Late Friday night, as No. 5 Pitt improved to 5-0 on the season after beating a bigger, faster, more athletic Texas squad in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, several things became clear.
One is that despite not having any future NBA lottery picks and without a roster loaded with McDonald's All-Americans, this Pitt team has National Championship type talent.
Now you may be reading this saying, "That doesn't make any sense."
But actually it makes perfect sense. Just ask Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon.
"When you have a lot of high-character kids, you are capable of doing a lot of great things," says Dixon.
He should know, as he's a high character guy himself. He recruits players who fit that mold. They buy into total team basketball at both ends of the floor and are off to a great start to the 2010-11 season.
What's the other thing that became clear Friday night? It's that teams with quality, experienced back-courts are usually ones that make long runs in March. This Panthers team has as good of a back-court as there is in the country.
Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker may not be mega stars and may not even be the best players in the country, but they are perfect for Jamie Dixon's system.
Beating 3 quality teams in 5 games, are you sold on Pitt being a Top 5 team?
Both are capable of carrying the Panthers offensively for stretches at a time, as we saw in the second half against Texas last night when Gibbs took over, scoring 24 points en route to bringing home the tournament's MVP Trophy.
The most impressive part is how the duo handles pressure situations, which is to say they don't feel pressure in any situation.
No situation is too big for the veteran back-court to handle. They make big plays at big times and both do the little things that help teams like Pitt be successful.
Take last night, for instance.
Every time the Longhorns tried to make a run to take over the game, Gibbs and Wanamaker had an answer. Whether it was a big play at the defensive end or knocking down a big three, Gibbs and Wanamaker were there to answer the bell. The same way they always have been and it's the same way they will continue to be for the rest of their careers at Pitt.
Yet, every time Pitt beats a team like Texas they hear that they have to win ugly. Well, winning ugly is winning. It beats losing pretty, that's for sure.
As for winning ugly? It's not that ugly. Every year, Dixon has kids that play hard. Every season the Panthers are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Every year they out rebound their opponents by a significant margin. Every season they are among the leaders in assist to turnover ratio.
Those aren't ugly stats by any means. Did I mention that this team that wins ugly competes for the Big East title every season? Or that Pitt has won 20 or more games and at least 10 Big East games each season under Dixon? That's not ugly at all.
So while Pitt is ranked in the top five, they still tend to not get the respect they are due nationally. Only one thing can change that and it's the only thing missing from Dixon's resume and that's a trip to the Final Four.
However, that could be coming sooner rather then later for Dixon.