Wednesday, January 23, 2008


January 23, 2008

The Pittsburgh Panthers head to New York City to meet the Redstorm of St. John's. The Panthers return to Madison Square Garden where, earlier this season, they had one of their biggest victories in recent memory, but in the same game, suffered a tough loss as well. St. John's will hope to surprise the Panthers, yet again, on Broadway.

Here are some local media previews and stories on the game:

The Future is There for St. John's (Big East Basketball Report)
Former High School Teammates Reunite When SJU Battles Pitt (NY Daily News)
Pittsburgh Perseveres Without Injured Starters (NY Times)
Storm Brace for Pitt Stop (NY Post)
Pitt Hopes for Reversal of Fortune (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Shooting Practice Pays off for Panthers' Benjamin

The last two times that Pittsburgh has entered Madison Square Garden to face the Redstorm under Jamie Dixon, the Panthers have lost. It has not been an issue of playing under the bright lights of Broadway as Dixon has guided the Panthers to wins over Alabama, Memphis and Duke in non-conference games at MSG and Pitt has won seven Big East Tournament games in his four seasons as the head coach in the World's Most Famous Arena. However, the Redstorm have been effective in keeping the game bogged down and low scoring, much like Cincinnati did in the Bearcats' 62-59 win over Pitt last weekend.

The Panthers sport quite a New York City flavor themselved with area natives such as Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin and Tyrell Biggs from the area as part of their 8-man rotation. Injured players Levance Fields and Austin Wallace are also New York City natives. Sometimes going back home is tough on players, but Pitt's success in other contests in New York City throws that theory out of the window.

Earlier this season Pitt knocked off Duke in front of a large Duke contingent on national TV, 65-64 on a Levance Fields 3-pter in the waning seconds. In the game, Pitt lost senior G/F Mike Cook for the season with a knee injury and Fields, who is out until at least mid-February, went down with a foot injury in their next game. Without two starters, the Panthers have a much smaller margin of error. Foul trouble, especially with DeJuan Blair, and some inconsistent shooting nights from the perimeter will make many games without Fields a struggle. That really bit them in their last outing.

St. John's is a young team still trying to find their footing in the Big East. The Redstorm have lost 9 of 12 and had a disappointing loss at Carnesecca Arena in their last hime game when they let a 9-pt second half lead slip away and turn into a 60-54 loss to DePaul. Last week they hung tough on the road against West Virginia showing more energy and dominating the boards in a 73-64 loss.

The 'Storm will need to continue that energy tonight on the defensive end and on the boards against a Pittsburgh team that will likely be showing more life on the floor than they did in their last outing. Both teams need to take care of the basketball. St. John's might be a little short-handed with Eigene Lawrence hobbling, freshman Malik Boothe could be called on more often and he would be in charge of applying ball pressure to the Panther guards, which is an area other teams can exploit in the absence of Fields. St. John's is also moving Ayodele Coker into the starting line-up to give them added toughness and size to face the Panthers.

If St. John's can control the tempo and keep this game on pace to be played in the 50's, with the first team to 60 winning, they can follow the plan that has led to their previous two victories against Pitt. Pitt plays well in transition with Sam Young finishing and DeJuan Blair finding room inside. If the game slows and the Redstorm can pack in a zone defense, it could become a perimeter shooting contest, something neither team particularly excels at and plays more into the favor of St. John's in staying in the game and stealing it late.

I look for Pittsburgh to have a little more life tonight and pull it out as a 55.5-pt road favorite.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 67 St. John's 60



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