Friday, January 25, 2008


January 26, 2008

There definitely should be a little extra hop in the step of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights when they travel to face Pittsburgh Saturday evening. The Scarlet Knights have struggled mightily offensively this season, but after nearly knocking off DePaul on the road, they returned home and dominated Villanova at the RAC for their first conference victory of the season.

Pittsburgh rebounded from a disappointing loss at Cincinnati by taking St. John's out behind the woodshed of Madison Square Garden during an 81-57 victory. Sam Young continues to make his case for Big East Player of the Year candidacy with 26 points in the victory.

The key for the Panthers seem to be early starts offensively. In their three losses this season, Pitt has struggled to score in the first 8-12 minutes. Although each game was still close through that portion of the game, runs by the opponent later put Pitt in a tough spot. However, those games were on the road, at home the Panthers seem to be a different level of team. Even with Levance Fields out at least another three weeks and Mike Cook gone for the season, Pitt has made their case to be one of the top teams in the Big East. Freshman DeJuan Blair teams with Young to give the Panthers one of the nation's best 1-2 combination in the front court. Young seems to be a bureoning star in the league and is scoring in a variety of ways both inside and out. The senior guard combination of Keith Benjamin and Ronald ramon entered the season expected to play complimentary roles, but have shown to be more than adequate in the Big East. Freshman such as Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee are improving with more playing time and junior Tyrell Biggs could likely be the next Panther to step up his game when called on.

Pittsburgh can be tested by teams that pressure on the ball with a deep group of guards or an effective zone that limits Young's ability to penetrate if their perimeter shooting is off. Foul trouble is also a point to watch as the Panthers are thin in numbers (Fields, Cool, Austin Wallace and Cassin Diggs all out with injuries) and foul problems with Blair could be especially damaging.

Rutgers, however, does not look like a team that can challenge the Panthers' vulnerable areas. The Scarlet Knights are down in numbers as well and the recent development of Courtney Nelson being ineligible for the remainder of the season leaves RU extremely thin. Offensively, Byron Joynes and Hamady N'Diaye do not pose much of a threat to get Blair in foul trouble. Rutgers' best player is forward JR Inman who will be directly matched up with Young in what should be an interesting battle. If Inman relaxes mentally on defense, Young could be past him in a blink and drawing fouls as he attacks the rim.

Fred Hill's most talented offensive option is Corey Chandler, however the freshman guard is battling a nagging stress fracture in his foot and facing the tough, physical Pitt defense could mean a long game for him. Mike Coburn, another freshman, and Anthony Farmer had career games against Villanova and will look to carry over that success. Wing Jaron Griffin is a very streaky shooter whose bad streaks seem to outnumber the good streaks, however, if he is on, he can score some points.

For Pittsburgh, the key is likely the first 10 minutes. If they can avoid early fouls on Blair, but the ball in the basket and get a lead, Rutgers could become discouraged quickly on the road, especially in one of the best home court atmospheres in the college game. It is hard to believe a 1-6 team could be looking at a let down, but Rutgers beat Jay Wright, Fred Hill's former boss, in their last game and they have rival Seton Hall up next, so a quick strike from Pitt could take RU out of the game early.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 77 Rutgers 61



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