Pitt Gets Cincinnati In First Round

The Pitt men's basketball team leaves Tuesday morning for the Big East Tournament and now knows that its first-round opponent is Cincinnati.

No. 7 seed Pittsburgh (22-9, 10-8) faces the No. 10 Bearcats (13-17, 8-10) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Cincinnati is one of three teams that the Panthers played twice during the season and split those games, losing at Cincinnati, 62-59, and then winning at home, 73-67.

The winner gets second-seeded Louisville (24-7, 14-4) Thursday night at 7.

Freshman DeJuan Blair predicted that his Schenley High School squad would win the Pittsburgh City League title and then capture a state title last season, and the Spartans came through with both crowns. But Blair wouldn't predict that Pitt would do the equivalent by winning the Big East and NCAA titles.

"Wait for the NCAA Tournament, after we get through the Big East, and we'll see,'' Blair said. "But I do predict that we're going to come out and play hard every game. We hate to lose, so we're going to come out and play hard. We're going to show up. We're going to be there.''

Cincinnati isn't the best matchup for Pitt in the first round, it probably would have been better against Seton Hall -- if the Pirates wouldn't have choked against Rutgers -- but both games against the Bearcats were close. And either team could have swept the two-game set.

But Pitt is a much better team right now, if this last game -- and Coach Jamie Dixon's comments -- are an indication. The players agreed with the head coach.

"Everything is positive for us right now,'' senior guard Keith Benjamin said. "So, we're doing well going into this week's tournament, but we can't look too far ahead. We got back to doing things that we know we can do against DePaul, but we have to keep it rolling now. (But) it's always the same for me.

"(The Big East Tourney) is always wide-open. So, we just want to get there and compete. The guys have been doing a good job, and ... we're always ready to play in the Garden. (And) it's always nice to get a chance to get revenge on the teams that we lost to during the regular season.''

Senior guard Ronald Ramon agreed that the Panthers were playing their best.

"I think we're feeling pretty confident, especially after the past few days that we've had,'' Ramon said. "We played much better on offense and defense, the way that we should be playing, as we go to the Garden for the Big East Tournament. And I think we're playing pretty well right now.''

"It was good today, but we've got to keep working,'' junior point guard Levance Fields added. "It was just one game, so we can't get ahead of ourselves.

"They were a very screenable team, so we had a lot of ball screens. ... So, we did everything that we were supposed to do today, but we have to keep working and do it again against (Cincinnati) Wednesday.''

After losing consecutive games to ranked teams Marquette, Notre Dame and Louisville, Pitt has won three of its final four games with the only loss at West Virginia. And even though the Panthers are 5-5 in their final 10 regular-season games, they're on a little roll now going into the Big East Tournament.

"The last four teams that we lost to were all good teams, NCAA Tournament teams,'' Dixon said. "Connecticut, Louisville, West Virginia and Marquette, those are all good teams. Georgetown, we've played them once, and we beat them. ... But I think anybody can win our conference, and I think you'll see that.

"Also, it'll show up with where the teams go in the NCAA Tournament. So, there's a reason why this conference is thought of as the best, because it's always in the mix. We're all right there, so it could be any of those teams. And it's good for us, because I feel like we're playing very well right now.''

At least one win in the Big East Tournament could get Pitt a No. 7 seed in its seventh straight NCAA Tournament, but a long run is needed for a better seed.

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