ORLANDO, Fla. -- Colorado coach Tad Boyle was asked what makes the Buffaloes successful and he pointed to two things -- rebounding and defense.
It should, because that is the foundation of the program Jamie Dixon has built at Pitt. The Panthers pride themselves on being better than their opponents in those two areas every time they walk onto the court.
Pitt prepares for Colorado in NCAA first-round game
Pitt players James Robinson and Cameron Wright discuss their team's upcoming game NCAA game against Colorado. (Video by Matt Freed; 3/19/2014)
Which is why when No. 9 seed Pitt (25-9) meets No. 8 Colorado (23-11) today at Amway Center in the second round of the South Region, points likely will be at a premium, every basket will be earned, and the lane will not be a place for the faint at heart.
The winner will advance to the third round where it likely will face No. 1 seed Florida, which plays No 16 seed Albany in the second game today. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history.
Colorado features a strong frontcourt built around 6-foot-10 sophomore Josh Scott, who averages 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. But Boyle knows it won't be easy against the Panthers.
"When I look at Pitt, I look at a team a lot like ours in terms of what they emphasize and what they want to be good at and what they are good at, and that's defense and rebounding," he said. "Where it came from for me was my high school coach Larry Hicks. I mean, defense, defense, defense. And then, obviously, my college coach Larry Brown. When I became a head coach, he always told me if your teams defend and they rebound at a high level consistently, you give yourself a chance to win every game.
"Our players understand that, and they understand that when they do it and they do it at a high level ... winning and losing takes care of itself. When we don't do it, it takes care of itself, as well."
But how does a coach gets his players to emphasize rebounding and defense -- two parts of the game that are often thankless?
Part of it, Boyle said, is recruiting tough players and then getting them to understand the overall philosophy of the program.
"At the end of the day, your team has to buy in, your team has to have pride in it," he said.
Scott said the Buffaloes, much like the Panthers, are reminded daily about the importance of rebounding and playing defense, so it is second nature for them. That is why the Buffaloes have been able to still win, he said, after losing guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a torn anterior cruciate ligament Jan. 12 that required surgery.
"[Boyle] just talks about [defense and rebounding] over and over," Scott said. "It's kind of our standard. It's up in our locker room. Ever since we've stepped on campus, it's pretty much defense and rebounding that's drilled into your head. There's a huge emphasis, and so if we don't do it, he's not very happy with us."
The numbers for Pitt and Colorado are strikingly similar. The Buffaloes average 37.5 rebounds and 11.6 offensive rebounds per game. They outrebound opponents by 6.2 per game. Pitt's numbers are 36.1, 12.1 and 6.3. Further proof: Colorado averages 6.0 steals and 3.4 blocks per game; Pitt averages 7.0 steals and 3.0 blocks.
Dixon said both teams spend time running drills and working on rebounding, but he values players who have the want-to to rebound, which is something he evaluates when he is on the recruiting trail.
"I think you have to have a knack for the ball [to] play good defense," Dixon said. "Your offense and those things kind of go hand in hand. So if you play good defense, they're going to miss more shots, you should get the rebounds. That's a factor.
"This year, we're getting more steals, more transition baskets than last year as well. I think in some ways we've gotten more possessions because of the steals but maybe not as much rebounding margin as in the past. But it's something that when we've lost, we've lost the rebounding margin. That's always been the case with us, and we need to outrebound opponents."
Dixon said the Panthers haven't really faced a player of Scott's size who is athletic and moves well.
"We didn't face a lot of big-body guys in [the ACC] as much as I would have thought," Dixon said. "Probably the closest guy, [James] McAdoo from North Carolina because he's inside-out a bit, likes to face up and drive it. I think he's actually a pretty good comparison. Numbers-wise they're pretty similar."
In two games against the Panthers this season, McAdoo averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds, but a healthy Talib Zanna did a better job against him in Pitt's win in the ACC tournament. Unfortunately, Zanna sat out practice Wednesday because of a stomach flu and power forward Mike Young continues to have back problems.
Zanna is expected to play today as is Young, whom Dixon said had a great practice.
"It seems like the longer he goes, the longer he plays, the more it becomes difficult for him and there's more pain, whether it's the endurance it affects or it's the pain becomes too much," Dixon said of Young.
"But I've never had a fracture in my back, so I don't know how it's quite like to play. I wish I could be -- understand what he's going through, but he's battled, he's played hard, he's been physical all year long."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.