Well, after what could be understated as a disappointing final regular season loss, the Panthers are ready to travel to New York for the Big East Tournament. While a homecoming for some, it is surely an aspiration for everyone.
I have had the pleasure of attending this tournament for the past two years. I was there for the disgust of losing their first round game in 2005, and for the excitement of making it all the way to the final last season. I can promise you that Aaron and Co. are ready and eager to go out there and play hard.
Gray in particular might have something to prove. After being named to the First Team All-Big East, he will be put to the test in the tourney. Last year, if not illness, if not fatigue, something got to our big man. After nothing but boos and jeers from the other Pitt “fans” in our section, I am hopeful that he has learned from his mistakes, and is poised to lead as he has recently (ie West Virginia) proved he can.
As seniors, Gray, Kendall, and Graves should consider this event old hat. They have been there plenty before, and should not let the crowds and pressure get to them. They must lead by example and get the rest of the team to play as they have all season. The fact that they are the three-seed rather than the hoped one-seed should not affect their ambition.
Some might say that our recent few losses are showing weakness in the Panthers, showing that they were overrated. I would argue that a close loss and a close victory are only separated by a few key plays. Those plays are imperative in this tournament. Not only must Pitt fear the Hoyas and the Cardinals, but teams like West Virginia, Syracuse, and others have a lot to prove to the selection committee next weekend. As Syracuse proved last year, a run in this tournament can get you a lot of (possibly undeserved) respect.
All we can ask is that Levance and Ronald go out and play some hard nosed Pitt basketball. If they control the game, control the tempo, Gray and Cook and Young ought to be able to dominate as they have most of the season. If the guards let the opposition push Pitt, and push the tempo, we may struggle like we have against Marquette.
Best of luck to everyone who will be out there braving Manhattan this week, and tune in to ESPN for those of you enjoying your nice warm homes.