Wednesday, January 09, 2008


January 9, 2008

The Pittburgh Panthers take their depleted line-up back on the road for a meeting with South Florida at the Sun Dome. The Panthers lost their first Big East conference game at Villanova last Sunday. The Bulls are 1-1 in league play, earning a home win over Rutgers in their opener and fell at Syracuse last weekend.

Here are the local media previews on tonight's contest:

Pitt Gets Chance to Rebound (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Running the Point for Pitt Leaves Ramon with Fewer Shots (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt Could Play More Zone (Tribune-Review)
USF Sees Pittsburgh as a Start (Tampa Tribune)
Pitt Readies for South Florida

Pittsburgh concludes a two-game road trip to open Big East play tonight as the 3-pt favorite Panthers travel to South Florida to meet Stan Heath's Bulls. The last time a Stan Heath-coached team played Pittsburgh, Ben Howland was the Panther coach and Heath was leading Kent State to an overtime victory over the Panthers in the Sweet 16 of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

Playing their first Big East opponent since the injuries took Levance Fields (6-12 weeks) and Mike Cook (season) out of Pitt's line-up, the Panthers turned the ball over 22 times in a 64-63 loss at Villanova in a frenzied Pavillion. Coming up a point short and knowing that 22 possessions did not result in a shot attempt has left Pitt more determined to take care of the basketball.

The Bulls opened conference play last week with a 68-45 win over the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the Sun Dome. The win was the Bulls 10th in 11 games, following three losses to start the season. On the road in Syracuse on Saturday, it was a different story for USF as they fell 89-77.

We are still trying to get a feel for this new-look Panther squad. Their effort at Villanova was impressive, but with a very limited 7-man rotation there are a lot of factors that could derail a Panther victory because of few options. Foul trouble or an off night by one of the players they now lean more havily on will make any game trecherous for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers still boast a talented front line duo in the form of junior Sam Young and freshman Dejuan Blair. Getting the pair the ball in position to score will be the key to Pitt's success. When they got them the ball on Sunday, good things usually happened. Teams will try to extend defense against Pitt to prevent the guards from making easy passes to the post. Instead of sagging into the paint defensively to slow the inside game of the Panthers, attacking and pressuring the ball looks like the route teams will take. Ronald Ramon is not a true point guard, he is an adequate ballhandler, but he has trouble navigating trapping defenses.

On the wings, the Panthers can be exciting as Gilbert Brown is a high-flyer, but still needs to develop the mid-range game to score other than on dunks or three-pointers. Keith Benjamin, a senior, has shown signs of being a consistent offensive threat in the two outings since Fields was injured, if that continues, it will be a big lift for Pitt while Fields is out and could make the Panthers even more of a dangerous team when Fields returns.

For the Bulls, their offense is led by the inside-out combination of freshman Dominique Jones (16.7 PPG) and senior big man Kentreall Gransberry (15 PPG and 11 rebounds/game). Pittsburgh has been known to make it a long day for scorers, already shutting down players such as John Scheyer, Jermine Anderson and Scottie Reynolds this season, so look for Jones to be concentrated on by the Pitt defense. Gransberry is built much like Pitt's Blair and the Panthers do not have much size or depth in the front court, so Gransberry will be a tough task as he loves to anchor himself inside for rebounds. He and Blair should be a very fun battle, if either gets in foul trouble, it could spell doom for their respective team.

Where the Bulls are better this season is they do not have to rely on just one player. jesus Verdejo has been more consistent this season and Chris Howard is showing more signs of being an offensive threat. Howard and Sam Young were high school teammates before heading off the prep school and now college.

I can't help but think the short-handed Panthers were helped by the energetic crowd at Villanova. It provided both teams with energy, but the Wildcats had more answers, their bench outscoring the Panther reserves 39-7 in a 64-63 contest. The crowd will definitely be less than intimidating tonight, the Bulls average just under 4,000 fans a contest. Sometimes an opposing team can draw on the energy and motivation a crowd brings with it as well.

Tonight, Pitt will have to find their own sources of energy, protect the ball and make shots. The Bulls are unlikely to force the amount of turnovers Villanova did with extended pressure, but they have more of an inside threat to counter Pitt. I see this game coming down to the wire, just like Pitt/'Nova did.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 63 South Florida 61



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