Wednesday, February 27, 2008


February 27, 2008

Pittsburgh has lost three straight games and looks to right the ship tonight when the Cincinnati Bearcats come to the Peterson Events Center. The Bearcats beat Pitt early this season in Cincinnati, 62-59, and hold a one-game lead on the Panthers in the standings.

Here are the local media previews and game stories for tonight's contest:

Bearcats Playing for Position (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Slumping Panthers Look to Rebound (Post-Gazette)
Defense, Rebounding Costing Pitt (Beaver County Times)
Prolonged Shooting Slump Perplexes Pitt (Tribune-Review)

Following losses at Marquette, at Notre Dame and to Louisville on Sunday the Panthers look to bounce back and avenge an early loss tonight when they host Cincinnati in Pittsburgh. Earlier this season, the Bearcats used a physical defense, aggressive rebounding and a timely 13-0 run to break a second half tie to hold on for a 62-59 win over Pittsburgh.

Against Louisville, Levance Fields started for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot on December 29th and played 37 turnover-free minutes. Fields also added 7 assists. It is clear that the junior point guard is not yet close to 100%, especially defensively or with his shot, but he is getting healthier and is the player that definitely makes the Panther offense go. In their loss to Louiville, it was not their offense, but their defense that struggled. Facing Cincinnati, who is struggling scoring points, could be a nice tonic for what ails the Panthers.

However, it will not be easy as the Bearcats will keep the pace down and have a dynamic scorer in Deonta Vaughn to lean on. The emergence of forward John Williamson as a reliable second option offensively has also been a big key in taking some pressure off of Vaughn. Defensively, UC will likely show a lot of zone looks trying to force Pitt to beat them from the outside and settle for perimeter jump shots. This is a good gamble against the Panthers who are very streaky from the outside.

Sam Young and DeJuan Blair each scored 20 points against Louisville with Fields delivering the ball to them in position to score. Young continues to score inside and out and he was the one Panther UC could not stop in the first meeting. Blair found himself in foul trouble earlier this year against Cincinnati and Pitt must have him on the floor as much as possible for them to be at their best.

The oddsmakers have made Pitt an 11.5-pt favorite. I do think Pitt wins, but in what I expect to be a low-scoring game, I think Cincinnati stays within that large spread.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 69 Cincinnati 61


Read more!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


February 21, 2008

Notre Dame puts their 34-game home win streak on the line Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Panthers come to town. The Irish barely escaped the RAC last weekend with a win over Rutgers their last time out. Pittsburgh will look to like their wounds inflicted by the drubbing Marquette put on them last Friday night.

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

Critical Couple Facing Panthers (Tribune Democrat)
Irish 34-Game Win Streak at Home More than Just Luck (Post-Gazette)
Pitt, No. 21 Notre Dame Finally Set to Battle (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Prepares for Notre Dame (Tribune-Review)
Irish Sophomore Loses Anonymity (Journal Gazette)
It's Nice to See You Again, Pitt (South Bend Tribune)
Rebounds Will Tell Story for ND-Pitt (South Bend Tribune)

Believe it or not, this is the first meeting between Pitt and Notre Dame since opening the 2006 Big East season against one another. That game was won by Pitt 100-97 in 2OT when Ronald Ramon hit a late-game three to give Pitt the lead. Ramon scored 12 in that contest and Sam Young (15), Levance Fields (11), Tyrell Biggs (4) and Keith Benjamin also saw action for Pitt. Luke Zeller (11), Kyle McAlarney (3), Rob Kurz (6), Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers saw action for the Irish in the marathon contest.

Both of these teams match-up fairly well with one another. Neither is the most athletic in the conference. Of course, when discussing the Irish, the inside/out combination of Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney dominate the discussion. What has been key for the Irish is the rest of the roster has accepted and grown into their roles in support of their star duo.

Harangody will be matched in a battle of bruisers with DeJuan Blair. Harangody has the experience and the solid footwork and fundamentals to score in the paint on just about anyone and he shoudl get his opportunities against Blair. The Pitt freshman should also be able to be productive, but if he finds himself in foul trouble against the effecient Harangody, Pitt will be in trouble trying to stop the likely Big East Player of the Year inside.

