Number One Doesn’t Change Pitt’s Attitude
January 5, 2009
By Anthony Jaskulski
Not much has changed for the Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team.
Practice is still the same, the attitudes are as humble as they are eager, and the hunger for another win is still the main focus.
But according to history and the newest AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, something has drastically altered. The Panthers, for the first time in school history, has taken over both rankings as the new No.1 team in the country.
The change came when last weeks No.1 team, North Carolina, dropped an 85-78 conference battle to Boston College at Chapel Hill.
Pitt also joins just Wake Forest (13-0) and Clemson (14-0) as the only other undefeated teams in both men’s Top 25 rankings.
“I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing, it’s a good thing,” said Coach Jamie Dixon. “It’s good for our university, for our fans and our city. We talked about having distractions all year, but I think our guys will use it as motivation. Especially our seniors and how they have handled everything all year. I think they’ll take this as motivation more than anything.”
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The Panthers history making day saw 70 first-place votes in the AP poll, and 30 votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Just three total votes in both polls combined had North Carolina picked No. 1.
“It’s an honor,” said forward Sam Young. “I didn’t even watch the North Carolina game, but I got the text, and was told we were No.1 right after. I’ve just been cheesing ever since.”
Pitt earned their way to the top ranking after a stunning 70-54 white-wash over Georgetown last Saturday in Washington D.C.
With their No.1 spot, the Panthers are also now the top spot in the RPI rankings, according to www.realtimerpi.com, with a No. 3 strength of schedule.
“We’re obviously really excited,” Guard Levance Fields said. “When everybody found out about it, everybody was excited, we were smiling. We think we deserve it, we’ve been working hard, but obviously, it’s only January. By no means necessary are we going to act like we don’t care, and just overlook it.”
With a current 14-0 record, Pitt stands alone in the Big East standings as the only undefeated team, as well as holding a 2-0 conference record, joining Syracuse, Marquette and Providence.
But despite the accolades and accomplishment of a No.1 ranking, Pitt is still running with the basics, and taking nothing for granted.
“We’re not trying to win anything in January,” said Dixon. “This says to us that we need to continue to improve, and that’s not going to change.”
Pitt will have a week long layover, not playing again until Sunday, when they host St. Johns (10-4). It’s a seven day period—according to Coach Dixon—where the team can get plenty of work, and useful scrimmages in to keep the team loose and prepared.
“What we’ve done in the past, and in the last couple years, we broke it up and tried to fit a game situation into the week,” said Dixon about the week-long schedule of practice for the team. “We’ll bring in referees on Wednesday and split the teams up. We had a very competitive game last week, in preparation for Rutgers, and I thought it was really good for our players, and our guys to get into that situation.”
The Panthers dedication to practice, and staying humble, has helped push them in the top-five in the Big East in every offensive and defensive category, including rebounding margin, where Pitt is +10.5, just two away from the conference leaders Cincinnati.
“It’s conference play now, and you have to come out and play every night,” said Young. “Nobody is a cakewalk anymore. You have to come and play everyday, because somebody is always out there ready to bring you down.”
And instead of soaking up the North Carolina loss, which bolted their way to the top, the members of the Pitt basketball team hit the gym right after, to work a little more on their game.
“After we saw the North Carolina loss, a lot of us went to the gym late last night, and early this morning,” said forward Tyrell Biggs. “We’re trying to make this a motivation thing.”
With a long week of mental and physical preparation ahead for Pitt, when the hard work is over for the night, they can always glance at this week’s polls, to see them selves still at the top…for the next seven days anyway.
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