This was a phenomenal team effort from the Panthers, especially on the defensive end. Fans of past Pitt teams had been accustomed to seeing teams that fought for every rebound, every loose ball, and played tough, physical defense. That seemed to be lacking near the end of this season, but the Panthers really found their identity and their stride in this tournament. Even though we only beat Cincinnati by 6, those of you who watched the game witnessed a tremendous performance from Cinci guard Deonta Vaughn. Vaughn was nearly unconscious for a short time in the 2nd half, scoring 20 straight Cinci points and keeping them in the game.
Louisville and Marquette were both revenge games for losses this season, and the Panthers played complete games in both of them, getting to the boards against Louisville while drawing Marquette into serious foul trouble, preventing both teams from really playing the games they wanted to play. Pitt’s best strategy this year has been a physical brand of basketball that is slightly adjusted each game to really limit the opponent’s strengths, as opposed to only playing to our own. This team is versatile enough to change defensive strategies yet still force turnovers, get blocks, and really still play Panther basketball. It continues to be a beautiful thing to watch.
The Georgetown game was the best of all, not only for the revenge from last year’s loss in the Big East final, but in terms of sheer basketball domination. Even though we only won by 8, we went to the free throw line an incredible 44 times (imagine if we’d hit 30 of them, that’s already a 16-point victory). We outrebounded the Hoyas by 14, had five players in double-digit points (Young, Ramon, Fields, Blair, and Brown), and got the Hoyas in serious foul trouble by bringing the ball down low and making them play physical basketball.
Sam Young got the tournament MVP, and he was easily the biggest player for Pitt this weekend, but really the whole team deserved a combined MVP. One of the best parts of the tournament was seeing Gil Brown really come into his own- a beautiful block against Louisville, great defense throughout the tournament, as well as a very solid tournament in terms of shooting the ball and limiting offensive mistakes. I can’t wait to see Gil in the NCAA tournament, as both he and DeJuan have avoided the jitters that often comes with playing on such a national stage. The Duke and Georgetown games were both nationally televised, but there is an intense amount of pressure to perform night in and night out in the Big East tournament, and neither player disappointed. Levance Fields was brilliant, as usual, with a turnover ratio well north of 5-to-1 and tenacious defense throughout. Ronny Ramon continues to nail key shots at will, it seems, going trey-for-trey with Deonta Vaughn in the Cinci game and making huge baskets at key times in the Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown game. I can’t wait for Thursday night’s game against Oral Roberts, and a preview of the tournament will be forthcoming.