Panthers Ready For Big East

If there's one thing that's been true about Pittsburgh this season, it's that this team is totally unpredictable.

It is capable of beating anybody it'll see in the NCAA Tournament -- and also suffering an embarrassing early-round exit.

The Panthers are probably the only team to spoil three Senior Days this season. It went to Boston College and shellacked the Eagles 72-50, then followed that with a trip to South Bend and an 85-77 victory. That took Pitt from a spot on the bubble to a shot at a good seed in the NCAAs in one week's time.

Of course, before that the Panthers spoiled their own Senior Day, as the fans booed in frustration at the team's 73-64 home loss to Connecticut.

Along the way, Chris Taft has gone from all-conference center to enigma and then possibly back again. Carl Krauser has groused about the officiating and struggled with his shot, then had spectacular games where he looks as good as any point guard in the country. Most of the rest of the team seems to vary from game-to-game; Antonio Graves, the starting shooting guard, had had back-to-back games in double figures, but preceded that with a two-point effort against the Huskies.

The one constant has been senior forward Chevon Troutman. The team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been the rock that Jamie Dixon has relied on all season, and he was rewarded by being selected to the All-Big East First Team. Krauser made the Second Team; Taft won honorable mention.

Team Notes:

The first time Chris Taft played Notre Dame this season, he finished with one point and spent a good portion of the second half on the bench. The rematch was much different; Taft scored a career-high 26 points and made 12 of 17 shots.

Pitt may get a better seed than some observers expect because it has shown the ability to win on the road. The Panthers were 5-3 away from home in Big East play, including victories at Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut and Notre Dame.

The victory over Notre Dame gave Pitt its 20th victory, the fourth season in a row the Panthers have won 20 or more.

Lineup: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard Antonio Graves, center Chris Taft, forward Levon Kendall, forward Chevon Troutman.


Next Game: vs. Villanova in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, March 10.

Key Of The Game: First of all, Pitt needs to play better defense on the perimeter. Villanova made 12 of its 23 three-point attempts in the first meeting between the two teams. What it also needs is a continued strong performance from Chris Taft on a nightly basis. The center has been up-and-down all season, but when he's on he joins Chevon Troutman as one of the best inside tandems in the country.

Roster Report: Chevon Troutman joined Chris Taft to form a dominating inside presence. Though he couldn't match Taft's 26 points and 11 rebounds, his final numbers (22 points, nine boards) weren't too shabby either.

In the two games prior to the Big East Tournament, Taft averaged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds. In the previous five games, he averaged 8.6 points and eight rebounds.

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