Where Pittsburgh could make life difficult is while guarding McAlarney. In the three Irish league losses, Harangody still has managed to average nearly 25 PPG and 13 rebounds, monster numbers for the sophomore. However, McAlarney is at just 10 PPG, but more importantly for the opposition, shooting just 11-37 from the floor and averaging just 2 assists against 3.3 turnovers a game in their losses.

A key for the Irish is the ability of Tory Jackson to use his quickness on each end of the floor to exploit the Panthers. Jackson can hound the ball on defense and break down the opposition with the ball in his hands, leading to kick-outs to McAlarney on the perimeter or dishes to Harangody for easy buckets. While McAlarney seems to be the barometer for the big wins, Jackson may be the ultimate key fr future Irish success, including on Thursday.

Pittsburgh is not a deep team because of the injuries they have faced and word that Levance Fields has been limited in practice since the Marquette game does not bode well for the Panthers. Fields played 20 minutes in the loss to the Golden Eagles, but apparently suffered an additional foot injury in the game. The injury is not related to the broken bone, but is with the same foot. Having Fields get healthier would have been a huge lift for Pitt in the match-up with Jackson, now Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin will be once again asked to carry a heavy load on both ends of the ball. The seniors are definitely capable, but the minutes seem to be catching up with them.

Pitt's biggest advantage is probably at the forwars position where the need a big game from Sam Young. The athletic but sometimes enigmatic Young will be matched up against ROb Kurz, a very solid player that can take advantage of any mental lapses Young might suffer. If Young is on his game and motivated from start to finish, he has the ability to carry the Panthers to a win against nearly anyone in this league, especially if Blair is out of foul trouble and the guards give some support from the perimeter.

Both teams are not likely to go more than 7 or 8 deep, Pitt could get a lift if Fields can give more minutes, but the Panthers will use four freshmen in that rotation while the Irish will not turn to any newcomers. That experience is tough to overcome on the road.

However, there is just something that leads me to believe the Irish home win streak is in jeopardy in the near future. Pittsburgh's losses have come against teams that like to pressure the ball with their athletic guard line-ups (although, it does not explain the loss to Rutgers). The Irish will not be as aggressive defensively as Marquette, UConn, Cincinnati or Villanova was with the Panthers, so, Pitt might be able to find some comfort and coming off that bad loss, they should be plenty motivated. The pressure of the home win streak can sometimes be a distraction and a source of added pressure...call me crazy, but I think it ends in a classic battle of two very good teams.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Notre Dame 71


Read more!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


February 19, 2008

Verbal Commitment Alert: Jermaine Dixon, 6'3 (G) from Tallahassee CC

Jermaine Dixon comes from a basketball family and after stops at Blake High School, Maine Central Institute and Tallahassee Community College, the Former Baltimore Select Standout Chooses the Pittsburgh Panthers to finish his college basketball career.


Seniors: Levance Fields (PG), Sam Young (F), Tyrell Biggs (F), Cassin Diggs (C)
Juniors: Jermaine Dixon (G)
Sophomores: Gilbert Brown (SF/G), Austin Wallace (BF), Bradley Wanamaker (G), Gary McGhee (C), DeJuan Blair (PF)
Freshmen: Travon Woodall (PG), Nasir Robinson (G/F), Ashton Gibbs (G), Dwight Miller (PF)
2009 Commit: Lamar Patterson (SG)


Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon has apparently learned his lesson from the injury riddled 2007-2008 season that you can never have enough guards. In the early signing period, Pittsburgh inked PG Travon Woodall, G Ashton Gibbs and G/F Nasir Robinson to letters of intent along with BF Dwight Miller. After seeing Levance Fields and Mike Cook go down in December to injury and the pinch the Panther line-up was in, the Pitt staff went out and locked up one of the top JUCO guards in the country in Jermaine Dixon out of Tallahassee CC.

Dixon, who played at Blake HS in Maryland as Jermaine Cooper, is the younger brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon. As a sophomore at Tallahassee, Jermaine is averaging nearly 21 PPG, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and three steals a game. He shoots 44% fromt he field and nearly 80% from the foul line. He will be expected to compete with sophomore (to-be) Brad Wanamaker for a starting position at the two-guard and can also fill in at the point if need be.

The addition of Dixon gives the Panther roster 14 players allocated for scholarships next season, one over the NCAA limit. Speculating on the source of the opening scholarship is often fruitless as the possibilities can come from anywhere (transfer, qualifying status, NBA entry, etc), but the Panthers have a couple injured players who return to health could be a question (Cassin Diggs and Austin Wallace) and a source of medical hardship, thus opening a scholarship.

