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Previewing Pitt

Pittsburgh The Pitt Panthers were picked by the coaches to finish 9th in the conference before the season started. The coaches were off by quite a bit; the #19/#21 Panthers are 4th in the conference right now with a 9-4 record (20-6 overall).

Pittsburgh's losses this season include: Texas, Indiana, Georgetown, Seton Hall, South Florida and West Virginia. Losses to USF and Seton Hall seem less than inspiring, but the Panthers also have wins over West Virginia, Syracuse & Louisville.

Pitt is lead by guard Ashton Gibbs, who tallies 16.2 points per game and 2.1 assists. They have three other players who average double-digit points per game. Brad Wanamaker averages 12.7 ppg with 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Jermaine Dixon has put up 10.3 points 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in per game. Gilbert Brown scores 10.8 points, 3.3 boards and 4.4 assists per game off of the bench.

Center Gary McGhee has averaged 7.4 points, and 6.9 rebounds, while Nasir Robinson has been averaging 6.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. Those two form the starting frontcourt for the Panthers. Offensively their production is underwhelming, but they make up for it on the boards and in McGhee's case, by blocking 1.8 shots per game.

The Panthers rotation is about nine men deep this season, with six players at 20 minutes or more per game, and three others who average 10 or more minutes. Nobody else has averaged more than 5 minutes per game.

Pitt makes around 69.5% of their free throw attempts, which (as you may have noticed) is an important stat for Villanova this year. Even more importantly, four of the Panther players have connected on 70% or more of their attempts from the charity stripe -- all of whom can be expected to play significant minutes, three are starters and all play at least 25 minutes per game. Fouling those players -- all guards -- will surely lead to a result similar to those we saw against Georgetown and UConn. Ashton Gibbs has connected on 90.2% of his free throws.

Pitt shoots about 44% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc. Their best shooters from 3-point range is Ashton Gibbs, hitting 37.8%, which is only slightly lower than his overall FG% of 38.3% (Two reserves have averaged over 40% from beyond the arc, but both have done so with fewer than 50 attempts).

Pitt has an overall assist/turnover ratio of 1.2/1, and they average around 13 turnovers per game (11.6 in Big East games). They tend to out-rebound opponents as well, at an average of 39.5 to 36.6 in conference games.

Pitt has five players over 6'6", with the tallest one being Center Gary McGhee, at 6'10" and 250lbs. Their starting lineup otherwise is between 6'3" and 6'5" tall, with significant minutes from 6'6" Brown off of the bench.

This game is now something of a must-win for the Wildcats if they intend to keep pace at the top of the Big East standings. Controlling the ball and the pace of the game is important, but more so the Wildcats need to re-establish themselves defensively. Playing strong defense and avoiding many of the bad fouls that got them into trouble on monday will be important in helping the 'Cats defeat the Panthers.

Being mindful of those fouls will prevent Ashton Gibbs or their other guards from burning you from the free throw line. The Panthers will surely come out ready to play after Scottie stole away their glory last March.

Don't forget to post your prediction of the game's final score in our Closest to the Pin Contest.