Monday, January 29, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Villanova

January 29, 2007

The Big East's Keystone State Rivalry did not take place last year in the regular season as Pittsburgh and Villanova did not meet until the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden. This year, the lone match-up takes place tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and in front of a national television audience on ESPN's Big Monday.

Here are the pregame stories and previews found on the internet this morning:

Pitt's Cook Has Hoops in his Blood (Philadelphia Daily News)
Pitt's Cook Finally Heads Home (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Aaron Gray is on Nova's Mind (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Young's Scoring Touch Returns, Pleases Dixon (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Click below for our brief preview and prediction on this game and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section.


The Pomeroy Computer seems to be warming up to Pittsburgh as they have climbed up to #9 in the rankings, however, the computer still predicts Villanova to be a 1-pt winner tonight and the oddsmakers seem to agree as Villanova is currently listed as a 1.5-pt favorite in tonight's match-up.

Pittsburgh will hope to use Aaron Gray's size edge over the Villanova frontline to their advantage by feeding the ball into Gray often and running the offense through him. Gray is a very good passer and the Panthers are always one to make the extra pass, so if Villanova decides to double Gray, look for the big man to find the open man and for Pitt to move the ball for a clean look. This year, Pitt leads the Big East in 3-pt shooting percentage, shooting 43% in conference play from beyond the arc, and 40% overall on the season. If Villanova decides not to double Gray, he will look to use his variety of post moves and size to score over Villanova.

When the Wildcats have the ball, they will look to move Gray away from the basket. Outside of Gray, Pittsburgh is not a great rebounding team, so getting Gray out of his normal area will open the lane for Villanova and give them room to crash the boards. Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds are dangerous shooting from deep and when they are hitting Curtis Sumpter finds more room to do his thing. When Sumpter playing small forward, he has a huge advantage over Mike Cook, who is still coming along defensively in the Pitt system. Sumpter, however, has been hobbled the last week with a sore leg and the quick turnaround from a game at South Bend on Saturday could be a tough task for allowing the injury to heal and be healthy for tonight's game. This might be the key match-up in this game.

Villanova is coming off a tough road loss at Notre Dame while the Panthers cruised to an easy win over St. John's on Saturday. Villanova uses several different pressure defenses that could cause Pittsburgh some problems when the Wildcats look to go 3/4 or full court pressure. Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields are very good ballhandlers and decision makers (evidences by Pitt leading the conference in assist to turnover ratio in conference play at 1.46:1), but they are a little undersized and if trapped, they could run into some trouble. Once they break the trap, Pittsburgh should be able to find good shots against Villanova.

This is a really tough game. Villanova is an excellent free throw shooting team, shooting 74% in conference play (2nd in the Big East), while Pitt is at just 64% (13th), so in a tight game, which this is expected to be, that could possibly come back and bite Pitt. However, I feel these offenses are similar, but Pitt is the better defensive and rebounding team. With a hobbled Curtis Sumpter, Pitt should have enough to get a win on the road in this one.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 72 Villanova 67

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Friday, January 26, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: St. John's @ Pittsburgh

January 27, 2007

The St. John's Redstorm had quite a week with wins over Syracuse and Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden. Now they look to take their run on the road by travelling to Pittsburgh to meet the 1st place Panthers.

Pitt rebounded from their first conference loss against Marquette last Sunday by turning back Cincinnati, 67-51, as the Panthers showed off their conference leading touch from beyond the arc.

St. John's has had some recent success against Pittsburgh, beating Pitt at home the last two seasons. The Redstorm can be a difficult match-up for the Panthers as they are a team that has some solid athletes and do not mind playing a low-scoring game. St. John's can be physical on the perimeter, but they do not have the same depth inside as Pittsburgh.

In the past, St. John's also had very good success when zoning the Panthers and watching them shoot blanks from the perimeter. This year's Pitt team moves the ball extremely well and shoots the ball better than anyone in the conference from beyond the arc. They will need that shooting touch in this game to hold off the pesky 'Storm.

