Getting to know the Pittsburgh Panthers

On Friday, the Wisconsin Badgers will play in their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament, marking one of the longest streaks in the country. After a slow start to the year, the Badgers have clawed their way back into the thick of things, earning a #7 seed and the right to play the #10 seed Pittsburgh Panthers. This is the Badgers’ lowest seed since 2009, when they entered as a #12 seed. The Badgers will enter the game as slight favorites, as a slow, grind-it-out-game is expected. According to KenPom, the adjusted tempo for Pittsburgh is 299th in the country, while the Badgers are 341st.

The Panthers are making their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Coming in with a 21-11 record, Pittsburgh is following an 18-point loss to eventual ACC champion North Carolina. We can tell you the Panthers’ record and other things like their RPI ranking of 51, their strength of schedule rank of 33, or their 9-9 record versus other RPI 100 teams, but there’s always more to the story. Who exactly are the Pittsburgh Panthers and what is their approach to facing the Badgers in the first round?

Jeremy Tepper, a staff writer for The Pitt News and a campus correspondent for Campus Rush, was able to provide insight on the Panthers and their current mindset entering Friday’s game. We were fortunate ask him a few questions about Pittsburgh’s team this year.

Q (Question): What is the biggest challenge for Pittsburgh facing Wisconsin? Conversely, what is the biggest challenge that awaits for Wisconsin?

Tepper: The biggest challenge for Pitt is going to be containing Ethan Happ. The Panthers have had trouble this year guarding centers and have given up a lot of points to skilled post players. Alonzo Nelson-Ododa can provide a good presence in the paint for the Panthers off the bench, but struggles with foul trouble at times.

For Wisconsin, Michael Young will be a tough matchup. He has struggled with double teams this year, but [he] is a very skilled player having the ability to knock down the jump shot or score in the post from either his back to the basket or facing up.

Q: What is Pittsburgh’s initial gameplay entering Friday’s game?

Tepper: Following off the last question it has to be performing well on the defensive end, especially interior. This year it has been evident that when the Panthers are playing poor defense, it affects them on the offensive end. The games they have performed well on the defensive end are the games they really click offensively, as well.

Q: Are there any similar teams the Panthers have played this year that could help better prepare them for facing for Wisconsin?

Tepper: Playing a fellow Big Ten team earlier in the year in Purdue is a good starting point as they have very good big men just like Wisconsin. In conference play, the most similar team had to have been Virginia, being a very methodical and slow-paced team.

Q: What player should Wisconsin be worried about going off for 20, maybe even 30 points?

Tepper: The Panthers’ big scorers are Young and Jamel Artis. While Young is good for 15-20 points a game, Artis has the potential to really explode and could be the guy that puts up big numbers against Wisconsin.

Q: What is the atmosphere like in the locker room and on campus, especially after a demoralizing 18-point loss to North Carolina? Was the team happy with their seeding?

Tepper: The initial reaction to their drawing was a “happy to be in” type of response. A lot of people think Pittsburgh got a good draw. The team has experienced slumps all season, and at times would be caught hanging their head in the following games, but the Panthers responded nicely to their end of the year slump with their tournament win over Syracuse. The team is pleased to be where they are.

Q: What does this opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament one more time mean to the seniors?

Tepper: For senior James Robinson, he has been used to winning his whole life. As someone who really keeps to himself and doesn’t openly express his emotions, the tournament provides one more chance to keep winning. As for the remaining seniors, they are all graduate seniors who are coming for smaller schools. They are excited to be playing in the NCAA Tournament as they have never experienced it before.

Wisconsin and Pittsburgh will tip off at 5:50 CT Friday evening. This is the third tournament meeting between the two teams. The Panthers won the most recent game 59-55 in 2004. The Badgers lone win came all the way back in 1941 where they were victorious 36-30. Wisconsin won the national title that year.

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