SC State-Pittsburgh Preview
Pittsburgh has the nation’s top rebounding differential after
overwhelming its last four opponents on the boards.
It’ll no longer have one of its promising young big men to keep
that trend going.
The 15th-ranked Panthers look to extend their winning streak to
eight when they host South Carolina State on Saturday, a day after
highly touted recruit Khem Birch left the program.
Pitt (9-1) came into the season having won 48 of its last 52
non-conference regular season games, and added two more to that
total before a stunning 86-76 loss to Long Beach State on Nov.
The Panthers haven’t lost since, and much of the credit for
their seven-game winning streak can be attributed to an ability to
control the paint. Pittsburgh leads the nation in rebounding margin
(13.0), including a whopping 19.2 per-game edge during its last
“It is what we do,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It is ingrained in
our program. We recruit guys with a nose for the ball.”
Sophomore Lamar Patterson is proving he fits that description.
One of five Panthers averaging at least 5.0 rebounds, the 6-foot-5
Patterson pulled down a career-high 10 in last Saturday’s 74-68 win
over Oklahoma State, to go along with 12 points and seven
“We have a rebounding drill in practice where we throw each
other around pretty good,” said senior forward Nasir Robinson,
averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 boards in Pitt’s last three games.
“We just go out and rebound and everything else takes care of
The Panthers, however, could need Patterson and Robinson to step
it up even more now that Birch is gone. Only the second McDonald’s
All-American recruited by Dixon, Birch opted Friday to leave the
team for personal reasons.
Birch, thought to be mulling a transfer, averaged 4.4 points,
5.0 boards and a team-high 1.9 blocks in 15 minutes a game.
Even with Birch gone, the Panthers should have little trouble
taking care of business in a three-game stretch that precedes their
Dec. 27 Big East opener at Notre Dame. Following Saturday’s visit
from South Carolina State (4-6), Pitt hosts St. Francis (PA) and
Wagner before a three-day Christmas break. None of those opponents
rank among the top 150 in Division I in rebounding
The Bulldogs have lost four in a row following a 4-2 start, and
if their last two games are any indication, the Panthers should
have plenty of chances for defensive rebounds. The Bulldogs shot
37.8 percent in those defeats, getting edged 42-29 on the boards in
last Saturday’s 87-57 loss at Gardner-Webb – a team they beat three
SCSU’s offense relies largely on senior guard Brandon Riley, who
averages a team-high 20.9 points but was held to nine Saturday and
committed five turnovers.
Riley struggled considerably in his first look at a ranked
opponent this season as well. He had 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting
and nine turnovers in a 70-50 loss at then-No. 9 Baylor on Nov.
For a team known largely for its defense under Dixon, though,
Pitt hasn’t been causing many turnovers this season. The Panthers
are forcing just 9.8 per game – 336th out of 339 Division I
They’re only giving it away 12.2 times per game themselves,
though. Preseason Big East player of the year Ashton Gibbs had 17
points and one turnover last Saturday against the Cowboys.
“Gibbs just controls the basketball game. He is a very
impressive player,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “All
they say about him is true. There is a great pace to his game.”
Gibbs is averaging 18.7 points to rank sixth in the Big
Pitt has never faced the Bulldogs but is 20-0 all-time versus