St. John's will look to use Lamaont Hamilton to take Aaron Gray away from the basket. Hamilton is comfortable in facing the basket and his play last year was the difference in the game as SJU held off a Panther rally to win at Madison Square Garden. Like Pitt, the SJU guards are not the quickest of foot, but Pitt will have to make sure Avery Patterson and Larry Wright do not get hot from the perimeter, because when they do, St. John's will be very dangerous.

I expect this game to be closer than many predict as St. John's is playing with some added confidence. However, this Pittsburgh team spends less time watching someone dribble and more time moving the ball and finding the open man and making shots. As long as they make shots, they will win this game.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 St. John's 62

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati

January 24, 2007

The Pittsburgh Panthers look to rebound from their first conference loss tonight when they travel down the Ohio River to meet the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnait, under first-year head coach Mick Cronin, picked up their first conference win of the season on Saturday when they rallied to beat West Virginia in overtime as Marvin Gentry shredded the WVU defense for a career-high 32 points. The Panthers made a big comeback of their own, but were unable to hold off Marquette in overtime as Dominic James made two free throws with 0:00.9 left in the clock to win ot for Marquette.

Here are the pregame stories and previews found on the internet this morning:

Pitt's Loaded With Weapons (Cincinnati Post)
UC Keeping Enemies Close (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Panthers Will See a Completely Revamped Cincinnati Line-up (Post-Gazette)
Panthers face New-look Cincy (Tribune Review)
Pitt vs UC: The Match-up (Tribune Review)

Click below for our brief preview and prediction on this game and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section.


The Panthers are currently 9-pt road favorites tonight when they travel to Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena to meet the Bearcats. A week ago at this time we were beginning to consider the Bearcats down and out for the season under Mick Cronin as they were preparing to play Syracuse coming off four consecutive losses, which included a 15-pt loss at South Florida, a 54-42 home loss to Rutgers, a 33-pt loss at Memphis and a 13-pt loss to Ohio at US Bank Arena. Then, the Syracuse game looked like much of the same as the Orange raced out to a 30-9 lead in the 1st half. Something, however, changed in these Bearcats as they decided they were not going to roll over and die. UC stormed back and had a 3-pt lead with 35 seconds left, but four Eric Devendorf free throws provided Syracuse with a 77-76 win. On Saturday, the script was similar as West Virginia raced to a 27-10 lead out of the gates, but the Bearcats came all the way back and forced the game into overtime where they dominated WVU and pulled out a 96-83 victory for their first Big East win of the season.

Pittsburgh had raced out of the Big East gates winning their first five league contests to take control of the conference race. However, their cruise to a league championship hit some choppy waters on Sunday as the lethargic Panthers booted the ball around for much of their game against Marquette and trailed by as much as 11 in the 2nd half and by 9 with under four minutes to go on their home court. Pitt did not quite and tied the game in the final seconds to force overtime and twice had a 3-pt advantage in OT, but Marquette went 10-10 from the line in OT and James' winning free throws led Marquette to a 77-74 win.

In their last two games, Cincinnati has found some room beyond the arc against the zone defenses of Syracuse and West Virginia. Against SU the Bearcats were 13-32 from 3-pt range with Marcus Sikes lighting up the Dome with an 8-12 performance from the arc for all 24 of his points. Sikes lines up as the center in the undersized Bearcats line-up and therefore, Pitt's Aaron Gray will have to follow him out to the arc. This pulls away Pitt's best rebounder and should give the athletic forward duo of Cedric McGowan and John Williamson some room to work on the glass, a match-up the Bearcats will look to exploit. Against West Virginia it was Marvin Gentry leading the way as the Bearcats went 9-20 from the arc, including Gentry's 5 of 7 as part of his 32 points. Earlier in the season, Cincinnati was turning the ball over at alarming rates, however they turned the ball over just 13 times total in their last two games. The Bearcats are not the best shooting bunch around and they will not be seeing a zone tonight to allow them to get comfortable, but they are going to have to spread the floor to get Gray away from the hoop and use their size-disadvantage to their advantage by attacking the basket and hustling for rebounds.

