This Week at The Pete: Pitt's Small School Opponents Show Little Resistance

Paul SieversAnalyst INovember 23, 2008

The Panthers have gotten out to a 4-0 start this season, in the process winning their 100th game in the history of the Petersen Events Center. Pitt now holds a 100-10 record in the building, with their only non-conference loss coming at the hands of Bucknell back in 2005.

Jamie Dixon’s teams have been outstanding in pre-Big East play, and this season has been no exception. The Panthers started their season by rolling over Fairleigh Dickinson of the Northeast Conference by a score of 86-63.

The big story in this game was Levance Fields. Most Pitt fans expected that Fields would be held out of the early games after a second surgery on a broken foot back in August. However, Fields proceeded to play 25 minutes, scoring 15 points to go along with eight assists.

Panther fans were delighted to see “The Little General” playing with the same swagger we are used to seeing from Levance. After the game Levance told the media he and Coach Dixon decided he should play despite being at only 82 percent. If Levance is playing the way he is playing at only 82 percent, he could be poised to have a very special senior season.

The next game was against Miami (OH), a team picked by many to win the East division of the MAC. The RedHawks were able to hang with the Panthers early on and only trailed by five at the half. However, in the second half the Panthers put their foot to the gas pedal and showed a glimpse of just how special they could be this season, as they cruised to an 82-53 victory.

This game was a coming-out party for JUCO transfer Jermaine Dixon, the younger brother of Maryland legend Juan Dixon. After the graduations of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, the shooting guard position was a question for the Panthers coming into this season.

Against the RedHawks, Jermaine Dixon answered the question emphatically, showing the ability to consistently beat his defender off of the dribble. Dixon compliments his driving ability with a good enough jump shot to keep defenders honest, and like every other Panther, Dixon is more than willing to get after it on the defensive end.

Dixon finished the game against Miami with 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting. Panther fans should be very excited about the emergence of this young man.If backcourt mates Fields and Dixon were the story through the first two games, then the frontcourt made sure to seize the spotlight against the Akron Zips in the third game of the season.

The starting frontcourt of Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs, and DeJuan Blair combined for 30 rebounds and 48 of the team's 86 points in an 86-67 victory. While much was expected of Young and Blair this season, Tyrell Biggs has been a fantastic surprise early on.

After three seasons as a bench player for Jamie Dixon and a popular whipping boy for Pitt fans like myself, Biggs finally looks comfortable as a power forward.

For much of his career, Biggs seemed intent on proving himself as a finesse player, often content to settle for a jump shot and seemingly afraid to bang bodies in the paint. Something finally clicked for Biggs in the Big East tournament last season, as he was one of the many Panthers who just seemed to want it more than the man he was guarding.

Tyrell has carried that mentality into this season, and it was on full display against the Zips as Biggs grabbed 11 rebounds, which tied a career high. In addition to his recent affinity for physical play, Biggs has not completely abandoned his finesse game, as he is hitting 50 percent of his three-pointers so far this season.

If Biggs can continue this level of play, Pitt will have an embarrassment of riches in the frontcourt, along with the ability to exploit tremendous mismatches against smaller teams.

One day after the victory over the Zips, Pitt turned around and faced Indiana (PA). The game against the Crimson Hawks of IUP was a homecoming for former Pitt coach Joe Lombardi and former Pitt walk-on Maurice Polen. The game itself was all but over after seven minutes of play as Pitt started the game on a 20-0 run and went on to win 86-60.

The story from this game was DeJuan Blair, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds before the buzzer sounded...for halftime! DeJuan finished the game with 27 points on 13 of 14 shooting to go along with 18 boards against a woefully outmatched IUP squad.

This week should prove to be more of a challenge for the Panthers. Tuesday, the Panthers will welcome reigning Atlantic Sun champions Belmont to the Pete. Belmont is an experienced squad that lives and dies with the three-point shot, as they have attempted 56 three-pointers through two games.

However, the Bruins have also allowed an average of 73 points per game over the two games they have played this season. They also have not played a team as talented as Pitt, and with Pitt at home, a Belmont upset would be very surprising.

After Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play games Friday and Saturday in Newark, New Jersey as part of the Legends Classic. Pitt will face the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Friday and then either Mississippi State or Washington State on Saturday.

Playing against high major talent will be an adjustment for the Panthers, but Pitt will still be heavily favored to win both of their games in Newark.

Texas Tech is coached by Pat Knight, son of legendary coach Bobby Knight. Unlike his fathers teams, Pat’s Red Raiders seem more comfortable playing up-tempo, as they have yet to score fewer than 80 points in a contest so far this season. They are led in scoring by senior guard Alan Voskuil, younger brother of legendary UConn pretty boy Jake Voskuil.

Expect the Red Raiders to push the tempo and frustrate the Pitt guards. However, Pitt’s size and depth in the frontcourt should prove to be too much for the Red Raiders.

Of the two possible opponents for Saturday's game, Washington State would provide the more intriguing matchup. Washington State plays as slow a tempo as any major college program under head coach Tony Bennett.

If Pitt were to play the Cougars one day after playing an up and down game against Texas Tech, it would be a great challenge in addition to great preparation for the postseason, where teams have to adapt to different styles of play with relatively little time to prepare.

Nobody is expecting Pitt to blow through this week’s games like they have done so far this season. If Pitt were to win all of their games decisively, it would surely send a message to America that this is a Panther team worthy of their early season praise. It should be an interesting week of games. I am getting excited just writing about them.

Until next week, HAIL TO PITT!