Don't feed the Panthers

MU travels to Pittsburgh for their final road test of the regular season, where they will take on the No. 3 team in the country in the heart of the Zoo.

Pittsburgh is once again competing for the Big East regular season title under head coach Jamie Dixon. The Panthers sport perhaps the most balanced threesome of key players in the country in point guard Levance Fields, slasher/scorer Sam Young, and big man DeJuan Blair.

Yet none of these players are flawless, and each one has a major weakness that can be exploited.

Fields has been arguably the best pure point-guards in the country. The senior is third in the nation with 7.4 assists per game, has recorded double-digit assists in seven games, and has almost 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Factor in his sturdy frame and solid defense, and it's no wonder he gets so much national media attention.

Fields has not been shooting the ball exceptionally well this season – in fact he has shot under 42 percent from field for the last three seasons – the but still averaging over 10 points per game (ppg). Marquette has traditionally done a good job of bothering Fields enough defensively to keep his scoring in check.

Young is a complete player with NBA-ready game who uses acrobatic moves around the basket to score and collect reboundes. He is long. And he uses every inch of that length to clear space with his signature full-extension shot fake. This season, Young has been averaging 18.4 ppg and 5.9 rebounds per game (rpg).

His bane has been the turnover. Young has committed a team-high 66 giveaways and has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

In his sophomore season, Blair has once again proven to be a force around the basket. He's been scoring 15.7 ppg, and his 12.7 rpg is third in the nation. This season, he has 17 double-doubles and two 20-and-20 games. One of those 20-20 efforts came at UConn, in a game in which he also held Hasheem Thabeet to 4 points and 5 rebounds.

Blair is a terrific defender who takes pride in forcing turnovers. Yet that has also led him to commit his share of cheap fouls. The one uniting factor in all of Pitt's losses this season has been Blair's foul trouble. His only two foul-outs of the season were Panther losses. Frankly, they are a different team when he isn't on the floor.

What makes Pittsburgh a national title contender, however, is their depth. They go 10 strong, and their bench features several three-point sharpshooters. Senior Tyrell Biggs is a glue guy who's averaging 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game from the power forward position, while Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs both shoot around 45 percent from three.

While none of the reserves are prolific scorers, there is no drop-off in toughness. Collectively, Pitt is ninth in the nation in average rebounds per game (40.4 rpg) and Ken Pomeroy has them rated as the best offensive rebounding team in the country. They do not do well at the foul line, however, and only shoot 67 percent as a team, with Blair only shooting free throws at a 61 percent clip.

Bottom line – Marquette may be able to contain even two of Pitt's big three, but a Golden Eagles squad thinned even further by the loss of Dominic James will have a very difficult time matching a quality opponent as deep as the Panthers.

No. 3/4 Pittsburgh Panters (26-3, 13-3 Big East)

PROJECTED STARTERS:

G – Levance Fields – SR, 5-10/190

G – Jermaine Dixon – JR, 6-3/195

F – Sam Young – SR, 6-6/220

F – Tyrell Biggs – SR, 6-8/250

F – DeJuan Blair – SO, 6-7/265

KEY RESERVES:

G/F – Gilbert Brown – 6-6/220

G – Brad Wanamaker – SO, 6-4/205

G – Ashton Gibbs – FR, 6-2/190

HEAD COACH: Jamie Dixon (6th season)


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