GETTING INSIDE Pittsburgh is going to be a trendy team to look past in the NCAA Tournament this year.
On paper, the Panthers don't have as much to hurt opponents as other ranked teams do, and since it's been easy for non-Big East fans to miss everything but the highlights of their games, the players who have taken center stage this year don't have the name recognition of Sam Young or DeJuan Blair.
What Pitt does have, however, is a lot of balance. And that should come in handy when the Panthers visit Notre Dame Wednesday night.
There's no one player who an opponent can key on with the confidence that if that player is stopped, the Panther offense will grind to a halt. There's also no one go-to guy who will always have the ball in his hands in key spots.
That makes the Panthers hard to defend. Multiple players have shown the ability to perform well on offense in clutch spots, so the Pitt gameplan depends as much on matchups as it does individual ability.
"The balance of our team excites me,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said after Sunday's victory against Villanova. "Today, we were running sets for four or five different guys. It's something that's been developing and it is good for us that we have a different leading scorer every game.''
The win over the Wildcats was the third for the Panthers this season over a top-five opponent. Many teams have more star power, but no team in the NCAA can lay claim to more wins over teams ranked in the top five than this one. Sleep on the Panthers at your NCAA pool's peril.
--The Pitt victory over Villanova was the team's 21st on the season, and its 10th in the Big East. It is the ninth year in a row the Panthers have had at least 20 victories overall and 10 in the Big East.
--Pitt continues to have Villanova's number at home. The Panthers have won seven in a row over the Wildcats in Pittsburgh, and haven't lost to the team at home since the 1995-96 season.
ON THE SPOT: Not that Pitt will give back the victory, but the Panthers didn't have an easy time finding the basket against Villanova. It shot 35 percent from the floor for the game, and basically won because it got more second shots and more free-throw opportunities.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think we have any big shot guy. We have multiple guys that can step up at the end of the game. There comes a time in every game when a player is going to catch fire and make shots or that guy finds the mismatch in order to get other guys scoring. We're a different team in that overall, we're great players. It's what makes us strong.'' -- Gilbert Brown, after the Panthers victory over Villanova on Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Panthers extended their winning streak to five by beating Marquette on the road and Villanova at home. At 10-4 in the conference, the Panthers had a one-game lead on Louisville in its effort to secure a top-four seed in the conference tournament.
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.
Pittsburgh 98, West Virginia 95 (3OT)
Pittsburgh 58, Marquette 51
Pittsburgh 70, Villanova 65
at Notre Dame Wednesday night
at St. John's, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. Providence, Thursday, March 4
vs. Rutgers, Saturday, March 6
IN FOCUS: Pitt has no more games against ranked teams on the schedule, but plenty against desperate ones. This week brings a road trip to Notre Dame and St. John's, two teams in critical need of a signature win if they hope to sneak back into NCAA Tournament consideration.
--Ashton Gibbs appears to be emerging from his midseason scoring slump. He had 21 points against Villanova, the third time in the last four games he has had 20 or more.
--Gary McGhee had 10 rebounds in the Villanova game, including eight on the offensive glass.
--Gilbert Brown continues to be a scoring threat off the bench. He had 16 points against Villanova, his eighth game in double figures this year.
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