Big East (28-4, 15-3)
Seed: #1 East
Big Wins: 12/21 at Florida State (56-48), 2/16 at Connecticut (76-68), 3/7 Connecticut (70-60)
Bad Losses: 1/28 at Villanova (57-67), 2/24 at Providence (73-81), 3/12 vs West Virginia (60-74)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008, Second Round loss to Michigan State
Coach: Jamie Dixon (6-5 in 5 NCAA appearances)
Why They Can Surprise:
Traditionally Pittsburgh will win with tough, hard-nosed defense. That has not changed, but this version of the Panthers can also put up a ton of points in a hurry. Coach Jamie Dixon does not encourage his players to shoot quickly, but that does not stop the points from tallying up on the scoreboard. The reason is the frontcourt duo of Sam Young and DeJuan Blair.
It is not surprising that Young is having another solid campaign. The 6-6 senior led the team in scoring during the 2007-2008 campaign and did so again this time around. Yet, Blair is a bit of a surprise. Blair’s average of 15.6 points per game is impressive, but he has also turned into a rebounding machine. Blair picks off 5.5 offensive rebounds per game and that leads to a ton of easy buckets for Blair and the entire Pittsburgh team. It is hard enough to beat a quality team like Pittsburgh without giving up a slew of second chance points.
Why They Can Disappoint:
There are not many good reasons for Pittsburgh to fail this March. The team is experienced, plays smart basketball and almost always wears down the opposing defense. Besides the poor team free-throw shooting percentage, mostly due to Blair, the Panthers have no glaring weaknesses. The most likely thing to lead to a Pitt loss besides a bad day is getting the frontcourt trio of Young, Blair and Tyrell Biggs in foul trouble. The frontcourt is so dominating that nobody can really come in off the bench and replace them. The Panthers do have a solid group on the bench with the sharp shooting Ashton Gibbs, the reliable Brad Wanamaker and the versatile Gilbert Brown, but none of them are forwards.
Who To Watch:
The emergence of Blair would turn this group of Panthers into a great team, but Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon have transformed them into national title contenders. Fields averages 10.7 points per game, but it is his ability to control the tempo of that game that makes him so valuable. Fields averages an amazing 7.6 assists per game, while turning the ball over just two times. Those are some spectacular numbers and on a team that grabs offensive rebounds and rarely turns the ball over, the Panthers will almost always take more shots than their opponents. Dixon, a 6-3 shooting guard, will take some of those extra shots. He is not an explosive scorer at this point in his career, but Dixon will hit the outside shot and get to the basket.
Levance Fields, Senior, Guard, 10.7 ppg, 7.6 apg
Jermaine Dixon, Junior, Guard, 9.0 ppg, 2.1 apg
Sam Young, Senior, Forward, 18.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Tyrell Biggs, Senior, Forward, 6.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg
DeJuan Blair, Sophomore, Forward, 15.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Ashton Gibbs, Freshman, Guard, 4.3 ppg
Gilbert Brown, Sophomore, Guard, 5.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Brad Wanamaker, Sophomore, Guard, 5.9 ppg, 2.3 apg
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 78.5 (21st in nation, 4th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 63.7 (75, 5)
Field-Goal Percentage: 48.5 (10, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.0 (62, 6)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.4 (148, 9)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 35.9 (102, 4)
Free-Throw Percentage: 67.2 (228, 10)
Rebound Margin: 10.4 (1, 1)
Assists Per Game: 18.2 (3, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.0 (26, 3)
Joel’s Bracket Says: National Champions