Normally, making the case for an undefeated team ranked No. 1 as a conference favorite is a slam dunk. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with the 2009 version of the Big East where there is no such thing as an upset. Even though there are a bevy of teams capable of winning the Big East this year, I still think Pitt has the best shot of that group.
The reason I think Pitt has a very good chance to pull off a conference championship because of their versatility. Jamie Dixon has built a team that can play and win against just about every style of play. The Panthers can be frustrated by certain tactics but there is nothing they can’t handle and no style of play Pitt can’t beat.
No disrespect to South Florida, DePaul, Cincinnati, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall or Rutgers but nobody from that list should factor into the title race. Pitt should be able to beat every team on that list on superior talent alone. As for the rest of the league...
Pitt appears to be a team that matches up very well against John Thompson’s team. Pitt already beat them easily in DC this season and has won their last three match ups with the Hoyas. Unlike Pitt, Georgetown is not a great rebounding team and Pitt went to town on the boards in this one. I don’t expect that trend to change in any future match up between these teams.
Even though Villanova has good rebounding numbers on the season, I believe that Pitt can bully Villanova and beat them into submission. In turn Villanova doesn’t play fast enough or go deep enough to weather such a beating. Aside from free throw shooting, I don’t think there is anything that the Wildcats can do significantly better than Pitt.
The Irish really don’t play a whole lot of defense as they rank 139th nationally in defensive efficiency. I’m not worried about Pitt being able to put points up against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame’s two biggest offensive weapons (Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney) will match up against Pitt’s two best defenders (DeJuan Blair and Jermaine Dixon) who happen to be very well suited to guard those two players. As a Pitt fan I feel good about the Panthers ability to contain at least one of those guys. Advantage Pitt.
Louisville is bigger and faster than Pitt. This could obviously be problematic for the Panthers. Unfortunately the Cardinals have yet to demonstrate the ability to a) shoot the ball effectively and b) crash the offensive boards. All of this and they’ve yet to see a defense like Pitt’s.
The Panthers do not waste possessions on offense, Louisville does. Louisville will not be able to beat Pitt until they stop beating themselves. Advantage Panthers.
The basketball version of the Backyard Brawl will be very interesting this year. Both teams have the same strengths (rebounding, defense, low turnovers) and weaknesses (free throw shooting, three point shooting). West Virginia is a little more athletic, Pitt is more experienced.
The reason I would give Pitt the edge against WVU is the nature of the way each team defends. First, the strength of the Mountaineer defense is on the perimeter as WVU is second best in America in defending the three pointer (26.6% against). This won’t affect the Panthers all that much since they do not shoot a lot of threes.
While Pitt is solid against defending the three, they excel defending inside of the arc which is where the West Virginia offense does most of their damage. Pitt is better built to take away what WVU likes to do more than the other way around. That is why I would favor Pitt.
Pitt/Marquette is developing into a nice little rivalry. Both teams are experienced, Pitt is bigger, Marquette is faster.
Against the Golden Eagles, Pitt would probably be best served by playing a large chunk of the game with Gilbert Brown at small forward and Sam Young at power forward while rotating DeJuan Blair and Tyrell Biggs at center. This would make the Panthers better equipped to run with Marquette while maintaining enough of a size advantage.
While it seems counter-intuitive for Pitt to de-emphasize Blair against any team, Pitt should be able to have their way in the post without him. Also, Marquette does a great job of getting teams in foul trouble ( Eighth in America at getting to the line) so going with a heavy dose of Blair early would mean a high risk of not having him around at crunch time.
Like WVU, the strength of Marquette’s defense is taking away the three. The Golden Eagles actually rank 195th nationally in two point defense where Pitt is 40th in two point offense. Pitt should be able to exploit this no matter who is on the court which is why I would once again favor the Panthers.
Syracuse has some head-scratching numbers so far this year. They play at a faster pace than just about anyone in the conference yet they do a terrible job of forcing turnovers.
They are known for their 2-3 zone, yet they have done a much better job defending the perimeter than the interior. I have to believe these numbers are going to adjust eventually so I’m going to throw them out the window for now.
I feel good about Pitt being able to defend everybody on the Orange other than Jonny Flynn. I think Jermaine Dixon will be able to neutralize Andy Rautins; Young on Eric Devendorf could be more problematic. If Devendorf gets hot against Pitt then things get interesting.
Much was made about the 2-3 zone of Florida State giving Pitt problems, mainly because it was the first time Pitt saw one all year. Very little was made of Georgetown quitting on their 2-3 zone after Pitt destroyed it on three straight possessions.
Few teams move the ball against the interior of a zone better than Pitt. The Panther’s lackluster perimeter shooting won’t be as big an issue since they will take the time to work the ball into a good shot. Once again I would favor Pitt.
This is by far the toughest match up for the Panthers. Hasheem Thabeet murdered DeJuan Blair last year and I have a hard time believing it will be much different this year. However, Pitt does have some mismatches to exploit against UConn.
UConn plays a three guard lineup which means that a guard will be on Sam Young which always favors Pitt. Also, Tyrell Biggs can drag Jeff Adrian out to the perimeter where he is not comfortable.
This match up is every even. What I think gives Pitt the slightest of edges is the overall passing abilities of each team. While both teams have great point guards, every player on Pitt is a capable passer. Pitt has more assists and fewer turnovers than UConn which should go a long way in late and close situations.
Pitt might not be able to exploit a mismatch every night but every night there will be a mismatch to exploit. Not once all year will Pitt walk into an arena needing to either play spectacularly or get an off night from an opponent. There will be no such thing as a fluke win for Pitt this year and that alone is enough of a reason to pick them to win the Big East.