

March Madness drew its nickname for its exciting unpredictability, and this year, the forecast looks more unpredictable than ever.

n The tournament outlook for Pitt seems to be just as unpredictable. Which Panthers’ team will show up – the one that looked woeful in a home loss to Notre Dame or the razor-sharp team that beat Syracuse and Villanova at home and rolled up Georgetown on the road? The Panthers have the potential to make the Sweet Sixteen in the so-so West Region. But they could also lose their first-round game against Wichita State this afternoon.

n Chalk picks are still the best way to navigate the NCAA brackets, and it says here that top seeds Louisville and Kansas, along with second seeds Miami and Ohio State, will make it through to the Final Four in Atlanta and that Louisville will top Miami in the championship game.

n After finishing 8-8 last season and recently losing both Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh Steelers look a lot more like a prospective 6-10 team in 2013 than they do a 10-6 or better team.

n At least one website ranks the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2013 schedule as one of the top four most difficult in Major League Baseball. The interleague schedule features American League West Division top dogs Oakland, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as well as defending AL champion Detroit. Pirates team president Frank Coonelly said in an offseason visit to Altoona that he thinks the Houston Astros’ jump to the American League this year – giving each league 15 teams – will be good for baseball. But it can’t be good for the Pirates, who beat the lowly Astros 12 times last season.

n This past high school wrestling season was one of the most memorable for Altoona in quite some time. The Mountain Lions – who haven’t had a state champion since 1973 – qualified four for Hershey, including senior sixth-place finisher T.J. Brandt, who set the school’s all-time victory record with 125. Look for sophomore state qualifier D.J. Hollingshead, who has 69 wins in his first two seasons, to set a new school wins record in two years if he stays healthy.

John Hartsock can be reached at