Pitt-Oral Roberts Preview

Much has been made about Pitt's seven NCAA Tournament appearances in seven straight years and rightfully so, because the Panthers are among just nine men's basketball programs to accomplish that feat.

But Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon was quick to point out that Oral Roberts (24-8), the opening opponent for Pitt (26-9) Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., has made it to three straight NCAA events.

The winner advances to the second round against either Michigan State or Temple Saturday at approximately 6:30 or 9 p.m. Eastern.

"We know how good they are,'' Dixon said. "They're not a typical team from another conference, because ... they have some experienced seniors and are well-coached. They shoot the ball well from (3-point range), and that's always a danger. So, we have to guard the three and get out on the shooters.''

The most dangerous is 5-foot-11 junior guard Robert Jarvis. He's the Golden Eagles' leading scorer with 16.1 points per game, despite coming off the bench, and he's made 81 shots from 3-point range (40.9 percent). He also goes to the free-throw line quite often and shoots 85 percent from there.

The next best long-range shooter is 6-6 senior forward Moses Ehambe with 82 treys (40.2 percent) and 11.7 points per game. Seniors Adam Liberty and Shawn King, a 6-2 guard and 6-10 center, respectively, average 9.7 points per game each. King also leads with 6.6 rebounds per game and 65 blocked shots (about two per game), while 6-8 junior forward Marcus Lewis tallies 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest.

"Jarvis can really shoot the ball,'' Dixon said. "He comes out firing. He's an interesting guy. He doesn't start, but he's their leading scorer. He's a new guy. They've got a bunch of other seniors, so I think they've kept them in the starting lineup. (Jarvis) is kind of like Deonta Vaughn from Cincinnati.

"But he's even more free to shoot, it looks like to me. ... He plays about 29 minutes, and he leads them in energy. He adds an interesting component to their team. King, we've termed him as more of a four than a five, and he's their shot-blocker. He's more of a length defender, and Lewis gives them more inside scoring. We'll scout them more and watch more film with the guys.''

The other starter is Yemi Ogunoye, but the 6-9 senior forward averages just 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Remaining reserves include 6-3 junior guard Kelvin Sango and 6-6 freshman forward Andre Hardy to give Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton an eight-man rotation.

"You can't deny a great player like Jarvis his points,'' Pitt senior guard Keith Benjamin said. "We just have to make every shot a tough one and do the best that we can to make it hard on him.''

Pitt junior point guard Levance Fields echoed that sentiment.

"When he comes in, we have to be ready for him,'' Fields said. "We have to try to keep him from shooting easy shots. We have to make it real tough for him and make every shot a difficult one. That's the way to play a guy like that.''

In general, Pitt will need to maintain defensive intensity the way it did during the four-day Big East Tournament when each opponent was held to less than 70 points, and only Georgetown shot better than 40 percent from the field. Panthers junior forward Sam Young gave a succinct reason.

"It's all about team defense for us,'' Young said. "We're coming out there with a lot of determination and motivation, and the younger guys are starting to step up to make big plays for us down the stretch. And that's what you need. We have everybody on the same page right now, and that's a good feeling.

"We know that we can't lose any more games from here on out. We have to go undefeated, and that's the mentality and the mind-set that we have. So, we're going to keep feeling like that all the way through the NCAA Tournament. That's the way it has to be for us to be successful at this time of the season.''

Pitt has reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen four times in the last six seasons, including last year, and only Duke has done it five times. Kansas, Texas and Connecticut have four appearances like the Panthers.

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