Panthers Pre-Game: Wright State

PITTSBURGH -- While University of Pittsburgh coach men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon quickly pointed out that Wright State still presents some problems for the Panthers in their first-round NCAA matchup, the Raiders certainly don't stack up with the teams that Pitt faced in the Big East Tournament last week.

Pittsburgh (27-7) takes on Wright State (23-9) Thursday night at 9:40 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.

"The best thing they do is defend,'' Dixon said. "They pride themselves on that, and they really play great team defense. With their size, they can be a little quicker than you might see with a bigger lineup, so they do a good job at the defensive end no matter who they have on the court.''

Wright State doesn't have the offensive firepower that Pitt's Big East opponents do, either, but it has DaShaun Wood. The all-star senior can handle the point or shooting guard with equal ease, and he'll present the Panthers with quite a threat. Dixon noted that while the Raiders try to get Wood a lot of shots, he can create open shots for his teammates who provide a balanced scoring attack after Wood's nearly 30 points per game.

To emulate Wood's moves, Dixon used junior Ronald Ramon -- Pitt's backup point guard and purest shooter -- while senior Antonio Graves got the task of guarding him in practice. Graves should maintain that role Thursday. Wood is listed at 5-foot-11, while Graves is 6-3.

"We worked on him coming off some screens, and I got a feel for the plays and screens that they run,'' Graves said. "So, we're off to a good start, watching film and practicing for him. He looks very quick, kind of like (Marquette's) Dominic James, but I've guarded a lot of quick guys.

"So, I won't be too surprised. I'll try to use my size advantage, but I'll try to send him to the (basket) to the big guys to get some help rather than let him stay outside and use of his quickness. You can't underestimate him or his team. So, we have to be prepared both mentally and physically.''

With Wood leading the way, Wright State is a guard-oriented team. The Raiders primarily use a smaller lineup than Pitt, as their tallest player is 6-8 junior forward Jordan Pleiman. The next tallest players are both 6-6. So, 7-foot senior Aaron Gray and 6-10 senior Levon Kendall should dominate inside.

"Well, we're obviously going to try to exploit our size advantage as much as possible,'' Kendall said. "But we try to do that a lot anyway, because Aaron's bigger than most of the guys we play. And if we can handle them on the boards, that usually translates into success in other areas.''

Ramon didn't want the Panthers to look past Wright State, even though terrific matchups with Duke in the second round and UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen possibly awaited with every win.

"It's going to be tough enough to beat them, because they're playing really well right now,'' Ramon said. "And it's our possibly our last game, so we have to make sure we go in there and play hard and do the best that we can because they really do a lot of things well.

"They're a quick team. They have a lot of guards that can play and a really good shooter in Wood. So, we've got to make sure we stay in front of him and use our help defense. We know that he really can do a little bit of everything, but he's their big scorer.''

Other than Wood, however, Pitt matches up well with Wright State.

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