Jan. 5, 1:50 p.m.: The average college basketball fan probably has a hard time naming more than a couple players on the nation’s new No. 1 team. For whatever reason, Pittsburgh, which sits atop the coaches' poll for the first time in school history, is annually mired in obscurity, something players have noticed and used as motivation.
“We’re underdogs,” Pittsburgh’s DeJaun Blair said after the 70-54 victory over Georgetown on Saturday. “I like having that. I was an underdog. We’re up there in the rankings, but that’s nothing. We can be up there one day and down the next, that’s how this league is. We’re a better team than last season.”
No player more epitomizes Pittsburgh’s anonymity than Blair, who is overshadowed by more heralded big men, namely Hasheem Thabeet and Georgetown’s Greg Monroe. But Blair nearly grabbed as many rebounds as the entire Georgetown team on Saturday.
“Of course I get inspired because of that” lack of hype, he said. “I was always the underdog throughout my whole life. I really don’t care what they say. I think I showed a lot of people.”
The Panthers are a collection of gritty players who thrive with stingy defense and tenacious rebounding. They could probably use another good outside shooter. But they stand as one of just four remaining unbeaten teams and are in as decent position as any team to earn a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed in two months.
Pittsburgh is No. 1 in the RPI and has the third-strongest strength of schedule rating. It has beaten four top 50 teams, including three top 25 RPI teams. That is what you would call a strong profile. But as Blair said, fortunes could change in a hurry in this year’s Big East.
Between Jan. 17 and Jan. 31, Pittsburgh will play five likely tournament teams: Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and Notre Dame. Only the Syracuse and Notre Dame games will be at home. If the Panthers are still atop the polls after that stretch, then it will be time to be truly impressed.
January 5, 2009; 1:49 PM ET
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