SALT LAKE CITY - Wichita State senior Carl Hall wanted a new look for his last hurrah, especially with a huge test coming up against Pittsburgh 7-footer Steven Adams today in the Shockers' NCAA tournament opener.
Hall shed his dreadlocks as the ninth-seeded Shockers geared up for the No. 8 Panthers.
"I just wanted to try something different," the 6-3, 238-pound Hall said Wednesday. "I wanted to be like a new person coming into this tournament, play harder and just give it my all. It's my senior year, so I'm trying to get focused."
While Pitt and Wichita State in many ways are mirror images of each other because of their emphasis on defense, there is a major difference in the battle of bigs. Hall is a 23-year-old sixth-year senior from Georgia and Adams a 19-year-old freshman from New Zealand, where the approaching rugby season draws more interest than March Madness.
Adams insists he is "in the moment" despite not knowing a few years ago what the NCAA tournament was.
"If you're in the tournament right now and your mindset ain't here, you're obviously going to lose," said Adams, a gold tooth sparkling through his smile.
Wichita State vs. Pitt men
Tipoff: 1:40 p.m., EnergySolutionsArena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Records: Wichita State (26-8, 12-6 in Missouri Valley); Pittsburgh (24-8, 12-6 in Big East)
Coaches: Gregg Marshall is 135-69 in six years as head coach at Wichita State and is 327-152 in 15 years overall as a head coach. Jamie Dixon is 262-85 in his 10th year as head coach at Pittsburgh.
Radio: ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM
Probable starters: Wichita State - G Malcolm Armstead, 6-0 Sr. (10.4), G Demetric Williams, 6-2 Sr. (8.3), G Tekele Cotton, 6-2 So. (6.3), F Carl Hall, 6-8 Sr. (12.8), C Ehimen Orukpe, 7-0 Sr. (2.8). Pittsburgh - G Tray Woodall, 6-0 Sr. (11.8), G James Robinson, 6-3 Fr. (6.1), F Lamar Patterson, 6-5 Jr. (10.0), F Talib Zanna, 6-9 Jr. (9.8), C Steven Adams, 7-0 Fr. (7.0).
Notes: Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall led Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine years from 1998-2007. His final Winthrop team won a game in the tournament. ... This is the Shockers' second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. ... Wichita State won the NIT championship two years ago. ... Pitt coach Jamie Dixon refused to comment on rumors he's been offered the USC coaching position during Wednesday's press conference. ... This will be Pitt's first NCA Tournament appearance since it lost to Butler in the third round of the 2010-2011 season. The Panthers won the CBI championship last year. ... Wichita State will be starting four seniors. Pitt has just two seniors (Woodall and Dante Taylor) on its roster. ... Pitt's all-time record in the NCAA Tournament is 23-24. The all-time series with the Shockers is tied, 1-1. Pitt won the last matchup, 68-55, in 2009. ... The winner of today's game will play the winner of the Gonzaga/Southern game on Saturday. ... Wichita State owns a victory at Virginia Commonwealth this season. ... The teams have two common opponents. Pitt beat Howard, 70-46, and Wichita State beat Howard, 69-50. The Shockers also beat DePaul, 75-62. Pitt played DePaul twice, winning 81-66 and 93-55.
Mirror prediction: Pittsburgh 61, Wichita State 55
Comment: Wouldn't be surprised to see Pitt get off to a slow start, possibly looking ahead to Gonzaga, but the Panthers have shown an ability to recover in the second half.
Mirror prediction record: 24-8
- Michael Boytim
Adams first had to take care of a bloody nose Wednesday, the result of an accidental elbow from teammate Dante Taylor.
"We all mess each other up at practice because we go so hard," Taylor said. "I got hit in my eye again today. Durand [Johnson] busted his lip. Pretty much somebody comes out bleeding every day."
Today's game likely won't be much different.
"I know three years ago when we played them, they had the same approach," senior guard Tray Woodall said of Wichita State. "They had guys that played really, really hard. It reminded us of our style of play in the Big East."
Experts have the game pegged as the lowest-scoring in the first two full days, not surprising as Pitt (24-8) ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense (55.4 points a game) and the Shockers allow 60.7. Both teams also control the boards, with Wichita State (26-8) averaging 38.4 rebounds a game and the Panthers ninth in rebounding margin.
"The winner on the boards is going to win the game," said Hall, who is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 boards.
Both teams are hungry for different reasons.
Pitt is making its 24th tourney appearance but hasn't advanced past the Elite Eight. The Panthers didn't qualify last year, a memory that sticks with Woodall. And this is the highest they have been seeded since they were a No. 9 seed in 2005 and lost to Pacific in the opening round.
Wichita State, meanwhile, made a quick departure last year, ousted by Virginia Commonwealth, 62-59, in its opening game.
"It lingers with our group of seniors," Hall said. "We don't want to go out this year."
Adams, of course, has never been part of the NCAAs. He is just getting started in his career after coach Jamie Dixon, who once played basketball in New Zealand, discovered him there a few years ago.
Though Adams still is a teen with a quirky sense of humor, his story has been well-documented. He is the youngest of 18 children and has an older sister who won a pair of Olympic gold medals in shot put.
While the budding star is still trying to fine-tune his game offensively, he can be a beast on the boards.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said 7-foot Nigerian Ehimen Orukpe, who averages just 16 minutes a game, will be called on to help against Adams and the Panthers.
"He is not the most polished offensive player in the world, but he rebounds," Marshall said of Orukpe, a senior. "He protects the basket and we will certainly need him in games such as this where we're playing high-level size, athleticism and skill."
Adams answers simply when discussing what makes Wichita State's front line formidable.
"They're tall," Adams said of facing two 6-8 players and Orukpe.
Hall already knows he'll have to alter his attack.
"I've got to try to go around him because he's such a great shot blocker," Hall said.
Whether the new low-cut hairstyle gives him an advantage remains to be seen.
"When I look in the mirror, it's different, like I haven't seen this person in like five years," he said. "I haven't gotten used to it. I lay in bed at and I rub my head wondering, what did I do?
"My (dreadlocks) distracted other players, which allowed me to get my shots off. I got to see how things go tomorrow."