Marquette - Pitt Preview

Marquette will host the Pittsburgh Panthers Friday Night at the Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles will be honoring the 2003 Final Four team and all players from that team will be there with the exception of Dwyane Wade who will be playing in the NBA All-Star game.

 

Pittsburgh Panthers

(19-5, 7-4 Big East)

Head Coach Jamie Dixon (5th season)

 

 

 

Probable Starters:

SR G Ronald Ramon – 6-1, 185

SR G Keith Benjamin – 6-2, 190

FR G/F Gilbert Brown – 6-6, 200

JR F Sam Young – 6-6, 215

FR F DeJuan Blair – 6-7, 265

 

 

 

Key Substitutions:

JR F Tyrell Biggs – 6-8, 240

FR C Gary McGhee – 6-10, 255

JR G Levance Fields – 5-10, 190*
* - doubtful (foot)

 

 

 

In their most recent game, Pittsburgh rolled to an 82-63 win over Providence on Tuesday.  The Panthers received 22 points from Sam Young and pulled away from the Friars with a 21-5 run to start the second half.  Pitt also handed Georgetown their first loss in conference play, 69-60, and had the Hoyas looking sluggish with their solid ball rotation.

 

Yet, illustrating the tumultuous nature of their season, the Panthers fell at home to Rutgers 77-64 two weeks later.  In that game, Pitt shot 27-of-70 from the field and 6-of-21 from three and allowed Rutgers to go on a 20-2 run midway through the second half.

 

Pitt's early-season roller coaster has been well documented.  The team started out 11-0 and rose to No. 11 in the polls, while handing Duke their first loss of the season, 65-64 in overtime.  However, in that game they lost Mike Cook for the season with a knee injury, and the next time out they fell to mid-major Dayton by an embarrassing 80-55 score while losing point guard Levance Fields to a fractured foot.

 

Things looked bleak for the Panthers then.  But coach Jamie Dixon kept his team believing, and he has coaxed several players to step up to fill the void left by the two big injuries, most notably seniors Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin

 

Ramon had always been seen as an inconsistent player and as too poor of a distributor to be a point guard.  Yet after the injury to Fields forced him into the starting lineup, Ramon began proving critic after critic wrong. He has shot incredibly well from beyond the arc – 42.3 percent in Big East games – and has been Pitt's go-to shooter in the clutch for most of this season.  He hit several shots late in shot clock in Pitt's upset of GU (a game in which he shot 4-of-6 from three) and nailed the game-winning three-pointer as time expired to beat West Virginia.  Ramon also shot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc against Providence.

 

"I think it was more the guys having confidence in my shot," Ramon said of his recent performance.  "All the guys did a great job of finding open guys."

 

Ramon has done a great job of finding open guys as well, averaging 5.2 assists per game in conference play and sporting a 2.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He has also been an 83.3 percent free-throw shooter in Big East games.

 

Benjamin also stepped up his game after the injuries to Cook and Fields.  In the five games following Fields' injury, he averaged over 16 points per game (ppg), while twice reaching the 20-point mark.  His main contributions to the offense come as a set three-point shooter and from getting out front in transition.  In conference games, he is averaging 11.7 ppg and shooting over 39 percent from three-point range.

 

Yet despite the great contributions from Ramon and Benjamin, it has been the consistently outstanding play of Young that has been the steadying force for the Panthers.

 

In over 31 minutes per game, Young is averaging 17.7 ppg and 6.8 rebounds per game (rpg).  He is Pitt's most complete offensive player and can make shots from inside and outside.  He is shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc for the season and is very accurate on midrange shots.  To complement his strong shooting, Young has a big shot fake that he uses to open up drives or draw fouls.  He has attempted 116 free throws this season, the most on the team, although he is shooting only 68 percent from the line.  Young is also explosive around the rim and in transition.  He has provided countless highlight dunks and has also recorded 23 blocks on the season.

 

Freshman DeJuan Blair has also been a rock inside for the Panthers.  The Pittsburgh native, who grew up minutes from the university's downtown campus, is a tough match-up inside for any team.  Blair weighs in at 265 pounds, yet he is very quick with the ball and has very polished post moves for a first-year player.  He is averaging a double-double in conference play, with 12.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg, and has nine double-doubles on the season.  Against Duke he recorded an astonishing 20 rebounds to go with 15 points.

 

"The guy has tools and he has hands," Dixon said of Blair. "He has energy. He plays hard. He is a guy that everyone thought was too small and maybe not good enough."

 

Blair gives tremendous effort at all times on both ends of the court.  He has 94 offensive rebounds on the season, including nine against UConn.  He is an aggressive defender who uses his frame well in denying the post and also forces a lot of steals – his 48 on the season leads all Pitt players.  However, sometimes Blair is too aggressive and picks up unnecessary fouls trying to poke the ball from opponents. 

 

Redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown has also seen an increased role in the offense as a result of Pitt's injury woes.  Originally a reserve player, he has started every conference game and is averaging 7.5 points and 2.4 assists per contest.

 

Cook was once Pitt's top sub, scoring 10.4 ppg before going down against Duke, and his injury dramatically weakened their bench.  Pitt is thin off the pine, but the team has a few big bodies it can use to spell Blair if and when he gets into foul trouble.

 

Freshman Gary McGhee is one of those bodies.  He was asked to play a lot of minutes when Blair got in foul trouble against USF, and he did an admirable job of guarding Kentrel Gransberry.  Junior Tyrell Biggs is probably the first post player off the bench for Pitt.  Expect more contributions on the offensive end from Biggs, as he is averaging 6.2 ppg and 4.7 rpg.

 

Fields is the wild-card for the Panthers going into this game.  Pitt's second leading scorer pre-injury, at 11.9 ppg, had originally targeted the Marquette game as his likely return date.  However, he just resumed practicing with the team during the week, and the official date for his return is still up in the air.  Fields also led the team with 5.4 assists per game during the non-conference portion of the schedule.

 

Overall, the Panthers run the type of offense that has been giving Marquette fits all season.  Pitt is effective at using high ball screens early in their offense, and many of their sets feature a baseline cutter.  Their primary option is usually to get the ball to Young or Blair near the basket.  If they are unable to get a good look, they are usually good at kicking the ball out to open shooters on the perimeter. 

 

Pitt likes to shoot from outside, and they are good at rotating the ball around the perimeter for a three-pointer or to open up mismatches for Blair inside.  In transition they are often just as willing to pull up from three as they are to take it all the way to the basket – and they are usually just as successful in either case.  And on defense, Pitt likes to dial up the pressure in the half court and grind out possessions.

 

After playing Marquette, Pitt faces two more tests right away, with back-to-back games at Notre Dame and against Louisville.

 

The Panthers and Golden Eagles tip off Friday at 8:00 p.m. CST at the Bradley Center.

 

**Jeff Wolf is a sophomore majoring in Advertising. Jeff is the Head Student Writer for MarquetteHoops.com and is also the Assistant Sports Director for Marquette Radio.


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