Pitt has also added their first 2009 recruit this winter as Lamar Patterson, a 6’5” wing from Lancaster's (PA) McCaskey HS, commited to Pitt earlier this winter. Patterson can play both small forward and shooting guard at the college level, is an excellent outside shooter that can score from all over the floor, and he is very athletic. Others who offered included Penn State, Minnesota, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami and Michigan. He has also taken his SAT already and is expected to qualify academically.

Also, we reported earlier this month that Darnell Dodson, who was originally part of Pitt's highly rated 2007 class is likely to be part of the 2009 class. Dodson is a 6'7 forward with unlimited shooting range. He had trouble with the NCAA Clearinghouse last fall and is enrolled at Miami-Dade CC. Dodson is not playing basketball this season, but will suit up next year at Miami-Dade and the plan for him is to then return to Pitt with three years of eligibility. See our Miami-Dade Story for more.

The Panthers will look to fill at least two more openings for the class and are currently involved with some high profile players, including 6’11 local big man, Zeke Marshall of McKeesport HS and 6’8” power forward Dante Taylor of National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, MD. Also mentioned in the Miami-Dade article is 6’9, 230 pound forward Will Coleman. Coleman, originally from Columbus, GA, committed to Arkansas- Little Rock out of high school, but was not able to attend because of academic issues. At Miami-Dade, he has turned into a bigger and better prospect and Pitt will monitor his situation. Greg Echenique of St. Benedict's in NJ is also on the Panther radar.

Other than Marshall, there are no other local products being considered for the 2009 class, but there are two possibilities for the 2010 class in 6’4 wing Tom Droney of Sewickley Academy as Pitt, Duke and Others Are After 2010 PG Droney. Deandre Kane, 6'4 wing of Schenley HS is also on the Pitt radar. Kane is a senior this year (2008), and has re-opened his recruitment after committing to Duquesne earlier. However, it’s a strong possibility that grades will force him to junior college for two years. If he excels both on the court and in the classroom after that time, the Panthers are expected to be interested again.


Read more!

Friday, February 15, 2008


February 15, 2008

The Big East gives us a nationally televised Friday Night special as Pittsburgh travels to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee to meet Marquette. The Panthers have a 1/2 game lead on the Golden Eagles for 5th place in the conference standings, so this is an important game in the standings in what has quickly become a very competitive rivalry in the two+ seasons since Marquette has joined the Big East. Marquette has won three of the five meetings with an OT victory at the Pete and two other wins that have come right down to the final minute at the Bradley Center.

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

MU Can Keep Progressing by Pushing Past Pitt (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Pitt's Dixon Far From Satisfied (Tribune Review)
Pitt Begins Grueling Stretch (Tribune-Review)
Final Four Team to be Honored (Journal-Sentinel)
Fields' Return Buoys Pitt's Big East Hopes (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Bradley Center should be in a frenzy with Pitt coming to town for a national television audience for a Friday night match-up. As if they needed any additional excitement, Marquette will honor the 2002-2003 NCAA Final Four squad at halftime. That team was led by Dwyane Wade, Steve Novak and Travis Diener.

This is an important judgement game for the Golden Eagles. We are still trying to determine how good this team is. While many teams in the Big East have been battling the injury big and breaking in new players, the Golden Eagles have been pretty healthy since the season began with a line-up that returned pretty much intact from last season. They spent much of the early season ranked around the top 10, but in recent weeks they have fallen down in the polls as they have been beaten badly by the likes of Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville two times, by an average of 16 points. They were able to snap a two-game losing streak by running Seton Hall out of their own building with a full 40 minute effort that saw them defending and rebounding with renewed energy and effort. They will look to carry-over that effort tonight.

Over the last two seasons, no team has been a tougher match-up for the Panthers than Marquette. The Golden Eagles' attack is centered around their three-guard attack of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Mathews. The trio's quickness and speed gives any backcourt difficulty and Pittsburgh's backcourt has been short-handed for the past seven weeks due to the injury of Levance Fields. The junior point guard Fields is expected to play tonight, his first action since December 29th, but there probably is not a tougher game to get back into action for a guard than this one.

