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Get to know the Pitt Panthers: 5 qs with Pitt Blather

St. John's fans are getting giddy. With a number of road wins and a team that seems to be clicking on all cylinders, a marquee noon time matchup on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Panthers could really get people excited about the team's ceiling.

After all, the Panthers are ranked #4 in both polls (lower than where Duke was ranked, by the way - the Blue Devils were #3), are destroying the Big East with a combination of crisp offense and their trademark stingy defense, and, well, they keep having too much fun at Madison Square Garden.

Those Panthers. So rough, so tough, so highly ranked... let's get to know them better with the help of Chas at Pitt Blather. I asked him 5 questions, and he was gracious enough to answer. In the morning, there will be answers from Cardiac Hill to some questions about the Panthers as well.

Answers below the fold. Read, enjoy, link, retweet, use as your subway/ Metro North/ NJ Transit/ LIRR reading.

1. Should Pittsburgh be #1 in the polls?

I never expected them to be ranked #1 after this weekend, and honestly, I don't care. Considering the way this team thrives on manufacturing being disrespected, it's probably a good thing that they aren't.

I was slightly bothered by the way Pitt never seemed to get into the conversation, but I understood why. There was no way Ohio State was going to (or even should be) dropped from #1 to #4 because they lost on the road to Wisconsin. I also knew Kansas or Texas was going down after winning.

What happened against South Florida?! What weaknesses did the Panthers show? What would the Bulls have needed to do to win?

I'm chalking it up to a pure letdown game. The team played so hard and so well in back-to-back road games. They got home and relaxed. They did. The crowd at the Pete did. Pitt still got a 12 point win with only about 15 minutes of actual focus and effort - probably about sums up USF this year.

The one thing USF did well, and it has bothered Pitt in games. They shifted their defense at times. Pitt can be slow to react when teams shift from man to a zone or to some box and one, press, etc. Providence nearly got Pitt that way. ND kept Pitt off-balance. The fact that I see St. John's doing a lot of that, it is one of the things that makes me very nervous about Saturday.

Is Pittsburgh good enough to make the Final Four? I note that in tempo-neutral stats, the Panthers are very good at a lot of aspects of the game, but only truly elite at offensive rebounding. How far can this team go, and what is the profile of a team that would worry you?

Simple answer. Yes. You look at what this team does across the season to date, and they can beat any team. Unlike past teams, this team is very good on offense. Not high-flying but well-balanced. They can (recent games not-withstanding) score on the perimeter. They can go inside, attack the basket. They play a very good defense. Balance is the big thing on this team.

What kind of team can beat them? Well, aside from a team with a superlative player having a career game. Pitt is a slow-tempo team. They value possessions and do not like to turn the ball over. Teams that press and try to force turnovers tend to make me very nervous.

Pitt has mostly handled such efforts this year better than in almost any other year in recent memory, but a team like San Diego State that really attacks on defense and can run out on offense puts me on edge.

Who is the key to the defense (or is it truly a team thing)? Who is the key to the offense? How are the Panthers dealing with Ashton Gibbs' injury on the court?

I'd have say defensively the biggest key for Pitt is Nasir Robinson. Not because he is the best defender or biggest presence on the court. It's that the drop-off defensively when he is out is the biggest. He's the grittiest guy out on the court almost every time.

Really, though, it is truly a team thing. You watch the team play defense and guys are always moving. Yelling to each other. Getting in position.

On offense, it's Brad Wanamaker. He's developed a great mid-range shot. He's able to penetrate and can dish or finish. He really has the best court vision on the squad. He helps to draw teams in to help free Gibbs, because teams have to recognize and respect what can happen when Wanamaker has the ball.

Are the fans excited by this team more than earlier incarnations of Jamie Dixon's Panthers? Why or why not?

More excited? I'm not sure. The 2002-03 Brandin Knight's team (and Howland's last year); 2003-04 Coach Dixon's first year; and the 2008-09 (Blair/Young/Fields) teams were the the squads that have had fans most excited. This group is comparable. The expectations are there. There is a genuine love for this group. Fans love a team that wins, but really love a team that plays hard and does not act like they are entitled to it. is clearly working hard to be

Bonus: Is Villanova the big Pitt rival?

Bonus: No, it isn't Villanova. It's hard to say for sure in basketball. I think WVU sort of gets the nod because of the proximity and carry-over from football. A lot of fans seem to think that UConn might be our biggest rivalry, but I'm not sure Pitt is theirs.