Pitt Basketball: Panthers Make Statement In Big East Opening Win Over U Conn

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2010

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 27:  Gilbert Brown #5 of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks to pass against the Connecticut Huskies at Petersen Events Center on December 27, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh defeated Connecticut 78-64.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Despite being ranked No. 6 in the nation heading into their Big East season opener against No. 4 U Conn, several questions surrounded Jamie Dixon's Panthers.

Would the trademark Pitt defense hold up against a talented Big East team? Would the rebounding remain a strength against a big, physical team like U Conn? Are the Panthers really this talented offensively? Can they get enough contributions from their role players?

After one impressive win against the No. 4 team in the country, the answer to those and many other questions is a resounding YES.

Sure Huskies star Kemba Walker dropped 31 points on the Panthers, but that's fine when the Pitt defense forced him to miss 17 of 27 shots.

The Panthers defense was relentless and they did the job on the boards.  Pitt limited the Huskies to a single shot in a possession—often a bad one. U Conn only shot 31.7 percent, 19 of 60, and had only two scorers with more than five points until the closing minutes in the conference opener.

Critics often say a team can't win in March with a defensive first mindset. They often say that a team can't make a long run in March without a proven superstar.

It's only one Big East win, but this Pitt team could be the exception to those rules.

For a change they have a balanced offensive attack, which was on display last night. 

They have a solid one-two punch in Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, which combined for 35 of the Panthers 78 points.

The difference between this Pitt team and some of the others in the past are that the role players are capable of producing on the offensive end of the floor.

Gary McGhee had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Nasir Robinson, making his first start of the season, helped out with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Pitt, which shot 52.1 percent from the floor.  Laugh all you want at McGhee, and I have in the past, but he is a much improved player.

McGhee does his job well.  That's play defense and rebound, but he's added a bit of offense to his game, something I thought he was incapable of doing.  With all of the talent on the Panthers, any offensive production they get from the likes of McGhee and Robinson will go a long way in their success this season.

It's only one win.  It won't get any easier for the Panthers in January.

However, Pitt made a statement at the Petersen Events Center Monday night.  That statement is a simple one.

The road to winning the Big East goes through Pittsburgh.