Pitt's Strong Bench Play

Who says that Pitt has a short bench? Sure, the Panthers utilized just seven players to secure their second Big East Tournament title, but the bench play has been a high quality and should be a bonus for the program's future as well.

Pittsburgh (26-9) didn't appear to be fatigued during four physical games in four days at Madison Square Garden, so don't expect anything to change in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers face Oral Roberts Thursday at approximately 3 p.m. Eastern Time at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

"In AAU, I played six games in one day, so it's no big deal playing four games in four days like we did,'' Blair said. "It's just how you treat your body. You need a lot of fluids, and you need a lot of rest. We're going to get as much rest as possible and be ready to go Thursday. So, don't worry about us.''

Still, one might think that Pitt coach Jamie Dixon cringes every time he glances down his bench, but that's just not the case.

"I think our rotation has been good, and I felt like it was coming together going into the tournament,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I really think we got quality minutes from our guys, our reserves, which really allowed us to substitute when we wanted to substitute and at the right times.

"So, we're playing seven, but Bradley (Wanamaker) can give us eight, and Gary (McGhee) can give us nine. So, I feel like it's a deep team, and Bradley and Gary can give us a good eight and nine guys.''

Freshman Wanamaker and McGhee have played sparingly this season, especially McGhee, so Pitt has been relegated to primarily a seven-man rotation with junior Tyrell Biggs and redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown joining senior starters Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, juniors Levance Fields and Sam Young and frosh Blair. Wanamaker and McGhee didn't play in the Big East semis or final.

But that didn't matter. In the semifinal win against Marquette, the Panthers needed Biggs to play a season-high 31 minutes due to Blair's foul trouble. Biggs came through with six points, eight rebounds and spectacular defense. He even took a key charge that helped turn the game around.

That came one night after Gilbert Brown's coming out party, and it was a savior for Pitt because Blair played just nine minutes. Brown's athleticism is rivaled only by Young's, but as a second-year player he can only get better. His rebounding and defense have already improved markedly this season, and while his long-range shooting still isn't up to par his short game is solid.

So, thanks to Brown and Biggs, Pitt's bench is as deep as it needs to be.

"We have a lot of great players on this team,'' Fields said. "I know only seven guys have played in the past couple games, but Brad and Gary can step in if we need them. I have confidence in them, too, but Tyrell and Gil are playing very well right now. They give us a pretty good rotation for the NCAAs.''

But will seven players be enough for the Panthers. It remains to be seen if they'll be affected by four grueling games last week and a long plane ride this week to get to Denver.

If history is an indication, it's going to be easier said than done. Since 2000, five Big East teams have played four games in four days at the Conference tournament. And only one, West Virginia, advanced past the second round of a post-season tournament. The Mountaineers made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Louisville in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

Twice during that stretch, Big East runner-up Pitt went 3-1 at the Conference tournament and then nose-dived in the post-season. In 2001, the Panthers lost to Mississippi State in the second round in the NIT. And in 2006, they were eliminated by Bradley in the second round in the NCAA event.

"I'd bet the last five teams that played four games in four days at the Big East tournament were not playing the same way that we are right now,'' Benjamin said. "Guys don't really worry about all that other stuff. Being tired is not an issue. I think guys are willing to bite the bullet and keep fighting.''

And that's the main reason that Pitt has a chance to go on a successful NCAA Tournament run this year.

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