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Monday, January 14, 2008

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: GEORGETOWN @ PITTSBURGH

January 14, 2008



Big Monday on ESPN kicks off with a heavyweight match-up as the Georgetown Hoyas travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers at the Peterson Events Center. The road has not been kind to Big East teams this year and, with conference play only two weeks old, Georgetown is the only team in the Big East without a conference loss.

The Panthers have overcome injuries to starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook to get off to a 2-1 start in the conference. Pittsburgh has a completly new starting five from last season and after a 64-63 road loss to Villanova to open conference play, the Panthers have won two in a row.

Here are the local media previews on tonight's game:

Panther's Young is a Slam Dunk and Then Some (Washington Post)
Plenty of Talk About Hoyas (Washington Times)
Hoyas Surged After Wins Against Pitt (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt's Blair Faces Tall Order Against Georgetown (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Blair Ready for Hibbert (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Still Evolving as Hoyas Arrive (Washington (PA) Observer)

Over the past seven years the Pittsburgh Panthers have had a lot of success, losing just 26 games in conference play. However, one team the Panthers have struggled with of late has been the Georgetown Hoyas, who have beaten the Panthers in four of the last five meetings, including a 65-42 drubbing in the Big East Conference Tournament Championship game last season.

Other than that lopsided affair, the other games have come down to the wire in back and forth contests. One thorn in the Panthers' side is no longer there as Jeff Green has moved on to the NBA, but the Hoyas still return four other starters from last year's Final Four team.

Georgetown is led by Big East preseason Player of the Year, Roy Hibbert. The 7'2 center has a signficant height advantage over a Pitt line-up that will likely have 6'7 DeJuan Blair and 6'8 Tyrell Biggs playing the post. Blair will try to use his exceptional feet and hands to work inside and Biggs will try to pull Hibbert away from the basket. On defense, the Panther big men will have to use their bodies and strength to keep the bigger Hibbert out of his comfort zone on the block. Hibbert, at times, can be bodied up, but his enourmous size advantage could lead to foul trouble for the Panthers, something that could reallu hurt Pitt with their lack of depth due to injuries. Freshman Gary McGhee (6'10) offers more of a size match-up for Hibbert and will likely see action. His play against USF's Kentrell Gransberry when Blair picked up two first half fouls was a key ingredient to Pitt's road win over the Bulls.

One of the candidates for Big East Player of the Year AND Most Improved Player is Panther forward Sam Young. The 6'6 jumping-jack from Clinton (MD) grew up close to Georgetown and now will try to lead Pitt to a win over the Hoyas. Young scored 50 points in the Panther's wins last week and is averaging over 18 PPG on the season. itt is doing a tremendous job in getting Young the ball in position to score and take advantage of his inside-out strengths. Georgetown does have the perfect player to match-up with Young in sophomore DaJuan Summers, a 6'7 F who can also go inside and out on each side of the ball. Summers also has the ability to be a dominate scorer, but in the Georgetown Princeton-style system, he shares the scoring load with the rest of the line-up.

Georgetown also has some added depth in the frontcourt with sophomore Vernon Macklin and senior Patrick Ewing Jr. Both offer excellent size, strength and athleticism for theirt positions.

On the wing, the Panthers are without senior Mike Cook for the rest of the season and redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown has stepped into his spot in the starting line-up. Brown is one of the best athletes in the entire conference and should emerge as a terrefic wing player. He is still looking for his comfort zone offesively, but in every game he makes a couple athletic plays that leaves observers impressed. For Georgetown, freshman Austin Freeman can fill up the basket quickly and will be a good match-up with Brown when they are on the floor together. This could be a major coming out party for Freeman if the freshman continues his solid play. He is averaging 13 PPG in conference action, shooting 50% from the arc (6-12) and 62% (16-26) from the floor in three games.

The backcourts look pretty identical with Pitt starting a pair of seniors in Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin and the Hoyas have senior Jonathan Wallace at the point and Jesse Sapp at the off guard. Ramon is averaging 8 PPG and 6 assists in Big East action, but looked to find his shooting stroke on Saturday against Seton Hall. Benjamin has really stepped up his game since the injury to Fields, averging nearly 16 PPG in the three Big East contests. Both are good defensive players as well. Sapp and Wallace both average 9 PPG in conference play, but they each have the knack of coming up big when needed. Georgetown has added depth with Chris Wright and Jeremiah Rivers giving very good minutes. Pitt only has freshman Brad Wanamaker in the backcourt to provide relief for the starters, unless they go with a bigger line-up with Gil Brown at guard.

Georgetown is about a 2-pt favorite in this one. They have a very versatile line-up that can go big or small. I look for them to play a mixture of man to man and zone defense and if they can settle into a zone, they will force Pitt to beat them from the perimeter. Without Levance Fields to break down the defense, I think that could give the Panthers trouble. Pitt also will have to watch the foul trouble as I expect them to be physical with Hibbert in the paint, but for John Thompson III to make it a priority to point out the physical play to the officials. Jamie Dixon will have Pitt ready and he has done a masterful job putting his injury-riddled line-up together and keeping them in position to win. I expect their veterans to be ready to play and the crowd to give them that extra lift. If they hit from the perimeter, I like their chances. However, the lack of depth makes the margin of error a little too narrow for me tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Georgetown 73 Pittsburgh 72

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