Marquette does struggle shooting the ball and teams have found success playing a variety of zones and forcing Marquette to play at a slower pace and rely on their inconsistent perimeter attack. They have Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan off the bench to knock down the three's, but they give up something in other areas with them on the floor (rebounding, defense). Pittsburgh, however, is a tough as nails man-to-man defensive team. That is their identity and Jamie Dixon is not one to often vary from that plan. Playing a zone could allow Pitt to go with a big line-up against Marquette and try to dominate the paint and the boards.

Marquette will be challenged by Pittsburgh's strength inside. DeJuan Blair will look to be physical inside against Ousmane Barro to score around the basket and control the defensive glass. Sam Young and Lazar Hayward might be the key match-up of the night. If Hayward can be similarly production as Young, Marquette's chances are great. If Young gets to the foul line and Hayward is in foul trouble, it could mean big trouble for MU as they do not likely have another forward on their roster to guard Young.

Keys for Pitt include Blair staying out of foul trouble and getting some perimeter scoring from senior gaurds Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin. Both players have played well in the 12 games since Fields have been injured, as they have persevered through their own ailments. Ramon has a bad shoulder and Benjamin cut his shooting hand a few weeks ago and his perimeter shot has not been the same. If he can regain that touch, and with the return of Fields, the Pitt backcourt suddenly becomes one to fear as well.

Marquette is a 4.5-pt favorite tonight and the history of these two teams indicates a game played relatively close to that number. The return of Fields is likely to give the Panthers a bit of an emotional lift and he is their leader on the court with his play and his fire. Marquette is eager to prove that they are a team that will contend for a Big East title down the stretch and closer to a top-10 calibre team. They know they need to beat some big players in the game and this would definitely qualify.

With the Friday night crowd howling behind them, look for the Golden Eagles to get a tough and important conference win.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Marquette 72 Pittsburgh 66


Read more!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


February 12, 2008

Providence is quickly watching an anticipated season get away from them before their very eyes. The potential of missing the Big East Tournament is very real for a squad that was quietly picked by many to challenge foe a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Their fortunes turned sour when Sharaud Curry broke his foot prior to the season.

Speaking of tough breaks, Pittsburgh lost their floor general to a broken foot six weeks ago. This was two days after Mike Cook was lost for the season with a knee injury. However, the Panthers have remained above water and are 6-4 in the Big East and very well could have Levance Fields back on the court tonigth.

Here are the local media previews and stories on tonight's match-up:

Pitt's Fields Likely to Rejoin Team (Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Fields a Gametime Decision for Tuesday (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Face Rough Road for Stretch Drive (Post-Gazette)
Welsh Enters Center of Fan's Ire as Friars Stumble in Big East (Providence Journal)
PC @ Pitt Preview (Providence Journal)
It's Time for PC to End Welsh Era (Providence Journal)

It might be the night that the Pittsburgh players and fans have been waiting for since December 29th, the return of Levance Fields. The status of Fields and his likely return kind of sums up the direction of the two programs. Although Pitt is 3-3 in their last six since beating Georgetown, the Panthers have some optimism heading down the stretch and they stayed alove while Fields was out injured. Providence, on the other hand, has lost five of their last six since a stunning win at Connecticut. The win over UConn represents their lone road victory in Big East play as they sit at 4-7 with a tough stretch of games to finish out conference play. Making the Big East Tournament looks like a tough task as of this morning.

However, teams can sometimes rally around a cause and right now, that cause could be saving coach Tim Welsh's job. The pressure from fans and media is mounting on the Friar head man whose in his 10th season at PC. In those 10 years, Welsh has yet to win a game in the NCAA Tournament and they have made the Big Dance just two times. In what is widely regarded as the toughest job in the conference, there are legit concerns if Welsh would ever get the Friars to move up in the 'New' Big East. This was the season he pointed to, with an experienced and talented group, however, the injury to Curry has set them back, but injuries have been very common around the Big East and other teams have overcome them.

Looking at the Friars, you still see pieces that should be foing better than they are, but for some reason, the sum of the whole is less than it's parts. The Friars still struggle rebounding and defending, a common shortcoming of recent Friar teams, and spend an awful lot of time depending on the three-point attack. While Dwain Williams, Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie are all excellent three-point shootets, that seems to be their attack, pass around the perimeter hoping a three-point opportunity presents itself. When they are falling, like at UConn, they can look pretty good. When they are not falling, it can be disaster, especially with out Curry to create.

