Some believe the Pittsburgh motto should be "Final Four or Bust'' this year, and sophomore center DeJuan Blair shares that opinion. Blair has had a Final Four poster touting Detroit as the host city hanging in his room after last season.
No. 1 seed Pitt (28-4) faces East Tennessee State University (23-10) today at about 3 p.m. at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The Panthers' game follows the matchup between Oklahoma State and Tennessee, and the two winners play there Sunday at a time to be determined.
"I got it from one of my media reps in the back room, and I just have have it up in my room,'' Blair said. "It says (285 miles from Pittsburgh). ... I'm just hoping to be there, to get our team there, from Pittsburgh.
"Like I've been saying, the Steelers won the Super Bowl (XL) in Detroit, so why can't we? ... We're hot (now), but we haven't always played to our ability. If we play to our ability, the sky's the limit. It's going to be something to see.''
Senior forward Sam Young shared those sentiments, for the most part, but he certainly was more cautious in his approach.
"Being a high seed is always an advantage, because you're supposed to be playing against a team that should have lesser talent,'' Young said. "So, it should be good for us to be a No. 1 seed, but we still have to prove that we deserved that and our ranking.
"Sometimes in the past, especially last year, we kind of overlooked some teams and ended up coming up short. So, I don't want to say that having the No. 1 seed is going to make it easier for us, because I almost don't believe it since we've been upset so many times.''
Some believe that the Panthers might have gotten that type of game out of its system early with a quarterfinal exit at the Big East Tournament after a loss to West Virginia last Thursday. So, it's been more than a week since Pitt played.
"I definitely can say that, right now, I'm more physically intact than I've ever been at this point in the season,'' Young said. "I feel like I've got more legs than I had last year, and I'm not as beat up as I was at this point last year.
"I felt worse toward the end of the season, too, so I guess it did help us in that regard by losing in the first game at the Big East Tournament. We wanted to win, for sure, but it might end up being a blessing that we lost early.
"It could give us a little boost going into the NCAA Tournament,'' Young added, "so it could help us out a lot. And I definitely think that it's something that we probably needed at this point in the season, to get a little break.''
Young is Pitt's leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, and the Panthers certainly will need a solid performance from him to have a successful NCAA Tournament run. However, Young believed that Blair's presence on the floor was the key this season.
"The main thing for us, and I talked to DeJuan about it, is to make sure that he stays on the floor,'' Young said. "(And) when he gets in foul trouble, that takes a lot away from us as a team. When he's out, that changes around our makeup as a team, but if we can keep everybody on the floor we'll be all right. ... (And) DeJuan agreed with me 100 percent.
"I told him that I feel like he can score with the best of them, and if someone scores on him he can just go back down and score on them. And if he doesn't score, he's going to get the rebound. So, we need him in the game. He definitely agreed with me and said that he would make sure he stays in the game.''
And if that happens, Pitt will be difficult to stop on its trek to the Final Four.
Young, Blair Key To Long Pitt Run
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