What started as Ben Howland’s, has officially become Jaime Dixon’s: the blue-collar, hard nosed, championship winning formula that has lead the Pittsburgh Panthers to seven Big East conference championship games in the past eight years.
But as successful as they’ve been in league play, Pitt is still searching for NCAA Tournament validation; no one on this team- player or coach- has ever advanced past the Sweet 16. This is Pitt’s best team in the Howland/Dixon era, but can they silence their March demons and make it to Detroit for the Final Four?
Why They Will Win A National Championship:
Pitt has the best combination of skill, experience and toughness (both mentally and physically) of any team in the nation.
While other names like Luke Harangody and Hasheem Thabeet dominated early season Big East discussion, it has been Pitt’s DeJuan Blair who’s been the most unstoppable low-post player in the league, as the sophomore has had 17 double-doubles this season.
Senior Sam Young – a 1st team All-Big East performer last year – leads the Panthers on the wing, averaging close to 19 points a game and Levance Fields, another senior, controls the ball on the perimeter.
Fields leads the Big East in assists at 7.6 per game and also has a knack for making big shots, as his only two field goals in 76-68 victory over No. 1 UConn on February 16 were three-point daggers that put the game away.
Why They Won’t:
Like any team with an absolutely dominant big man, Pitt finds itself in trouble on the rare occasions that Blair gets into foul trouble.
In the Panthers three losses, the big averaged just 11 points, and spent big minutes on the bench while in foul trouble.
Also, of all the contenders, Pittsburgh may have the shortest bench of any. Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown are Dixon’s only true contributors outside of the starting five, and neither is much of a scoring threat.
When March comes and Pitt finds itself with their backs against the wall, can these players really be counted on to play big minutes? And what if Dixon needs to go even further into his bench? Will guys like Ashton Gibbs- who’s shown flashes, but been inconsistent overall- be ready to go, after getting virtually no burn all season?
Pittsburgh is still probably the safest bet in college basketball, and will likely, along with North Carolina be the favorites going into the tournament.
There is no way to game-plan for Blair, and no way to stop him from getting his numbers when he’s on the court.
But foul trouble or injuries could plague this team, which brings steady, if not spectacular play off the bench.
The Panthers have the talent amongst their starting five, but will they have enough bodies to win six games in a row in the tournament?
(Author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)