Tuesday, January 29, 2008


January 30, 2008

The Big East conference can change on a whim and two teams that suddenly find themselves facing lots of questions meet in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh has lost two of three, including a shocking home loss Saturday night to Rutgers. The Panthers circled the wagons when injuries decimated their club in late December, but the lack of depth and numbers looked to be taking a toll as the Panthers seemed in a mental fog on Saturday. However, that performance came just days after a dominating win over St. John's on the road.

After Villanova won at Syracuse, it was the Wildcats that seemed poised to make a litte run and position themselves favorably in the conference race. However, a trip to the RAC was no picnic as Rutgers came up with a win and then a trip home to face Notre Dame resulted in another double-digit loss. The Wildcats yielded 85 points a game in two losses last week, nunbers that Jay Wright will implore his team to improve upon vry soon.

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

Snapping out of Funk Wont Be Easy for 'Cats (Philadelhia Inquirer)
Pitt in a Must-Win Situation (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Must Avoid Turnovers (Beaver County Times)
Ramon Settles in at Point (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt Tries to Solve Villanova (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

These two teams have already met once and Villanova came away with a thrilling one-point victory at the Villanova Pavillion when Dante Cunningham hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left. Villanova extended their defense and forced the Panthers to commit 22 turnovers, including one as the clock expired saving the victory for 'Nova. The Wildcats were keyed in that victory by Malcolm Grant and Antonio Pena off the bench as the Villanova reserves combined for 34 points and Dwayne Anderson added five more for 39 points from the bench compared to just 7 from the Pitt bench.

Villanova will have to use their deeper numbers and defensive pressure again to come up with a road victory. By extending the pressure against Pitt's guards, who do not have a true poit guard, Villanova can counter the Panthers' inside advantage.

On the other side, Pittsburgh needs to get back on the boards and pick up the defensive intensity once again. The Villanova guards are tough match-ups for Pitt, but the Panthers will have to make adjustments to control the dribble penetration of the Wildcats and to make sure they can get into their offense and are able to get shot attempts during their possessions. Pitt will likely get second chance opportunities, so every turnover takes away not only one shot attempt, but also potentially Pitt's biggest advantage, their front line duo of DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.

For Pitt, staying out of foul trouble and hiting some perimter shots to free up room for Blair and Young is the key to their offense. Rediscovering their intensity level is also a must and must come on their home floor.

While Pitt is not getting any healthier soon, Villanova might have Casseim Drummond available and the big body would be a big help against the Pittsburgh front court.

A lot of things point to Pittsburgh in this game, but this is a difficult match-up for the Panthers without Levance Fields to handle the ball. However Pittsburgh usually finds a way to get things down when you begin to count them out. The game is huge for both teams, while the loss to Rutgers is concerning, as of now it looks like an anomaly for the Panthers rather than the norm. So, look for the home team to pull it out, but it likely will not be easy. The Panthers are a 7.5-pt favorite and that seems a little too high to me.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 67 Villanova 61


Read more!

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


Read more!

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


Read more!

Monday, January 14, 2008


January 14, 2008

Big Monday on ESPN kicks off with a heavyweight match-up as the Georgetown Hoyas travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers at the Peterson Events Center. The road has not been kind to Big East teams this year and, with conference play only two weeks old, Georgetown is the only team in the Big East without a conference loss.

The Panthers have overcome injuries to starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook to get off to a 2-1 start in the conference. Pittsburgh has a completly new starting five from last season and after a 64-63 road loss to Villanova to open conference play, the Panthers have won two in a row.

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

Panther's Young is a Slam Dunk and Then Some (Washington Post)
Plenty of Talk About Hoyas (Washington Times)
Hoyas Surged After Wins Against Pitt (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt's Blair Faces Tall Order Against Georgetown (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Blair Ready for Hibbert (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Still Evolving as Hoyas Arrive (Washington (PA) Observer)

Over the past seven years the Pittsburgh Panthers have had a lot of success, losing just 26 games in conference play. However, one team the Panthers have struggled with of late has been the Georgetown Hoyas, who have beaten the Panthers in four of the last five meetings, including a 65-42 drubbing in the Big East Conference Tournament Championship game last season.

