Pitt Panthers Reach for New Heights: Quest for a Final Four

Arthur GrazianiContributor IMarch 25, 2009

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 20: DeJuan Blair #45, Sam Young #23 and Levance Fields #2 of the Pittsburgh Panthers fight for a loose ball with #1 Mike Smith and Tommy Hubbard #13 of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 20, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This has been a great year for Pitt. From No. 1 rankings, to a top seed in the NCAA's. But the question on everyone's lips is "Is this year the year Pitt gets to the Final Four?"

The first step comes Thursday night. Xavier, coached by Pitt alum Sean Miller will be a very stern test. Xavier and Pitt have very similar styles. Each team hangs its hat on tough man-to-man defense, and half court, set play offense.  

Xavier has the edge on the defensive end, holding opp. FG% at .388. Pitt stands at .411. Pitt conversely holds the offensive edge. Pitt's FG% is .480, Xavier's is .464. So who wins? Lets look deeper.

One particular match-up to monitor will be Pitt on the offensive glass. Dejuan Blair gives Pitt a decided edge in this department with help from seniors Sam Young and Tyrelle Biggs.Xavier brings a very strong defensive front-court with center Jason Love, and reserves Jameal McLean and Kenny Frease.

These three will be asked to keep Blair off the boards and make Pitt a one and done offense. Accomplishing this will be a big key to Xavier's success. It is a major weapon for Pitt.

Another area to focus on will be three point shooting. Xavier relies on a strong trio of long range shooters with  power forward Derrick Brown, shooting guard B.J. Raymond, and  reserve Brad Redford.

Combine that with drive and kick set plays from Brown and small forward C.J Anderson, and the strength of Xavier's offense is revealed. Versatile guards, Jemaine Dixon, Gilbert Brown, and Brad Wannamaker will be held to this task.

Can Pitt keep Xavier under 35 percent from three? If so Pitt should come out victorious.

A vital key to this game is at point. And this may be Pitt's greatest edge. Levance Fields, the savvy senior floor general, has been a star at the point for two years. And even though injuries have slowed him a little of late, he appears to be ready and focused.

Xavier has not been able to find this consistency, though there is talent. Freshman Tyrelle Holloway, and starter Dante Jackson have had their struggles at the point, and this battle could go a long way to indicating which team comes out on top.

As stated earlier these teams are very similar in style. They both are tough, hard nosed, physical teams, who operate methodically and force you to play their style.

But Pitt has the better offense, and this will be the difference. With smart opportunistic fast break points, offensive rebounds and second chance points, and excellent disciplined set plays, Pitt has more ways to score.

And with All-Americans Blair, Fields, and Young, Pitt just has too many weapons.

PREDICTION: Pitt 73 - Xavier 61