NCAA Tournament Pitt's McGhee renews rivalry with Butler's Howard


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WASHINGTON -- Pitt's Gary McGhee and Butler's Matt Howard go way back -- to the Olympic Athletic Conference in Madison County outside Indianapolis. They competed once a season for four consecutive years as high school players, McGhee for Highland in Anderson, Howard for Connersville.

All four years, Howard's team won.

When they meet at 7:10 p.m. today in an NCAA tournament, Southeast Region third-round game at Verizon Center the stakes will be much higher. One will advance to the Sweet 16 and keep his hopes alive for an NCAA championship while the other will play the final game of his college career.

McGhee, a 6-foot-11 senior, is looking to exact some revenge.

"It would mean a lot, especially on this stage in the [third] round of the NCAA tournament," McGhee said. "It would feel really good for our team to get the win."

Howard (6-8) remembered competing against McGhee, although he didn't realize his team always won.

"We had some really good battles," Howard said. "His supporting cast wasn't as good as mine."


Today

Game: No. 8 Butler (24-9) vs. No. 1 seed Pitt (28-5), 7:10 p.m. today, Southeast Region third round at Verizon Center, Washington.

TV, radio, Internet: TBS, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.

Pitt: Defeated No. 16 seed UNC Asheville, 74-51, Thursday. ... Trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons and for fourth time in eight years under coach Jamie Dixon. ... Advanced past the Round of 64 of the tournament for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons. ... Led by junior G Ashton Gibbs (17.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and senior G Brad Wanamaker (11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

Butler: Defeated No. 9 seed Old Dominion, 60-58, Thursday. ... Facing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. ... Beat top-seeded Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16 a year ago as a No. 5 seed. ... Has won 10 consecutive games. ... Led by senior F Matt Howard (16.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and junior G Shelvin Mack (15.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Of note: Butler and Pitt have met 12 times, with the most recent meeting coming in 1946. All 12 games were played at Butler, and the Bulldogs own a 7-5 edge in the series that dates to 1928.


Butler coach Brad Stevens concentrated his recruiting efforts on Howard, at least in part because he didn't think he had a chance to land McGhee, who was being sought by schools from major conferences.

Howard has been a four-year starter and was named the Horizon League player of the year as a sophomore. He was selected first-team all-Horizon League three years in a row and ranks third in school history in points and rebounds.

"I watched Gary as a high school player, really liked him, thought he was going to be a really good player," Stevens said. "But I think he'd be the first to tell you -- and I've talked to coach [Jamie] Dixon about it -- he's really blossomed there. He's done a wonderful job."

McGhee is a two-year starter and grew into that role because DeJuan Blair left after his sophomore season to turn professional. He is not an accomplished offensive player, but Dixon called him the best post defender he has coached.

Howard and McGhee will be matched against one another on occasion tonight, although Pitt's power forward, Nasir Robinson, will defend Howard to begin the game. McGhee will be matched up with 6-foot-11 sophomore center Andrew Smith, another Indiana native.

"He does what they want him to do really well," Howard said. "He rebounds and sets really good screens."

While Howard and McGhee were archrivals in high school, two other players competing in the game tonight are former teammates and good friends.

Pitt's Ashton Gibbs and Butler's Shelvin Mack were teammates on the USA Basketball under-19 team that won the 2009 FIBA World Championship with Dixon as coach.

Gibbs and Mack became good friends and continue to keep in touch through texts and Skype, an interactive video message service. Mack said he was tempted to Skype Gibbs Thursday night after Pitt won, but he resisted the urge.

Gibbs and Mack are well-acquainted with the other's tendencies after competing in national team practices for close to a month.

"We're both point guards and we were going at each other every day," Gibbs said. "We had a little chemistry. We're both shooters. And he's a really good guy off the court."

Good guy or not, Gibbs won't be very friendly when he and Mack are competing tonight.

"On the court, there are no friends," Gibbs said. "Right now, we're enemies."

Mack, Howard and the Bulldogs are the No. 8 seed and McGhee, Gibbs and the Panthers are the No. 1 seed, but Butler has enjoyed more recent success in the NCAA tournament.

Pitt got knocked out in the second round a year ago. Butler, as a No. 5 seed, advanced to the NCAA title game against Duke, beating No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Kansas State on the way to the Final Four. The Bulldogs then defeated No. 5 seed Michigan State in a national semifinal.

Now the Bulldogs are looking to pen another Cinderella story from an even lower seed. The Panthers know that everyone outside of Pittsburgh will be rooting for Butler to advance.

"They've pulled a lot of upsets in the past couple of years," McGhee said. "They're America's team. Everyone roots for them and wants them to win."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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