With the season upon us it is time to introduce my new weekly column "This Week at the Pete" which will take an in-depth look at all things Panthers. This week we're looking at what the Panthers have in front of them this season as we break down the schedule.
One of the keys to Pitt's recent success has been scheduling. With the possible exception of scheduling Duke last year (a moot point since Pitt won), Jamie Dixon has had impeccable timing since non-conference scheduling is done years in advance.
Every time Pitt has a young and inexperienced team, the non-conference schedule is soft which allows the team to gel and gain confidence heading into Big East play. If the team is experienced, they play other national powers which helps the RPI.
This year seemed to be an anomaly as Pitt is lined up against a soft non-conference schedule with a senior laden team. But with Levance Fields and Gilbert Brown nursing injuries, a soft non-conference schedule is exactly what Pitt needs.
This will allow the young talent backing up Fields and Brown to develop and get ready to play key minutes off the bench once conference play starts. As far as strength of schedule (the three dirtiest words in college sports) is concerned, a rugged Big East slate should more than offset Pitt's non-conference cakewalk.
The Non-Conference Schedule aka Levance's extended rehab assignment
The Non-Conference Schedule aka Levance's extended rehab assignment11/14 - Fairleigh Dickenson (W 86-63)
11/17 - Miami (OH) (W 82-53)
11/21 - Akron
11/22 - IUP
11/25 - Belmont
11/28 - Texas Tech*
11/29 - Mississippi State/Washington State*
12/3 - Duquesne
12/6 - Vermont
12/13 - UMBC
12/17 - Siena
12/21 - @Florida State
2/2 - Robert Morris
* - Denotes Neutral Site Game
This "neutral court" figures to be a pro-Pitt crowd in addition to Pitt appearing to have the most talented team. Home games against Siena, Belmont and Duquesne along with the road trip to Florida State could also be a little tricky. Since Jamie Dixon took over the team has had a phenomenal out of conference record and I expect the team to take care of business against weaker opponents at the Pete where Pitt is 96-10 all time.
Analysis :The Robert Morris game is played in February right in the middle of Big East play. In short, that game is going to be ugly. The rest of these games will be played before the new year. Pitt is playing against Texas Tech followed by either Mississippi State or Washington State at the Legends Classic in Newark, NJ.
It is not unreasonable to expect Pitt to be undefeated going into conference play as they will be favored in every one of these games. However, I think that Jamie has quite a juggling act with his personnel on his hands. It will be very difficult to get the freshman into the flow of things while nursing Fields and Brown back to health.
Granted Jamie Dixon is the master of spreading minutes, I just think that in the age of parity it is too difficult to go through any stretch of games undefeated. I see Pitt losing one of these games and going into Big East play 11-1. Not perfect but nothing that should have a great impact on seeding come March.
The Big East Slate aka the Gauntlet
The Big East Slate aka the Gauntlet
12/31 - @ Rutgers
1/3 - @ Georgetown
1/11 - St. John's
1/14 - South Florida
1/17 - @ Louisville
1/19 - Syracuse
1/25 - @ West Virginia
1/28 - @ Villanova
1/31 - Notre Dame
2/7 - @ DePaul
2/9 - West Virginia
2/14 - Cincinnati
2/16 - @UCONN
2/21 - DePaul
2/24 - @ Providence
2/28 - @ Seton Hall
3/4 - Marquette
3/7 - UCONN
The one thing Pitt does have going for it is a home and home with DePaul along with brutal home and homes against WVU and UCONN. Pitt should be able to win both of those games with DePaul and hopefully split the other two home and homes. I do think it is an advantage that Pitt will host the second leg of the series against WVU and UCONN.
If they happen to drop either of those road games I think they will come out guns blazing at home the next time around. If I had to guess I would predict 12-6 in conference play which I think will be a very good mark this year. With so much depth in the conference I think you will see a lot of teams hovering between seven and 11 wins, 12-6 might be enough to get a bye through the first two rounds of the conference tourney this year.
Analysis:The first four games are going to be relatively tame with potential traps against young Rutgers and Georgetown teams on the road. After that, Pitt fans can expect a dog fight every time the Panthers step foot on the court.
It is a long season in the Big East and frankly I can not wait. Time to roll the basketball's out and get this show on the road! HAIL TO PITT!
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