DeJuan Blair hopes to lead Pitt to a top finish.
When Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon broke down video on Xavier, the Panthers' opponent in an NCAA Tournament matchup, it had to be like looking at footage with his own team.
No. 1 seed Pittsburgh (30-4) faces the No. 4 Musketeers (27-7), coached by former Panthers point guard Sean Miller, in the Sweet Sixteen today at 7:27 p.m. at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Mass.
"I remember going to (former Pitt player) Darelle Porter's house and watching Pitt play Georgetown with Sean Miller as a point guard,'' Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. "It's funny, now, that we're playing the team he coaches.
"That's really interesting. (Xavier) has some athleticism, and they definitely have some length. They're a good team, and Sean's a good coach. It should be a fun matchup for us. We like to hold people under 40 percent, just like them.
"So, there's a lot of similarities. We had two tough games, and hopefully this'll be another good one. We're very focused, and I believe the sky's the limit for this team. I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure we live up to that.''
Miller, a 1992 Pitt grad, has a talented group in his fifth season that secured a third straight Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title. The leading scorer is 6-foot-6 senior guard B.J. Raymond with 14.1 points per game. And 6-8 junior forward Derrick Brown is at 13.7 points and six rebounds per contest.
The other guard is 6-5 sophomore Dante Jackson (6.6 points per game), while 6-6 senior C.J. Anderson (10 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) and 6-9 junior center Jason Love (6.9, 5.9) round out the starting lineup.
"Xavier, I think we both play the same way on defense, a tough, physical game,'' Pitt senior point guard Levance Fields said. "But I think we can score a little bit more than them. We'll try to score in our transition game and pound the ball down to DeJuan and Sam when we get in our half-court (game).
"(But) they definitely have athletic guards, and they height to go with that athleticism. Also, they try to control the game with their offense, something they've been able to do in their league, and they play good defense. So, we have to make sure that we control the game, and mostly that job falls on me.''
Pitt didn't game-plan specifically for Xavier before it left for Boston, as a college basketball fan Fields was able to give his own scouting report.
"(Freshman Terrell) Holloway is a quick guard, and he can shoot,'' Fields said. "And he plays pretty well once you give him some confidence. And (sophomore Dante) Jackson, he's 6-5, long, but it seems like he needs time to shoot.
"So, we'll need to pressure him. He's not really a point guard. He's more of a shooting guard playing the point for them, so we'll try to force his hand.''
Fields' junior backcourt mate Jermaine Dixon is glad he transferred to Pitt from a junior college, knowing that the Panthers were his best chance for a long NCAA Tournament run, and he agreed with Fields' assessment.
"We definitely need to pressure their guards, but their best scorers seem to be on the wings,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "We need to make them work to get their buckets. They try to run their offense out to the wings, so if we can slow them down and make them work real hard we should be good.''
"Everybody's focused, especially Levance, Biggs and Sam, they've been here a long time and want to go farther than any other team,'' Dixon said. "We all definitely feel that this is the year that we can get to the Final Four, but we won't stop there. That's what we want to do and plan to do.''
Xavier, in its fourth straight NCAA Tournament, struggled a bit going into this year's event with a 1-2 record and early exit from the A-10s, but it shouldn't deter the Musketeers. They limped into the NCAA event two years ago, but made a stunning run into the Elite Eight. This is Xavier's fourth Sweet Sixteen and second straight, and the Musketeers also made the Elite Eight in 2004.
"They play a lot of guys, and they're very balanced,'' Jamie Dixon said. "They play tough defense, just like we do, and they work hard. (And) it really doesn't matter who's coached there, it's a real good basketball program.
"And Sean has continued that success. They have some depth, and they like to use transfers. They sit out a year, but then they always have guys waiting.''
And this year, Xavier is waiting for Pitt.