The Pitt Panthers don't have to go very far for a scouting report on Oakland University, their first opponent in the NCAA tournament this week. All they have to do is turn to senior guard Chase Adams, who faced Oakland for the past three seasons when he was at Centenary College in the Summit League.
"They're definitely a veteran team," Adams said. "They're a complete team. They have an inside game and they have shooters. It's going to be a good matchup."
Third-seeded seed Pitt will play No. 14 seed Oakland in an NCAA first-round game at approximately 2:55 p.m. Friday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. If the Panthers win that game they will play No. 6 seed Xavier or No. 11 seed Minnesota Sunday in a second-round game.
PITT: vs. Oakland, approximately. 2:55 p.m. Friday, Milwaukee.
WEST VIRGINIA: vs. Morgan State, 12:15 p.m. Friday, Buffalo, N.Y.
ROBERT MORRIS: vs. Villanova, 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Providence, R.I.
The seed and site pleased Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. He noted that Pitt won two NCAA tournament games at the Bradley Center in 2004, his first season as head coach. The Panthers also just won there less than a month ago when they beat Marquette, 58-51. The Bradley Center is Marquette's home court.
Pitt had been unfortunate in previous years when traveling great distances to its NCAA sites. Pitt's charter plane had mechanical problems in 2005 and the team arrived much later than expected for a first-round game in Boise, Idaho. The Panthers, No. 9 seed that season, lost to No. 8 seed Pacific in the first round.
Pitt also got shipped to Denver for the first and seconds rounds two years ago. The Panthers, a No. 4 seed, lost to No. 5 seed Michigan State in the second round.
"I think travel can be an issue," Dixon said. "We all know the history. You want some people to travel and with a Friday game we may have more people travel."
In addition to gleaning some insights from Adams, Dixon and his staff are familiar with Oakland from having played the Grizzlies in November 2006. Pitt beat Oakland, 66-55, at Petersen Events Center. The Panthers also defeated Oakland in November 2001 in an exempt tournament at Robert Morris University.
"I know their program because we played them a couple of years ago," Dixon said. "I know their coach. He has been there a long time. He's done a great job over the years."
Oakland coach Greg Kampe is in his 26th season and has a 445-322 record. Oakland made the transition from NCAA Division II to Division I in the past decade. The Grizzlies have made one other NCAA tournament appearance, in 2005. They won an opening-round game against Alabama A&M before losing to No. 1 seed North Carolina, 96-68.
That Oakland has gone from a program that played in the play-in game to being a No. 14 seed in the span of five years speaks to how the program has grown in that time. The Grizzlies were dominant in the Summit League this season, going 17-1 in league play. They defeated IUPUI in the Summit League championship game to earn that league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Oakland is 26-8 overall and played a quality non-conference schedule to prepare for the NCAA tournament. The Grizzlies played Wisconsin, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Oregon and Syracuse. They lost all six games and all were decided by at least 12 points. The Kansas, Memphis, Syracuse and Michigan State games were decided by 30 points or more.
Oakland has four players who average in double figures, led by 6-foot-11 junior center Keith Benson, who averages 17.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Johnathon Jones averages 12.4 points and 6.4 assists per game and senior forward Derrick Nelson averages 12.4 points per game.
"Johnathon Jones is really good, really smart," Adams said. "And Derrick Nelson is a very good all-around player. He can get them going."
Pitt junior Gilbert Brown was a freshman at Pitt when the Panthers beat Oakland in the 2006-07 season. He remembered Nelson as a good player and believes the familiarity with the Grizzlies will help. Pitt trailed by four at halftime of that game before Aaron Gray scored 15 of his game-high 23 points to give the Panthers an 11-point victory.
"I think having played them my redshirt year will also be a help to us," Brown said. "We've been in a game situation against their coach. When it comes to breaking down this team we'll have a little advantage."
"They're a completely different team," Dixon said. "They were athletic and small the last time we played them. They're bigger this year, more size, bigger bodies. They're an older team, experienced guys who have been around awhile. I don't think a couple of years ago will be a big factor. Teams change. We've changed dramatically since last year. Our work will come [Sunday night] in film. That's where we'll get a feel for them."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published March 15, 2010 4:00 AM