This edition of Walk the Plank features our friends over at Cardiac Hill, the SBN blog covering all things Pittsburgh Panthers. We hit them with five questions about tonight's matchup between the Pirates and Panthers at The Pete to gain some insight on their thoughts regarding the game.
Without further ado, Cardiac Hill Walks the Plank:
SOJ: How does this team compare to last season's 25-9 (13-5) team that lost in the second round of the NCAAs? On paper, they've lost Jermaine Dixon and brought in a six-man freshmen class, yet they've developed into one of the elite teams in the conference. Your thoughts on this season's squad?
CH: This year's team is improved over last year's squad. The Panthers lost a good defender in Jermaine Dixon and little-used reserve Chase Adams, but that was it. When you start with the fact that everyone else is a year better and add in that the team has gotten contributions from freshmen/redshirts Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson, and J.J. Moore, it's easy to see why they're better. Improvements by guys like Dante Taylor and Travon Woodall have legitimately helped the team become one of the nation's deepest. Pitt doesn't have a true superstar, but Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gilbert Brown are a pretty good trio of scorers.
SOJ: Discuss Ashton Gibbs. As the Panthers leading scorer, what is it specifically that Gibbs does so well?
CH: Gibbs is a marksman, pure and simple. He's always been a good shooter, but last season, he started driving to the basket. He's continued that this season and can give defenders fits. They have to respect his shot, but he now has the ability to drive as well. He also runs the point, but is even better from the perimeter when the team brings in Travon Woodall off the bench. When Woodall is the point guard, Gibbs can focus more on getting open and hitting shots.
Hit the jump for a little Jamie Dixon talk, Steelers/Panthers crossing paths and Cardiac Hill's prediction:
SOJ: Under Jamie Dixon, the Panthers have had tremendous success, resulting in an NCAA berth every season, a BET championship, 3 Sweet-Sixteen trips and an elite eight appearance. Now under contract until 2017-18, how much longer will it be until Jamie delivers Pittsburgh the ultimate prize, not named the Lombardi Trophy?
CH: Who knows. The NCAA tournament is just so unpredictable and you really need lots of breaks to go your way. Pitt's best team with DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields had five future pros on it (two NBA players and three guys playing overseas). That was an incredible team and they couldn't even get to the Final Four, losing to Villanova in the final seconds. You've got to be good and just as importantly, catch a few breaks along the way. I think it will eventually happen because Pitt has been too good for too long, generally in the hunt for at least a Sweet 16. But it will probably happen in a year when fans least expect it.
SOJ: It's unreasonable to think Dixon will allow his players to fall victim to the trap-game, but the end of the Steelers game coinciding with the Panther's tip-off just isn't a good look for fans of both teams. What should we expect the atmosphere to be like at the Pete where the Panthers are nearly unbeatable? Have Steelers Playoffs and Panthers games interfered with each other before? Hopefully, that scenario is where some of those 11 losses at the Pete have come from.
CH: To be honest, I'm not sure if a Pitt game and Steeler playoff game have ever crossed paths. I was actually discussing this today with a few people. I think the game will be pretty full and close to capacity. There should be a lot of students there and people with tickets that don't want to go will end up giving them to other people who might not typically be able to get to a Pitt game. The Pete seats 12,500 and I'd be shocked if there weren't, say 10,000 people there. This is still a Big East game and I expect it to be mostly full despite the Steeler game. Seton Hall, though, could get a bit of a break if the fans aren't quite as rowdy as normal and more on edge about the Steeler game. Some in attendance won't care, but some will be checking their cell phones every five minutes.
SOJ: Finally, your prediction and final score? Is it possible that Pittsburgh will look past the return of Jeremy Hazell and fix their eyes squarely on Big Monday's matchup with the 'Cuse?
CH: Hazell's a beast and Pitt has had difficulty containing some of the league's big-time scorers this season. Pitt had some trouble with Providence on the road this season and if this game were in Jersey, I might feel Seton Hall could give Pitt a better game. But the Panthers just simply don't lose at home and I don't see it happening Saturday, even with the Syracuse game looming.
Pitt 81, Seton Hall 68
A big thanks to the folks over at Cardiac Hill, be sure to check them out later on today as they prepare to cover the matchup from the Panthers side of things.