|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.
|The elephant in the room||03.25.09 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:
|Xavier tough as Pitt: That’s why we’re here||at 2:46 pm ET|
Sean Miller gave a smile on Wednesday afternoon when he called the Big East Conference the toughest league. It was smile of recognition with a hint of sarcasm.
Miller was asked how his team matched up against the ‘toughest of the tough’ in the Pittsburgh Panthers, the team his Musketeers will be facing on Thursday night.
“They’re the very best at playing that game,” Miller said. “Offensive rebounding numbers, they’re number one in the nation, when you consider what they do to their opponent, in the toughest league, so that speaks for itself.”
But Miller sees reason for hope. In 34 games, Xavier has been outrebounded just three times and none in the last 24.
“Ironically, it’s the very best thing we do,” he said. “It will be tested at high level. Our defensive rebounding, rebounding margin, our defense in general is what has allowed us to have 27 wins. It’s why we’re here and what we just did last weekend. Our greatest strength will be tested against the best at doing it. We’re going to have to play a great game and hold serve in those aereas to hae a chance to win.”
Miller has also heard enough of the questions over the last several seasons about his Xavier Musketeers being a mid-major team succeeding in the bright lights of the NCAA Sweet 16.
“I don’t hear any talk about Memphis being a mid-major,” Miller said.
|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