Still, the Friars seem to match-up pretty well here, but they will be tested inside by Pitt's DeJaun Blair. The big frosh has the beef and quickness inside that really tests the Friars inside game of Randall Hanke, Jonathan Kale and Ray Hall. The Friars will need to try to get Blair in foul trouble, if they are able to, it evens the match-up considerably. Sam Young and McDermott could be a physical battle at the forward position. PC does not run enough of its offense through McDermott and Young will look to attack him off the dribble. Any foul trouble here for either team is a big blow.

Pitt's senior guards Ron Ramon and Keith Benjamin have played really well in place of Fields, but getting Fields back should energize this group and make this unit deeper and stronger. Brad Wanamaker has gained valuable experience and fellow freshman Gilbert Brown is an exciting wing that seems to be on the verge of taking off.

Pitt has a tough schedule down the stretch and after this game they have back to back road games with Marquette and Notre Dame. Hitting this stretch with a win tonight will be a big lift. If Levance Fields enters the game, the place could go crazy and the energy lift Pitt needs from their emotional leader returning to the court could give them an extra push. The Friars, as 9-point underdogs, will rely on their three's, but if they are not falling, Pittsburgh should handle them well.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 Providence 61


Read more!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


February 7, 2008

The Backyard Brawl is one of the most heated rivalries in college sports. Tonight, the hardwood version of the rivalry takes center stage on ESPN's Rivalry Week as West Virginia and Pittsburgh meet at the Peterson Events Center.

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

Win at Pitt Would Be Huge for WVU (Charleston Gazette)
WVU Aiming for Upset Against Old Nemesis Pitt (Martinsburg Journal)
Huggins Patient to Instill Style at WVU (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt-WVU coaches History Dates Back 10 Years (Tribune-Review)

It is the 174th meeting all-time between Pittsburgh and West Virginia, with the Mountaineers holding the all-time series edge of 92-81 heading into tonight's clash. Each team enters the contest with identical 5-4 records in the Big East, so tonight's game has plenty of meaning outside of the rivalry.

West Virginia broke a 2-game losing streak with a road win over Providence last weekend, 77-65. The Mountaineers had lost a pair at home, a heart-breaker to Georgetown on a couple last second plays by the Hoyas and a 62-39 drubbing at the hands of Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh has also lost two of three, including their inexplicable loss of the season, 77-64 to Rutgers, at home. Pitt lost their last outing, 60-53 at UConn. The game was tied at 51 with just over two minutes to go, but the Panthers did not make the plays down the stretch.

Much like the teams John Beilein coaches at West Virginia prior to Bob Huggins, the Mountaineers rely on the three-point shot. Alex Ruoff is their top sniper, averaging 14.5 ppg and shooting 44% from beyond the arc. Joe Alexander leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounds (5.8) and was a prep teammate of the Panthers' Sam Young and Hargrave Military Academy. The WVU attack is rounded out by sophomore Da'Sean Butler, likely their best all-around player, who averages 12.7 ppg and 5.7 rebounds and senior point guard Darris Nichols averages 12 ppg.

The Mountaineers do a better job of rebounding this season than they have in the past, but it is still an area that opponents attack. In Beilein's system it was more finesse than the style Bob Huggins prefers and he has questioned his team's toughness in the past. The lack of toughness was evident in the loss against Cincinnati where WVU shot just 10-50 from the floor and 1-20 from 3-pt range.

If your toughness has been questioned, there is no better team to prove that wrong than against Pittsburgh, annually one of the toughest teams in the country. With freshman DeJuan Blair in the post, their trademark toughness continues. Blair will look to anchor down inside and clean up the boards. Sam Young has also had some of his strongest games against WVU in the past, dominating along the baseline against their 1-3-1 zone defense.

Because of their injury issues, it is a must for Pittsburgh to keep Young and Blair out of foul trouble. The Panthers are without Levance Fields and Mike Cook, and that adds pressure to the backcourt of Gilbert Brown, Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin to score, defend and make smart decisions all game. Ramon and Benjamin are seniors and have had some very good moments this season, but both have been quiet offensively lately. Benjamin has been struggling with a nasty cut on his shooting hand that required stiches, but looks to be healthier tonight. Ramon has a nagging shoulder injury, but as the point guard, he does not look for his shot enough. He has done a solid job as the point guard, but he does not have the ability to break down the defense and score like Fields had. This seems to hurt Pitt down the stretch of close games.

