Game two of March Madness at Verizon Center will feature the number one-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers, winners of the Big East Tournament, against the number 16-seeded UNC Asheville Bulldogs. UNC-Asheville, winners of the Big South Conference, earned a spot in the Tournament by defeating the Arkansas Little Rock Trojans on Tuesday in the First Four; the first round of this year’s expanded 68-team Tournament.
The Panthers finished off their season at 27-5; the Bulldogs at 20-13, including last night’s victory. The game is expected to tip off at approximately 3:10pm.
Although a number 16 seed has never defeated a number one seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament, players on the Panthers squad insist they are not looking past the Bulldogs in tomorrow’s contest.
“I think over the last couple of years we’ve seen them [the UNC-Ashville team] in the NCAA Tournament and they’re a regular, winning their conference tournaments, too. So they’re a good team and they’re an NCAA team almost every year. We are familiar with them and we know what to expect in the game tomorrow,” said senior center Gary McGhee.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that every team in the Tournament is a good team.
“I think that’s something you can expect from all 68 schools now; that they all believe every kid on these teams, to get to this level, has to have a high level of confidence. And I believe every team here and every player here in this tournament believes that they can win the national championship,” Dixon said.
Pitt’s number one seed is the second in school history; the last time the Panthers were a number one seed was 2009. They are participants in the Tournament for the 10th consecutive season.
“I think with whatever you do the expectations are raised and I think last year’s team was picked at the bottom of the conference. We weren’t picked to go to the Tournament. So I think we’re at a point where we’ll never be satisfied,” Dixon said.
The Panther players believe their experience will help them pull out a victory.
“I think it helps a lot with the veterans on this team, everybody having to go through that experience over the last couple of years, I think it plays a lot into us being more mentally focused and ready to go out there and compete in the Tournament this year,” said McGhee.
For UNC-Asheville, it’s been a challenging 24-hour period, defeating Arkansas Little Rock last night in Dayton, then arriving in Washington to begin preparing for Pittsburgh.
“Playing in Dayton was great, in the play-in game; the First Four they call it now. But to play there, it’s an honor to be in the NCAA Tournament. We don’t try to say we’re somebody we’re not, but we’re pretty good, and we can beat a lot of teams in the country. Can we win six in a row to win a national championship? We can dream,” said UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach.
Junior guard Matt Dickey called the last 20 hours overwhelming, but in a good way.
“It’s an exciting experience, and it’s a blessing to be here and have this opportunity. It’s not every day that a small school gets to be on TV. People give us a one in a million chance; I think it’s a one in a million opportunity,” Dickey said.
“There’s a first time for everything, so hopefully tomorrow, we can do something good.”