Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Panthers are Long in the Tooth

Jim Calhoun describes Pitt's success over recent years this way: "Pitt doesn't do it by magic, they do it by tough, focused, hard-nosed discipline and they did that when they had one of their best players (Ashton Gibbs) out for some time."

But there is another secret to the Panther's success over the years: they are consistently a veteran, senior-laden group. They recruit players who may not be McDonald's All-Americans and may not having long NBA careers, but who'll stick with the program for four (sometimes five) years and develop as players.

Look no further than this year's roster. Pitt starts three seniors (one of them a fifth-year senior) and two juniors. Gilbert Brown is 23 years old, Gary McGhee 22, Nasir Robinson turns 22 next week and Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs are both 21.

Now look at the starting five UConn sent out against Georgetown on Wednesday: two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior. Jeremy Lamb is just 18, Roscoe Smith 19, Alex Oriakhi and Kemba Walker both 20. OK, 24-year-old Charles Okwandu throws it all out of whack, but he's hardly as integral a player as, say, Shabazz Napier (19) or even Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (21) off the bench.

UConn's youth was never more evident than back on Dec. 27, when six different freshmen were thrust into their Big East debuts at the rowdy Petersen Events Center. But that was 2 ½ months ago.

"The freshmen have seen the whole Big East, they know what it takes, they know how it is," Oriakhi said. "There are no excuses this time around."

"When we first played them, that was the most physical team we had played, (we played) five, six freshmen," added Coombs-McDaniel. "Throughout the year we've played better, we've matured, and we're definitely ready for Pitt right now."

Here's the game story of UConn's win over Georgetown:

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