Alright, I didn't see that coming. Statistically, the Bearcats were better than the Musketeers going into Saturday night, and, based on how the 'Cats played, we all have a right to be disappointed. I mean, my predictions have been spot-on so far this year. How dare Cronin go and ruin such a perfect streak...
I refuse to be wrong. Just ask my wife.
A ton of storylines going into Tuesday's battle in New York City: The Jimmy V Classic. The Big Apple. Undefeated Panthers. Former conference-mates. The fact that I hate everything about the city of Pittsburgh. Bounce back from the Crosstown Shootout?
- Game: Tuesday, December 17 @ 7:00pm ET
- Location: Madison Square Garden; New York City
- TV/Radio: ESPN (Jay Bilas, baby); 700WLW
The Panthers travel to NYC in unfamiliar territory. They're 10-0 and have won their games by an average of 21 points - yet, they're unranked? Sure, they haven't played a murderer's row of schedules so far, but Pittsburgh has been ranked in 80% of the last AP polls (173 of 217). Seems like a crime to me.
Jamie Dixon's team is led by three different double-digit scorers. Lamar Patterson (#21) is a well polished 6'5" senior forward that can do it all for the Panthers. He averages over 16 points and brings down just under 5 boards each game. His 48.7% from beyond the arc could be troubling.
Might wanna stop reading now if you pull your hair out because of UC's low post play. I warned you...
Talib Zanna (#42) controls the paint for Pittsburgh. He scores 12.7 points a game. He grabs 7.9 rebounds each game. He's tallied four double-doubles so far this year. He leads the ACC in field goal percentage. He's obviously gonna be a handful. If there's a silver lining in any of this, though, it's that Zanna's only 6-9 and 230 pounds. So he's practically the same size as Jumping Jack. That's a silver lining, right? Right?
I'm curious to see what kind of defense Dixon throws at the 'Cats on Tuesday night. Pitt can switch in and out of man-to-man and a 2-3 zone. Earlier this year, the Panthers shut down Fresno State with their zone defense - and with the way the Bearcats have shot the ball and rebounded lately, I don't see a reason to play anything but zone against Cronin's crew.
Overall, the Panthers are ranked #10 by Sagarin and #19 by ESPN's RPI rankings. I'm nervous. And not the nervous you feel before singing karaoke at a bar. I'm talking about the nervous you feel an hour before your first prostate exam. (Editor's note: I've never actually had a prostate exam - only heard stories. Someday, I guess)
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Start Fast. In Pitt's 10 wins this year, they've jumped out to an early run in 8 of them, and the Panthers have averaged a 15.2 point lead at halftime. The Bearcats don't have to scorch the nets right away - they just need to at least match Pittsburgh's play throughout the first half. But if they wanna scorch the nets right away, that's cool, too.
- Get Deflections. What if I told you the Panthers recorded 22 assists in their last game? I don't care who you're playing, 22 assists is good. Damn good. The Bearcats have to deflect the ball and record several turnovers, and they'll have a chance against Pittsburgh.
- Rebound. I know, you're tired of this being a key to victory. Frankly, the 'Cats haven't rebounded well lately. And they haven't won lately. Coincidence? Defensive rebounding has to be better than it was against Xavier. And if Pitt does play a decent amount of zone, UC has to grab a few offensive rebounds and convert those second chance points.
My prediction: I hate predicting the Bearcats to lose; it goes against everything that's great about being a fanatic. But you can't pick UC to win this game. The Panthers grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in their last game, and I think they'll clean the glass against the Bearcats as well. It'll be closer than most Bearcat fans think, though: Panthers win 68-62.