Pitt is alone in first place after beating previously unbeaten Syracuse 74-66 Monday night. The Panthers are 6-0 in the Big East for the first time in school history, and they have a chance to stay undefeated in conference play for a while longer.
Next up is a road game at DePaul followed by games with Notre Dame and Rutgers. The best of the bunch is Notre Dame (with a 3-3 Big East record), but that game has to be played at the Petersen Events Center, where Pitt has won 51 of its last 52 contests.
With a schedule that is backloaded with tough games -- two against Villanova and two against West Virginia in the final month of the season -- the Panthers would do themselves well to take care of business and win these next three.
The Panthers continued their winning ways against Syracuse by following a familiar formula. They jumped out to a 19-0 lead and never trailed in the game. The Panthers have led at halftime in every Big East game and all but one game the entire season.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Attention opposing coaches: If you are going to play a zone defense against Pitt, you need to pay attention to Nasir Robinson. Pitt's junior forward went into Monday night's game against Syracuse averaging just 7.5 points per game, but he led the team with 21 points as he easily got inside the Orange's 2-3 zone. Robinson is a crafty player around the basket and has a knack for scoring among taller players despite his 6-foot-5 frame.
--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 GAME:
--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"
--F Nasir Robinson got inside Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense and scored 21 points to help Pitt upend the previously undefeated Orange, 74-66, Monday night before a record crowd at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers shot 48 percent from the field against Syracuse, which entered the game as the top defensive team in the conference.
--Junior Ashton Gibbs scored 11 points Monday and has 989 for his career. He can become the 38th member of Pitt's 1,000-point club Saturday at DePaul.
--Senior Brad Wanamaker had six assists against Syracuse, giving him 382 for his career. Only eight players in school history have reached 400 assists.