If you are like me, then you couldn't wait for the NCAA Basketball season to tip off. No. 4 Pitt got that season started tonight with an impressive 83-75 victory against Rhode Island, a surprising quality opponent to start the 2010-11 season.
Many wondered coming in if the Panthers would be as good as their No.4 ranking says they will be. They answered many of those questions tonight.
For a Pitt team that returns 86% of their scoring and over 90% of their rebounding from a season ago, they showed that they have both the talent and the experience to lean on in a close game.
Both Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs were tremendous in the seasons opening tilt. Wanamaker tied a career high with 24 points and dished out eight assists, while Gibbs chipped in 22 points, getting off his jumper anytime he wanted.
What was more impressive about the duo is that they only turned the ball over four times combined, something that was a problem for both last season. They handled the Rhode Island press with relative ease, just like upper classmen should.
Even more impressive was that the panthers know who to get the ball to in a tight game situation, as both guys knocked down clutch free throws down the stretch. Any Panthers fan will tell you exactly what a big deal that is after watching Pitt teams struggle from the free throw line for the better part of the last two decades.
Wannamaker and Gibbs were joined in the starting lineup by Gilbert Brown, Talib Zanna, and Gary Mcghee. Zanna put on a show early. Low post scoring was a huge problem last season and after his first career game, Zanna looks like he can fill the void.
Zanna chipped in nine points and 11 boards and blocked a pair of shots. He also showed soft hands, the ability to get up and down the floor and a good sense of where to be on both offense and defense.
Speaking of defense, the Panthers team defense was their usual tough self, forcing 16 turnovers. Most of them came in big situations when Pitt really needed a stop.
Make no mistake about it, this was a tough opening game and Pitt did what it needed to in order to leave the Petersen Events Center with a win.
All was not perfect with the Pitt effort though, as you would expect in the opening contest of the season.
"We've got a lot to work on," said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. "We knew that coming in and it showed. I see why no one else wanted to take this game. It's a tough way to open the season."
Some of the things that need fixed were very obvious.
Pitt couldn't make any layups early on. Pitt ended up closing the first half on a 9-0 run to take a one-point lead into the locker room. If they made their bunnies, Pitt could have been up ten at the break.
Pitt also struggled from beyond the arc, only knocking down 3 of 16 (18.8%) attempts. That would be expected for the first time out though. to their defense, Pitt's mid-range shooting and transition offense were outstanding.
The main area the Panthers struggled in was closing out on Rhode Island's perimeter shooters. The Rams knocked down 14 of 31 (45.2%) and on most occasions, Pitt defenders just didn't recognize the shooters quick enough. That's been a problem for Pitt forever though. It's just the nature of the beast of playing their man-to-man system they play. Good perimeter teams will hang in with the Panthers on most days.
Pitt went only nine deep in the game. While Brown is still showing some effects of coming off an injury, we also saw some good things from Dante Taylor, who looks to be in better shape, and Lamar Patterson. Believe me though, this is one of Dixon's deepest teams ever. he has plenty more ten nine players to turn to.
The victory was Pitt's 14t consecutive opening win and they improved to 76-1 at home against non-conference opponents.
While it wasn't pretty throughout, it was a win. One of plenty more to come this season for the Panthers.