Panthers Survive Opening Weekend

The opening weekend is never about how a team wins, just that it does. It's about survival. And the Pittsburgh Panthers, in their hardest tournament draw ever, have done just that.

In the past two years, the Panthers have easily dispatched their opening round opponents (Central Connecticut by 17, Wagner by 26) and then stomped on their second round opponents (California by 13, Indiana by 22) only to be upset in the Round of Sixteen by inferior opponents (Kent State by 5, Marquette by 3).

However, this year the Panthers have survived nail biting opening round and second round match-ups in hostile environments. They now return back east to East Rutherford New Jersey, where their contingent of fans can and will follow.

All game long the Panthers tried to distance themselves from the Badgers, but turnovers and Big Ten Player of the Year Devan Harris threatened to do Pitt in repeatedly.

But, even with the intangibles against them, the Panthers won the battle of the boards, something that haunted their losses this season. They also shot over 70 percent from the line, which showed that they didn't lack focus and intensity in the game.

They'll meet the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Round of Sixteen, and in what Jay Bilas termed as a game "where the Green Berets may show up." The Panthers are in for their toughest game to date.

After playing a few one-horse teams, the Panthers face a Cowboy team that follows "the sum is greater than the parts" philosophy.

But, until they play, the Panthers must focus on a few spots of their game that need fine-tuning. They must get more slashing play from Jaron Brown and Julius Page. Brown looks a step slow, his ankle may be causing problems, but Page looked very quick against Wisconsin and even drove to the basket. Carl Krauser can't be the only player generating any sort of creativity.

They must continue to take the three-point shot when given the opportunity or teams will just suck their five defenders inside the paint.

Chris Taft must begin to assert himself down low early. He's having trouble with the quicker inside players. He hasn't been able to get the pass in the blocks and make his move.

The Panthers also have to continue to try to push the tempo when the game calls for some transition play. They are a very underrated transition team and seem to get out of their rhythm when Krauser repeatedly brings the ball slowly up court.

If history intends on repeating itself, the Panthers and Georgia Tech should have the upper hand while teams like Connecticut and Oklahoma State, who breezed into the Round of Sixteen, will have a tough time reaching the Round of Eight.

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