Pitt Roars Into Top 10

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon

The Big East Conference once again dominates the national rankings with five schools among the top 15 in both the Associated Press writers' poll and coaches' poll announced Monday afternoon.

Pittsburgh, 15-2 overall and 5-0 in the Big East, was the big mover with a surge into ninth place in the AP and 11th for the coaches. Texas, which gave the Panthers one of their two losses, is No. 1. Kentucky and former No. 1 Kansas are second and third, respectively, while Big East teams Villanova and Syracuse are fourth and fifth.

Pitt, on an eight-game winning streak, gave the Orange its only loss. The Panthers face No. 12 Georgetown Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center, and that's their focus as opposed to the national rankings.

"We're not worried about any rankings right now,'' Pitt sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs said. "We're just worried about getting wins and playing hard each and every day in practice (so) that carries over into the games. ... I think it's been a good run, but everybody in that locker room really knows what we can do.

"And we really have confidence in each other, and as long as we keep playing our game and keep playing as team everything will be fine. ... Nobody is selfish on this team, and nobody has an ego. And that's what is special about this team. Nothing comes ahead of the team, and that makes a difference.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has said that these Panthers would be a better team later in the season, like every team tries to do, but he certainly doesn't want to take the success for granted. And he doesn't use the ranking as a selling point.

"I think it sells itself,'' Dixon said. "I won't call them up (recruits) and say that we're ranked this or that. And that won't be my first phone call in a day, I can promise you that. I'll be concerned about some other things, but obviously we see it and they see it. And we've been ranked for a long time now.

"(So), it's better to be ranked than not ranked. But it's not going to change my day, and I think our guys have been pretty good about it. They've seen they can get better, and they know they can get even better. They have the examples, and they come out here with that in mind. When you have that mentality at this point, that's a good thing.''

Gibbs has to be the Big East's most-improved player so far, after playing nearly 11 minutes a game last year but more than 35 in Conference games this season. And even he believes more work can be done.

"We're definitely improving, but there's still more room for improvement,'' Gibbs said. "The chemistry still has to get better, and defensive-wise I think we gave up way too many lay-ups in the last game. So, defensive-wise, we've got to improve, and that's going to carry over into our offense.''

Even though the Panthers had tremendous success last season, a No. 1 ranking twice, No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advancement into the Elite Eight, Gibbs believed support for the team is as strong as ever.

"There definitely has been a lot of support, but that's the great thing about Pittsburgh in general,'' Gibbs said. "The fan support is unbelievable, especially the Oakland Zoo, so it's been very fun.

"It's especially fun for a player, with all the love that they show us. So, it's been great to have that support system, and we all really appreciate it a lot.''

One might believe that Dixon gets a little more satisfaction from the team's performance this season, since the Panthers received more preseason attention last year, but that's just not the case.

"There's always attention on us,'' Dixon said. "We were sold out again this year, and there's always talk. Maybe the talk was that we weren't going to be as good, but I guess I'm not in this for the satisfaction. I do it because it's one thing that I know what to do.

"I'm not looking for enjoyment. I'm looking to get these guys to improve and graduate and be better players, academically and to make their parents and families proud. So, maybe that's an area I need to work on.''

Another way to look at it is if it's not broken, then don't fix it. And with Dixon's record for success, there can be few if any doubters.

Here are the complete national polls: Click Here.

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