It's always hard to say how much of coaches' discussions of other teams are genuine, and how much is pre- and post-game electioneering. But it's probably fair to say Jamie Dixon isn't playing up his pre-opener warnings about facing Rhode Island. (Which Pittsburgh does Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU, and WOOO! COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS BACK! WOOOO!) In fact, Dixon seems legitimately concerned about dropping an early one to the Rams:
"It's a different opener than most teams in the country have," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's a different game. Go look at the first week of the schedule. I would venture to say there are not two teams this good playing against each other in the first week of the season.
"No one of our caliber is playing a team of their caliber, and no one of their caliber is playing a team of our caliber. We wanted to play the best teams we could play. That's what we asked for. We know it's a really tough game. It's a team that won 26 games last year and beat some really good people. We have to be ready."
On paper, Pittsburgh is a clear favorite over Rhode Island. Not only are the Panthers, the No. 4 team in the nation, taking on an A-10 squad that went to the NIT last season (and lost its leading scorer, Keith Cochran, in the offseason), but they get to do so at home. If this were any other game of the year, you'd assume Dixon was psychologically rhapsodizing to his players in the hopes of avoiding a letdown.
In this case, it's a little bit trickier. Rhode Island is a far better opponent than most season openers, Pittsburgh is playing their first game four days earlier than usual, and, well, it's the first game. Players get nervous. Everyone's rusty. The kinks aren't worked out. Crazy things happen. It's dangerous for Pitt: A win is just a win, a better team beating an inferior (though quality) opponent at home. A loss is much worse, because losses in the second week of November look the same on the resumé as losses in the second week of February.
All of which means it's going to be a fun game to watch. And though it might make Dixon nervous, I'm excited. On the first night of real, actual college hoops, I would have settled for much, much worse.