Pitt-Louisville 1 Of 5

It's not really a murderer's row, as far as NCAA Division I-A men's basketball teams are concerned, but No. 1 Pitt's next five opponents -- No. 20 Louisville, No. 8 Syracuse, West Virginia, No. 23 Villanova and No. 12 Notre Dame -- certainly is life nowadays for teams in the Big East Conference.

Pittsburgh, which ran its overall record to the program's third-best at 16-0 (4-0 in the Big East), faces the Cardinals (12-3, 3-0) today at 6 p.m. at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. Sean McDonough, Fran Fraschilla and Bill Raftery will handle play-by-play and commentary for ESPN during the nation telecast.

"Everyone's talking about this stretch and that stretch for different teams,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We can't spend all preseason talking about it like it's the toughest conference in history with all the great teams. ... Then, when it comes up, you have to play them. You can't just talk about it. You have to play them. (But) I think it's a great thing.

"It's great to be mentioned among the best (with) the No. 1 ranking and the best conference in college basketball history. You want your university to be in those positions. To complain about what teams you're playing or how tough it is really defeats the purpose. It's good. You want to play against the best, and that's who we're going against.''

With nine Big East teams nationally ranked, a record the polls set earlier this year, a stretch of games like Pitt has isn't uncommon. Each Conference team will have one at some point this season, and this likely won't be the last one for the Panthers. Louisville played Villanova and Notre Dame before facing Pitt today, and the Fighting Irish have faced five ranked teams in six now.

And once the new poll comes out next week, all five opponents that Pitt has in this stretch could be ranked, as WVU might rejoin the Top 25 after falling out in this week's rankings. That would set a record for the Panthers, who took on four straight ranked teams in 1990.

"It's the Big East,'' Pitt sophomore guard Bradley Wanamaker said. "We know it's going to be a challenge. When it's a ranked team, it's going to be even bigger. We just come out and do what we have to do and handle our business. (But) we go out and play every game whether they're ranked or not.''

With the way it's playing now, Louisville could be the most difficult foe Pitt faces in this stretch among the Big East's best. The Cardinals have won four straight with tough games against Villanova and Notre Dame in the past two.

And they certainly won't be intimidated by Pitt and it's No. 1 ranking. Louisville battled top-ranked North Carolina in last year's NCAA Tournament East Regional Final and began this season ranked No. 3 before losing a few early.

"The players are funny,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "They've got great respect for Pitt, but the No. 1 thing doesn't come into play for us. That's a distinction and recognition that they've earned, but we know we'd have a tough game even if they were ranked No. 30. The rankings are meaningless to us.''

During Louisville's strong play recently, it's rebounding has improved, and Pitino is well aware that hitting the boards will be essential to beating Pitt. And a key player will be Terrence Williams, who had 24 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in the Cardinals' 87-73 overtime win against Notre Dame Monday. Pitt held him to 11 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in two games last season.

"This isn't going to be a Notre Dame-type game where you're going to be 'wow' on every play,'' Pitino said. "(Against Pitt), it's hard-fought basketball games, and the backboard plays an important role in this (game). This is going to be a blue-collar, lunch-pail game where both teams play good defense. The team that can make shots is going to win.''

Pitt split the two games against Louisville last season. The Panthers lost 75-73 Feb. 24 at the Petersen Events Center, but beat the Cardinals 76-69 in overtime in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

Louisville split two games with Pittsburgh last season. The Cardinals beat the Panthers 75-73 Feb. 24 in Pittsburgh before falling 76-69 in overtime in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

"We've had great games with Pitt the past few years,'' Pitino said. "Very hard-fought games. This is probably the deepest, mostly athletically gifted Pitt team we've faced. They're deserving of their ranking, and their frontcourt is as wide and as strong as any we'll face this year. Their backcourt, with their floor general (Levance Fields), makes them better every time down the court. So, they're an excellent basketball team.''

Pitino added that Williams will guard Pitt senior forward Sam Young while he's playing the three-spot, but when Young moves to the four forward Earl Clark will take over. Samardo Samuels leads Louisville with 13.9 points per game, while Clark is at 13.8. Williams scores 12.3 points per game.

"When you go into a game against a team like Louisville, you just know that any slippage and you can be blown out,'' Dixon said. "Obviously, it's natural to get up more for a game like that. It's on ESPN. Guys love to play on TV and once again to prove to the country and ourselves how good we are.''

Notes: Pitt and Louisville meet for the eighth time. ... The Panthers are 4-3 against the Cardinals, 4-2 against them since they joined the Big East. ... At 16-0, Pitt is the only undefeated Big East team and among the three unbeaten teams nationally. ... The others are Clemson (16-0) and Wake Forest (15-0). ... Pitt's 16-0 start ranks as the school's third-best. ... The other top starts to a season in the program's 101-year history are 21-0 in 1927-28 and an 18-0 start in Dixon's first season as head coach in 2003-04.

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