Wichita State (2-0), from the Missouri Valley Conference, is hopeful for a resurgence with its program. And a win against Pittsburgh (3-0) would be a big step. The other semifinal pits Iowa and No. 3 Texas with the winners and losers playing Tuesday night. Both games in Kansas City will be televised by ESPN 2.
"It's a big challenge, going on the road now, but we just want to go out there and pretend that we're home,'' Pitt sophomore forward Nasir Robinson said. "So, we have to block everything out, all the distractions and being in a hostile atmosphere, and play the same way that we do at the Pete.''
Wichita State has beaten Fairleigh Dickinson (80-64) and Arkansas-Monticello (79-50) this season. The Shockers are led by Toure Murry with 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. J.T. Durley averages 15 points per game with a shooting percentage at .667, while David Kyles is at 11 points per game.
The Shockers return three starters and seven letterwinners from a team that finished 17-17 and tied for the fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference (8-10) last year. Pitt is 11-16 all-time against Missouri Valley Conference opponents. The last time Pitt played a MVC team was Bradley in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and the Panthers lost, 72-66, March 19, 2006.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is a spectacular 76-4 against non-conference opponents and 34-0 in November games since taking over the Panthers' program. Pitt actually has one 37 straight November games since a 69-63 loss to South Florida Nov. 25, 2001.
Even though he likely would prefer to stay at the Pete, where Pitt is 113-10, Dixon noted that he feels all right about taking the Panthers on the road.
"We're 3-0 and getting better and understanding, and guys are playing more minutes than they ever have,'' Dixon said. "I don't think we've ever had a team where guys are playing more minutes than they've ever been close to playing.
"I don't know how many teams have a team like that. So, it's unique, but we've just got to continue to play through it.''
Pitt is led by sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, who has scored 42 points the past two games and averages 16.7 in the Panthers' three victories. Junior guard Bradley Wanamaker and Robinson are next at 12.0 and 10.3 points per game, respectively. And redshirt freshman point guard Travon Woodall averages 7.7 points and 7.33 assists per game.
Freshman center Dante Taylor has come off the bench to tally eight points and seven rebounds per game in 19 minutes. Junior Gary McGhee starts ahead of him and averages 19.3 minutes per game, but has 6.7 points and 6.3 rebound per game. However, don't expect Taylor to get more minutes anytime soon.
"There's a lot of things that we're working on, but we're getting good numbers out of that (center) spot,'' Dixon said. "The numbers don't lie, and they're playing pretty good defense, too. It's unique. They're putting up good numbers. And (they're) doing different things from what we've done in the past with our five men (centers).
They're playing good defense, and they're rebounding. So, we're keeping them fresh, and we're keeping them out of foul trouble. ... So, I feel pretty good about where that spot's going to be. Gary's getting better in every day, and so is Dante. (On) paper, I know it shouldn't be that productive, but it has been. They're playing well, and for the first time.''
Dixon also mentioned freshman J.J. Richardson as a center who is improving all the time and playing well, but he and fellow frosh Talib Zanna are the only Pitt players on scholarship to get into just one game. So, their status, basically, is unknown as far as a redshirt year is concerned.
Senior guard Jermaine Dixon (foot) and redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown (academic suspension) are out for two more weeks. Brown is scheduled to return for the game against Ohio Dec. 22, while Dixon could be back by then as well. His latest X-ray revealed less improvement than before, so his timetable to return was extended from 2-3 weeks.
Here is Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall talking about Pitt: Click Here
Here is a link to the Wichita State men's basketball site: Click Here