The air has gone out of the ball for much of the local college basketball season, now that Round 2 has culled the NCAA tournament to 16 teams.
The Colonials of Robert Morris University, a No. 15 seed, were almost giant killers Thursday when they nearly toppled No. 2-slotted Villanova. In the end, the 18 1/2-point underdogs fell 73-70 in overtime, but not before delivering a game to remember and a 23-12 season that had earlier captured the Northeast Conference crown.
The overachieving Pitt Panthers, who seemed to surprise everyone but themselves, took their No. 3 seed into Sunday's game against Xavier. While Pitt had to play catchup through most of the contest, it closed the gap down the stretch and seemed poised to win with another buzzer beater, or at least force the game into overtime. But Brad Wanamaker's desperation three-point shot with 0:00.4 left glanced off the rim. The Panthers' wild season ended abruptly, but few back in the fall predicted their 25-9 run.
That leaves Big East champion West Virginia (29-6) still in the hunt after dispatching Missouri. The Mountaineers will face Washington on Thursday in their fifth time in the Sweet 16 of their past six tournament appearances. Pittsburghers may have a hard time rooting for WVU, but at this stage our backyard rivals are the closest thing we have to a local favorite.