Pitt’s finally reached a Final Four under Jamie Dixon’s watch. Sure, it’s the CBI instead of the NCAAs, but that’s a mere technicality … right? Ironically, the team standing in the way of the Panthers reaching the final are the Butler Bulldogs. The Bulldogs stopped Pitt in the NCAA Tournament last season, bouncing the No. 1-seeded Panthers.
Unlike Pitt’s two previous games, the Panthers will not be at home for this one. Playing on their home court, Butler will have a clear advantage on that front and that could mean trouble for Pitt.
The Bulldogs have won 22 games this season, but aren’t the same team that reached the final game of the NCAAs last season. Butler hasn’t been competitive in most of their major tests this season, losing by double figures to Gonzaga, Louisville, Xavier, and Indiana. The Bulldogs did beat Purdue and Stanford in close games, though, so they’re more than capable of hanging with Pitt.
Butler is without a true star player. No one on the team averages more than 11 points a game and the Bulldogs haven’t relied on any single player to dominate on offense. But they do have balance and have several players capable of stepping up to have big games.
Pitt’s biggest challenge may come in trying to defend 6-foot-11 junior center Andrew Smith. Smith leads the team in scoring, averaging only 10.7 points a game, but he’s capable of much more. He’s topped 15 points in seven games this year and scored more than 20 three times.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will have its hands full with a Pitt offense that is suddenly clicking on all cylinders. The Panthers have averaged 81.5 points a game in their two CBI contests, shooting better than 53 percent from the field. Pitt has also found a way to dramatically cut back on their turnovers and has had a combined 14 in the tournament. If the Panthers play as well as they have in games against Wofford and Princeton, they’ll be difficult to beat.
For more on the game and Pitt basketball, check out SB Nation blog, Cardiac Hill.