Madison Square Garden to be a cathedral of learning for Pitt
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The Associated Press college basketball poll was introduced in 1948, and Pitt has played in 71 games against teams ranked in the top five of the poll. The Panthers do not sport a stellar record in those contests, winning 21 and losing 50.
That record was much worse before Jamie Dixon became head coach. Eight coaches from 1948-2002 managed to win nine games versus top-five teams. Dixon won 12 in his first nine seasons.
Dixon will attempt to improve upon his impressive record against highly ranked teams tonight when Pitt plays No. 4 Michigan in the NIT Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
Until a loss at No. 1 Syracuse last season, Pitt had won five consecutive games against top-five teams, including two victories against No. 1 Connecticut in a three-week span in 2009.
- Game: Pitt (4-0) vs. No. 4 Michigan (3-0) in the NIT Tip-Off semifinals, Madison Square Garden, New York.
- When: 9:30 p.m.
- TV ESPN2.
- The skinny: The skinny: Winner advances to play Kansas State-Delaware winner at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the final.
Pitt has not played Michigan since 1996, but Dixon will be facing a familiar foe on the opposing bench. John Beilein is in his sixth season with the Wolverines after coaching West Virginia from 2002-07.
After missing the NCAA tournament in two of his first three seasons, Beilein and the Wolverines have qualified for the past two. He is facing lofty expectations this season. The Wolverines are as high in the polls as they have been in the past two decades.
"It looks like it's taken some time to get the right guys that he wanted to have there," Dixon said. "Coach Beilein has his system the way he wants it. They have some good players there to work with.
"We'll see how good they are and we'll see how good we are. We understand they have experienced guards. That's what makes them good."
Michigan has one of the most talented backcourts in the country. Sophomore guard Trey Burke was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season and leads the Wolverines in scoring (18.3) and assists (8.0) this season.
Burke is joined in the backcourt by Tim Hardaway Jr., the son of former NBA player Tim Hardaway. Hardaway is second on the team in scoring (17.7) and first in rebounds (7.7).
Glenn Robinson III, the son of another former NBA player, provides a strong frontcourt presence. Robinson averages 13.3 points and 7 rebounds per game.
"We're all ready for the challenge," Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall said. "We're just ready to go out and play. The guys are focused. They have a couple of good guards, some of the best in the country. We're excited to play those guys."
Pitt did an exceptional job defending NBA prospect C.J. McCollum of Lehigh last week. He scored 17 points, but he was held scoreless for almost 25 minutes in the middle of Pitt's 78-53 victory that advanced the Panthers to this tournament's semifinals.
Freshman point guard James Robinson drew that assignment with some help from Trey Zeigler. They'll have their hands full with Burke, Hardaway and the rest of the high-scoring Wolverines, who rank 12th in NCAA Division I in points per game.
"You gotta love it, guys who are potential NBA players, definitely All-American caliber players," Woodall said. "You get to see where you're at as a player.
"We're just going to defend. We're a better defensive team this year. We just have to make sure we defend as a team and go out there and help each other."
Dixon said there is familiarity with Beilein's system from his days at West Virginia, but Michigan is playing man-to-man defense rather than the predominant 1-3-1 zone he utilized with the Mountaineers. He also has better talent across his roster, players that can play up-tempo in addition to performing well in his half-court sets.
First Published November 21, 2012 12:00 am