Pittsburgh is for real
In my over 30 years of calling college basketball games on ESPN and ABC, I have never seen a more wild start to a contest. Two teams ranked in the top four, great atmosphere and environment at the Petersen Events Center at Pittsburgh, and the Panthers opened on a 19-0 run.
All I could think was ... are you serious?
Jim Boeheim is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason. You knew his team would come back, but a 17-0 run to make it 19-17? Wow!
Syracuse was without its leading scorer as Kris Joseph suffered a head injury in Saturday's win over Cincinnati. You saw the heart and guts come through, with freshman C. J. Fair being a key to the comeback.
It was a wild night, but in the end, Pittsburgh had too much and got to the winner's circle, 74-66.
Nazir Robinson, who came in averaging 7.5 ppg., was the star of stars with 21 points (eight-of-12 from the field) and seven rebounds. His performance came on a night when leading scorer Ashton Gibbs was held to 11 points (four-of-13 shooting).
Pittsburgh moved to 6-0 play in the Big East for the first time. Last season, the Panthers were 5-0 in league play when Georgetown invaded the Petersen Events Center and left with a W! That was the only time in the last 51 games there that Pittsburgh left with a loss.
I really feel Pittsburgh has a legit chance to make it to the Final Four. That is the one thing missing from the resume over the run of Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon.
Think about it. Dixon is on his way to his eighth straight 20-plus win season. Pittsburgh came so close to the Final Four a few years back, falling to Villanova on a last-second Scottie Reynolds shot.
This is Dixon's deepest team and may be his most talented. It has all the ingredients to make a deep run in the tournament. This squad leads the nation in rebounding margin, assists and assists to turnover ratio. When you dominate on the boards the way the Panthers do, you get second chance opportunities on offense and you limited those on the defensive end.
Pittsburgh has solid guard play with Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Travon Woodall, who played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley in high school. With good guard play, you can be efficient on offense. This club has good shot selection, showing patience on offense too.
It is a well-coached team under Dixon. The Panthers also show great athleticism, can run and get easy baskets in transition and has a winner's mentality that is so important.
Pittsburgh stands alone in the tough Big East. The Panthers are the only team with an unblemished record in conference play with their first 6-0 start.
Congratulations to Dixon and company for a job well done. In defeat, Boeheim and the Orange can take a lot of positives out of this road trip. Youngsters like Fair and Dion Waiters played well. Rick Jackson had a solid second half, finishing with another double-double. Joseph is expected back soon, hoping to practice later in the week.