No. 1 seed Pitt jumped out to an early lead and after a sloppy first-half, took over for a 23-point win in their opening round.
The Panthers actually started pretty good, but turnovers and missed shots stopped them from opening up a big lead. Pitt's lead got up to double-digits in the first half, but the team only shot 35% - that'll hurt. On top of that, they had eight turnovers and if you watched the game, you know how frustrating it was to not see them pull away in the first half. The defense played extremely well and forced the Bulldogs into taking a lot of tough shots. If Pitt even shoots their season average, they probably go into halftime with a 15-point lead instead of a five-point advantage.
Still, it's hard to complain. After hanging with Pitt for the first few minutes in the second half, UNC-Asheville eventually fell by the wayside and Pitt's talent took it from there.
The big difference in this one was, what else - rebounding. Pitt won the battle of the boards by 20 and had 19 offensive rebounds. As Dick Groat said after the game, I don't know when we've seen them have that many. I'm sure it's probably happened, but I can't recall.
The frustrating thing for UNC-Asheville, I'm sure, was being right there at halftime despite shooting poorly in the first half (under 30%) themselves. Down five as a No. 16 seed is pretty much all you can ask for:
"We went in at halftime down five, and that's where we wanted to be," Dickey said. "Make sure that it was still a game. In the second half we missed a couple shots and they hit a couple of 3s."
Who knows what happens if Pitt's defense doesn't show up in the opening 20 minutes of the game. But, well, that's why their Pitt. Their defense does show up and their rebounding is as good as any team's in the country. They also have a tendency to wear teams down as the game goes on:
"Being in the right place at the right time, anticipating what they're trying to do offensively, we did a good job," Dixon said. "We had a good feel for what they were going to do. They're very good, but I think it was more our depth that wore them down at times."
With the Talib Zanna injury and J.J. Moore getting rarely getting minutes, Pitt no longer is ten deep. But it's the quality of the guys behind the starters that Dixon is referring to. Travon Woodall, Dante Taylor, and Lamar Patterson aren't always going to have big games, but all are capable of it. And when they come in and even contribute a relatively small amount like they did today (14 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists) compared to a meager four points by the Bulldogs' bench, Pitt is going to enjoy an even bigger advantage.
Ashton Gibbs led the way for Pitt with 26 points and Pitt had its usual scoring balance with Nasir Robinson (12), Gilbert Brown (9), Gary McGhee (7), Brad Wanamaker (6), and Dante Taylor (7).
One thing I really liked about what Pitt did was getting the ball in the paint. Sure, that's likely because UNC-Asheville's tallest starter is only 6'5", but I hope that trend continues.
There was also an interesting play in the game (no, not Dick Groat getting dumped on his head by Nas) that some people probably picked up on. With about eight minutes left in the first half, UNC-Asheville ran a screen up top with guard J.P. Primm. McGhee and the man defending Primm (don't remember who it was) switched and the big mandid the same thing as in the UConn game - he stayed on the guard. It looks like Dixon's philosophy about switching in that instance hasn't changed and I'm sure we'll see other teams try to take advantage of that down the line. I don't mind it so much in the middle of a game, but if Pitt switches in that situation and leaves McGhee out to dry at the end of a game...
Well, I won't be pleased.
Pitt now gets Butler in the second round instead of Old Dominion. I don't know, I think this is a good move for Pitt (though, as I said in the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, I have a hard time saying that about a team that went to the NCAA Championship game last year). The thing I like about it is that ODU would have probably had a home court advantage against Pitt. They're also one of the best rebounding teams in the country (7th overall with more than 40 per game) and that could have been trouble.
Still, Butler is no pushover.