This Week at the Pete : We’re No. 1!

Paul SieversAnalyst IJanuary 5, 2009

"This Week at the Pete" is a weekly column that takes a look at all things Pitt basketball. Your comments are more than welcome, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

The Pitt Panthers began the week ranked No. 3. On New Years Eve. They proceeded to defeat Rutgers at Rutgers and three days later they defeated Georgetown, again on the road.

In addition to Pitt’s two victories, the No. 1 ranked UNC Tar Heels and No. 2 ranked UConn Huskies both went down. The result? Pitt’s first No. 1 basketball ranking in the 101-year history of the program.

We can argue the merits of basketball polls until cows come up the front walk. The fact of the matter is that this is a credit to how hard the players and coaches have worked. Congratulations are in order for Coach Jamie Dixon, who has done as good a coaching job as anybody in America this decade; this is a tribute to him and his staff.

And for all fans of Pitt athletics, this certainly takes the sting off of the Sun Bowl debacle. Lets get to the recap.


Dec. 31 at Rutgers

While the football team was setting their sport back 50 years in El Paso, the basketball team opened conference play on the road with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. After trailing by as many as seven in the second half, Pitt rallied to win 78-72.

Biggest Storyline

DeJuan Blair’s foul trouble.

The big fella was limited to eight minutes due to foul trouble. Despite the referee’s unkind whistle, the Panthers held their own on the glass without Blair and ended the game with a one rebound advantage. The impact of Blair’s absence was felt the most on offense as Tyrell Biggs and Gary McGee struggled to provide the low-post scoring that Blair brings to the table.

Pitt compensated for Blair’s loss by making their three-pointers. Pitt was 7-for-16 from long distance, which is well above their season average. The hot shooting was the difference in the game as the Panthers never trailed after the nine-minute mark in the second half.

The game ball goes to Brad Wanamaker.

The often criticized sophomore guard scored 15 points off the bench including five of the nine points in a 9-0 run that put the Panthers ahead for good.

Chas from Pitt Blather said it best. “It’s a joy to see the light go on for players…For Brad Wanamaker it seems to have happened in the past couple of games.”

Jamie Dixon has been searching for guards off the bench all year and Brad Wanamaker now looks as if he is more than capable of playing quality minutes for the Panthers.

Jan. 3 at Georgetown

In a nationally televised matchup, the Panthers and Hoyas played a tightly-contested first half that was played on as high a level as any college basketball game this season. The second half belonged to Pitt as a 17-4 run at around the seven-minute mark boosted the Panthers to a 70-54 victory.

Biggest Storyline

The disparity on the boards.

Pitt beat Georgetown 43-21 on the glass, led by Blair’s 17 boards. While Pitt has been a strong rebounding team all season, Georgetown has struggled on the glass, ranking 13th in the Big East in rebounding. On Saturday, Georgetown was not able to overcome their deficiency.

Georgetown’s depth was also exploited as Pitt’s nine-man rotation wore the Hoyas down in the second half.

The game ball goes to DeJuan Blair

Blair more than made up for his poor performance at Rutgers, scoring 21 points to go along with 17 rebounds. This might have been Blair’s best game in what is already a very special career.

One would imagine that John Thompson III had trouble sleeping Saturday night, images of Blair grabbing rebounds at will keeping him awake.

While Blair got my game ball, this was a team effort. Pitt did not shoot the ball very well, as can be expected on the road. However, Pitt’s depth, tenacity, rebounding, and passing abilities were on full display in our nation’s capital.

Aside from Jermaine Dixon’s offensive performance, it is hard to find flaws in the way any Panther played on Saturday. There’s a reason this game is saved on my DVR; my beloved Panthers showed America a shining example of team basketball at its best.


A Look Ahead

1/11 Vs. St. John’s

Pitt will end an eight-day layoff when they host the Red Storm.

It will be very interesting to see how Pitt responds in their first game as the No. 1-ranked team in America. While there might be some rust, the layoff could also help as it gives the players time to come down off the emotional high of being ranked No. 1.

St. John’s has been playing without their best player, Anthony Mason Jr., who is out for the season with a pectoral injury. Despite the loss of Mason, the Johnies are frisky.

St. John’s will be playing their first game since their upset of then No. 10 Notre Dame. Unfortunately for St. John’s, they are 0-1 on the road so far this season and the game will be played at the Pete where Pitt dominates.

Another Sr. John’s upset would be the upset of the season in college hoops. Look for Pitt to win easily.

Injury Report

Panther fans held their breath on Saturday as Gilbert Brown left the game late in the second half with a shoulder injury. Brown has battled injuries since he stepped on campus so there was reason to be concerned. Luckily, the injury is not serious and he should play Sunday against St. John’s.

Quote of the Week

“I have great teeth…I might as well show them off.”

—DeJuan Blair on why he smiles so much during games.

Shameless Plug of the Week

I have to plug my fellow college basketball writers, especially the Big East writers. Jamison Fleming, Ryan Brennan, Ryan Callahan, Tony Bishop, Jux Berg and the other great Big East writers all do a fantastic job and are worth reading. Please support the b/r college basketball community.