Pitt: UMBC angles for a second run at postseason
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Every March, some newspaper or magazine publishes the small list of Division I teams that never have made the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
More than 330 teams compete in the NCAA's highest division, and only an unfortunate few have not experienced the thrill of March Madness.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Pitt's opponent tonight at the Petersen Events Center, crossed its name off the list last season when the Retrievers won the America East Conference and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Now the goal for fifth-year head coach Randy Monroe is getting the Retrievers back to the tournament to avoid being one of the many programs that have been one-and-done over the years.
"Listening to the other coaches who have been through it, it is one thing to get there and it's another to stay there," Monroe said. "What do we do to stay there? What do we do to maintain that level of success? That's a difficult thing for a coach at any level. Teams play harder against you now because you're on the mountaintop and they want to challenge you."
UMBC won a school-record 24 games last season, including victories against George Washington and La Salle of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Retrievers also played Ohio State tough on the road, losing, 92-83.
In the NCAA tournament, Georgetown ended UMBC's storybook season, handing the Retrievers a 66-47 setback in the first round.
No. 3 Pitt is the highest-ranked team UMBC has faced. Taking on a top-ranked team on the road is not an assignment many coaches relish, but Monroe said the experiences his team went through last season should help against Pitt.
"We've played in enough big games that our guys are seasoned a bit," Monroe said. "We've played on some big stages. And we'll play on another [tonight]."
Monroe's two most-seasoned players are Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene. Proctor, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, is averaging 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Greene, a 5-8 senior guard, is averaging 13.4 points and 7.1 assists. Greene leads the team with 20 3-pointers and is shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line.
They are leading the Retrievers through the early season as some younger players adjust to bigger roles.
"It definitely helps when you have two seniors who have been through it," Monroe said. "They've tested the waters. They can help bring the younger guys along because of their experience. And they've done that. Our younger guys are getting better."
For Pitt, this game is the first in a week since beating another America East team, Vermont, 80-51, at the Petersen Events Center. Vermont was picked to finish second among nine teams in the America East. UMBC is picked to finish fourth.
NOTES -- Pitt target Dominic Cheek, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from St. Anthony High School in New Jersey, announced yesterday that he will attend Villanova. Pitt reacted quickly to that and had local standout Deandre Kane in for an official visit. Kane, a shooting guard who played at Schenley High School with Panthers center DeJuan Blair, is spending this season at The Patterson School, a prep school in Lenoir, N.C. Pitt has offered Kane a scholarship. If he accepts, one of the current players or an incoming freshman who signed a letter of intent would have to leave because the Panthers would be over the scholarship limit.
Matchup: No. 3 Pitt (9-0) vs. UMBC (5-3), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
TV, Radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Has not played since beating Vermont, 80-51, last Saturday. ... Has won a school-record 35 consecutive games against non-conference opponents at the Petersen Events Center. ... A victory would give the Panthers their sixth consecutive 10-0 start. ... Led by senior F Sam Young (20.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), sophomore C DeJuan Blair (14.9 ppg, 13.4 rpg) and senior G Levance Fields (11.0 ppg, 7.0 apg).
UMBC: Coming off 67-56 win against Central Connecticut State. ... Defending America East Conference champions. ... Led by senior F Darryl Proctor (17.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and senior G Jay Greene (13.1 ppg, 7.1 apg).
Hidden stat: Pitt is one of three undefeated teams in Big East Conference. Connecticut (8-0) and Syracuse (8-0) are the others.
"We've played in enough big games that our guys are seasoned a bit."
Randy Monroe, UMBC coach on playing No. 3 Pitt
First Published December 13, 2008 12:00 am