The Panthers are a slight 3-pt favorite on their home floor. The Mountaineers have a road-heavy schedule down the stretch and are 2-2 in the Big East away from home with wins over South Florida and PC. The Panthers have lost just once at home, to Rutgers, giving all teams some hope when coming into the Pete.

However, following a night when all three road times were victorious in the Big East, look for the home team to tough out a victory.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 West Virginia 65


Read more!

Friday, February 01, 2008


February 2, 2008

Over the last half-dozen years or so, no game on the schedule has seemed to mean as much as one between Pittsburgh and Connecticut in the Big East conference. They have played some classic thrillers in the regular season or in Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament. Jim Calhoun seems to use the Pitt game as a measuring stick for the toughness of his ballclub. The Panthers seem to relish the role of battling the Big East stalwart program of the last decade or so, hoping to achieve continued success to some day take that crown.

This year promises to be no different as both teams enter the contest at 5-3 in Big East conference play. Connecticut has rebounded from a surprising home loss to Providence to win four games in a row. One of those games was a non-conference road match-up at Indiana, who was ranked in the top 10 in the country. Their latest win was a thrilled over Louisville on Monday night. Making those wins even more impressive was they did them without the services of leading scorer Jerome Dyson and 6th man Doug Wiggins as both had been suspended for possession of alcohol on the UConn campus while under 21.

Dyson has now been suspended for a mandatory 30 days by the University because he failed a drug test in the aftermath of the incident, a process that has caused an additional rift between coach Calhoun and his athletic director. Wiggins passed his drug test. Wiggins had failed one earlier this year which resulted in him being away from the program for 30 days, so another failed test would have meant a suspension for the remainder of the season. A decision has not been made public, but Wiggins did return to practice yesterday and there are signs he will be available this Saturday, but that has yet to be confirmed.

In the absence of Wiggins and Dyson, AJ Price has continued to strenghten his role of on-court leader of the Huskies and continues to mature into one of the finest players in the conference. Added responsibility in the offense for Stanley Robinson has allowed him to find comfort and produce a pair of double-doubles in the impressive wins. Jeff Adrien continues to supply energy and emotion with his trademark toughness inside and Hasheem Thabeet continues to evolve as an offensive threat while changing everyone's game plan on the offensive side.

Pittsburgh is not going to feel sorry for the Huskies being short-handed. The Panthers have already lost Mike Cook and Austin Wallace for the season and Levance Fields has missed the last nine and a half games with a broken foot. The Panthers have held things together to post a 5-3 record in conference play which includes a win against Georgetown. They have also won on the road, beating South Florida and St. John's, but a few cracks in their usual toughness and effort have been detected recently as they lost at Cincinnati and were shocked at home agianst Rutgers. In both games, freshman DeJuan Blair found himself in some foul trouble and the consistent characteristics that have personified Pitt over the years were missing. With four freshmen in the eight-man rotation that has been diced because of the injuries, the up and down nature is to be expected.

There are some match-ups that Pittsburgh will have trouble with right from the get-go, but they match-up pretty well with UConn. Sam Young and Gilbert Brown give the Panthers an extremely athletic duo at the forward position and Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon are a pair of steady senior gaurds who have been through it all before. An area that sticks out right away is the height differential between the 7'3 Thabeet and the 6'7 Blair in the middle. However, knowing Pitt was able to overcome that match-up while beating Georgetown gives Pitt confidence heading to the XL Center in this one.

The way the Big East has gone, once a team seems to be gaining some momentum, the BE(ast) pulls them back to the pack. Connecticut really has a chance to solidify themselves as a clear challenger in the conference with a win this weekend. However, you wonder if the Dyson/Wiggins situation, now that the unknown is settled, will allow the team to relax just a bit. While they played with an edge in their last two games, can they keep that edge sharpended for a third?

Pittsburgh will likely come in with a nothing to lose attitude, but with the confidence that they have knocked off Georgetown in a similar situation, although it was at home. The way the conference is...I wouldn't be surprised to see UConn get pulled back into the pack.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 68 Connecticut 66


Read more!