Wildcats host No. 17 Panthers in Sunday showdown

Joe Groglio

A blowout victory against Bucknell on Tuesday was a good start. At press time, the Wildcats are playing on the road in another Big East battle against Seton Hall. All of their matchups are important games for the 15-6 ‘Cats, but to complete one of the most important weeks of the 2004-2005 basketball season, the Villanova Wildcats must go through one of the Big East’s most formidable teams in the Pittsburg Panthers.

Pitt is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation, but is rated even higher after a four point win against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Panthers are very talented no doubt, but they tend to play down to their competition.

In all four of their losses, Pitt was defeated by unranked teams, including back-to-back losses at home against Bucknell and Georgetown. But in the big games, they have been spectacular, knocking off UConn by 10 and Syracuse twice, by four and seven respectively.

Pitt starts their offense in the paint, where sophomore center Chris Taft is one of the nations best talents. Taft averages 14 points and seven rebounds a game, and is very difficult to defend with a zone defense.

His teammate Chevon Troutman has been even better, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds from the power forward slot. Canadian import Levon Kendall has been a huge addition to the bench, and has made some big baskets leading to his five points per game average. Mark McCarroll is not a scorer, but he is a big body who loves to defend and rebound inside. And if Taft gets into trouble, watch the Panthers turn to Aaron Gray, who has become one of the best backup centers in the nation.

Pitt also has a good set of guards, as Carl Krauser puts up 16 points per game and is an All Big East candidate. Freshman Ron Ramon has stepped up his game big time, and has become the teams best three point shooter. Former ‘Nova commit Keith Benjamin also plays a key role off the bench with his defense and intensity, and Antonio Graves has been another consistent performer.

The best way to play against this type of team is to start in zone, but have the defense completely deny any entry passes into the post. The Panthers tend to get streaky from behind the arc, but they are much more of a threat when their interior offense is working well. On defense, Tafts shot blocking and rebounding ability will make it tough for our guards to get layups inside, so it is crucial to hit three pointers and make free throws.

This will no doubt be one of the biggest games thus far for the ‘Cats, and with BC looming next Wednesday, there is no time to relax. This is the time of year when great teams step up and prove how good they are.

We believe in our team, and, with two good games against the best of competition, the rest of the nation will believe as well.