Stick a mirror in front of the Pittsburgh Panthers, and they see none other than the Wichita State Shockers.
Nearly identical in style, if not personnel, the two teams meet in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena with the winner getting a probable shot at the West’s No. 1 seed, Gonzaga.
“They kind of remind us of our style of play here in the Big East,” said Pittsburgh senior guard Tray Woodall.
“I noticed that [the Shockers] play hard for 40 minutes. Not many teams can do that, but Wichita State does.”
So do the Panthers.
They rebound. They play defense. They like to get out and run.
“You have to do what you do well to win games,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.
When the Panthers and Shockers step onto the court for the first game of the day at EnergySolutions, the two teams will have similar game plans, which is something the Panthers say they are looking forward to.
Pitt went through the gauntlet of another Big East season, finishing 24-8 and making up for last season’s struggles — a year in which the Panthers failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Dixon in nine years.
But as the Pitt coach said Wednesday, that 22-17 season is long gone. His team learned from dealing with the rash of injuries and the struggles, and they’re ready for a Wichita State team that will be motivated to knock off a Big East power.
“There’s no easy ones,” Dixon said. “They don’t give any byes to get far.”
His players know that, too.
Junior forward Lamar Patterson said he’s intrigued by the matchup of two teams that can run and feature 10-deep rotations. He said he expects a fast-paced, up-tempo game.
“Everyone has fresh legs to throw in there,” he said.
Senior Dante Taylor said he’s made it a point of emphasis to his teammates to be ready for the Shockers, but also to be ready for a pre-noon tipoff in the most important game of the season.
“We’ve got to come out ready at the jump,” he said.
The season and NCAA tourney invitation is a reward for the team’s hard work, Woodall said. The senior guard who averages 11.8 points per game and 5.2 assists said the stage isn’t nerve-wracking. The Panthers have been here before.
“Just anxious,” he said.
Finishing fourth in the Big East and losing by three to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament semifinal left the country and even the Panthers a bit surprised at their No. 8 seed in the West bracket.
But Woodall isn’t worried.
“We’re a program that’s not going to pout about a seed,” he said. “We’re happy to be here.”
No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita State
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Thursday, 11:40 a.m. TV • TBS
Records • Pittsburgh 24-8; Wichita State 26-8
Last meeting • Pittsburgh 68, Wichita State 55 (Nov. 23, 2009)
About the Panthers • Senior guard Tray Woodall is averaging 11.8 points per game and 5.2 assists. … The Panthers led the Big East in field-goal percentage this season … Pittsburgh is ranked No. 6 in the country in total team defense.
About the Shockers • Wichita State lost to Creighton 68-65 in the Missouri Valley Conference title game. … The Shockers have three players averaging double digits. … Junior Cleanthony Early is averaging 13.1 points per game and 5.1 boards. … Senior forward Carl Hall, a 6-foot-8 sixth-year senior, leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.2 boards per game.