DAYTON -- Three things we learned from a game that had the potential to be historic:
1. A 16th-seeded team will eventually win a first round game. Technically, this one -- the 99th 1 vs. 16 match-up ever -- finished 72-62 (RECAP | BOX). Not exactly a buzzer-beater. But East Tennessee State was within reach of pulling off the first such upset in NCAA history with as little as 1:06 left to play when Kevin Tiggs pulled the Buccaneers within six on a lay-up. Pittsburgh sealed the deal with an 11-5 run that quieted a very ETSU-friendly crowd, but folks, we were this close.
"Oh yeah, it'll happen," Pitt guard Levance Fields said afterward. "This might sound off the wall, but some team like [ETSU] will play themselves into a lower seed than they deserve. And if that occurs, man, anything can happen in this tournament. It will happen."
Friday's game in Dayton provided a near perfect storm for an upset. As Pittsburgh failed to pull away in the first half, the crowd got behind the underdog Bucs, uniting three quarters of a stadium worth of Ohio State, Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Louisville fans. By half, when it became clear that ETSU would keep it competitive, the stadium -- which ranks among the smaller host sites with just under 13,500 seats -- was split nearly 20-80 in favor of the Bucs.
"It definitely had an away game feel," said Pitt forward Sam Young. "That's something you have to go in and do right away; take that away from them. If you put them away early, you take away the crowd."
Fields hopes the closeness of the game serves warning to future No. 1 seeds, though just about anyone playing in Dayton these days should be ready for a fight -- and the Panthers aren't done with the arena quite yet. The site has played host to a number of shocking upsets in the past. In 1995, 12th-seeded Miami (Ohio) upended No. 5 Cal. And in 2006 11th-seeded George Mason used the site to kick off its run to the Final Four with wins over No. 6 Michigan State and No. 3 North Carolina.
2. Levance Fields still isn't quite right. Pitt's field general, who has been suffering from a groin injury since the Big East tournament, looked sluggish at times and connected on just 3 of 15 shots. He also appeared to tweak his wrist after a second-half collision that put him on the floor. After the game, Fields shook off any talk of the groin affecting him, though coach Jamie Dixon wasn't as quick to dismiss it. "We're trying to play through it," he said. "The longer we go, the better he'll feel, and that's how we're looking at it. He felt better today than he did last week, that's for certain."
Whether that's enough to get Pitt by two days from now is another matter. Up next, the Panthers get Oklahoma State, a team that will certainly try to run Fields ragged with its up-tempo offense.
3. Sunday's matchup will be an interesting one. In describing the ETSU game, Pitt center DeJuan Blair described his team's offense as one that's not going to blow anyone out. They average 78 points per game. "We're the type of team that likes to slow the game down and let the game come to us." How well that plays against OSU remains to be seen. The Cowboys proved earlier in the day in Dayton that they can run with just about anyone, taking their up-tempo game against a more rigid offense, Tennessee's, with a solid center presence. OSU, on the season, drops an average of 81.
The Cowboys will go right at Blair, attacking him with backdoors and pick-and-rolls to the basket, as they did against Tennessee. With any luck, they'll lure him into foul trouble. But even if Blair keeps out of trouble (as he did against ETSU) and repeats his solid first-round effort (16 boards; 27 points on 10 of 17 shooting), he'll need some serious assistance from his guards, who weren't up to the task today. Fields and Jermaine Dixon combined for just six points.
"We know how good we are, but we didn't show it today," Fields said. "We weren't rattled by [ETSU] or anything. We just have to execute much better next game." Or else.