On offense, Pitt will likely not lose sight of Aaron Gray like they did for a LONG stretch on Sunday. Look for Pitt to make a concentrated effort to get Gray the ball and run the offense through him at times to free their 3-pt shooters. Ronald Ramon leads the league in 3-pt shooting at nearly 48% and Antonio Graves is not far behind at 46% as Pitt only trails Notre Dame in the league in 3-pt shooting percentage as a team. Cincinnati will likely play some zone and press the Panthers to try to get them out of their preferred tempo and Levance Fields will be the key to Pitt's fortunes. Fields must keep Pitt on track, even with changing defenses and an attempt to make the game end to end by the Bearcats. He needs to make sure Pitt runs their offense and keeps the big man involved.

Avoiding a slow start is a must for Cincinnati. If Pitt gets out early and forces the Bearcats to press on their shots, you wont have a lot of luck catching pItt as they will shorten the game, tighten up the defense and hit the boards. The Pomeroy computer also has this as a 9-pt Pitt win, same as the spread, it does look to be a pretty accurate assessment of the game. I think Cincinnati will scrap with the Panthers, but Pitt pulls away with their depth and gets a big night from someone off the bench when they need it.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 70 Cincinnati 59

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


January 17, 2007

Last week we had the chance to catch up with coach Phil Spoljaric of Anderson-Highland HS, where his big man Gary McGhee is off to an outstanding start on his senior season. In their recent championship performance in the Madison County Tournament, McGhee led Highland to their first title with a 28-pt, 12-rebound, 6-block performance over in-town rival Anderson HS.

Currently averaging 20 PPG, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks a contest, Highland is 1-0 in their conference and 6-6 overall, playing a schedule ranked 23rd out of 398 teams in the state of Indiana. McGhee's season highlight was a 40-pt, 13-rebound performance vs Westfield earlier in the year.

Coach Spoljaric is very excited about the progress of his big man, "Gary has started to become more mentally tough and much stronger as the season has progressed." Coach Spoljaric continued, "He leads the state in blocked shots and is top 3 in rebounding. We are looking forward to building on our Madison County Championship win. Gary has continued to lead by example and has been a great captain of our team. We are now setting our sights on winning the conference for the first time since 2000-01."

We wish Coach Spoljaric and his Highland basketball team continued success in meeting their goals in the 2007 season!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Connecticut @ Pittsburgh

January 16, 2007

Over the last five seasons, there has not been a better rivalry in the Big East other than Pittsburgh and Connecticut. Each game has been thrilling, starting with the epic Big East Tournament title game of 2002 in which Connecticut won in overtime. Since then, they split another pair of Big East Tournament championships and split six regular season meetings, each played with top of the conference implications.

This time it is the Panthers on top of the conference at 4-0 while the young Huskies are looking for a big win to jumpstart their careers and nothing would be bigger than winning at Pittsburgh. Here are the pregame stories and previews from around the internet:

Huskies Look for Second Straight Road Win (Danbury News Times)
Tonight, Spotlight is on the Big Guys (Norwich Bulletin)
Tall Task Ahead for Thabeet (New Haven Register)
All Eyes on Thabeet (Hartford Courant)
UConn at No. 6 Pittsburgh (Hartford Courant)
UConn vs Pitt: The Match-up (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt-UConn: The Beast of Big East Rivalries (Post-Gazette)
Pitt-UConn Have Played Some Thrillers (Connecticut Post)
Unranked Huskies Remain Pivotal Hurdle for Pitt (Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Gray Has Someone to Look Up To (Beaver County Times)

Click below for our brief preview and prediction on this game and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section.


Currently the Panthers check in as 7.5-pt favorites tonight, but the Pomeroy Computer sees this as a much closer game, picking the Panthers to win by three points on their home floor. The one area to watch tonight is rebounding. With Jeff Adrien and 7'3 Hasheem Thabeet on the floor together a lot, the Huskies can be very tough on the glass, as evidenced by their +11 rebounding marking on the season. Pitt is a good rebounding team, at +6 on the season, but in their two losses they were beaten soundly on the offensive glass against Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, this is an area UConn can possibly hurt the Panthers.

