No. 1 Pitt Ready For USF

The University of South Florida men's basketball team (6-9, 1-2) is hopeful that the third time's a charm when it faces No. 1 Pitt (15-0, 3-0) in a Big East Conference matchup today at 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN-U with Dan McLaughlin (play-by-play) and Mike Kelley (commentary). Tom Schofield will handle production.

Pittsburgh is the third men's basketball team that USF has faced while it's ranked No. 1 in the nation. South Florida lost at top-ranked North Carolina and Michael Jordan Dec. 12, 1981 and lost at No. 1 Cincinnati and Kenyon Martin Jan. 29, 2009. It will be just the fifth time overall, including the USF women's program, that the Bulls have taken on the top team. The women took on No. 1 Connecticut at home earlier this season and traveled to UConn last season.

"We know we can't take anyone lightly,'' Pitt junior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "USF and every other team we play, especially while we're No. 1, will be trying to knock us off. So, we're going to be ready for anything.''

USF and Pitt have met four times previously, and just like with the football programs the Panthers have had problems with the Bulls. Each basketball team has won twice, so this basically is the rubber match at this stage in the series. However, this is only the second meeting while the two were in the Big East, and Pitt has won both times.

USF won the first two meetings at neutral sites. The first game was during the 1975-76 season, and they met again in the 2001-02 season. This is the second time the teams will play in Pittsburgh.

South Florida beat DePaul, 80-58, in its last game Saturday in Chicago. It was just the second road win in Conference play for USF in its three-plus years in the Big East. Dominique Jones scored 22, while Jesus Verdejo and Augustus Gilchrist added 18 and 16 points, respectively. Chris Howard had 12 points and 10 assists with no turnovers for USF.

Jones leads USF with 17 points per game, while senior guard Verdejo at 15.2. Freshman forward Gilchrist leads the Bulls with 4.7 rebounds per game, and Howard has 4.1 assists per game. Jones also has 26 steals, while Gilchrist has 12 blocks for second-year coach Stan Heath. He is the eighth head coach in the men basketball program's 38-year history.

"They have a lot of good shooters on this USF team,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We know a lot about them. They have some very good players, so it's going to be another tough game for us. It doesn't matter whether they're ranked or not, every night in Big East we play a tough opponent.''

This is the second consecutive week that Pitt enters a game as the nation's No. 1-ranked team. Last week, Pitt ascended to the No. 1 ranking following a 70-54 victory at No. 11 Georgetown. Previous No. 1 North Carolina lost to Boston College, and previous No. 2 Connecticut lost to Georgetown. Pitt had been ranked No. 2 on 16 different occasions, the last being on Dec. 11, 2006, but jumped from 3 to 1 this time.

Pitt has been ranked among the nation's top-25 in 118 of the last 127 national polls. Additionally, Pitt has been ranked among the nation's top-10 teams in each of the last seven seasons (2002-09). The men's basketball team becomes the first Pitt team to hold the No. 1 national ranking since the 1982 Pitt football season. That 1982 Pitt football team entered its season ranked No. 1 and held the top spot for three weeks (Sept. 7, Oct. 26, Nov. 2).

With a win over South Florida, Panthers coach Jamie Dixon would move into sole possession of third place on Pitt's all-time coaching victories list. He is currently tied with Paul Evans, who compiled a 147-98 record in eight years at Pitt from 1986-94. Dixon and Evans trail H.C. Carlson (367-247 in 31 years) and Robert Timmons (174-189 in 15 years).

For the third time in six years, Pitt begins a season with a 15-0 start. The 15-0 start ranks tied for third among Pitt's all-time best starts. Pitt went 21-0 in 1927-28, 18-0 in Dixon's first season in 2003-04, 15-0 in 2005-06 and 15-0 in 1915-16. Dixon has guided Pitt to 10-0 starts in each of his first six seasons as the head coach. Additionally, Dixon has guided Pitt to six of the top-10 best starts in school history.

According to www.realtimerpi.com, Pitt is ranked No. 1 nationally in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and No. 6 nationally in strength of schedule (SOS) rankings. Pitt also has the best RPI and SOS ratings for any Big East school.

The Panthers are one of only three schools with an undefeated college basketball record. The three are Pitt (15-0), Clemson (16-0) and Wake Forest (14-0). Pitt's 15-game winning streak ranks as the nation's second-longest behind Clemson (16). Other lengthy winning streaks include Wake Forest (14), Saint Mary's (12) and Utah State (10).

Through its first 15 games, Pitt has outscored the opposition by a plus-19.7 margin and out-rebounded those teams by a plus-10.5 margin. The Panthers are also converting 47.7 percent (445-933) of their field-goal attempts and limiting opponents to a 37.2 percent shooting percentage. Pitt has also held 14 of its 15 opponents to 70 points or less and nine teams to 60 points or less.

Several Pitt players are ranked among the national leaders in various statistical categories. Sophomore center DeJuan Blair is third in rebounding with 12.6 per game, and he leads the nation in offensive rebounds. Blair is also ranked 18th in field-goal percentage at 60.6 percent.

Senior point guard Levance Fields ranks second in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 4.35 differential, and he's 10th with 6.7 assists per game. And senior forward Sam Young is rated 43rd in scoring with 19 points per game.

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