East Region: No. 1 Pittsburgh (30-4) vs. No. 4 Xavier (27-7)
When: Thursday, 7:27 p.m., EDT
Where: TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
1) Sean Miller A Pitt grad and former Pitt assistant coach. Often touted as Jamie Dixon's eventual replacement, Miller currently spends his time as the head coach of Xavier while waiting on that phone call. Kidding aside, Panther fans have seen this show before. The last time they faced a former coach in the NCAA tournament also happens to be the last time Pitt lost in the Sweet 16. Ben Howland and UCLA out-muscled the Panthers in 2007 en route to a Final Four appearance, effectively cementing Pitt's reputation as post-season slackers. Miller's playing career at Pitt lasted from 1989-92. Predictably, Pitt never advanced past the round of 16 in any of those years either. Miller now has a shot to once again contribute to Pitt's lackluster post season record, only this time he'd enjoy it.
2) Forest Whitaker lied to you Or at least stretched the truth. For reasons that escape me, Forest Whitaker was featured this year in a Big East commercial which ran during every single commercial break during every single Big East regional game. The Fast Times star rambles through about 40 different facts explaining how impressive the Big East looks this year and has been throughout the history of the conference. While I don't dispute that opinion, I do dispute the fact that at one point, the Bloodsport actor makes the claim that 15 teams in the conference have reached the Final Four, including Pitt. Yeah, and Battlefield Earth was a great movie. The truth is, Pitt did reach a semi-final of a tournament in 1941. Problem is, there were only 8 teams in the whole bracket. Does winning one game in a tournament that featured Creighton really count as making the Final Four? Forest, does that mean simply getting into the tournament means Pitt has been to an Elite 8? No, sadly, it doesn't. A win on Thursday takes Pitt to uncharted territory. Following that, in the event of a win over either 'Nova or Duke on Saturday and I'd like to retract this section of this article. I'd also like my $8 back from Vantage Point.
3) Senioritis Hopefully it's not kicking in yet for any of the 3 graduating seniors from the starting 5 of this year's team. But while some local journalistic dolts claim that Levance Fields, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs' departure, coupled with a possible early exit to the NBA by DeJuan Blair, spells doom for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers next year, others are looking to a brighter future. Highly acclaimed forward Dante Taylor joins the Panthers next year, the first to sport the title of McDonald's All-American for Pitt in 20 years. Some other key players to next years team are also helping to fuel their current run in this years tournament. Gilbert Brown might be the most athletic player on the court at any given time, freshman Ashton Gibbs led the conference for a while in 3 point % and Brad Wanamaker is a solid 2 guard. Match them with current starting guard Jermaine Dixon, and you have a very solid starting 5. Because of Jamie Dixon's willingness to go deep into his bench, the Panthers have been able to bring along the future of their program, while remaining a....I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. I'm only writing this section as a way to soften the blow of another possible let down. If this team can't get the job done, I don't think we'll ever see a Pitt team in the Final Four. — WhoWantsaWanstacheRide (The Mosh Pitt)
1) Coaching audition? Inevitably, the story line that will get beaten into the ground leading up to Thursday night will be Head Coach Sean Miller squaring off against his alma mater. Miller was a Pitt guard from 1987-1992, was the Big East Freshman of the year in '88, and hit Jerome Lane in transition en route to that famed backboard breaking jam, which of course sent Bill Raftery into hysterics. If for some reason Jamie Dixon ever bolts for another gig, Miller will immediately be the number one candidate to fill the vacancy.
2) Better with age As a freshman in 2005, B.J. Raymond did little to suggest he was ever going to have a substantial impact on the program. He played only 12 minutes a game and shot a lackluster 30.6 percent from deep. But fast forward to 2009 and Raymond is the face of Xavier's second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. He leads the team in points (14.1), minutes (30.1) and free throw percentage (80). He's also improved his range tremendously, finishing fourth in the Atlantic 10 in three pointers made. You might remember him as the player who made this frightening face after delivering the knockout three pointer against West Virginia in last year's regional semi-final.
3) They should have an "X" factor, right? With roles clearly defined and exciting aberration performances from bench players few and far between, this year's team has been fairly predictable to watch. In March though it usually takes a role player to incite an upset, so take heed of the name Jamel McLean. Derrick Brown aside, he's the team's most athletic player and was second in blocks despite averaging only 17 minutes of floor time. He's listed at 6'8", but that is very, very generous. He also likes to dunk! Something often absent in an XU game. — Searching For Billy Edelin