When Pitt accepted an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational last spring after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, coach Jamie Dixon said the extra practice time and game experience for his young squad could make a big difference for the team in 2012-13.
Dixon was not the only coach to feel that way. Butler also missed the NCAA tournament after consecutive appearances in the NCAA title game. The Bulldogs also accepted an invite to the CBI, and their coach Brad Stevens had the same view. He had a young and inexperienced team last season and believed experience in the CBI helped the Bulldogs.
Here is what Stevens told ESPN before Butler’s CBI game vs. Pitt last spring.
“I look out on the court and see three freshmen and six guys in our top eight who are freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “That’s why we’re not in the NCAA tournament. But we’re getting better and growing.”
Now, after an upset of No. 9 North Carolina last night, Butler is in the Maui Invitational championship game today. The unranked Bulldogs knocked off the Tar Heels, 82-71, last night. The final score does not indicate how thoroughly the Bulldogs won the game. They were up by 29 at one point in the second half.
Tonight, Pitt gets its chance to prove it belongs back in the top 25 when the Panthers face No. 4 Michigan in the N.I.T. Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
Many of the players who have shined early this season benefitted from the CBI experience. Remember how well Talib Zanna played in those games? He scored in double figures in five of the six CBI games and average almost 12 points per game. He has carried that over to this season. Zanna is second on the team in scoring, with 14 points per game.
J.J. Moore averaged almost 11 points per game in the six CBI contests. He scored 14 in that come-from-behind overtime win over Butler in the semifinal round of the tournament. Moore has carried over the momentum, too. He is third on the team in scoring with a 13.3 average.
Pitt and Butler don’t ever want to go back to the CBI again. But their experiences from last season are helping the Panthers and Bulldogs make some early noise this season. We’ll see if the Panthers can match Butler’s feat of beating a top-10 team tonight.
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