PITTSBURGH — No. 3 Pitt is perfect through 10 games and has received seemingly the same review from opposing teams after each contest.
“They are as good as advertised,” Delaware State coach Greg Jackson said after losing to Pitt by 28 points, 70-42, Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center.
“It’s hard to take anything away from them. They can go inside, they can go outside. They can beat you in transition. They can beat you in so many ways. If they continue to improve I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the Final Four.”
That’s become the measuring stick for this program — the Final Four. Pitt has been as successful as any program in the country over the last decade but has lacked a Final Four appearance.
With an extremely deep team and tons of experience, the Panthers have aspirations and expectations of playing in Houston April 2-4. But it remains to be seen how this impressive start will transition over to Big East Conference play.
The Panthers have won tight games against Rhode Island, Maryland and Texas, while blowing by the rest of the schedule. This Saturday at Consol Energy Center in the Big East-SEC Invitational, Pitt plays host to No. 11 Tennesse, which is also undefeated (6-0) and will likely give a good gauge on where these Panthers stand a little over a month in to the season.
Pitt has shown dominance in the paint, outrebounding opponents by nearly 17 a game. Almost every game a different post player has turned in an impressive performance.
Talib Zanna had 14 points and 12 rebounds against Maryland at Madison Square Garden; Gary McGhee recorded a double-double against Robert Morris and nearly had a triple double against Duquesne; Nasir Robinson had a double-double against the Dukes as well; and Dante Taylor has 26 points in his last two games, recording his first career double-double against Delaware State Wednesday night.
“It feels good,” Taylor said. “It was a good win for us. It was a good career high for me. But I just know I gotta get ready for the next game, Tennessee. I gotta play big that game.”
As will the rest of the front court.
Pitt will face arguably its toughest test of the season down low against Tennessee forward Tobias Harris. Harris averages nearly 17 points and 6 rebounds a game and, at 6-foot-8, will be a much tougher challenge than the severely undersized Hornets of Delaware State, which Taylor characterized as “definitely the biggest height advantage” he’s had this season.
Center Brian Williams, at 6-foot-10, and forward John Fields, at 6-foot-9, further emphasize how much size will be tested Saturday.
“It’s a very experienced team — a lot of athleticism, good size, very good balance,” Jamie Dixon said on the Vinny & Cook Show Thursday. “They play a lot of guys. They’re similar to us in a lot of ways: they rebound well, they play hard, they defend. They’re probably a little bit more experienced than us. Hopefully we can out-execute offensively and continue to rebound at a high, high level.”
That was the Panthers offseason goal: rebounding. If it pays off against the Volunteers, Pitt will have an early positive sign toward the ultimate goal: a Final Four appearance.
“Our goal this summer was to be the best rebounding team in the country,” Dixon said. “At this point right now we are doing it. That says a lot with 350 programs out there.”
The same against Tennessee would show even more. And it might even validate what Bruce Pearl had to say Thursday when he joined Seibel and Starkey.
“I’ve known Jamie for a long time and know his reputation has always been as a really good coach,” Pearl said. “But now, having prepared for them for a week, I can understand why. He’s special and the things that he does, they’re as good as anybody in the country.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog