GETTING INSIDE Pittsburgh is one of the surprises of the Big East this season, even with the team coming into the week with three losses in four games. But if the Panthers have a weakness, it's cooling off the hot hand on the opposition.
When the Panthers have struggled this season, as it did on Sunday at South Florida, it's often because the team can't figure out how to keep one player from dominating the action. Dominique Jones had 37 points against the Panthers in the Bulls' nine-point win, and scored more than half of his team's 70 points.
That might have been an unusual situation, since Pitt's best on-the-ball defender was sitting on the bench with a sprained ankle. He might have made the difference, as he would have spent time matched up against Jones on the perimeter.
Or maybe not. Dixon was active against Georgetown, when Hoya guard Chris Wright scored 27 against the Panthers. And it isn't always the guards who get scorched. Forwards Wesley Johnson (Syracuse) and Stanley Robinson (Connecticut) have had big games on the wing against the Panthers, and Samardo Samuels (Louisville) had 25 points in dominating the paint.
The issue is adjustments as much as preparation. Jones is the biggest threat on South Florida, so his outburst was a matter of not being able to control a known danger. Wright wouldn't have been gameplanned for as much as Hoya center Greg Monroe, but he dominated once he heated up. The Panthers did a nice job on Monroe, but lost because another player beat them. Similarly, Robinson is one of many dangers on UConn who the Panthers couldn't stop, as are Johnson on Syracuse and Samuels on the Cardinals.
For the Panthers to get back into contention in the Big East -- Pitt is three games behind Villanova at the halfway point of the conference schedule -- the team is going to have to do a better job of avoiding getting burned when an opposing star catches fire.
--Gilbert Brown had a big game off the bench against South Florida. He set a career high with 25 points.
--Gary McGhee rebounded from a tough stretch with a pair of solid games last week. He finished with 10 points against St. John's the first time in 13 games he was in double figures, and had eight points and 11 rebounds against South Florida.
ON THE SPOT: Ashton Gibbs is finding things a little tougher now that he's a marked man. The Panthers guard is 20-67 from the floor over the past five games, and isn't getting open looks. Gilbert Brown picked up the slack against South Florida, but Pitt sometimes struggles to score when its main man isn't getting the shots he was nailing a few weeks ago.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "How well they play isn't always based on stats. That has to be recognized. We know what our rotation is and what's best for our team. We've had injuries, and fouls are always a part of it. Those things always dictate adjustments." -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on how he used his bench.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: A split with St. John's and South Florida left the Panthers with a 6-3 record in the Big East. The Panthers have lost three of its last four games since beginning the conference schedule with five wins in a row.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Brad Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall.
Seton Hall 64, Pittsburgh 61
Pittsburgh 63, St. John's 53
South Florida 70, Pittsburgh 61
at West Virginia, Wednesday, Feb. 3
vs. Seton Hall, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Robert Morris, Monday, Feb. 8
vs. West Virginia, Friday, Feb. 12
at Marquette, Thursday, Feb. 18
IN FOCUS: Teams with three losses in four games would prefer to face a easier matchup than a trip to West Virginia, but the Panthers don't get to make the schedule. Pitt will have to show that elusive toughness to have a chance of pulling off the upset in Morgantown.
--Jermaine Dixon missed the South Florida game because of a sprained right ankle. The Panthers sorely missed him, as he would have guarded Dominique Jones who torched Pitt for 37 points.
--Dante Taylor's scoreless streak reached three games in the loss to South Florida. The freshman forward played eight minutes and did not take a shot against the Bulls.
--Travon Woodall got the start against South Florida thanks to Jermaine Dixon's injury. He had a tough time of it, however, fouling out in 17 minutes with no points and no assists.
Pitt Basketball Notebook
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