Connecticut is coming off a road victory against St. John's in which two of the youngest Huskies made their impacts felt more than in any other Big East game so far. Thabeet scored 12 pts, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 7 shots in 36 minutes. If he can stay on the floor that long against Pitt's Aaron Gray, that would be a huge key in favor of the Huskies. Also, Stanley Robinson, making his first career start, scored 13 pts and grabbed 12 rebounds (11 on the defense end) in 29 minutes, giving UConn another 6'9 wing that causes match-up problems for the opponent. With the length and athleticism of Robinson and Thabeet and the toughness of Jeff Adrien, the Huskies have the makings of a very good (although young and raw) frontline. Against St. John's they went to a zone defense and their physical abilities do play well in a zone.

AJ Price, Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins rotate for the most part in the backcourt. The trio is extremely quick, but still learning to value the basketball and little things like making the extra pass to get the best shot. Pittsburgh excels in getting opponents to play at their preferred pace, something that could frustrate a young Connecticut squad that really likes to get out in the open floor. Shot selection is key for this trip and delivering the ball in position for others to score is a big key against Pitt's defense. Craig Austrie and Marcus Johnson have some experience off the bench and they will also dig a little deeper with Curtis Kelly and Jonathan Mandeldove up front to battle Pitt's frontline.

Agianst St. John's, Thabeet was allowed to catch the ball deep in the lane, expect Aaron Gray to make that very difficult for Thabeet to accomplish. Gray thrives on establishing position on the offensive end himself, and understands the importance of forcing his counterpart to catch the ball out of their offensive comfort zone. His expereince and strength will likely make things tough on Thabeet. The Panthers are coming off a game where tey faced 7'2 Roy Hibbert, so they will be comfortable facing a big man in the middle.

Against Georgetown the Pittsburgh offense was clicking on all cylinders, shooting nearly 60% the entire game. The move the ball better than any team I have seen in the country and lead the nation in assist to turnover ratio and showed why against the Hoyas, getting 22 assists against just 7 turnovers. Pitt has been able to dissect a zone and exploit a man to man because they look to make the extra pass and they have scoring threats all over the court that can face up and make jumpshots. To make it even more difficult, Levance Fields is taking control of the team and pushing all the right buttons at the point guard position, this team is much more comfortable in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock than any of their previous couple editions, and when your a team that likes to run 25+ seconds of shot clock in the halfcourt, that is HUGE.

Playing at home the Panthers are really in their comfort zone. They feed off the energy of the Oakland Zoo and with ESPN showcasing the Zoo as part of Spirit Week, look for the Peterson Events Center to be just as jazzed as it was on Saturday night, afterall, even though they are young and full of new players, it is still Jim Calhoun and Connecticut.

The athletic ability of UConn will cause Pitt some problems on the glass and in transition, but Pitt limits transition better than anyone, I can see a few UConn runs making this game closer, but Pitt will frustrate UConn with their patient style and precision passing. Depending on when UConn's last run comes will determine if it is a close win or a comfortable win, but I think Pitt makes the plays at home, like they always usually do.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 75 Connecticut 67

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Friday, January 12, 2007


January 13, 2007

The Peterson Events Center has turned into one of college basketball's best home court advantages in its short lifetime on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. This Saturday, the 'Pete' will be the epicenter of the college basketball universe as the ESPN College GameDay crew calls it home for the day in anticipation og Saturday night's match-up between the Georgetown Hoyas and Pittsburgh Panthers, the two teams picked 1-2 in all the preseason conference polls.

Both teams came into the season with highest of expectations and top 10 rankings. When the two teams tip-off on Saturday, only one will find themselves ranked and the other is still trying to find a consistent groove for the season.

Pittsburgh will put their undefeated conference record and #7 ranking on the line with the enthusiastic backing of the Oakland Zoo. Pitt, led by 7'0 preseason conference player of the year Aaron Gray will try to put some distance between themselves and the Hoyas, who are coming off a Big East loss to Villanova last Monday night. The Hoyas are led by a pair of preseason 1st team all-conference picks in Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, who will both be looking to bounce back from subpar games in their loss to the Wildcats.

