Pitt coach Jamie Dixon could give his freshmen more playing time in the CBI.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The second-most asked question over the weekend regarding Pitt athletics -- after, of course, what happened to the basketball team this season -- was this one: "What is the CBI?"
Pitt fans experienced 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before this season, so they might not have known that in that time two new postseason tournaments were born. It's the College Basketball Invitational, on the third tier of postseason events -- along with the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) -- behind the NCAA and National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
After being denied a bid in the NIT, Pitt will play in the CBI, a tournament entering its fifth season. The CBI is a 16-team tournament with games on campus sites. Teams that play host to games must pay a fee to the Gazelle Group, a company that specializes in putting on college basketball tournaments.
Pitt will play Wofford at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Petersen Events Center. Financial obligations were not disclosed by Pitt or the Gazelle Group, but the fee was $35,000 to play host to a first-round game last season with an escalating scale for every game afterward. The fee was $50,000 for a second-round game and $75,000 for a semifinal game.
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said Monday that Pitt would like to play as many home games in the tournament as possible. If Pitt beats Wofford, the Panthers will play host to a second-round game March 19. The tournament is reseeded after the second round so there is the possibility for a third-round game as well.
Tickets went on sale Monday and Pederson had a good early report from the ticket office. He did not say how many fans have to show up in order for the game to be a financial success, but he was confident the university would make money, or at least break even, from the game.
"We feel pretty good about being able to cover the cost of hosting the tournament," Pederson said. "We're hopeful we'll have a good crowd and that won't be an issue."
If 5,000 tickets are sold for $20 apiece that's $100,000 before the internal expenses for playing a home game, which include paying ushers and concession workers, among other things. But Pederson made it clear the university is not entering the tournament to make money. He said the decision to accept the invitation was made because head coach Jamie Dixon and the players wanted to continue playing.
"In this particular case, it was the right thing to do," Pederson said. "It seemed like the right thing do."
Dixon said the fact that seven of his players are sophomores or freshmen played into the decision. Practicing more and playing more games will benefit younger players who will have a larger role on the team next season.
"Our team is young and we think it's an opportunity to get minutes for young guys," Dixon said. "Given our youth, this is an event that is important to us and it gives us an opportunity to see where we can improve and things we can do better."
Dixon would not commit to starting freshmen or sophomores in the game, or assigning a certain number of minutes for those players, but there are signs players such as freshman center Malcolm Gilbert and freshmen guards John Johnson and Cameron Wright could see an increased number of minutes in the tournament.
"We'll see how things go," Dixon said. "We'll see how things play out. They've been playing more minutes lately. I don't think playing time has been decided now. We need to get our best team on the floor and play our best basketball."
Sophomore forward J.J. Moore is another player who figures to benefit from a long run in the CBI. Moore led the team in scoring in three of the final six games and saw his minutes increase. He understands the value of building toward next season, but he said part of the motivation for the younger players is sending the seniors -- Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson -- out on a winning note.
"We're trying to do this for the seniors," Moore said. "It's a good thing for our younger guys, but at the same time it's for the seniors."