Men’s basketball: Panthers set to face Butler

By Dustin Gabler

The Pitt men’s basketball team avoided being the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16 seed in… The Pitt men’s basketball team avoided being the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, and the Panthers advance to face the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday.

The Bulldogs, last year’s national runner-up, defeated the Old Dominion Monarchs 60-58 yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Butler comes into the game with plenty of NCAA Tournament expericence, after a run to the National Championship game last season.

“There’s no question that we’re only 40 minutes into the NCAA tournament,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after his team’s win. “But nobody will be more tournament tested by the second round that we will have been, or third round.”

Heading into the game, Old Dominion’s rebounding numbers were touted as the major reason the Monarchs were a popular team to pull off an upset and not only beat Butler, but the Panthers as well.

Old Dominion was seventh in rebounds per game this season with 40.2, one spot ahead of Pitt, who pulled down 39.8 per game during the regular season.

But Butler edged the Monarchs in rebounds by one, 28-27, leading the Bulldogs to victory.

The Panthers will need to play tough on the glass with Butler, who clearly showed that they can rebound with the best of the them.

“They’re a very physical team. That’s what I’ve seen in the little bit I’ve watched them,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “Very physical, very aggressive on the ball, and we’ve got to be prepared for a physical defense from them.”

Of Butler’s 28 rebounds, 17 were on the offensive side of the ball, which gave the Bulldogs plenty of second-chance scoring opportunities.

Pitt will look to senior center Gary McGhee to limit the Bulldogs to one shot on offense and give the Panthers second opportunities on missed shots.

McGhee pulled down 11 rebounds and scored seven points in the team’s win over UNC-Asheville, whereas Butler star center Matt Howard  grabbed five rebounds and scored 15 points in his team’s first game.

The Panthers will have the task of stopping Butler’s leading scorers Howard and Shelvin Mack, who average 16.7 and 15.2 points per game, respectively.

“I know Mack very well because I coached him with the USA Team {two summers ago],” Dixon said. “So I know they’re very good. But I think we understand that they have a good balanced team.”

In order to defeat the Bulldogs, Pitt will need leading scorer Ashton Gibbs to continue his hot shooting.

Gibbs’s scoring — he averages 16.7 points per game and scored 26 on Thursday — is a strong indication that his Panthers could make the Final Four in Houston.

A Panthers’ win will send the team to New Orleans for the Sweet Sixteen, but Pitt isn’t looking ahead to that. It’s just focusing on the game at hand.

“[They’re] focused solely on Butler, and there’s no thought to what’s after that,” Dixon said. “It’s solely on our next opponent.”