Thursday, January 12, 2006

It's Time to Take Pitt Seriously

There are two unbeaten teams left in college basketball, Duke and Florida. Oh, what's that? There's three? Well, the Blue Devils are #1, the Gators are #2, shouldn't the next one get the same sort of recognition as the other two? No, keep looking...all the way down until you get to #11, Pittsburgh. The Panthers are often left out of the conversation when it comes to talking about the top teams in the country as of now. However, I suggest that you start paying attention to them as a legit Big East Championship threat and a contender to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

The common excuse for most people not really respecting Pitt and their (after tonight's comeback victory over DePaul) 13-0 record is that they have not played anybody of note on the road nor do they have anything overly impressive on their resume. Nothing against Florida, but their power numbers are lower than the Panthers. Granted, the Gators have wins over Syracuse and a slumping Wake Forest team, but Pitt beat Wisconsin and DePaul at home, and also took down South Carolina on the road. NCAA profile aside, the Panthers are a very good team and a squad that needs to be looked out for come March.

Pittsburgh is a deep (10 players average over 12 minutes per game) team that can beat you both inside and outside. And, of course, they play tough, physical defense. On the perimeter, Carl Krauser (17.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.0 spg), as he has for what seems like a decade, leads the way. He moved from the point guard spot to the wing so he could concentrate more on scoring. His scoring efficiency is much improved, and his turnovers have decreased. Splitting time at the point guard position are Ronald Ramon (6.3 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Levance Fields (6.5 ppg, 2.8 apg). Ramon is more of a jump shooter, while the crafty Fields likes to get into the lane for his points. Part-time starter Antonio Graves (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg) is a good defender and can shoot the ball from deep. All four of the aforementioned players can handle the ball if needed. Also on the wing are 6-2 Keith Benjamin (4.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and 6-6 John DeGroat (4.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg). Both players are athletic and can score from the perimeter or off of penetration. Inside, the Panthers have possibly the most-improved player in the country in 7-footer Aaron Gray (12.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg). He is a very good rebounder and is nearly impossible to move off of the block. He is adept at passing out of the double-team and has a nice offensive game with his back to the basket. Freshman Sam Young (8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) has been very impressive offensively and is averaging over 14 points per contest in his last 4 games. He is a versatile forward. Levon Kendall (7.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) has potential as a scorer up front, as evidenced by his well-publicized 40-point game over the summer against Team USA. Tyrell Biggs (3.2 ppg) is another big body in the frontcourt that provides depth.

Pittsburgh is a deep, versatile group that is going to be a tough out in both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Of course they aren't going to stay undefeated, but the Panthers merit the same sort of respect and recognition as the other undefeated teams in college basketball. If you don't start taking them seriously now in mid-January, you are going to be sorry come March and they mess up your bracket by making a "surprising" run to the late rounds. Just giving everyone a warning--the Pittsburgh Panthers are for real.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up. Granted this was written before Pitt took down both Louisville and Rutgers on the road, but you hit the nail on the head. Florida is firmly entrenched at No. 2, and could stay there a long time since the SEC is weak, but the numbers don't lie. Pitt has beaten some quality opponents, yet the pundit like Gottleib (would never call him an expert) keep bringing up more excuses about Pitt.