North Florida-Pittsburgh Preview

After being named the Big East’s Most Improved Player last

season, Ashton Gibbs earned a spot on the conference’s preseason

first team. Right now, he has some competition as the top player in

Pittsburgh’s backcourt.

Brad Wanamaker has been just as good as Gibbs during the

fifth-ranked Panthers’ two wins, and the guard tandem should feast

on overmatched North Florida on Saturday as Pitt seeks its 50th

consecutive non-conference home victory.

Gibbs was an obvious choice as the most improved player in

2009-10, jumping from 4.3 points per game as a freshman to a

team-high 15.7. Wanamaker’s average, meanwhile, went from 5.8 as a

sophomore to 12.3, and the guards look like they’ve taken another

step two games into this season.

Gibbs followed his 22-point effort in Monday’s 83-75 win over

Rhode Island with 24 in a 97-54 victory over Illinois-Chicago on

Wednesday, while Wanamaker has been the best all-around player for

the Panthers. He had 24 points and eight assists in the opener,

then had 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 25 minutes

against UIC.

“I really like our perimeter, it’s a strength of ours,” coach

Jamie Dixon said. “They’re getting other guys shots and making

shots, and that’s a good combination. The numbers don’t lie.”

Gibbs tied for fourth in the Big East in 3-pointers made last

season at 78, and although it’s early, he’s well on his way to

topping that. He’s hit seven largely thanks to the dribble

penetration of Wanamaker, who last season was one of 15 players

nationally to average at least 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0

assists.

“I’m more of a driver and a playmaker and Ashton’s a spot-up

shooter, but he’s been creating his own shots so it makes him more

dangerous,” Wanamaker said. “When you have two players constantly

attacking you, it puts people on their heels.”

Seniors Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee have helped the Panthers

outrebound their first two opponents by an average of 16.5, and

they certainly shouldn’t have trouble edging North Florida on the

boards in the teams’ first meeting. The Ospreys were tied for 307th

nationally in rebounding differential last season at minus-4.4 when

they went 13-18.

All five starters are back for the team coached by Pittsburgh

native Matthew Driscoll, who is looking for improvement from the

Ospreys in their second year as a full-fledged Division I

member.

Having a familiar roster may not be the best thing for a North

Florida team that averaged 59.0 points – 338th in Division I. No

player scored more than 9.0 points per game for the Ospreys, who

were picked to finish seventh in the 11-team Atlantic Sun.

“Preseason rankings whether you are last or first really don’t

mean a whole lot in October,” Driscoll said. “They create a buzz

that begins the conversations, which is great for our league, but

reality is March.”

North Florida lost its four previous games against ranked

opponents by an average of 39.8 points. Pitt has won by an average

of 21.7 points during its non-conference home streak.