Feb 14, 2011, 10:30 AM EDT
The Big East is turning into Pitt’s personal playground. That’s a promising sign for a program dying to get back to the Final Four.
A 57-54 win at Villanova Saturday night gave the Panthers their first win at The
Palestra Pavilion 17 years and marked the first time they’ve won 11 of their first 12 Big East games. Not bad for team playing without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs.
“It was fun. A hostile environment, no Ashton Gibbs and we got the win,” said senior Brad Wanamaker, who scored a team-high 21 points, including most of the clutch baskets that usually fall to Gibbs.
That gives Pitt (23-2, 11-1) a sizable lead heading into its final six Big East games. Notre Dame – its one conference loss – is 10-3, while the rest of the league is no better than 8-4. If you’re a believer that the Big East is the nation’s best conference, the fact that Pitt’s running away with the league should be an indicator of what March holds.
For comparison, the 2008-09 Pitt squad that finished 31-5, reached No. 1 in the rankings, nabbed a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance and reached the Elite Eight features tempo-free numbers that are awfully close to this year’s edition. (That Sam Young-DeJuan Blair-Levance Fields team didn’t win the Big East but had stiffer competition in Louisville and UConn.) The offense is slightly worse, but the defense is better.
People have noticed, too.
“I think [this Pitt team] compares to their team in ’09. Their depth, their experience, their veteran guys are awesome,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook.
Pitt’s detractors love to write them off as a team that thrives in the regular season and falters in March for varying reasons, usually related to their offense. (Because reaching the Final Four is soooo easy.) Yet Cook writes that the more Pitt plays, the tougher it’s gonna be to ignore their Final Four chances.
After all, this is a team that just won at ‘Nova without its leading scorer. That should speak volumes. From Cook’s column:
… I like No. 4 Pitt’s chances as much as any team’s. There is no dominant club this season. No. 1 Ohio State lost Saturday at Wisconsin, the last of the unbeatens to fall. Pitt already has beaten one of the teams ahead of it in the polls — No. 3 Texas.
That Texas win was back in November, before the Longhorns turned into the nation’s nastiest defensive team. But that’s nitpicking given that Pitt’s offense is an incredible blend of talent, depth and impressive rebounding.
And that defense? Ask Jay Wright about it. For one of the few times this year, the Panthers won by shutting down an opposing offense, not by displaying an unstoppable offense.
Offense, defense, depth, talent. Pitt has it all. If this isn’t the year the Panthers return to the Final Four, not sure when it’ll happen.
Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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