Other than that lopsided affair, the other games have come down to the wire in back and forth contests. One thorn in the Panthers' side is no longer there as Jeff Green has moved on to the NBA, but the Hoyas still return four other starters from last year's Final Four team.

Georgetown is led by Big East preseason Player of the Year, Roy Hibbert. The 7'2 center has a signficant height advantage over a Pitt line-up that will likely have 6'7 DeJuan Blair and 6'8 Tyrell Biggs playing the post. Blair will try to use his exceptional feet and hands to work inside and Biggs will try to pull Hibbert away from the basket. On defense, the Panther big men will have to use their bodies and strength to keep the bigger Hibbert out of his comfort zone on the block. Hibbert, at times, can be bodied up, but his enourmous size advantage could lead to foul trouble for the Panthers, something that could reallu hurt Pitt with their lack of depth due to injuries. Freshman Gary McGhee (6'10) offers more of a size match-up for Hibbert and will likely see action. His play against USF's Kentrell Gransberry when Blair picked up two first half fouls was a key ingredient to Pitt's road win over the Bulls.

One of the candidates for Big East Player of the Year AND Most Improved Player is Panther forward Sam Young. The 6'6 jumping-jack from Clinton (MD) grew up close to Georgetown and now will try to lead Pitt to a win over the Hoyas. Young scored 50 points in the Panther's wins last week and is averaging over 18 PPG on the season. itt is doing a tremendous job in getting Young the ball in position to score and take advantage of his inside-out strengths. Georgetown does have the perfect player to match-up with Young in sophomore DaJuan Summers, a 6'7 F who can also go inside and out on each side of the ball. Summers also has the ability to be a dominate scorer, but in the Georgetown Princeton-style system, he shares the scoring load with the rest of the line-up.

Georgetown also has some added depth in the frontcourt with sophomore Vernon Macklin and senior Patrick Ewing Jr. Both offer excellent size, strength and athleticism for theirt positions.

On the wing, the Panthers are without senior Mike Cook for the rest of the season and redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown has stepped into his spot in the starting line-up. Brown is one of the best athletes in the entire conference and should emerge as a terrefic wing player. He is still looking for his comfort zone offesively, but in every game he makes a couple athletic plays that leaves observers impressed. For Georgetown, freshman Austin Freeman can fill up the basket quickly and will be a good match-up with Brown when they are on the floor together. This could be a major coming out party for Freeman if the freshman continues his solid play. He is averaging 13 PPG in conference action, shooting 50% from the arc (6-12) and 62% (16-26) from the floor in three games.

The backcourts look pretty identical with Pitt starting a pair of seniors in Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin and the Hoyas have senior Jonathan Wallace at the point and Jesse Sapp at the off guard. Ramon is averaging 8 PPG and 6 assists in Big East action, but looked to find his shooting stroke on Saturday against Seton Hall. Benjamin has really stepped up his game since the injury to Fields, averging nearly 16 PPG in the three Big East contests. Both are good defensive players as well. Sapp and Wallace both average 9 PPG in conference play, but they each have the knack of coming up big when needed. Georgetown has added depth with Chris Wright and Jeremiah Rivers giving very good minutes. Pitt only has freshman Brad Wanamaker in the backcourt to provide relief for the starters, unless they go with a bigger line-up with Gil Brown at guard.

Georgetown is about a 2-pt favorite in this one. They have a very versatile line-up that can go big or small. I look for them to play a mixture of man to man and zone defense and if they can settle into a zone, they will force Pitt to beat them from the perimeter. Without Levance Fields to break down the defense, I think that could give the Panthers trouble. Pitt also will have to watch the foul trouble as I expect them to be physical with Hibbert in the paint, but for John Thompson III to make it a priority to point out the physical play to the officials. Jamie Dixon will have Pitt ready and he has done a masterful job putting his injury-riddled line-up together and keeping them in position to win. I expect their veterans to be ready to play and the crowd to give them that extra lift. If they hit from the perimeter, I like their chances. However, the lack of depth makes the margin of error a little too narrow for me tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Georgetown 73 Pittsburgh 72


Read more!

