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Game 20: St. John's at Pittsburgh Panthers

Listen/ See: Spoon, the Underdog (live)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Thursday, January 28
At: Pittsburgh Panthers (15-4, 5-2)
Location: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Opposition blogs:

Pitt Blather
Eye of a Panther
The First Church of Fitzgerald

Pomeroy Profile

Head Coach Norm Roberts - Villanova postgame comments (link to postgame notes)

On the timeout late in the second half:

"What I said to them was let's just think execution and let's think defense. Let's execute offensively, don't worry about the next play and let's guard defensively. There were a lot '50-50' balls we didn't get. We need to get them. I just felt we weren't executing the way we needed to both offensively and defensively."

On overcoming scoring droughts:

"You just have to fight through it. We missed a couple of shots, they made a couple of shots. The other thing is that we are playing against a very good basketball team. We executed. We played hard. We did turn it over at some bad times, but you are going to do that."

Notes on Pitt vs. St. John's

St. John's is struggling to remain relevant in the Big East race. With a record of 2-5 and an RPI of 65 and falling, the Red Storm are going to need some big wins to make moves in the conference. The fans are frustrated, the team is frustrated, and going on the road to meet the #17 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers is not exactly the recipe for a turnaround.

St. John's was hoping to surprise the league this year. Instead, Pittsburgh has been the surprise, dealing Syracuse (the other surprise) their first loss and defeating 3 other good Big east squads - and DePaul on their way to 5 wins. But the team has loss to Georgetown at home and to Seton Hall in Newark. Pitt is looking for a win - and they defend their home very well, winning 92% of their games in the Peterson Events Center. That record is built on great defense, not just home court mystique; and the Panthers are once again an excellent defensive team.

Playing in front of friends and family, can DJ Kennedy help the team pull out a win?

For Pittsburgh team notes, check out my Five Questions with Pitt Blather and with Eye of a Panther, two Pittsburgh bloggers.


Pitt Plusses:

Ashton Gibbs. He's been a man on the court this year, leading the team in minutes (86.6% of minutes) shots taken, and offensive rating (117.7), based on his strong 3-point shooting (40%).

Defense. By controlling their defensive glass (69.8% of available defensive rebounds in conference) and stifling 3-point shooting (29% shooting for opponents in conference), along with defending without fouling, the Panthers have a dominant defense.

Free Throw Shooting. In Big East play, the Panthers have gotten to the a lot (Free Throw Rate of 45%) and have hit their attempts to the tune of 75%.

Pitt Minuses:

Ashton Gibbs. As he goes, the Panthers go; Jermaine Dixon has not been an efficient scorer, and Gilbert Brown hasn't been consistent yet.

Offense. The team has been a middling offensive squad from the field, depending on foul shots out of their crisply run offense for points. If they were a football team, they would be a ball control offense.

The Center/ Forward Positions. The centers have provided decent defense but have not made an impact on offense. The team plays undersized Nasir Robinson at power forward; he is active on the glass but obviously undersized at 6'5".

Pregame Articles:

NY Daily News: St. John's looking to make noise in the Big East when Red Storm visit No. 17 Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: St. John's Kennedy hoping to follow Pitt's Blair

Did You Know? Under Dixon, Pitt has dropped three straight games only two times since 2003-04.

Read more pregame analysis on Calm Before the Storm - Edge of the Pitt.

Keys to the Game

Keep the Intensity High. In earlier games, the Red Storm has managed to hang with the opponents higher in the standing for a half and then... lose their cool during a scoring drought. Or they lose their defensive assignments. Whichever way, the team has to play smart basketball for the whole game. Pittsburgh will adjust and run sharp sets for most of the game; the team is well-coached.

Stop Ashton (And Guard the Perimeter). Ashton Gibbs is the main scoring threat; he takes the largest share of the shots but he can be guarded. But it will be difficult. Jermaine Dixon can score a bit as well but has struggled since returning from injury. Guarding the perimeter will be key in bringing the Panthers to a level of scoring efficiency that would allow St. John's to steal this game on the road. The guards can score from the free throw line as well; it's important to defend without fouling.

Nullify Their Size on the Glass. Dante Taylor is a good athlete, and Gary McGhee works hard on the glass. St. John's would do well to fight on the offensive glass. Winning those fights mean points from offensive rebounds and free throw attempts.

Scoring Performances. The Red Storm need players to step up and score outside and inside. DJ Kennedy and Dwight Hardy will lead the way, but the team needs at least one more solid scoring performance to pull out a win from Justin Burrell or Justin Brownlee or Paris Horne... someone else needs to step up.

Into the Muck. Pittsburgh has to be brought into the kind of sloppy game that St. John's tends to play. It would be nice to say that St. John's can win a shootout, but there's no evidence for that. So St. John's has to use their defense to confuse and cause turnovers. With some good scoring performances, St. John's has a chance to win on the road.