Pittsburgh-Georgia Tech Preview
For the first time this season, Pittsburgh has cracked the Top 25.
Senior forward Talib Zanna probably wonders what took so long.
The 22nd-ranked Panthers look to win their sixth straight Tuesday night when they visit Georgia Tech.
Despite entering ACC play with one loss, Pittsburgh (15-1, 3-0) hadn't received much national attention because of its weak non-conference schedule. The competition hasn't gotten much tougher in the ACC, but wins continue to pile up for the Panthers, whose defeat came to Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17.
"I think we aren't getting the respect we should," Zanna said after Saturday's 80-65 victory over Wake Forest.
Zanna and fellow senior Lamar Patterson are the biggest reasons why Pittsburgh, off to its best start in conference play since opening 7-0 in the Big East in 2010-11, is ranked.
Zanna is averaging 12.4 points and a team-leading 8.0 rebounds, and recorded his fifth double-double Saturday with 16 points and 12 boards.
Patterson is averaging team highs of 17.9 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 53.5 percent - including 43.7 percent from 3-point range (31 of 71).
"I think we, me and Lamar, need to step it up from now on," Zanna said. "This is conference play, this is really important to us, it's our last year."
Patterson had 27 points, six assists and five rebounds Saturday, and Wake Forest's Jeff Bzdelik became the latest opposing coach to gush about the 6-foot-5 forward.
"I'm not saying he's the elite player in the league but he certainly is one of the elite players in the league," Bzdelik said. "I think he's very under-the-radar in terms of how good he is ... He's tough and gritty and experienced."
The Panthers may have to lean on Zanna and Patterson a bit more with sophomore forward Durand Johnson out for the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Johnson was thriving as Pitt's sixth man, averaging 8.8 points and ranking second on the team with 22 3-pointers.
Another key to Pitt's success has been defense, as it's limiting opponents to 59.3 points and 39.2 percent shooting - among the best marks in the country.
"We are just playing Pitt basketball right now," Patterson said. "We want to grind teams out and see if they can last throughout the whole 40 minutes with us. So far we are going well but we have a lot of games left."
The Yellow Jackets (10-6, 1-2) have had some problems offensively but are coming off a solid showing in Saturday's 74-69 win over Notre Dame. Leading scorer Trae Golden had 20 points and reserve Chris Bolden added a season-high 14 while hitting four of eight 3-pointers for Georgia Tech, which had averaged 59.8 points in dropping three of its previous four.
Bolden, who came in averaging 4.3 points and 24.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, made a 3 with 45 seconds left to put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good after they blew a 15-point second-half lead.
"To do this, get down and come back and win, is great," coach Brian Gregory said. "The one thing that is our biggest challenge though is sustaining. Did we learn from that? The next time we have to go back and think, 'last time that happened, do we remember that?' Then you have to fight back and get through it. That consistency - that would be a big step for us."
Georgia Tech leads the series 5-0, with the last meeting coming in 1989.