Friday, January 11, 2008


January 12, 2008

On paper, this does not look like a close match-up. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest home court advantages in the country while Seton Hall is still looking for their first road win under Bobby Gonzalez.

However, Pittsburgh, as everyone knows, has injury issues with Mike Cook gone for the season and Levance Fields out for at least another 6 weeks. Seton Hall likes to pressure the basketball the full court for the full 40 minutes, but their own injury issue with Paul Gause makes them much less effective playing that style.

Local Media Previews of the Game:

Pitt Players, Coaches back Ramon Despite Troubles (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt Displaying Diverse Line-ups (Tribune-Review)

Pittsburgh has shown a lot of resilency since the injury bug has hit. Sure, they have dropped a couple games, but judging by their 1-pt loss in the waning seconds at Villanova and a double-digit road win at South Florida, this team still has a lot left and they are not spending any time feeling sorry for themselves.

Villanova did set a blueprint to be successful against Pitt, pressuring the ball the entire game. It does not have to be fullcourt pressure, but extending the defense on the perimeter will keep Ronald Ramon, not a true point guard, from setting up the offense easily. Once Pitt is set up, they are tough to stop as Sam Young and Dejuan Blair still make up a top frontcourt duo. Zone pressure full court also might not be that effective as Pitt is still a veteran-based team and might even be a better finishing team now with Young, Blair, Gilbert Brown and Keith Benjamin running the floor. Each of their games seem to be stronger in the open court and that was definitely shown against South Florida. Villanova was able to slow the game and force Pitt to run a halfcourt game with heavy pressure on the ball, forcing 22 turnovers, most after Pitt broke the token full court pressure.

Seton Hall has been an interesting team to say the least. They have already played in four overtime contests, including at home against Monmouth, Robert Morris and James Madison. At times, the Pirates play down to their competition and find themselves in HUGE holes, only to use their full court frantic pace to pull themselves out. Luckily, they do play more consistent against the better teams, because that style is not likely to find success against Big East teams when trying to climb out of a big hole.

Seton Hall was very successful in nearly stealing a road win at Marquette this week by settling back into a zone defense and working to keep the score in the 50's against Marquette. To win on the road, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and be able to grind it out in the half court. If they can do this and turn it into a posession by possession game in the last three minutes, the athletic ability and quickness of Eugene Harvey could give Pitt trouble on both ends of the floor. It might be a tougher task against Pitt as the Panthers will rebound the ball very strong and use their size against a smaller Pirate club, but that is probably the best strategy for Bobby Gonzalez to follow.

The other key for Seton Hall is to make shots, especially on the perimter. Jamar Nutter, who is the only Pirate likely to play that has experienced a Big East road win, is a hot and cold player. If he is hot from the perimeter it will give the Pirates a huge list. Freshman Jeremy Hazell is also very capable of letting them fly from deep, against Pitt, however, that is tough. Ask high scoring freshman wing players such as Dominique Jones and James Anderson, or even experienced shooters like Scottie Reynolds or Jon Scheyer how tough the Pitt perimeter defense can be.

If Seton Hall can put Pittsburgh into a halfcourt game and pressure the ball from there, they could turn this one into a similar contest as they did against Marquette. Pittsburgh is returning home after a couple road games, and they have to avoid looking past the pesky Pirates to a Big Monday date with Georgetown. This wounded Pitt team does seem to be playing with extra motivation as some players who were previously role players want to prove they are capable of succeeding in the Big East.

Seton Hall has not one a road game in the Big East since then-coch Louis Orr brought his team to the Peterson Events Center for the last regular season game of 2005. That win liekly clinched the Pirates a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Can they taste road success at Pitt again? Maybe...but, I would not count in it just yet.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Seton Hall 67


Read more!

