Through three games this season, Pitt has placed an emphasis on pushing a fast tempo, scoring early and scoring often. The end result has been some early season explosiveness from Brad Wanamaker (19.3 ppg, 6.3 apg) and Ashton Gibbs (19.3 ppg, 45.8 3PT%). Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon has designed a role for Travon Woodall (9.0 ppg, 3.3 apg) as well, to continue to push the tempo when he enters the game for either Wanamaker or Gibbs.
"With me and Travon, we have two athletic point guards who can actually push the ball all the time," Gibbs said. "We've been doing a good job of it. Coach Dixon has been liking it. Now, we just have to keep going. It's been giving us easy buckets, but it all starts on the defensive end. If we get a turnover or a steal--anything--just push the ball is what (Dixon) wants."
Despite some success scoring points, including its first back-to-back 40-point wins in eight years. Pitt is going up against a team in Maryland, that traditionally under head coach Gary Williams, loves to push the tempo. The question here does Pitt try to match them, playing their own game, or do they revert their traditional style of slowing the tempo, playing defense and playing more of a half court game.
"It should be a half court game, but at the same time, you never know," Gibbs said. "Whoever defends is going to win the game. The offensive style is going to balance out. They're a good team and we're prepared. We just have to go out and play."
When they're not running or pushing the tempo--which is evident in its 89 points a game in the first three games--Maryland likes to press opponents as well, something Pitt has struggled with over the years.
Pitt has seen presses from opponents this season including the exhibition game against IUP and the regular season opener against Rhode Island. Maryland will counter with either a 2-2-1 press, or a diamond (1-2-1), something the players have already seen on film.
"We know we're going to have to attack that," McGhee said. "Our guards, and our fours and the fives are going to have to come to the ball and break that. It's similar to what Seton Hall does."
As Gibbs alluded to earlier, if Pitt is going to push the tempo, it all starts on the defensive end. A lot of that responsibility will fall to McGhee, who has arguably the toughest matchup. He will be in charge of defending 6-10 big man Jordan Williams. Williams became a household name last spring when he had back-to-back doubles in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last spring. He has already followed that up with a 15 rebounds in consecutive games against Seattle and Charleston this season. The last Maryland player to do that was Joe Smith, the number-one pick of the 1995 NBA Draft.
Prior to the season, Jamie Dixon said that it was going to be important for Gary McGhee to come up big on defense for Pitt this year. Going against Williams, and with the pressure to create that tempo from the defensive glass, it looks like a great opportunity for McGhee to enhance that reputation as a defensive player.
"He looks like a really good player (on film)," McGhee said of Williams. "He looks like a great low post scorer; one of the best low post scorers in the nation. He has both hands; left and right. It's going to be a challenge for us.
"I definitely look forward to (the challenge). It's one of the good matchups of the season. He's one of the best big men in the country."
While it's Williams taking up space in the paint, the Terrapins have a pair of talented guards in Ashton Bowie (9 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Sean Mosley (8 ppg, 2.3 apg). Bowie is the senior point guard, while Mosley is the junior shooting guard. Both are from the Baltimore area. The Panthers can't forget about 6-6 wingman Cliff Tucker, who is Maryland's biggest threat from three-point range (5-of-11) through three games.
One other aspect to keep an eye on for this game, will be Pitt's injury situation. Nasir Robinson practiced on Monday, but did not finish practice on Monday. It might seem a bit early to rush Robinson back into the starting lineup. In talking with Jamie Dixon, he said there's a need to get his best players out there. He's been generally pleased with what Talib Zanna (8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) has done in three games so far, but he would like to have Robinson back to defend the perimeter for this game. The experience factor of Robinson--a junior--also plays a factor. Against this type of athletic team, he would like to use Robinson in a multitude of spots.
Lamar Patterson has averaged 18 minutes a game through the first three games, and has played the two, three and four spots. He left the North Florida game last week with an ankle injury, and is expected to be ready for Maryland. Still, Dixon was reaching deeper into his bench already with Robinson out, and then Patterson out.
"I think you want your best players out there, guys that can be at full strength whenever they can," Dixon said. "Ask anybody; they want everybody available, and they want their best players to play."
Dixon further reiterated that if Robinson isn't able to return to this big stage, that he is more than confident in what he has seen out of the players filling in for Robinson in his absence. The only problem is that none of them can come up and defend the wing, and create a mismatch, the way Robinson can.
"I think they've done well, I think we've had three different guys at that spot," Dixon said. "We practiced knowing we would get those guys reps at those spots. They've done well. They've done some good things and they've done some things they can improve on."