Georgetown had trouble with Villanova's full court and 3/4-court traps and pressure. One thing they will be thankful for in this game is that Pittsburgh plays a straight-up man to man where they do not pick up defensively until half court. However, Jonathan Wallace will have to contend with Pitt's Levance Fields on the ball. Fields is quickly stepping up as one of the best point guards in the game and will try to take the Georgetown offense out of rhythm by pressuring the ball. Pittsburgh also will stick to their man to man defense as long as they possibly can, which is also a welcomed site for the Hoyas, but they are definitely going to need to step-up their game to make Pittsburgh pay for their decisions. With the loss of Marc Egerson, the Hoya bench has become very thin in the backcourt and reserves Tyler Crawford and Jeremiah Rivers did not handle their assignments against Villanova very well. Pitt is a deep team, so bench play on the Hoya end will come into play as well.

Last year, Georgetown earned a comeback home win over Pittsburgh when they went small and moved Jeff Green to the '5' spot and sat Roy Hibbert, forcing Aaron Gray to defend Green well away from the basket where Green showed his range and hit a couple 3-pt shots and drove past the slower Gray for easy baskets. If they move to that tactic this season, Pittsburgh might be wise to play some zone. Also, the Hoyas used a match-up zone defense to collapse on Gray at the other end to make up for their smaller line-up, those are strategies they are likely to go to again.

However, when Pittsburgh is home, they tend to be a different team. They shoot the ball extremely well on thier homecourt and putting all your attention towards Gray opens up the perimeter for Levance Fields, Antonio Graves, Ronald Ramon and Mike Cook. The Panthers faces a similar attack when Florida State came to Pittsburgh in November and the Panthers blitzed the Seminoles with Gray being little of a factor. This Pitt team has more players that can beat you on the perimeter than in the past and Fields knows how to distribute the ball and everyone seems more on the same page offensively than in the past.

These are the two teams expected to be at the top in the conference. With the fired up crowd for a 9 PM tip-off, I see Pitt's homecourt advantage being too much in this one for the Hoyas to overcome and Pitt will hit some big shots from the perimeter. Georgetown will compete and the game will be slowed down at times, taking some of the crowd out, but some improved outside scoring carries Pitt to a big win.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 70 Georgetown 61

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ DePaul

January 10, 2006

The consistently inconsistent DePaul Blue Demons return home to Allstate Arena tonight to host 7th-ranked Pittsburgh in a game televised by ESPN2. If you have not gotten a chance to see the Panthers this year, no need to worry, tonight they play on 'the deuce', Saturday night they host ESPN College Gameday at the Peterson Events Center when they meet Georgetown, next Tuesday they are on ESPN2 as part of College Spirit Week while hosting Connecticut and then next Sunday, CBS will televise their game nationally with Marquette, again at home. Prior to that stretch of high-profile home games, there is the matter of the DePaul Blue Demons on the road. It is a tough task to win in Chicago, just ask Kansas, as the Blue Demons are 7-0 at home this year.

Here are the pregame stories and rpeviews from around the internet:

Pitt Getting Back to Defense (Beaver County Times)
With Gray Inside and Hot 3-pt Shooters Outside, Pitt Hard to Stop (Post-Gazette)
Pitt Guards Key to Success (Tribune-Democrat)
DePaul Posses Lots of Confidence (Chicago Tribune)
Gray, Pitt, Threaten DePaul's Home Run (Chicago Sun-Times)
Depaul Star Mejia Almost Came to Pitt (Tribune-Review)

Click below for our brief preview and prediction on this game and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section.


Pitt, projected as a 1-pt winner by Pomeroy, enters tonight's game currently as a 2-pt favorite with oddmakers. For those of you who love conspiracy theories...here is one for you:

As mentioned in our opener, ESPN and the Big East will be showcasing the Panthers quite a bit in the next couple weeks. ESPN is spending a lot of $$ on the Big East going forward, and with the conference getting the perception that it is down this year, the need for one team to step up is very evident. Pitt is a team that plays very unselfish and consistent, that means they will be in every game. They have a style of play that is helped very greatly by an officiating crew that calls the game loosely, so...don't be surprised to see a crew assigned to the game that lets the game flow and the players play...

