Pitt senior guard Jermaine Dixon
Pitt senior guard Jermaine Dixon has only been with the Panthers for two seasons, but he already has formed an opinion about the team's foray into the NCAA Tournament this week.
No. 3 seed Pittsburgh (24-8) faces 14th-seeded Oakland, Mich. (26-8) Friday at approximately 2:45 p.m. Eastern at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc. That game is 30 minutes after the matchup between No. 6 Xavier (24-8) and No. 11 Minnesota (21-13) at 12:25 p.m.
The winners play Sunday at a time to be determined.
"I told the guys that I'm the most worried about the first two rounds,'' Dixon said. "They're games that we're supposed to win, but it seems like we play down to our competition. So, I'm definitely worried about those first two rounds.
"But when we played against teams like Syracuse or Villanova this year, any highly-ranked team, we always play a lot better and usually win those games. Yeah, those first two rounds, they're always tough for us.
"(And) last year, East Tennessee State, they almost beat us (in the first round),'' Dixon added. "(But) I don't know why that happened. I really can't speak on that, but we have to stop doing it. We can't let it happen this year or we'll get beat again.''
That said, Dixon was adamant that the Panthers were prepared to go much further than the first and second rounds in the NCAA Tournament, even though few believed the Panthers would even qualify for the event when this season began.
"We want to win the national title, so any loss in the NCAA Tournament would be a disappointment,'' Dixon said. "No matter how far we go. It also was a disappointment that we didn't win the Big East regular-season title.
"And it was disappointing to lose in the Big East Tournament because we wanted to win it. But it doesn't matter how other people look at us. We want to win the national title, and anything less will be a disappointment.''
Pitt sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs believed that even though there's a lot of pressure on the Panthers to play well this week, the team really shouldn't be stressed out too much.
"We can still have fun with it, because this is the NCAA Tournament,'' Gibbs said. "It's not something that comes around too often in a lifetime. I really think we should cherish it and look forward to it.
"Last year, it was a great experience to be on a team that got into the Elite Eight. But this is a different year, and we want to go further. But we're taking it one game at a time, and we have to start off with Oakland this Friday.''
Gibbs also took a lesson from last year's NCAA Tournament opener.
"We need to execute each and every night,'' Gibbs said. "Our first game was tough, and we expect another tough one. We're looking forward to making a big run, and I think we can do it. But we have to come ready to play every night and execute on offense and defense to be successful.''
Pitt redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown believed that even though the Panthers occasionally play down to their competition, the team's familiarity with its early opposition should be advantageous.
"Just being in this position before and seeing the same teams that we've played before like Xavier and Oakland, I really think it's an advantage to us in terms of scouting,'' Brown said. "We can get a great feel, get a good scouting report and get things done (in practice).
"We're already familiar with these teams. I really think it's a favorable matchup for us. We know what type of game it's going to be. Every game in the NCAA tournament is a critical one. It's win or go home.
"Each team is going to bring their "A'' game and play the best that they can,'' Brown said. "So, I think we really have to lock in and focus on this first game with Oakland. I know that they're going to be ready to play.''
Even though Pitt shouldn't be pressured by the Golden Grizzlies, the Panthers certainly should heed their veterans' advice.