"This Week at the Pete" is a weekly column that takes a look at all things Pitt basketball. Your comments are more than welcome, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
As "This Week at the Pete" becomes a national phenomenon, it is time to change the format to keep up with the times. Hopefully we won't look back on this change the same way we now view Coca-Cola's decision to change its recipe in the '90s.
Since it's been a bit of a slow week in Oakland, let's get right into it.
The Week That Was
The Week That Was
This past Saturday saw Pitt host the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. The Panthers cruised to a 91-56 victory.
Pitt's shooting. After starting the season shooting the ball well, the Panthers' shooting turned cold. Pitt had not shot over 50 percent in any of their last four games. This changed against UMBC, as the Panthers were able to make the Retrievers pay for leaving shooters open. Pitt shot 55 percent from the field and 51 percent from beyond the arc.
Levance Fields was the biggest name of the many Panthers who snapped their shooting slumps on Saturday night. Levance scored 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including 3 for 3 from distance.
The game ball goes to...
Sam Young, who scored 19 points in 25 minutes. Both were game highs for the Panthers. Honorable mention to Ashton Gibbs, who scored 13 points in 11 minutes. This was the freshman guard's second straight game in double figures. It has been a joy for Panther fans to watch his development.
Also, a tip of the cap to sophomore center Gary McGhee, who was tied DeJuan Blair with a team-high eight rebounds despite only 14 minutes of action.
The Week Ahead
On Wednesday, Dec. 17, Pitt will host popular b/r sleeper Siena. Tip-off is 9:30 pm, and the game will air nationally on ESPN2.
After much preseason hype (yes Jameson, we're talking about you), the Saints looked overmatched at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, losing three games in three days to quality competition. The Saints have now won three in a row. Pitt will be the best team Siena faces all year, but the Saints should be fired up for this one. Watch for Siena to keep it close.
The Key to the Game
Pitt's defense versus Siena's shooting. Siena has not been a fantastic shooting team so far this season. While they are a respectable 46.4 percent from the field, they are under 60 percent from the free throw line and under 30 percent from beyond the arc.
Pitt has stifled opponents defensively, as their opponents average less than 60 points per game. Siena will have to shoot well above their season averages to have any chance in this one.
On Sunday, Dec. 21, the Panthers will travel to Tallahassee to take on the Florida State Seminoles. The game tips off at 5:30 pm and will be a national telecast on Fox Sports Net as part of their ACC Sunday Night Hoops series.
The Seminoles are currently 9-1 with two games this week before they host the Panthers on Sunday. The Seminoles already have a marquee win against in-state rival Florida. While they aren't the class of the ACC, they are always a much tougher team at home. They will be more than ready for Pitt, and since this is Pitt's first true road game, expect Pitt to struggle in this one.
The Key to the Game
DeJuan Blair versus Solomon Alabi. The 7'1" Alabi will be the first true center Blair will face all year. Blair's performance against seven-footers last year was mixed. While he performed favorably against Georgetown's Roy Hibbert, he struggled mightily with UConn's Hasheem Thabeet.
Blair's performance in this game could be a good indicator of how much he has improved since last year. If Blair can provide a post presence despite giving up six inches to Alabi, Pitt will have a great chance to win.
Pitt's first defeat of the season came off the court, as high school senior guard Dominic Cheek chose Villanova over Pitt, Kansas, Memphis, and Rutgers. The Jersey City product is ranked as the 16th-best player nationally in the class of 2009.
Despite Cheek's decision, Pitt's class of 2009 will be the most hyped in school history. The class is led by All-American candidate Dante Taylor, a dynamic 6'9" power forward who will be given the unenviable task of replacing Sam Young's production.
While there does not appear to be another scholarship available for next season, Pitt continues to recruit local product DeAndre Kane. Kane, a 6'5" shooting guard, also has interest from Marquette, West Virginia, and Texas A&M. It remains to be seen just how interested Jamie Dixon is in Kane and who might be leaving in order to free up that scholarship.
On a somewhat unrelated note, any Panther fan who wants to support the football team but can't make it to El Paso is able to buy a ticket through the university and then donate that ticket to a local charity. Granted, the less fortunate have bigger needs than football tickets, but this is a great way to support Pitt while giving to charity.
I urge all Panther fans who are not making the trip and who have the means to make such a donation to do this. After all, 'tis the season.
Until next week, Hail to Pitt.