Ha! Seriously, though...players win the game. Players need to make shots and step up and make stops on the defensive end. That will win the game. This has th emakings of a very interesting college basketball game. DePaul, for all their ups and downs the last season and a half continues to remain a very confident team in their own abilities. Sammy Mejia and Wilson Chandler is probably the best 1-2 punch in terms of talent in the Big East. They are the two leading scorers and rebounders on DePaul and both pose tough match-ups for Pittsburgh with their length and athletic ability. Mejia spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands, so that will make him tougher to guard for Pitt's Antonio Graves than Demetris Nichols of Syracuse, who was also dependent on his guards getting him the ball. That is good news for Mejia, because the Depaul point guard position has been a spot of inconsistency between Jabari Currie, Cliff Clinkscales and Will Walker. In the two Big East games, the trio has combined for just three made field goals (all in the loss at St. John's) and Clinkscales leads the team, along with Mejia, with 2.8 assists a game, despite playing under 13 minutes a game.

Like Pittsburgh, DePaul goes 9-deep in their rotation and they could even dig deeper with Lorenzo Thompson and Keith Butler to add some more size to lean on Aaron Gray inside. Gray has not been scoring much of late as defenses key on him, but the rest of the team has not slowed down, scoring 76 PPG in their last four and outscoring opponents by more than 21 points a game. Surprisingly to many, the Panthers are the Big East's leading 3-pt % shooting team in the conference. Ronald Ramon, Antonio Graves and Levance Fields have been making teams pay for sagging in on Gray. Fields has really stepped up his game over the last month, including exploding for a 24-pt game at Syracuse.

This is a tough game to call. DePaul will be fired up, but you never really know what your going to get when the Blue Demon's hit the floor, although they have been very solid at home this season with nice wins over Kansas, Wake Forest and California. Pitt has been on the road, winning at Auburn, Buffalo and Syracuse, while dropping a game at Wisconsin. Pitt seems to be improving on the defensive end and on the boards and picking up on more of the little things that have helped improve their play on the road in each new scenario.

It should be a tough game, unless one team is really hot or one is really cold, but I expect both teams to come out and play well, but Pitt's well will be just a little better because of Gray inside opening more opportunities for the rest of the team.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 DePaul 67

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Syracuse

January 4, 2006

Two Big East heavyweights and longtime conference member clash for their conference openers tonight in the Carrier Dome. Pittsburgh, ranked #10 in both polls, enter the game as a 1-pt favorite over the home Orange who are looking for a big win to jumpstart their season. Pittsburgh's lone losses have come away from home (at Wisconsin and to Oklahoma State in 2 OT in Oklahoma City), while the Orange have already dropped two in the Dome this season (Wichita State and Drexel) in addition to their loss to Oklahoma State at Madison Square Garden.

Here are the game preview stories from around the web:

Weaker Big East Could Hurt Pitt Come March (Post-Gazette)
Pitt's Reputation Put to Test (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Wants Revenge at Syracuse (Tribune-Democrat)
Panthers Dont Expect Surprises from Orange (Beaver County Times)
Roberts Return Should Help SU on Boards Against Pitt (Democrat & Chronicle)
Ready or Not, Here Comes Big, Bad Pitt to Dome (Post-Standard)
Jones Leaves Orange (Post-Standard)


We have seen how tough it is to win on the road in the Big East already as the home teams have gone 6-0 in conference play thus far. Pittsburgh will look to end that streak when they take to the floor at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to face the Orange.

This is a match-up of very experienced teams with both teams starting three seniors, a junior and a sophomore (if you count Eric Devendorf as a starter). The Syracuse players came to the Big East with big reputations (all 5 among the top 50 recruits in their classes), while not much was known about many of the Pittsburgh players (only Levance Fields appeared on any top 100 lists among their starters). So, it is a little surprising which team has the top 10 ranking while the other is trying to work its way back into the national rankings and to show they are a player in the Big East.

Pittsburgh has shown they are not quite the same team away from the Peterson EentsCnter as they are on the road. They have allowed an average of 76.8 PPG in their five contests away from home, up greatly from the 56.1 PPG they allow on their home court. Maybe more concerning is the number of offensive rebounds that Pitt allowed against Wisconsin and Oklahoma State as both teams dominated the boards against Pitt. Certainly, the Pitt offense has improved, scoring 77.1 PPG, including 79 PPG away from home.

