I have been giving serious thought to bagging a liveblog or even open thread after Pitt’s win over Syracuse when I never had a chance to post ahead of it. Yeah, but that is a coincidence (or at least that is what I am telling myself).
Cinci is looking to do something it has never done in the Big East, start out 3-0 in conference play.
A win over the Panthers would leave Cincinnati 3-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2004-2005 season, when coach Bob Huggins’ last Bearcats team opened its Conference USA schedule with wins over DePaul at home and St. Louis and East Carolina on the road before losing at home to Louisville.
The Bearcats followed a last-minute win over UConn with a gritty (read: struggling) win over Rutgers.
For Pitt, this would be a tough road game at any point in the season. To have it happen 2 days after a big road win makes it harder as the young team has to avoid a classic letdown.
Cincinnati has perhaps its best team since the Bearcats joined the Big East five seasons ago. Coach Mick Cronin’s team is led by senior guard Deonta Vaughn and 6-5 wing Lance Stephenson, a New York City phenom who was named the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year.
Pollsters have taken notice. The Bearcats were ranked as high as No. 19 in the AP poll in early December.
“We’ve got to be focused on Cincinnati,” Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said.
Stephenson has started every game and has made an immediate impact as his team’s leading scorer. He is averaging 13 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a team-high 29.4 minutes per game.
Vaughn has struggled with his shot for a good portion of the season but in the last two games has put up 17 points in each. Really, there is no doubt that this is the best team in the Mick Cronin era. It is also the first team to have some depth since the Huggy-Bear demolition. Yancy Gates is strong inside. Rashad Bishop is still there. Cashmere Wright is healthy. Ibrahima Thomas is eligible. Plus players like Dion Dixon (cripes 3 Dixons in one game), Larry Davis and Steve Toyloy.
On top of playing in Cinci, Pitt officially gets a target (beyond the one they have earned in the Big East for being one of the dominant teams of the aughts) for being ranked #23 in the AP poll.
The good news is that while Pitt is still offensively challenged, they have an identity. They are back to stifling defense. And they have a coach that won’t let them use their inexperience as an excuse (even if it is given its own chart for the media to use in the game notes, pg 5, PDF).
“The freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore,” Dixon said Saturday after Pitt upset No. 5 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. “I declared them sophomores over the break. I took that away from them. I advanced them a year.”
It was another subtle reminder that his young players have to perform beyond their years if the Panthers are going to compete well in Big East Conference play. And two games into the conference schedule some of the young players are heeding their coach’s advice and growing up in a hurry.
Ashton Gibbs should thank UConn’s Kemba Walker for staying home instead of playing for the United States on the Under 19 national team that won gold for the first time since 1991.
Gibbs was tabbed as the starter once Walker decided against returning to the squad for a second summer. Gibbs was the lead playmaker for U-19 (and Pitt) coach Jamie Dixon, and it is paying huge dividends for the Panthers this season.
And this bit about Pitt and Coach Dixon.
…Pitt is 2-0, and if the Panthers win eight more Big East games, assuming a few are against the upper echelon, Pitt is once again an NCAA tournament team. Never doubt coach Jamie Dixon and pick him ninth again, Big East coaches. Never.
Anyways, LiveBlog is around 7pm. The game is on ESPN. I need Pitt to win this game so I can reclaim some bragging rights from my wife.
You can break out the liveblog when you Click Here.
Otherwise it will be below.