NCAA tournament: Oakland gets Pitt's respect

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The Pitt men's basketball team left Petersen Events Center and headed to the airport Wednesday with a clear mission --don't overlook NCAA tournament first-round opponent Oakland.

The Panthers (24-8) are the third seed in the West Region and will play the 14th-seeded Golden Grizzlies (26-8), champions of the Summit League tournament, at approximately 2:55 Friday at Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

The Panthers are heavily favored, but they have seen enough upsets to know that anything can happen in the tournament.

"You always worry about [being upset] and it is something that is always in the back of your mind," said junior guard Brad Wanamaker just before the team boarded the buses.

"Oakland is a very good team, they rebound the ball, they have very good guard play and a very good big man down low. We have to go out and play our game.

"They are a very good team, we've seen them on film, they get up and down the floor a lot and can go one-on-one at times."

How good Oakland is might be hard to peg because the Golden Grizzlies played five games against teams from power conferences (Kansas, Wisconsin, Oregon, Syracuse and Michigan State) and another game against Memphis -- and lost those six games by an average of 25.3 points.

If the Panthers win, they will face the winner of the game between No. 6 seed Xavier (24-8) and No. 11 Minnesota (21-13), who will play Friday right before the Panthers.

But, in keeping with the theme of the day, which was, do not overlook Oakland -- Wanamaker and his teammates are not concerned about either the Musketeers or the Golden Gophers -- at least, not yet.

"We're not worried about those teams at all yet," Wanamaker said.

"Our main focus is Oakland because that is who we play Friday and, after we play Friday, then we will worry about Xavier or Minnesota."

One player from Oakland that Wanamaker said the Panthers will certainly have to keep an eye on is 6-foot-5 forward Derick Nelson, who averages 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

Wanamaker said the Panthers will have a combination of players guard him depending on the personnel on the floor.

Oakland's leading scorer, however, is 6-11 center Keith Benson, who averages 17 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and he makes them a different team then when Oakland visited Petersen Events Center in 2006.

Wanamaker said the Panthers still have a bad taste in their mouth from the way they were knocked out of the Big East Conference tournament last week and that they are not going to be satisfied with anything less than a run to the Final Four.

"A successful season will be making it to the Final Four and winning a national championship," Wanamaker said.

"Yeah, it is good to make the tournament and get a No. 3 seed because people doubted us this year, but we are not comfortable where we are at right now.

"We still have some goals to accomplish."

Paul Zeise: or 412-263-1720.


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