Some pregame insight for when the #4 UConn Huskies come to play our #6 Pitt Panthers on Monday Night.
One of the biggest factors for this game (and for any of Pitt’s games, in fact) is that this game is being played at the Pete. The Panthers have won 47 out of their last 48 games at the Pete, with the loss in that stretch coming last year to Georgetown. More importantly, UConn hasn’t won a game at the Pete since Feb 26th 2005. That was the year of the worst (being a relative term) team record-wise under Jamie Dixon. The Oakland Zoo should be bumping for this game. It goes without saying that you will sorely be missing out if you miss this game. It also turns out, that this game is a gold-out, and fans will receive a free, gold “This is Our House” t-shirt. You now have no excuse not to come if there is a free t-shirt involved. Maybe the Crying Calhoun towels will also be making a comeback?
To the expectations of the game:
Pitt’s biggest concern is also the most obvious: Kemba Walker. The 6’1 junior guard is the primary reason the Huskies have surprised everyone this year on their way to a top-5 ranking. He averages 26.5 pts per game (2nd in the country) with a decent 42.1% from beyond the arc. He’s quick, smart, and doesn’t turn the ball over a whole lot. If Pitt can limit his production, it will go a long way towards a victory, considering he scores about a 1/3 of the Huskies’ points each game
The second concern is that this may be the first team that’s as good at rebounding the ball as the Panthers are. Pitt is #2 in the country at crashing the boards, while UConn is #4 with Alex Oriakhi leading the Huskies at 9.9 rebounds per game. The Panthers have 5 different players that pull in at least 5 rebounds per game being a little more balanced, while Oriakhi pulls the majority for the Huskies, with 3 others over 5 rpg. The Panthers are best in the country in terms of assists, however, with Brad Wannamaker leading the team at 5.6 per game. The Panthers have to keep distributing the ball well, and being patient on offense. As always, grind the other team down. Pitt has such great depth, and should be able to hopefully wear the Huskies down as the game progresses as they’re are a fairly young team. Walker will kill the Panthers if they allow him to take the tempo too high. Pitt does also have a terrible problem of not stomping out teams early, though. They never seem to go for the neck to end an opponent’s chances. This seems to be linked to Pitt being able to finish around the rim. Layups, layups, layups. Guys like Nasir, Talib, and Dante do a good job of getting to the rim, but have to be able to finish. I’m also hoping the Panthers take some extra free-throws this weekend, because they are a woeful 65% from the line (I’m looking at you Gary, Mr 42.5 %. Gibbs makes a higher percentage of 3’s (44%) then McGhee does free throws)
Finally, this will be a huge statement game for the Panthers. I still think the Panthers are a top-10 team, even after the loss to Tennessee. I feel a lot better about that close game with Texas in MSG after they just romped Michigan State Wednesday night. Overall, this team is more balanced than the Huskies are, and if they play the way they did against teams like Texas, they can win this fairly comfortably. If they come out slow with no fight, however, this could very easily be another Tennessee game. This will be the beginning of a brutal (but favorable) schedule for the Panthers in the Big East. Pitt, UConn, Syracuse, Nova, and Georgetown are all in the top-10. with Notre Dame and Louisville bringing up the rear of the top-25. If Pitt wins this game, they are legit a top-5 team and can set themselves up for a nice run in March.
One step at a time. Hail to Pitt
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