Personnel of Pitt, Xavier changed, but philosophies same
Sunday, March 21, 2010
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pitt guard Gilbert Brown drives to the net against Xavier in the second half of the last season's NCAA East Regional in Boston, March 26, 2009.

MILWAUKEE -- Xavier senior center Jason Love said he and his teammates won't have revenge on their minds in the hours leading up to an NCAA second-round game today against Pitt, the team that bounced the Musketeers from this tournament a year ago. But that doesn't mean they won't be motivated by the last-minute loss to the Panthers that prevented another trip to the Elite Eight for the Atlantic 10 Conference's premier program.

"The thing I remember about that game is just the feeling at the end after we lost and came up short," Love said. "It was just the disappointment. We were right there with another chance to go to the Elite Eight, and we didn't get the job done."

Levance Fields saw to that. Fields made a 3-pointer with 50.9 seconds to play to give the Panthers a 55-54 lead in what would become a 60-55 victory. That gave Pitt its first appearance in the Elite Eight in 35 years and denied Xavier of back-to-back trips to the NCAA's fourth round.

"The thing that I learned most from that game is that the little plays count," Love said. "C.J. [Anderson] saved the ball from going out of bounds with a little more than a minute remaining to Derrick Brown, but Derrick's toe was on the line. That play was a real momentum shifter. It's the little things that count in this tournament."

Xavier and Pitt are two vastly different teams from when they met March 26, 2009. Pitt lost four starters and Xavier lost three.

The Musketeers said goodbye to Anderson, Brown and B.J. Raymond and said hello to a trio of guards who have transformed them from a top-tier defensive team into one of the top offensive teams in NCAA Division I.

Last season, Xavier ranked 39th in NCAA Division I in scoring defense, allowing 61.9 points per game. The Musketeers were a middle-of-the-road offensive team, averaging 71.7 points per game (107th in Division I). This season, Xavier has the No. 9 scoring offense in Division I, averaging 79.6 points per game and ranked 193rd in scoring defense, allowing 68.6 points per game.

Sophomore guard Jordan Crawford, a transfer from Indiana, leads the offense with 20 points per game. He has scored in double figures in all but one of Xavier's 33 games and has scored 20 points or more in the past four games, including a 28-point performance in the Musketeer's first-round victory against Minnesota.

Terrell Holloway, a sophomore and first-year starter at point guard, averages 11.7 points per game and freshman Mark Lyons comes off the bench to average 8.2 points a game.

First-year head coach Chris Mack, who took over after Sean Miller left for Arizona, said he merely is taking advantage of his personnel.

"Maybe from an outsider's perspective you would think we have a much different style than we had last year," said Mack, the only rookie head coach in the NCAA tournament. "I would say it's more personnel-based than philosophy-based. Everything we run, with the exception of a few things here and there offensively, we've really stuck to what's worked over the last five years. I love the style of play, the philosophy that I coached with under Sean. And we've really tried to continue that.

"Having said that, when you have faster players, it lends itself to being a faster team. We replaced really good players, B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson, with guys like Mark Lyons and Jordan Crawford. If you had those guys run a foot race it wouldn't even be close. So when teams think of us as an attacking transition team it's not because coach Mack has let off the reigns. We just have faster players."

Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon, who likely will draw the assignment of defending Crawford, said Pitt would not be out of its element in a high-scoring game against the Musketeers.

"I think we want to get out and run a little just to try to get their big men tired and make them sub more, get people in and out," he said. "We definitely want to get out more. But if it's slowed down, that's something we have to be prepared for. All in all, we want to play our game and just try to stop them. If we stop their guard play I think we should be pretty good."

Love said Crawford, Holloway and Lyons make this team much more dangerous than the one Pitt faced a year ago. And despite their relative inexperience he believes they can be the reason the Musketeers advance to the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive year.

"We have so many guys who can hurt you this year," Love said. "You have Jordan, Terrell, Mark, who is a versatile player. We have all of the tools to be successful this year."