The ESPN College GameDay crew travels around to a lot of big-time programs for a lot of big-time teams. They found out back in August that they would be in for today's Pitt-Louisville game. No one could have predicted this usual high-stakes matchup between the two schools would be between the 11th and 16th place teams in the Big East standings.
Despite the Cardinals coming in losing three of its last four games and Pitt on a seven-game losing streak, Rece Davis—who is very familiar with the Pitt program—says this is still a game to be excited about.
"We run into a few every now and then, it's sort of the nature of the beast," Davis said. "When you look at the preseason, you see Louisville-Pitt, you're thinking top-16 in the country. It's still two brand names in college basketball. It's two programs who have had sustained success.
"That's the way it is for me. It might not be the same for everybody else, but I would watch this game regardless of if it was a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night game. This is a game you tune into. They've established themselves as brand names."
Davis added that aside from that, there was one game in the last few years where he wasn't initially excited about being there to cover because the stakes weren't all that high. Because of the atmosphere, he says he learned that every game he and his broadcast team are there to do a show for, it's always going to be a big game regardless of the conference standings.
"I've also learned my lesson in terms of crowd and expectation," Davis added. "There was one a few years ago that I was looking forward to the trip, but I had my doubts how good the crowd would be. That was when we went to Cal (versus UCLA). I had this perception that they would be too cruel, they would never come out ten hours before (tip-off). Oh, by the way, it was 6 am Pacific Time. There 3,000 people in the stands (for the beginning of the show), and they were rowdy and loud. It was a great atmosphere, and it was a lot of fun. I've learned to never look at that, just because a team is struggling."
From the perception of where Pitt is at, there's a lot of factors that may point to Pitt's disappointing season—the absence of Travon Woodall due to injury, and the departure of Khem Birch which has hurt Pitt on the court in terms of what he brought to the team, and some of Birch's comments that have been made public about his perception of the program.
It begs the question, were the expectations of this Pitt team too high entering the season?
"Probably, but when was the last time we were wrong in a preseason poll," Jay Bilas said. "Usually, we've been wrong on the other side on Pitt, thinking ‘how can they keep this going,' and they have. Maybe it's a combination of things. Maybe we overestimated that guys would have stepped forward.
"Who would've thought that Khem Birch would leave? That was just a bizarre happening. I am actually supportive of players leaving to transfer. If you're not happy somewhere, kids aren't being paid. They should be able to (transfer). It just doesn't make any sense for a player to leave after so few games after really giving it a chance."
Bilas also cited Woodall's injury as a factor, but a factor that certainly has been seen before in college basketball.
"That's too much to put on one guy," Bilas said of Woodall's absence. "But, when you lose a point guard, I don't think there's any team in the country that's going to face an uphill battle and have some problems. I still don't think they should have lost all the games they lost. They shouldn't have lost at DePaul. That gave that away. Is this team as good as some of the teams Jamie has had in the past? No. But, it can still be a good team and they have been good at times. If they played some teams as well as they played at Syracuse, they wouldn't be in a skid."
Bilas echoed Davis' comments about coming here for this game, and that it's simply Pitt and Louisville. Regardless of the records, or the way the teams have struggled in recent games, there's still good reason for the GameDay crew to be here.
"I think it's the same, it's a different dynamic," Bilas added. "Would we rather have this be two undefeated teams that are playing number one and number two? Yeah, that would be great. We'd like that every week. It's obviously not realistic. Everywhere you come, there's something compelling. For Pittsburgh to be 0-7 (in Big East play), who wants that? At the same time, how they handle it, there's a compelling aspect to that. The same thing for Louisville. Louisville's always been very good, and they're struggling right now. They've had some injuries. Two teams that have great coaches, have had some amazing success are trying to fight through something. At the same time, they're going against each other.
"At the same time, one of the most compelling rounds of golf I can remember watching is Tiger Woods at the British Open, when he shot an 82 in the elements (of weather). You think about it, and would you rather see him hit a bunch of birdies? There's something compelling about that too—watching someone have to go through the struggles. These teams have to show real toughness to get through this. I find that, as a basketball guy, very compelling."