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


Read more!

Friday, January 04, 2008


January 6, 2008

Although Sunday afternoon is a match-up of a pair of current Top 20 teams in Pittsburgh and Villanova, it is also a match-up of two teams with numerous questions surrounding them both.

The obvious questions at Pittsburgh is how are they going to navigate the Big East conference schedule with a depleted roster. Heading into practice in mid-October, the Panthers were expecting a full allotment of 13 scholarship players available. The news of Darnell Dodson not being cleared by the NCAA hardly caused a stir as he was expected to be redshirted because of depth on the wing. The news of Austin Wallace being injured in practice and lost for the season also hardly made waves since his contributions were expected to be minimal this season. Pitt pressed on, winning their first 10 games and met Duke at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. The Panthers pulled off the upset when Levance Fields hit a clutch three pointer with 4.7 seconds left in the contest, just moments after his best friend on the team Mike Cook went down with a serious knee injury.

Cook's injury raised a question on the Panthers, but they were still regarded as a Top 10 team and a Final Four contender once another of the pieces of the puzzle (Gilbert Brown) was plugged into the mix. Afterall, that is what Pittsburgh does, they plug in good players in place of good players each and every season. Brown even brought a little extra promise as the exciting redhsirt freshman has loads of potential in his 6'5 frame. However, things got worse, during a 25-point drubbing at Dayton, the Panthers saw their most irreplacable player go down with an injury, Levance Fields suffered a broken foot and initial reports had him sidelined for 8-12 weeks, if not the season. He could be back sooner, but now the Panthers enter Big East play with five new starters from a year ago.

for Villanova, the out of conference schedule was a solid success for Jay Wright's young squad. They won 10 of 11 contests, only a controversial last second foul against North Carolina State prevented them from being unbeaten. They did not overly push themselves (no games against Top 25 teams) and the only true road game took place at Temple, but they were working the kinks out as they looked to replace seniors Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan from last year's team.

Sometimes, winning masks problems, and Jay Wright raised concerns about his team's defense on several occassions, but the young Wildcats were scoring a lot of points and winning. However, that ended on Thursday night in Chicago when a 4-7 DePaul squad rose up and defeated the 17th-ranked Wildcats, 84-76. Now, the Wildcats return home to face cross state rival Pittsburgh in a key game.

Pittsburgh does have one game under their belt since Fields was injured, a 96-75 home win over Lafayette. The Panthers will move Ronald Ramon, a senior, into the starting point guard spot and senior Keith Benjamin will start at shooting guard. In their debut without Fields, Ramon had 11 pts, 10 assists and no turnovers and Benjamin had a career-high 20 pts. However, Lafayette maybe a school in Pennsylvania, but that is all they have in common with Villanova. The Wildcats will likely come out with a little more fire defensively, especially on the perimeter and will likely challenge the ball-handling abilities of Ramon and Benjamin. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher will likely be after the Panther gaurds from start to finish, trying to force them to set-up their offense out of their comfort zone and make it difficult for them to get the ball inside to Dejuan Blair or to Sam Young on the baseline for then to work against Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham.

The Panther defense will also be challenged by the Wildcats as they will try to attack off the dribble and draw fouls. Pitt is down to jusy nine scholarship players, but Gary McGhee is also hobbled and likely headed for a redshirt and Cassin Diggs is a likely match-up dilemma that the Panthers will be unwilling to use, leaving them with a 7-man rotation. Villanova on the other hand can go with Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Malcolm Grant and Dwayne Anderson off the bench as options, so despite missing Casseim Drummond due to injury, the Wildcats are the deeper team.

One thing we do know about Pittsburgh is they will not quit. Jamie Dixon will have them playing hard, but the pressure opposing guards will apply against Pittsburgh is going to make it awful tough for them to run their offense effectively and take advantage of a pair of very good forwards in Blair and Young. it will be a tough game, but Villanova rebounds at home to win this one.

NBE Blogger: Villanova 67 Pittsburgh 62


Read more!