PITTSBURGH LOOKS FOR GOOD BREAKS IN DAYTON
March 20, 2009
It was 15 months ago when Pittsburgh last visited Dayton. It was a trip they wished never happened. Not only were the Panthers blown out of the building by the Flyers, but Levance Fields went down with a broken bone in his foot that would keep him out of action for 12 games and the side effects would linger into this season.
In a season of firsts for the Panthers, including a No. 1 ranking (twice) this season and the #1 seed in the East, they are hoping to have a better trip to Dayton this weekend and use it as a springboard to their first Elite 8 or better since 1974, but to get there, they must survive a weekend in Dayton.
Up first for the Panthers is the Atlantic Sun tournament champion and the East region's 16-seed, East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers finished the season 23-10 and earned impressive wins over Belmont and Jacksonville to take their conference tournament. Their reward, a date with Pitt.
"We know they're a great team, they're the No. 1 seed," said junior forward Mike Smith. "That pretty much explains it all. They're a physical team. They've got some great athletes."
As of Thursday morning, ETSU had not looked at film on Pitt as a team, instead they have been worrying on what they are going to do in their gameplan. Maybe coach Murry Bartow wants keep from allowing his team to get too much of a glimpse of what they are up against, because it could be intimidating.
"I'm not sure I love the matchup, but I love our team," Bartow said of the NCAA Tournament experience. "We've really got what we call the Big 3 that are playing incredibly well for us. And, obviously, they'll have to play great tomorrow for us to have a chance."
That 'Big 3' includes Smith, who at 6'6 and 225 pounds, leads the team in rebounding at 7.7 a game and added 15.5 points a game. Senior guard Courtney Pilgrim added 17.6 points a game, surpassing 2,000 for his career, and led the team in assists. But, the star of the show is 6'4 senior Kevin Tiggs. The Flint (MI) native who came to ETSU via Mott CC averaged a team-best 21.5 points a game this season while shooting an efficient 54% from the field. The three veteran point-producers will make this a dangerous 16-seed.
Pitt, of course, has their own Big 3, led by the 'Big Fella', 6'7 sophomore center DeJuan Blair and seniors Sam Young and Levance Fields. However, the Panthers also have more depth as Jermaine Dixon and Tyrell Biggs are more than just ordinary role players and Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker have both shown they can contribute off the bench on both ends of the floor.
"Obviously DeJuan Blair inside is an incredibly hard matchup for us," coach Bartow said. "When you look at the stats, their plus 10 rebounding margin on the glass in the Big East jumps out at you. We'll have to try to hold our own there if we can. Sam Young's a pro. He's a great player. Levance Fields is one of the best point guards in the country."
"We're not going to show them a 15 minute highlight tape of Sam Young," Bartow stated on the lack of tape shown to his club. "I'm not sure we want them to see that."
While the broken foot Fields suffered last time through Dayton is behind him, a sore back and groin has kept him out of practice for a couple weeks, but did not prevent him from playing against Connecticut and West Virginia. The groin now seems to be an injury that he has moved past as he has been back on the court in practice leading up to the NCAA Tournament 1st round contest.
"I'm fine," Fields told reporters today. "Whenever I'm on the court I'm 100 percent.
So the extra days (of rest) was very helpful in getting more treatment and we just have to move on. Unfortunately, we didn't go far (in the Big East Tournament), but I'm good health wise."
ETSU looks to be easily the best of the bunch among the 16 seeds and probably the 15 seeds as well. They have a very effective 'Big 3' and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows who they have to stop in this one.
"They're playing their best basketball right now," Dixon said of ETSU. "Coach Bartow has really done a great job with them. And I don't know if there's any other team in the country that has three guys that scores at the rate that these three guys do."
The question will obviously be, can three guys beat the team that is Pittsburgh. Maybe if the Panthers are looking too far ahead, but with three senior starters, including Young, Fields and Tyrell Biggs, Pitt knows this is it and they will not take anyone lightly in the tournament.
"No. No, not at all," Young said when asked if Pitt would be taking a look at Louisville while in Dayton for a possible meeting in the championship game. "We did that way too many times. We're way too mature to make a foolish mistake like that again. I think we're going to take one game at a time, and we're going to worry about the team we play tomorrow and then the team we play the next day, and then we're going to take care of it like that."
So, with their undivided attention on the Buccaneers on Friday, Pitt should be able to post a solid win. The Panthers are 20-point favorites according to the latest college basketball odds, but a team like ETSU will make some runs and make some shots and might be able to keep it in the teens with a late run.
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Labels: 2008-2009 Game Previews