The Blue Demons are under first-year head coach Oliver Purnell, and despite a 19-game losing streak in the Big East, have a couple of freshman that have attracted the eyes of many Big East coaches. This week, it's Pitt assistant Pat Skerry filling in for head coach Jamie Dixon in his pre-game meeting with the media. Skerry is familiar with some of these players from the recruiting trail.
"They've got a good group," Skerry said. "Those two freshman are very, very talented. They fit (DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell‘s) style very well.
"It's early, only the third week of the Big East season. There are tough battles ahead. We have DePaul on Saturday. There's never an easy night in this league."
The two freshmen Skerry refers to are point guard Brandon Young out of Washington, DC and power forward Cleveland Melvin, who hails from Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts--the same school as highly-touted incoming freshman Khem Birch. Melvin is taking the Big East by storm, challenging for Big East freshman of the year honors. Melvin leads DePaul averaging 14.5 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
Young averages 12 points and 3.8 assists per game. Ashton Gibbs says the tricky thing in defending a player like Young--even though he's a freshman--is that he's an extremely good ball handler.
"They have a lot of talented players," Gibbs said. "They're very versatile. Their guards, especially (Young) are real good. Cleveland is their best player, who scores a lot."
Pitt enters this Saturday contest leading the nation in rebounding margin (+13.7), assists (20.1) and assist-to-turnover margin (1.75). Interestingly, DePaul ranks last in the Big East with a rebounding margin of -6.3. While those all look like positives for Pitt, the Panthers have one weakness. In recent games, Syracuse for example, Pitt has gone through long droughts without making field goals. They also went through scoreless droughts against Providence, where Providence led by as many as six in the second half. They also saw a 22-point lead against Georgetown evaporate into an 11-point lead in a matter of minutes.
Pitt has a lot of good things going for them, as evidenced by how well they are outrebounding opponents and how well they are sharing the ball. As they approach this game with DePaul, the players are looking for ways to continue with the big lead, and not slow down. Against Syracuse, after jumping out to a 19-0 lead to start the game, Pitt went without a field goal for seven minutes, as Syracuse only trailed 19-17 with just over five minutes left in the first half. Brad Wanamaker offered one possible solution.
"We had a lot of mental lapses," Wanamaker said. "We went through times where we got tired. We have to learn as a team when we have a lead to just keep building on it."