Panthers on the Prowl

The Pittsburgh Panthers are in the midst of another great basketball season. After Wednesday night's 71-51 victory over St. John's, the Panthers are 21-1, 7-1 in the Big East and ranked number four in the nation. Pitt owns the nation's longest home court winning streak with 39 games.

Pundits are heaping praise on the Panthers and many have said this year's team is better than last year's club which won the Big East regular season title and the tournament title and advanced to the sweet sixteen in the NCAA tournament.

ESPN college basketball analyst Bucky Waters isn't ready to coronate these Panthers at this time.

"First of all it's too early to judge that," Waters explained. "The accomplishments of the last two years and the sweet sixteen and all of that, they have not yet accomplished that level of consistency. Does it look like they're going to? You bet."

"They're deeper and every injury they've had this year seems to have generated opportunities for other guys. When it's going good it's going good. Every time they've had a little hitch someone's stepped up. All it's done has increased the depth and the confidence and the morale of the team."

Waters does see some noticeable differences between this year's team and last year's Panthers.

"Carl Krauser and Brandin Knight are different kinds of point guards," Waters said. "I really think that Krauser is a score first pass second player and that's not true about Knight who was pass first and shoot second. To a degree that puts a lot more pressure on the defense. If you've got a guy that's hunting a shot, but is still unselfish and Krauser is. First of all, I think he's a better athlete and he's a little more explosive. Knight set the table well, but you look at the three-point shooting and the other areas he wasn't as dangerous as Krauser. And Krauser is only a sophomore. With his tools he is going to be a terrific player."

Chris Taft also gives Pitt an added dimension.

"It gives them a whole other dimension," Waters stated. "And again he's just a freshman. This guy is going to get nothing but better. They're more athletic and they're longer and yet they're still doing it within the confines of the system."

Senior leadership has also been a key factor with Julius Page and Jaron Brown providing a solid base.

"You look at this program and they lost three very good players," Waters said. "That's when you start to talk about consistency. The Duke's, the Connecticut's, the Syracuse's and the Kentucky's. They lose guys who go early and they transfer, but they're always there with quality players."

"I think where Pitt has stepped up above most of the others is they haven't had any transfers at least that I'm aware of and they're playing seniors. Guys are staying four years and what a tremendous advantage that is in today's market."

Many questioned Jamie Dixon taking over after Ben Howland left for UCLA, but Dixon has kept Pitt on an even keel.

"An interesting analogy is you go from Knight to Krauser and you go from Howland to Dixon," Waters explained. "Different personalities and different talents, but there's a strength there of enormous confidence that's been generated with success. I think they are one of the great stories right now in college hoops."

"What really impressed me was the players going to bat for Dixon when he got the job. Dixon has done nothing to disappoint and he's made marvelous decisions. His handling of different situations has been extraordinary."

Through two thirds of the season the Panthers are riding high, but how far can they go?

"I think they're a contender," Waters said. "The way they play defense will overcome those difficult shooting nights. Pitt isn't as vulnerable to upset because they are conservative and tough. There is no flaw and you've got to beat them, they don't beat themselves."

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