Bloomington – Indiana hasn't squared off against Pitt since the 2003 NCAA Tournament, but a couple of Hoosiers are familiar with what to expect from Coach Jamie Dixon's team.
The first is head coach Tom Crean, who spent nine years coaching against the Panthers when he was at Marquette. Whether it was former Pitt coach Ben Howland or Dixon, Crean says there are things that you come to expect when you go up against the traditional Big East Conference power.
"In our time here (at Indiana) and this season, this will be the most physical and tough teams mentally (we've played)," Crean said Sunday. "They're very good defensively. They're very disciplined in what they want offensively. The tough-mindedness of this team is outstanding."
Junior Jeremiah Rivers agrees with Crean's assessment. Rivers has a handful of match-ups with Pitt to his credit as well during his two years at Georgetown, including a couple of match-ups in the Big East Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden. Rivers and the Hoyas topped Pitt 65-42 in the 2007 postseason title game, while Pitt avenged that loss with a 74-65 victory in the 2008 finale.
"It was a battle, a war every time we went up against them," Rivers said. "I remember how tough it was every possession and how important every possession was."
Admittedly, many of the faces have changed since Crean and Rivers last went head-to-head with the Panthers. The likes of Ronald Ramon, Aaron Gray and Sam Young have given way to current standouts like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee. But Crean says the new faces won't be accompanied by a new look from the Panthers.
He expects a lot more of the same from Dixon's squad.
"I know the players are a little different, but they're players that have been in the program and have been exposed," Crean said. "You can see the hand-me-down in this program in the sense Sam Young and DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields handing it down to these players about what it takes to win."
Dixon looks for tough-minded, physical players when he's out on the recruiting trail. But whether they have it when they first arrive on the Pitt campus or not, Rivers says they adopt that approach in a hurry.
"Whether they come in with it or not, is probably irrelevant," Rivers said. "At the end of the day, that's how they play. It's kind of a Big Ten style of play in a ways, they're real physical and the want to beat you up a little bit."
Indiana wants to avoid getting beat up on the court and on the scoreboard. That will be challenge Tuesday night as they face a Pitt squad that is off to 7-1 start, with the lone setback being a 16-point loss to Texas at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Classic in Kansas City in November. To do that, Crean says Indiana will be able to cope with a physical approach that he thinks will be at worst equal to any other team on IU's schedule this season.
"We might play someone as challenging physically and toughness wise, but I don't know if we'll play anyone who will be any better at it than Pitt is. That's how we always felt in the Big East and I don't feel like that's really changed," Crean said.
Pitt No Stranger to Crean, Rivers
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