|Xavier not backing down||03.26.09 at 8:01 pm ET|
The Pittsburgh Panthers had the reputation as the toughest of the tough this year. The most physical team in the Big East is accustomed to manhandling teams, beginning with DeJuan Blair in the post.
But the Xavier Musketeers are not intimidated in the least in this Sweet 16 matchup. They have Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson bodying Blair every time he gets the ball. Every Pittsburgh shot is being contested.
Meanwhile, the Muskies are doing a good job of perimeter passing, opening lanes for and Brown and Anderson each have thunderous dunks.
|Xavier out to early lead||at 7:43 pm ET|
At the first time out, the large contingent from Cincinnati that made the trip to Boston has had more to cheer about.
Xavier has grabbed an early lead over Pittsburgh, 9-4, at the first official media time out with 15:14 remaining in the first half.
This game has come as advertised early on. Lots of loose balls and missed shots and physical play under the glass.
Each team has made just 2 of their first 9 shots from the floor.
|Pitt: No apologies||03.25.09 at 4:13 pm ET|
If you’re expecting Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon to apologize for his team’s underwhelming performance as a No. 1 seed in the East Regional in the first two rounds, here’s some advice – don’t bother.
Pittsburgh struggled mightily with No. 16 seed East Tennessee in round one and was tied at halftime with No. 8 Oklahoma State in the second round before winning by eight, 84-76.
“I guess it reinforces things,” Dixon told reporters about the close calls in the first two games. “We didn’t rebound well in the first game, and the second game we got better, and out-rebounded our opponent by 20, that was something, I think.”
With Xavier on tap on Thursday night, one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, Dixon knows his players need to bring their best to the glass to continue their march in March.
“I think it was what we learned was we can win — really that Oklahoma State game showed we can win offensively, we can win defensively in the second half. That was an interesting game, because you had two teams shooting, knocking down shots the first half. And the second half became a grind it out defensive affair. And we played that way, as well, played successfully in that half, as well. You learn you can play two different ways this time of the year.”
Moments after learning his team was a No. 1 seed for the first time ever, Dixon was asked by CBS-TV whether he was concerned about jinxes and comparisons to the Chicago Cubs.
” This team is different than any other team,” Dixon said on Wednesday. “And again, that’s — Sweet 16 is an accomplishment. If it was — if it wasn’t, teams would have got there more than we have. And there’s only two that have been there more than we have the last eight years, Duke and Kansas have been there more than us. There aren’t any buys into the Sweet 16. I think maybe it’s forgotten.”
And for the record, Pittsburgh has never beaten a team seeded higher than sixth in the NCAA tournament. Xavier is No. 4 in the East.
“Yeah, I think this team is different than the previous team from last year, and it’s definitely different from the team six years ago, five years ago, four years ago,” Dixon said. “All the times we’ve made it we have different players, we’re playing different teams. And at the same time we know we have a very good opponent to play tomorrow in Xavier.”
|The elephant in the room||at 3:12 pm ET|
The obvious storyline with the first game on Thursday night is the fact that Xavier coach Sean Miller went to Pittsburgh from 1987-1992. He played on the first Pitt teams to actually make a mark in the Big East. He played for coach Paul Evans and with Billy Martin and Jerome Lane.
But Miller’s players know this is about now, not 1987.
“It’s simple,” said Xavier guard B.J. Raymond. “It’s another game. We’re just going to focus on that. We’re just going to try and play our best. Coach, he did play there. Everybody knows that. It’s the elephant in the room. We’re just going to focus on playing at our highest level.”
And does Miller ever bring up the ‘good ole’ days’?
“In practice, sometimes when we don’t get the job done, he would say ‘When I used to play,’ or something funny like that,” Raymond said. “But for the most part, he’s pretty humble about his college experience.”
For previous entries from the NCAAs in Boston:
|Trags Take… X-Men and Panthers||03.24.09 at 9:37 am ET|
East Regional Semifinal- No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh, 7:27 p.m. Thursday, Ch. 4.
On Thursday night, the first of three East Regional games will be played at TD Banknorth Garden and the matchup between Xavier and Pittsburgh figures to be compelling on many different levels.
The first game has the top seed Pittsburgh Panthers (30-4) taking on No. 4 Xavier (27-7). The Musketeers are coached by Sean Miller, the same Sean Miller who played for Pittsburgh in the mid-to-late 80s and fed Jerome “Send It In” Lane on the most devastating college dunk of all time.
Miller said on Monday that facing his old school isn’t a big deal.
“Pitt holds a special place for me just from the standpoint that I had a great experience there as a student-athlete. I was treated like you wanted to be treated,” Miller said. “The friendships that I have today with so many of close friends stem from my experiences there. And it really stops there as well.”
He is also the same Sean Miller who appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when he was five and showed off his dribbling skills before a nationwide audience.
Now Miller is all grown up and so are his Muskies. They were down seven and playing right into Wisconsin’s hands on Sunday when the team went on a 10-0 run and the Badgers were not heard from again. Xavier advanced with a 60-49 win in Boise.
As for Pittsburgh, they nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 before waking up against East Tennessee State. They were tied with Oklahoma State, 49-49, at halftime, before pulling away for the win in Dayton. An interesting note, Xavier A.D. Mike Bobinski didn’t travel with his team to the land of big potatoes. Instead he stayed behind in nearby Dayton to watch the Panthers and another No. 1 seed, the Louisville Cardinals.
The Road to Boston:
Xavier: Beat No. 13 Portland State, 77-59. Beat No. 12 Wisconsin, 60-49.
Pittsburgh: Beat No. 16 East Tennessee State, 72-67. Beat No. 8 Oklahoma State, 84-76.
Players to watch:
Xavier: B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. Raymond led all Muskies with 15 points on Sunday and is the stabilizing force in a backcourt that is vulnerable to pressure. Anderson is arguably Xavier’s most versatile player, at 6-6, 220 pounds, big enough to play in the front court but quick enough to handle the ball on the perimeter. If he’s shooting well, look out. He was scoreless in Xavier’s loss to Temple in the A-10 semifinals.
Pittsburgh: DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. Blair had 10 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday. He had 27 points and 16 rebounds against ETSU in the first round. He is 6-7 and listed at 245. He been playing even bigger. Young is a pure scorer and showed that with 32 against the Cowboys on Sunday. He leads the Panthers with 18.9 points per game. And Fields is the floor general, dishing out 7.6 assists a game while scoring at a 10.6 PPG clip.
Trags Take: Not going the Steelers Karma route here. Told you here at the beginning of the tournament that Xavier was one of the five teams I liked in this field. Not going to change now. Pittsburgh’s luck runs out against one of the most athletic and versatile teams remaining in the tournament. Xavier finds a way to defend Young and contain Fields.
Xavier 70, Pittsburgh 64