Insiders College Basketball Report

Pitt is off to New York, where they await a Thursday quarterfinal game in the Big East Tournament against either DePaul, Georgetown or UConn.

You win conference championships, as Pitt did this year in the Big East, with talent and the Panthers certainly had that.

That had a pair of star quality, all-conference players in guards Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, first and second team players, and they had a dazzling array of forwards. But the man who may have been the most important was an unappreciated hero, Gary McGhee.

It was McGhee who did most of the dirty work, set the picks, grabbing off far more rebounds than headlines.

McGhee was the ultimate team player on the ultimate unselfish team. Coach Jamie Dixon called him the best defensive player Pitt ever had at the center position.

"I just spoke from the heart," Dixon said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Gary has just epitomized this program and the long way it has come, and he may have taken it to another step with his passion. I'm starting to hear from a lot of friends who doubted him coming out of high school. It's not so much the results with him, the production, the numbers, it's the effort he plays with."

McGhee came to Pitt overweight, but not heavily recruited, yet he proved to be a steal. Now he's a key part of Big East championship team.

"It just feels good for us to dominate the regular season in our conference," McGhee said. "To win this conference outright just shows how good of a team we are, how we improved throughout the season. It makes us feel good to be on top of the best conference in America."

--Pitt's senior G Ashton Gibbs, who averaged 17.3 points a game, was named to the All-Big East first team and G Brad Wanamaker, who was fourth in assists, was named to the All-Big East second team.

--Despite ranking 14th in the Big East in free-throw shooting, Pitt clinched the regular-season championship by canning 23 of 26 free throws against Villanova. In an ironic twist, 'Nova, the No. 1 free-throw shooting team in the conference, hit 5-of-10.

--Pitt's 15-3 conference record was the best in school history.

--The Panthers finished 17-1 at home and have won 55 of their last 57 games at the Petersen Events Center.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2004 -- The last time the Pitt Panthers won an undisputed Big East regular-season championship, as they did this season from wire to wire.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a special group, and I think we are capable of doing a lot of great things. This is just the first step." -- Senior F Gilbert Brown after ending the regular season with a Big East championship.


GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh won the Big East Conference championship outright with a 14-4 record and earned a double-bye in the conference tournament. The Panthers begin postseason play on March 10 against the winner of the Georgetown vs. Connecticut-DePaul first-round matchup.

POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: The Panthers have a history of disappointing in the NCAA Tournament but this year they figure to go in as a No. 1 seed. This is a deep, veteran team that is talented both inside and out and that lives off its defense and rebounding. In G Ashton Gibbs it has a great scoring threat both from 3-point range and as the Big East's top free-throw shooter. PG Brad Wanamaker ranks among the best and most versatile ball-handlers in the nation and can control the tempo of games.

--Senior F Gilbert Brown became the 40th Panther to reach 1,000 career points, hitting a critical 3-point basket in the regular season finale against Villanova. It was his only basket in the game.

--Senior G Ashton Gibbs led the Big East in 3-point field goals at 3.2 per game and 3-point accuracy with .446 while tying with Villanova's Corey Stokes in free throw accuracy with .895.

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