Who: St. Johns Red Storm (12-7, 2-5 Big East, 1-4 on road) @ Pittsburgh Panthers (15-4, 5-2 Big East, 10-1 at home)
When: Thursday, Jan. 28, 7:00 PM.
At this point, Pitt fans have only one question; which Panther team is going to take the floor against St. Johns?
Is the team that won three impressive road games in a row against the likes of Cincinnati, UConn, and top-five ranked Syracuse, going to show up? The same team that was playing with poise and the confidence to beat any team.
Or is it going to be the team we saw against Seton Hall? The team that most analysts picked to finish ninth in the conference. You know, the team that lost too much in DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields, and Sam Young to compete with the best in the country.
The loss to Seton Hall was inexplicable. It's not that the Pirates are a bad team. Actually, it's the opposite. I think they are a much improved team and Bobby Gonzalez has that program going in the right direction.
It was a terrible loss because Pitt did exactly what they needed to do, and still couldn't squeak out a victory. By this, I mean, they shut down Seton Hall star Jeremy Hazell.
On the season, Hazell averages 22 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2 steals in more than 31 minutes per game. Against Pitt, due to foul trouble, he played only 16 minutes. In that time, Pitt held him to nine points on 4-8 shooting, with one rebound, and no assists or steals.
So, you think, how could Pitt have lost this game? The usually steady Ashton Gibbs, went 4-15 from the field, 1-7 from three-point land, with no assists. Brad Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon shot a combined 8-22, and SHU big man Herb Pope flat out destroyed Gary McGhee by dropped 19 points and nine rebounds.
If the team from the Seton Hall game shows up against the Johnnies, expect another L in the win/loss column. This St. John's team is not going to roll over for a lackluster Pitt team.
This is a Red Storm team that is much improved from the last few years, and appears ready to breakout. Their 2-5 BE record does not give you the complete picture.
First, with the return of Anthony Mason Jr., this team is finally getting healthy.
Second, the Red Storm have four very close losses. They lost at GTown and at Louisville by seven points each, and they lost at UConn by four. Most recently, they fell to Villanova by 10, but the score doesn't represent how competitive the game was.
Come the 28th, there are three Johnnies to keep an eye on. The first of which is D.J. Kennedy He's a Pittsburgh kid, who played high school ball at Schenely with former Pitt stud DeJuan Blair. Kennedy is one of only a handful of players in the country averaging more than 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.
Second, as mentioned earlier, is former NBA star Anthony Mason's son, Anthony Mason Jr. He's a fifth year senior who missed all but three games last season with a torn peroneal tendon in his right foot. He also missed the first 14 games of this season due to a hamstring injury.
Healthy now, Mason should pick up where he left off, averaging 14 points, and more than four rebounds per game.
The third player is Dwight Hardy. Early in the game, against Nova, Hardy came off the bench to score 11 points in a row, including 3-3 from three-point land. He is an energizer who can score in bunches.
It's realistic to say that this game against the Johnnies is as close to a must win game, without actually being one, that Pitt will play all season.
Yes, the Panthers can lose and be fine. They will have only three conference losses, but at the same time, their remaining schedule includes some very tough games.
Pittsburgh still has to play West Virginia twice, Villanova, and road games against Notre Dame and Marquette. If Pitt wants to return to the tournament, it must win the home games against the inferior teams.
Dixon knows the importance of this game and will have his boys ready to play. I like Pitt in this one. Pitt 70 St. Johns 60.
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