‘Cats clash with Panthers



Joe DeNicholas

The men’s basketball team will travel to face off against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sunday at noon.  Pitt is tied for third in the Big East standings with backyard rival West Virginia with an 8-4 record, while Villanova sits atop the Big East standings.

Among this year’s surprise teams, the Panthers are exceeding expectations after they were picked to finish ninth in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

The Panthers’ out-of-conference schedule was not spectacular, with their best win coming against Wichita State. Pitt’s worst loss of the season came at the hands of the struggling Indiana Hoosiers. 

However, Head Coach Jamie Dixon led his team to impressive conference victories at Syracuse and home against West Virginia in a triple overtime thriller.

The Wildcats are 5-6 against Pitt in the Jay Wright era. The most important and memorable of their meetings was Villanova’s dramatic victory in the NCAA Regional Final when Scottie Reynolds made a last-second drive to the hoop. “The Shot” sent ‘Nova to the Final Four, while Pitt was sent back to campus only to become permanently cemented on the wrong end of one of the greatest tourney highlights of all time.

The Panthers typically start three guards, a small forward and a center. Defensively they match up well with the Cats’ perimeter-oriented attack. However, the Panther’s may soon find out that even if they match up with ‘Nova’s guards physically, there is still a disparity in talent.

Dixon’s teams are not the flashiest, but they are always competitive because of their hard-nosed, scrappy play. As usual, Pitt hangs its hat on defensive play. 

The Panthers rank first in the conference in scoring defense (61.6 ppg) and 3-point percentage defense (30.3 percent). 

The Panthers’ guards are led by elite shooter Ashton Gibbs. Regarded as one of the Big East’s most improved players, the sophomore is leading the team in minutes (35.8) and points (16.8). He made headlines earlier in the year after making an outstanding 44 consecutive free throws before he missed on his 10th attempt in the closing seconds against Cincinnati. Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon are all proven slashers that are tough to stop when they are on.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors will be the Panthers’ incredible home-court advantage. The student section, appropriately named the “Oakland Zoo,” is relentless and full of energy.  According to an anonymous poll of league players published by Sports Illustrated, the Oakland Zoo has helped make the Petersen Events Center the “toughest place to play” in the Big East conference.

Pittsburgh’s glaring weakness seems to be its lack of inside play. Gary McGhee is Pitt’s only experienced big man, averaging 7.1 points and seven boards in 23 minutes per game. Highly touted freshman forward Dante Taylor has not lived up to expectations. 

With the departure of forwards Dejuan Blair and Sam Young, the McDonald’s All-American is only averaging four points in 14 minutes of action. With little front court options, the Panthers rely heavily on their shooting to win games. 

Pound for pound, Villanova is more talented and deeper in every position. But if Pitt plays strong defense and limits Villanova to a tough night of shooting, they might be able to pull off an upset. Equally, if Pitt has a rough night shooting the rock, Villanova will leave with their first-ever win at the Peterson Events Center.