Jan. 22, 2004
After their Monday night loss to Connecticut, I have more respect for Pittsburgh's basketball team than at any point during the season. Don't get me wrong, coach Jamie Dixon has been my diaper dandy of college coaches this season. But Pittsburgh's performance and effort against UConn was extremely impressive.
Despite falling short on the scoreboard, coach Dixon's kids proved they are a tough-minded group of guys who'll be playing well for the rest of the Big East season and well into tournament time.
UConn was coming off a tough loss to North Carolina and was clearly motivated to defeat the then-undefeated Panthers. For Pitt to face that challenge in Hartford against an angry team and play well was awesome, baby! They took the Huskies down to the wire and their play was a clear signal to the doubters who didn't think they were for real because of their early schedule.
Despite falling short on the scoreboard, coach Dixon's kids proved they are a tough-minded group of guys who'll be playing well for the rest of the Big East season and well into tournament time. These guys battle and scrap and will give anyone in America a challenge because of their mental and physical toughness.
I've been impressed with the leadership of a healthy Carl Krauser at guard. He's taken over the all-important leadership role vacated by Brandin Knight's departure. Pittsburgh has depth in the backcourt with Krauser, Julius Page and diaper dandy Antonio Graves -- who received more playing time when Krauser was sidelined with a groin injury earlier this season.
In the frontcourt, Taft has really shown a lot as an inside presence, scoring, rebounding and blocking shots. The Panthers have a lot of firepower up front with the combination of Taft, Chevy Troutman and Jaron Brown.
This was a learning experience for Pitt center Chris Taft and the rest of the Panthers frontline to go against Emeka Okafor. It's a real test for teams to go against a 6-10 shotblocker who can dominate on both sides of the floor. Because of Okafor, I feel the Huskies are going to create problems for any opponent on a neutral court. That's why I have Jim Calhoun's club in my Final Four.
Pittsburgh has another tough test against another angry team coming up at Syracuse this weekend. The Orangemen are coming off a loss to Seton Hall earlier this week and aren't happy. Their frontcourt featuring high-rising forward Hakim Warrick will be another test for Taft and co. But at the Panthers get to face Connecticut and Syracuse in rematches at home in the place affectionately nicknamed the Zoo in February.
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