Published March 15, 2010
COACH: Jamie Dixon, seven years at Pittsburgh, seven years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Oakland is not an easy first-round opponent, since the Golden Grizzlies have four players averaging double figures and any of them can carry the team for short stretches. Keith Benson is a force on the inside, and will be a challenge for Gary McGhee in the paint. The whole team is excellent at the free throw line, with the exception of Derick Nelson, so this isn't a team to be trailing in the final few minutes. However, the Golden Grizzlies have struggled every time they have faced a big-time opponent, losing by 30-plus points early in the season to Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State and Syracuse.
GO-TO GUYS: Ashton Gibbs went from being a shooter off the bench in 2008-09 to winning the Big East's Most Improved Player Award this season. He leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game, and is the go-to player late in games. Jermaine Dixon has battled injuries, but he's a force when he's on his game. Gilbert Brown comes off the bench, but plays starters minutes and is the inside-outside scorer.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: They show some consistency. Besides Ashton Gibbs, there's a lot of Panthers who can run hot and cold. If Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee, Travon Woodall and Dante Taylor can all get hot at the same time, the Panthers have shown the ability to beat anyone in the country, especially since the defense is one of the best in college basketball.
STRENGTHS: Pittsburgh has some scorers, but the Panthers win with defense. It led the Big East in scoring defense at 61.7 points per game in the regular season, and holds opponents to less than 40 percent from the floor. It is a deep team that can bring productive minutes off the bench, particularly in the frontcourt where Gilbert Brown and Dante Taylor can cause matchup problems for opponents. The Panthers are also a great finishing team, and ended the regular season 19-0 when leading with five minutes to play.
WEAKNESSES: This isn't the Panthers team of a year ago, with DeJuan Blair in the paint, Levance Fields on the perimeter, and Sam Young everywhere. It's more like the old-school Jamie Dixon teams that sometimes had a hard time finding the basket. Ashton Gibbs had more trouble finding his shot once teams started to focus their defense on denying him good looks at the basket. Gilbert Brown can dominate at stretches, but is inconsistent from game to game.