Who: Pitt Panthers (16-4, 6-2 Big East, 4-1 Road) @ South Florida Bulls (13-7, 3-5 Big East, 7-3 Home)
When: Sunday, Jan. 31, 1:00 PM.
The South Florida Bulls Are Not Playing Like The USF Team's Of Old:
Recently, the Bulls have been playing inspired basketball. They are coming off back-to- back conference wins for the first time since they began playing a Big East schedule in 2005.
The wins came at Providence, where the Bulls mounted a historic comeback (down 11 with 1:30 to play) and at home against the same Seton Hall team that upset Pitt.
Its safe to say that the Bulls are playing with more confidence then ever before.
South Florida's Dominique Jones is the one player Pitt will need to slow down if they hope to leave Tampa with a victory. By my estimation, Jones is playing better ball than just about every Big East player.
Jones is coming off an impressive game against the Pirates where he scored 28 and on the season, he is averaging 21.4 points (third in the Big East), 6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.
Jones' thick frame will be a concern for Pitt. Pitt's tough and physical guards usually eat up smaller, weaker players. I believe this was the reason why Jeremy Hazell has struggled against the Panthers. He could not handle the physicality of the game, got frustrated and in turn, ended up in foul trouble. How the Panther's were still able to lose, with Hazell playing only 16 minutes, was a different story.
Jones, at 6'4", 205, should be able to match Pitt on a physical level. I expect Pitt to try and slow him down by putting Jermaine Dixon on him. Dixon has been playing against the opposing teams premiere guards all season, from Cincinnati with Stephenson, to Seton Hall with Hazell. I do believe that Dixon will slightly struggle with this match-up. Don't be surprised to see Dixon in early foul trouble.
Pitt Is Not Playing Their Best Ball:
Pitt is going into South Florida off of a home win against St. Johns, but by no means is Pitt playing great basketball.
Prior to the St. Johns win, Pitt had lost two in a row, at the hands of Georgetown and Seton Hall.
The win against St. Johns was nothing short of ugly. As a team, Pitt shot a lowly 2-12 from three, with Gibbs going 0-4.
Gibbs, in his last three games is 3-19 from three-point land.
Against the Johnnies, the Panthers were out-rebounded for the first time in Big East play, 37-27. The Johnnies had 17 offensive boards to the Panthers 5. When is the last time Pitt got owned on the offensive glass?
Pitt May Be Looking Past South Florida:
Lastly, as a Pitt fan, I fear this match-up, because I question where the heads of the Pitt players will be.
Will they be focused on the Bulls? Or, will they be thinking ahead to their huge game against long-time rival West Virginia and their rematch against Seton Hall?
The last thing Pitt can afford to do is take this game against South Florida lightly.
I understand that it's an easy thing to do. Pitt could look at the current Big East record of the Bulls, their history in the Big East and they might think that as long as they show up they will win. But, this is not true anymore. This South Florida team is playing too well and if the Panthers don't bring their "A" game, they will lose. Plain and simple.
Will Coach Dixon have his Panthers prepared to play smart, focused basketball? Yes, he will. This game will be close early, but ultimately Pitt will pull away. Pitt 68 South Florida 57.