Hoyas complete tough 5-game stretch for No. 9 Pitt
They wouldn't have surprised anyone by going 1-4 or 0-5. That's how difficult this five-game stretch at the start of the Big East season was supposed to be for Pittsburgh, one of the conference's least-experienced teams.
Syracuse is one of the best teams in the country. Georgetown is one of the best defensive teams. UConn and Cincinnati are difficult on the road. Louisville possesses the kind of talent that can trouble any opponent.
The Panthers, uneven at times and rarely dominant during non-conference play, weren't nationally ranked when they headed off to play Syracuse on Jan. 2. But with one game remaining in a five-game run that no team would welcome, the Panthers (15-2, 5-0 in Big East) are No. 9 and rising going into Wednesday night's home game against No. 12 Georgetown (13-3, 4-2).
Win all five? Even the most confident of Panthers players wouldn't have predicted they might do that.
``I think it's been a good run, but everybody in that locker room really knows what we can do,'' leading scorer Ashton Gibbs said. ``We really have confidence in each other, and as long as we keep playing our game and keep playing as team everything will be fine. ... Nobody is selfish on this team, and nobody has an ego. And that's what is special about this team.''
Georgetown is a potential stumbling block given the Hoyas' size and athleticism, but Pitt often excels in home games against ranked opponents.
Since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, Pitt is 125-10 overall at home and 10-2 at home against ranked teams, losing only to Marquette in 2007 and Connecticut in 2005. Pitt was 3-0 at home against ranked teams while going 31-5 last season, but that's when the Panthers were led by inside players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.
This Pitt team relies more on its guard play, with Gibbs averaging 17.5 points per game. Brad Wanamaker, a guard last season who is currently listed as the small forward, scored 20 points during the 82-77 overtime win over Louisville on Saturday.
Georgetown, coming off an 82-77 loss to No. 4 Villanova, presents a difficult matchup problem with Greg Monroe, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who averages 14.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. Austin Freeman, a 6-3 1/2 guard, averages 15.9 points on a team that allows an average of 61 points per game. Only Pitt, which gives up an average of 59, is better defensively in the Big East.
Depth is a problem for the Hoyas, who have relied mostly on their top five for production.
``They don't play a lot of guys,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. ``Those starting five, though, are as good as anybody in the country.''
Pitt's tallest starter is 6-10 Gary McGhee, who is backed up by 6-9 freshman Dante Taylor, but the Panthers may try to defend Monroe with the quicker but smaller Nasir Robinson, who is 6-5. Robinson scored a career-high 26 against Louisville.
``Monroe has good hands for somebody his size and he has good post moves,'' McGhee said. ``He's real versatile. He can shoot a jump shot or drive, so he's tough to cover.''
Pitt has won its last three against the Hoyas, including the only meeting last season. The Panthers, who have also beaten DePaul, are trying to go 6-0 in Big East play for the first time since joining the conference in 1982.