WASHINGTON -- Pat Cavanaugh played at Pitt from 1986-90, was a two-time captain and still lives in the North Hills. He roots for Pitt under almost any circumstance.
But Cavanaugh won't be pulling for the Panthers this afternoon when they play UNC Asheville at the Verizon Center. Cavanaugh will be rooting for the Bulldogs.
Cavanaugh is the founder and president of The Crons Brand, a North Hills-based apparel company that outfits college teams. Cavanaugh, who started the company in 2006, added UNC Asheville to his client list last year.
"I'm going to root for Asheville," he said. "They took a chance on us. My support for Pitt over the years is clear. I'm looking for an upset. It will make for quite a story."
Cavanaugh is competing with Nike and adidas in the sports apparel business. He markets his brand as an underdog that is battling the companies that have dominated the business for years.
Cavanaugh has other clients in the Big South, Colonial Athletic Association and Atlantic 10.
"When I was growing up in Grove City everyone said I was too slow, I couldn't jump, I could never play at Pitt," he said. "I wanted to create a company where the mentality was 'ignore the noise.' We're a mentality performance brand. When we started this we had to carve out an area where we were different from our competitor. When we go to these conference and schools we have a story they can relate to."
This is the third consecutive season Crons -- an acronym for come ready or never start -- is represented in the NCAA tournament. Robert Morris is a Crons client, and the Colonials made the tournament the past two years. Cavanaugh got to know former Robert Morris coach Mike Rice through Pitt when Rice was on Jamie Dixon's staff.
Pitt is under contract with Nike, but Cavanaugh said he has had conversations with athletic director Steve Pederson about Crons being the official apparel company of the Panthers in the future. But for today, Cavanaugh's allegiances are with UNC Asheville.
Pitt's players were aware that President Barack Obama picked the Panthers to go to the Final Four for the second time in three years, but they weren't very forgiving for his choice of Kansas to win the national championship.
"He picked us to lose to Kansas," junior guard Ashton Gibbs said. "I was happy with his picks until I saw that. Now we have to prove the doubters wrong."
The Panthers got to Washington in time Tuesday night to see the second half of the game between UNC Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock. They came away impressed with UNC Asheville's starting guards, juniors Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm.
"They get out and run," sophomore guard Travon Woodall said. "Those guys work hard, they play hard. It starts with their guards. Their guards are their motors and anchors."
Dickey made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime and led the Bulldogs with 22 points.
Redshirt freshman forward Talib Zanna, who has been out since Feb. 24 with a fractured left thumb, is hopeful that he can return to the lineup if the Panthers advance to the Sweet 16. Zanna might have his cast removed Monday and would then have to go through a few days of rehabilitation before being cleared to play.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com .