Pitt is led by 7'0 C Aaron Gray, who averaged 15.6 PPG and 10.9 rebounds a game in their 14 pre-conference contests, shooting 62% from the floor and playing just 28 minutes a game. But, Pitt is not only Aaron Gray, in three games that opponents largerly concentrated on removing Gray from the mix with packed in zones (Florida State, Dayton and Florida A&M), Gray averaged just 6.3 PPG (along with 10.3 rebounds), but the Panthers scored a robust 82 PPG, led by Mike Cook, Antonio Graves and Sam Young. Pitt is a deep and balanced team, Cook is 2nd in scoring with 12 PPG, but he plays just 23 minutes a game. Graves averages 11 PPG and after him the Panthers have six other players averaging between 4.2 PPG and 8.7 PPG and at least 12 minutes of playing time each.

On the other hand, we are still not quite sure what Syracuse is going to give us. Syracuse can look VERY good when they are charging from behind, but it is how they get that far behind that worries us...the turning it off and on nature of this team is something that will not fly in the Big East. Plus, the lost a big lead at home in a loss to Drexel a couple weeks ago, but had to play that second half without senior Terrence Roberts who was injured. Syracuse missed his inside presence as Frank Elegar torched the SU post defense for a career high 27 pts. Pitt will look to expose that weakness by going to Gray, but Roberts is expected to return to game action tonight, after the 19-day layoff.

The Orange have been led by senior Demetris Nichols, who averages 20 PPG and 5.6 rebounds a contest. The 6'8 small forward is the type of player that can give Pitt fits with his ability to hit from the outside and use his length to get inside. Mike Cook will be under a lot of pressure to keep the hot Nichols from continuing his hot streak in Big East play. This is what the Orange have been waiting for from Nichols who suffered through two ice cold seasons as a freshmen and a sophomore. He had a very good run last season in the pre-conference schedule, but struggled again in Big East play, shooting just 38% from the floor and 29% from 3-pt range. Nichols always had it in him, hopefully for the Orange his burst of confidence continues into Big East play this time around.

The rest of the Orange, however, we are not too sure of. Roberts returns from injury tonight and prior to the injury he was averaging 9 PPG and 8 rebounds a contenst. He and Darryl Watkins (9 PPG, 7 rebounds) form an athletic duo in the post, but neither has shown much of an ability to create their own offensive opportunities in the half court offense. Roberts is a POOR free throw shooter (42%) and if they are not flushing the finish on the break or off the board, their offense is very hit or miss. Jim Boeheim has seemed to come down hard on a couple of his younger, but most talented players in freshman Paul Harris and sophomore Eric Devendorf, neither have been in the starting line-up lately, giving way to players such as Andy Rautins and Matt Gorman, but now that Big East play is here and they have been getting more time lately, look for the Orange to ride their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers a little more. Devendorf needs to get better on defense and Harris needs a better understanding of when to go full bore and when to let it come to him, but they have the talent to take SU to another level.

Syracuse is NOT deep. Promising freshman Mike Jones has recently decided to leave the team and Matt Gorman (ankle) is battling injuries. They have already lost big sophomore Arinze Onuaku to preseason knee surgery and freshman Devin Brennan-McBride is not quite ready for the bright lights of the Big East. PG Josh Wright will look to take advantage of Pitt's slower backcourt, but sometimes it seems like Wright gets nowhere faster than any player in the country. His lightning quick burst with the ball is fun to watch, but what he does with it after his penetration is sometimes an adventure. As a team, the Orange average over 15 turnovers a game and barely outrebounded the overmatched competition in the pre-conference schedule. That needs to improve, beginning tonight.

Pittsburgh did not travel to Syracuse last season, but has won three of their last in the Dome and eight of the last 11 in the series between the two team, but Syracuse has the last one under their belts, a 65-61 win last March for the Big East Tournament title.

In reality, tonight is a huge game for Syracuse. The Orange have had a lot of trouble putting 40 minutes of intense effort together, especially on the defensive side of the ball and on the boards. They will need that tonight against Pittsburgh. Although the Panthers are not as good on the boards or defensively as they have been the last couple years, Pittsburgh will still play hard and unselfish for the entire game. So, if Syracuse is going to do it this year, tonight, at home against a top 10 team, is as good of a night as any. For one night, I think the Orange put in the effort and come up with a tough win for once.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Syracuse 73 Pittsburh 68

What is your prediction?

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