In the Dawg House

PantherDigest.com senior writer Steve Gephart brings you another fantastic "In the Dawg House". "GepDawg" brings you the odds and ends from the world of Pitt and College Sports.

The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out what you had to give. – Howard Cosell

 

The Dawg found these words of wisdom to be very appropriate Tuesday night while watching the Pitt Panthers go head-to-head with the top ranked Connecticut Huskies in another nerve wracking installment of what is turning into one of the best new rivalries in college basketball.

 

But I was ONLY able to fully understand the true astuteness of what Cosell meant when I was finally able to settle down and digest the unbelievable battle that had unfolded before my very eyes.

 

I understand why so many loathe the idea of a "moral" victory. There is no question that the ultimate goal of sports is to win. Nobody likes losers, and if you lose enough you won't be around anymore. But not every victory is registered simply by wins and losses.

 

I know what some of you Dawg followers are thinking; only a loser accepts moral victories.

 

But that's just NOT always true…mainly because the most important victories are not even achieved in college basketball until late March anyway.

 

Tuesday's game showed me a lot about this team. It showed me a lot more than the lofty 17-1 record the Panthers achieved leading up to match up with the Huskies on their home court. It showed that Pitt's relatively young team had the talent, depth, and determination to go up against the best team in the country, in their own backyard, and still have the opportunity to win the game at the very end. Sure, the Panthers may have lost in the end, but the Huskies aren't ranked on the top of the polls for nothing.

 

Considering that UCONN was able to match quite well against Pitt's best asset, team depth, it seemed pretty apparent the Huskies would eventually run away with the game. Yet the Panthers hung tough with the Huskies, matching every one of their runs with one of their own. And that's despite being out rebounded by a considerable amount for only the third time this season

 

And I don't want to hear any attempt to minimize Pitt's effort based of the notion that UCONN is a little worn down because they have to face every team's best effort, game in and game out. Last time I checked Pitt is a Top 10 team in both polls as well.

 

The Dawg would argue Pitt's opponents get up even more for them than the teams that play the Huskies. This is because Pitt was not expected to be good this year and because of the critics who say the Panther's had an easy out of conference schedule.

 

I am certain that almost every team playing the Panthers believes these false pretenses coming from the national (and sometimes local) media as well. So not only are they geared up to play the Panthers because they are good, but also because they honestly believe they are able to win.

 

Judging by their efforts against the Panthers, DePaul played like they could win against them. Marquette certainly did as well. So did Notre Dame. And I'm positive St. John's thought they could win as well. Their effort against a road weary team was the biggest reason why they were able to be the first team to finally knock off the Panthers.

 

Yet Pitt was still there in the end; first against DePaul…and then Marquette…and now UCONN. I know I certainly didn't expect for this to be the case coming into the season. No way anyone else did either…right?!

 

Let's be frank, only the most delusional of fans felt this year's Panther basketball team would be anywhere near being a top ranked team. Although I felt Pitt would ultimately earn an NCAA bid, I also thought it would be a very precarious situation for most of the season just to prove it deserved to be invited as well. The Dawg was praying for bubble team status and a winnable first round game in the Big East tournament at best. I had assumed Pitt would need a win or two by the time the tournament started to secure its fifth consecutive invite to the tournament.

 

I never even remotely thought Pitt would be a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, not only fighting for the opportunity to be one of the best teams in their own conference, but the whole country as well.

 

Reality is, by the time the regular season is over, the Panthers might be so good that they are not even playing in the Big East Tournament until the second round anyway. So much for that thought of needing to win on the first round just to give them a chance to be a part of March Madness. The Panthers will have already secured their invitation to the big dance, if anything they will be playing for positioning anyway.

 

And of course the ultimate prize of being the tournament champions of the best conference in college basketball as well.

 

So what I'm barking about is this: Pitt might have lost against UCONN, but they proved they have the ability to play with any team in the nation come tournament time. How many other ranked teams can you say this about? Duke, Connecticut, Texas, and possibly Villanova and West Virginia…and that's really it.

 

I now feel comfortable no matter who the opponent is, or where the game is played, that Pitt's team will NOT be worn down or defeated until the very last whistle. Coming off last season where Pitt had all the talent in the world, but faded down the stretch when the games truly meant the most, this year's team has proven it's learned from last year's mistakes. This Panther basketball team will simply not wilt down the stretch. And they certainly will not be fazed by who they are playing or where.

 

That's the true identity of a team that has all the mettle needed to make a Final Four run.

 

Who would have thought it just three months ago?

 

In the Dawg House: Have you ever heard of a "left-handed compliment?" If not, please check out Bob Smizik's latest column in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. It's from January 29th and its headline reads "Ugly duckling Pitt turns into swan and becomes something special."

 

When the Dawg first read this, he almost couldn't believe what he was seeing. Bob Smizik was actually writing something remotely gracious about one the University of Pittsburgh's athletic teams. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

 

Surprisingly, the column started out like he might actually be giving the Panthers the credit they deserved. It appeared to be a genuine tribute to Pitt's surprising season. And even better, it heaped much praise upon the Panthers' ability to have someone different step up each game to score points and win games when it was needed.

 

Sure Smizik was a little cautious by noting that the team's best players, Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray, were not All Americans like J.J. Redick of Duke (apparently because they were not consistent scorers.) But despite Pitt's lack of a true superstar, Smizik still admired that the Panthers were able to stay a top ranked team due to its uncanny nature to have a different player step up each game when the final outcome was still in doubt.

 

Smizik really had me feeling good about being a Panther fan. His column even sounded a lot like the one I'm writing now…until the last few paragraphs.

 

That's when the real Bob Smizik took over. True to nature, he just HAD to make sure Pitt fans were slapped back to reality. He finished the article with a warning that although the Panther's were having a fine season, they were not a championship-caliber team just yet.

 

To the Dawg, this is a perfect example of a "left-handed compliment."

 

And because of it, this week...Bob Smizik…you are IN The DAWG HOUSE!

 

 


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