Insiders College Basketball Report

Pitt takes on Syracuse in a highly anticipated matchup of two of the Big East frontrunners. Pitt is off to just its fourth 5-0 start in Big East play.

GETTING INSIDE
Great teams do not toy with opponents. They bury them. That is what Pittsburgh has been doing this season.

The Panthers get off fast, step on the throat of an opponent and put the game away. They have led in every game but the Tennessee game at halftime. Pitt's average halftime lead in five Big East games is 12 points.

"It's really good for us," senior center Gary McGhee told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We've been real aggressive in the first half, jumping out to leads in the last couple of games. We've been trying to sustain it, and like coach (Jamie Dixon) says, 'Keep your foot on their throat.' We try to build on that lead and have a bigger lead going into halftime."

"We're a veteran group now," sophomore point guard Travon Woodall said. "Last year, we were young. We were all learning and getting a feel. This year, we're a veteran group. We know how to jump on teams early and start off from the door. We always talk about how we can't play from behind. This group knows that and is doing a better job."

Even when they aren't shooting well, as was the case against Seton Hall when they shot just 39.5 percent, they led by 15 at the half.

"Our offense has been really good," McGhee said. "We've been moving the ball a lot better lately and screening well. We've been getting good shots and getting open looks. That's really been helping us out a lot.

"It's just a bunch of growth. It's a team that was a lot younger last year. We have some experience. It's still good that we had those close games, so we're used to it just in case.

"There are going to be a lot of close games going down the stretch in the tournament. But it's been really good for us this year to have leads and to build on them."

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: You beat Georgetown at the Verizon Center, you take it, no questions asked. The box score doesn't show it, what with the Panthers winning, 72-57, but they went through the final 12 minutes of the game with only one field goal.

"We're happy with the win," senior G Brad Wanamaker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We hit a dry spell in the second half. That's something good teams can't do it they want to advance far in the NCAA Tournament."

And, at 17-1 and unbeaten in the Big East, Pitt has plans in March.

NOTES, QUOTES
--With Pitt centers Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor in first-half foul trouble, sophomore J.J. Richardson contributed his busiest Big East night of the season. Richardson played four minutes -- and committed three fouls -- but gave McGhee and Taylor some precious bench time. Taylor secured his second foul with 12:33 to play in the first half, and McGhee got No. 2 with 5:47 to play.

--The Panthers' bus trip to Washington ran into some snowy weather Tuesday night in Maryland, entering a virtual white-out. The players stayed entertained with three movies, and the bus arrived safely in the D.C. metro area after a six-hour journey.

--The schedule-maker was not kind to Pitt in putting its game against Seton Hall in Pittsburgh up against the Steelers-Ravens NFL playoff game, played just a few miles away. The crowd of 9,236 was the smallest for a Big East game since WVU played Seton Hall on Feb. 6, 2010, when a blizzard dropped nearly two feet of snow on the city and 6,681 attended.

BY THE NUMBERS: 24 -- The differential in rebounds between Pitt's 51 and Seton Hall's 27 in the Panthers' 74-53 victory last week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's huge. The biggest part of our offense, aside from us shooting well, has to be our second-chance baskets. Whenever we can get easy buckets it helps us out tremendously because we don't have to run the offense or grind it out as much. Any easy baskets help." -- Pitt senior Gilbert Brown on the effect of Pitt's ability to get offensive rebounds.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Syracuse, Jan. 17
KEY MATCHUPS: This is a Big Monday game that really is a big Monday, matching up perhaps the two best teams in what many believe is the nation's top conference. Pitt gets Syracuse at home in the Petersen Events Center, where the Panthers have lost only 11 times since the building opened. Syracuse does not possess the explosive offense it had in the past and Pitt will probably be able to contain the Orange, but Jim Boeheim has his best defense in some time. By the numbers, only Cincinnati has been better this season. Teams are shooting only 37.2 percent against Syracuse, the best in the league. The contest may be decided at the 3-point line, where Pitt is the best 3-point shooting team and Syracuse the best at defending 3s, or on the boards where Pitt holds a wide margin.

--at DePaul, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Pitt has only to fear a letdown should it beat Syracuse. A trip to Chicago to face DePaul might not seem like a very exciting prospect after Monday's showdown with Syracuse. DePaul cannot match Pittsburgh in any area of the game and it would seem that Ashton Gibbs and Co. would have their way in a rather easy day's work.

FUTURE'S MARKET: The ink wasn't dry on the box score of Pitt's victory over Seton Hall when all thoughts turned toward the Monday showdown with Syracuse, a game many believe could be a preview of the Big East Conference final in Madison Square Garden. This time, though, the game is at Pitt's Pederson Events Center, where the Panthers are almost unbeatable.

"Once we got into the locker room, we knew what our next task was," said senior G Brad Wanamaker. "And that is Syracuse."

Coach Jamie Dixon had this to say about the shootout: "We're going to get ready for them right away. Obviously they're good, but we pretty much know what we're going to get from them knowing their returning players and knowing what they've done year-after-year. There's a lot of hype about it, especially after this game. I'm looking forward to it"

PLAYER NOTES
--Senior C Gary McGhee totaled his eighth career and fifth double-double of the year with 13 points and 10 rebounds. His 13 points tied a career-high for scoring and represented his 15th career double figure scoring game. McGhee has totaled 10 or more rebounds 15 times in his career. McGhee has now reached double figure scoring in four of his last five games. Through those five games against Big East opponents, McGhee is averaging 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

--G Ashton Gibbs, a junior, and senior G Sam Wannamaker are both approaching 1,000 points. Gibbs was at 977 after the Seton Hall game and Wannamaker at 921.


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