Seniors have High Expectations

PITTSBURGH -- The third round in the NCAA men's basketball tournament hasn't been so sweet for the University of Pittsburgh, but after getting knocked out in the first and second rounds the past two years a trip to the Sweet Sixteen this time around would be absolutely delectable.

The Panthers (27-7) made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the 1974 NCAA Tournament, before losing to eventual champion North Carolina State and David Thompson, and didn't return until a three-year run from 2002-2004. But with primarily a veteran team making its fourth straight Big Dance, this was supposed to be the season that Pitt went even further.

"Like I've said before, anything short of the Final Four is going to be a disappointment, in my mind,'' senior guard Antonio Graves said. "But I think we have the team and the chemistry and the bench to get it done. I really don't think there's any excuse this time. We just need to bring our A game every night, and that should do it.''

Some might believe that Pitt can get away with a less than perfect performance in its NCAA opener against Wright State (23-9) Thursday night at 9:40 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.

However, a performance like the one the Panthers had in the Big East title game Saturday night certainly won't cut it. That's why they worked out a little bit and watched some film Monday and practiced hard Tuesday afternoon before getting on a bus for Buffalo.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon believed that helped his team recharge and be ready to go after a tough three-day stretch at the Conference tourney.

"We beat two very good teams, and I don't think anybody else played three NCAA Tournament teams on three straight nights like we did,'' Dixon said. "So, going 2-1, while not what we wanted, certainly was respectable. ... And now, a new season begins for us, so we're focusing on our NCAA opener with Wright State.''

Senior Levon Kendall believed that while Pitt really hasn't talked about finally getting past the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament since earlier this season, that certainly is in the back of the players minds.

"Of course, we've done a lot of great things as a program the past 5-6 years, but no one's really satisfied,'' Kendall said. "So, getting past the Sweet Sixteen has always been our goal from the beginning of the year, and we really believe that we can do it.

"We've worked our way into the upper echelon of schools in the country, as far as overall winning percentage and things like that, but if we can make a run past the Sweet Sixteen and go a little further in the tournament we'll be able to take another step up.''

Kendall, then, took things to another level himself.

"Everybody wants to make it to the Final Four with a chance to win a national championship,'' he said. "That has to be the goal, and you can't play in this tournament without thinking about it. The trick is to concentrate on each game at hand and to take it from there.

"It's part of the challenge of the tournament. (And) there's also a little extra incentive to it, the fact that every game could be our last one for the season and my career. But I try not to think about it too much. This is the next step, though, and we still have six games to go, ideally.

"So, we're just focusing on that and trying to make the most of it,'' Kendall added. "You can't really avoid it possibly being our last game, but we have to turn that into a positive and hope it makes us play a little harder and with a lot more passion. And I'm sure that's the way we're looking at it.''

But until Pitt wins more than two games in the NCAA Tournament, those lofty thoughts are only dreams.


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