For the second straight year, the Zoo Crew has earned the right to compete in The Basketball Tournament, which usually involves teams composed of alumni from notable universities or active players from teams overseas and has a grand prize of $2 million at stake.
The Zoo Crew, Pitt’s official alumni team, has been given the seventh seed in the Midwest region of the bracket, and the team is scheduled to take on the 10th-seeded Jackson TN Underdawgs on July 21 in Columbus, Ohio. The roster includes former Pitt standouts Tyrell Biggs, Gilbert Brown, Jermaine Dixon, Levance Fields, Antonio Graves and Gary McGhee.
Most of those players were featured on Pitt’s original TBT alumni team, the Untouchables, which took part in the 2016 tournament and also included Brad Wanamaker and Talib Zanna. That’s also likely the reason the team asserted in its tweet that it was the third season in a row the Zoo Crew had made the tournament despite the Zoo Crew’s first official appearance coming in 2017.
The group of ex-Panthers will be joined by former Houston center Marcus Cousin, former UMass guard Ricky Harris and former Temple guard Jesse Morgan. Like Biggs, Dixon, Fields, Graves and McGhee, Harris was a member of the original Untouchables team. Meanwhile, Morgan has been a member of the Zoo Crew since 2017, and Cousin is in his first year with any Pitt-affiliated team.
Last year’s iteration of the team represented a significant departure from the 2016 version of the Pitt alumni squad, as Fields and Biggs were the only returning players from the previous year. They were joined by fellow Pitt products Keith Benjamin, John DeGroat, Ashton Gibbs, Levon Kendall, Ronald Ramon and Chevon Troutman, but the results were decidedly disappointing.
Despite being awarded the fifth seed in the Northeast region, a field populated with familiar rivals in Boeheim’s Army, Supernova and FCM Untouchables, the Zoo Crew fell to 12th-seeded Sideline Cancer 100-87 and was bounced from the 2017 tournament on its first day.
Fields and company find themselves in a similarly precarious situation this time around, as the Underdawgs hold the distinction of being the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed. That upset occurred in 2016, when they defeated the Bluegrass Boys, Kentucky’s alumni team, 87-78.
With that said, the shakeup that restored much of the original Untouchables lineup may be just what the team needs to return to its competitive ways. When that team took the court two years ago, it was able to take out 14th-seeded Sideline Cancer and second-seeded Boeheim’s Army as the third seed in the Northeast before falling to City of Gods in the quarterfinals.
If recent history is any indicator, this latest round of lineup adjustments should benefit the Pitt alumni squad in its attempt to make a deeper run in the 2018 tournament.