Basketball Preview: A rundown of Pitt’s nonconference opponents

By Greg Trietley

Nov. 11, 7 p.m. vs. Albany (last season: 16-16, 9-7 America East)

The Great… Nov. 11, 7 p.m. vs. Albany (last season: 16-16, 9-7 America East)

The Great Danes finished third in the America East last year and fell one victory shy of their first winning season since 2007. Junior guards Logan Aronhalt (14.6 points per game) and Mike Black (12.3 points per game) bring experience to a roster that includes six newcomers. The coaches in America East placed Albany fourth in the conference’s preseason poll.

Nov. 13, 6 p.m. vs. Rider (23-10, 13-5 Metro Atlantic)

The Broncs will face No. 11 Pitt 36 hours before they play in a 6 a.m. game against Drexel as part of ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball marathon on Nov. 15. Rider lost to the Panthers 87-68 last December at the Petersen Events Center. Forward Mike Ringgold had 24 points for the Broncs in that game, but he has since graduated.

Nov. 16, 9 p.m. vs. Long Beach State (22-11, 14-2 Big West)

The 49ers have one of the most challenging out-of-conference schedules in the nation. They will play at Pitt, at San Diego State, at No. 8 Louisville, at No. 13 Kansas and at No. 1 North Carolina before 2012. They also host No. 15 Xavier on Dec. 22.

With a starting lineup of five seniors, the 49ers are the favorite to win their conference. Last year, guard Casper Ware became the first player to win both Big West Player of the Year and Big West Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, but his 49ers were upset by UC Santa Barbara in the final of the conference tournament.

“[Ware] has grown into such a young man, from the shy freshman who painfully couldn’t call a play out to start,” coach Dan Monson said on Oct. 20 in a news release on the Long Beach State athletics site. “Now he’s a captain and a leader and one of the premiere point guards in America.”

Nov. 22, 7 p.m. vs. La Salle (15-18, 6-10 Atlantic 10)

La Salle led the Atlantic 10 in rebounding last season but stumbled to a 10th-place finish in the conference. The Explorers aren’t projected to fare better this year, as the Atlantic 10’s preseason poll slotted them to finish 13th. They last made the NCAA Tournament in 1992.

Nov. 25, 7 p.m. at Penn (13-15, 7-7 Ivy)

Pitt’s first road trip takes the team to Philadelphia’s historic Palestra, which opened in 1927. Penn, St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Temple and La Salle all originally played their games there, but only the Quakers still call the court their full-time home.

Sophomore Marin Kukoc, expected to lead the Penn attack, missed all of last year with a back injury, but he enters this year healthy and led the Quakers with 14 points in the Red and Blue Scrimmage.

Nov. 27, 5 p.m. vs. Robert Morris (18-14, 12-6 Northeast)

A familiar foe, Robert Morris is 0-28 all-time against Pitt. In May, the Colonials suspended leading scorer Karon Abraham for the entire season for two alcohol-related arrests.

“It’s unfortunate that these measures had to be taken,” second-year coach Andrew Toole said in a statement. “However, we feel it is as much our job to prepare Karon for success in life as it is to prepare him for success on the basketball court.”

Despite Abraham’s absence, Robert Morris still returns two double-digit scorers in guard Velton Jones and forward Russell Johnson. Johnson also led the team with an average of 6.7 rebounds per game last year.

Nov. 30, 7 p.m. vs. Duquesne (18-12, 10-6 Atlantic 10)

The Consol Energy Center will host the City Game for the second time in as many years. Forwards Damian Saunders and Bill Clark each scored 20 points in an 80-66 loss to Pitt at the downtown arena last December, but both players graduated. The Dukes, though, hope reigning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year T.J. McConnell can pick up the slack.

Duquesne led the nation with 18 assists per game in the 2010-2011 season.

Dec. 3, 5:15 p.m. at Tennessee (19-14, 8-8 Southeastern)

The Volunteers handed the Panthers their first — and worst — loss of last season, 83-76 at the Consol Energy Center on Dec. 11. Since then, however, Tennessee basketball has come undone, as the school fired coach Bruce Pearl in March for recruiting violations. The Volunteers lost eight of their final 12 games last year, and they enter this season unranked in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Dec. 6, 7 p.m. vs. Virginia Military (18-13, 10-8 Big South)

The Keydets, who last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1977, made it to the final of their conference tournament twice in the past four years, but they lost on both occasions. Ranked third in the conference’s preseason poll, Virginia Military led the Big South with an average of 87.9 points per game last year, although no team had a worse rebounding margin.

Dec. 10, 2:30 p.m. vs. Oklahoma State (19-13, 6-10 Big 12) at Madison Square Garden

Senior guard Keiton Page averaged 13.2 points per game last season, but his team lost nine of its first 13 Big 12 games and finished ninth in the standings. The Cowboys, who lost both of their starting big men, have versatile big-name recruit LeBryan Nash to plug in at guard or forward. Nash was one of 12 freshmen named to the Wayman Tisdale Award Preseason Watch List.

Dec. 17, 6 p.m. vs. South Carolina State (10-22, 5-11 Mid-Eastern)

The Bulldogs, who didn’t play a ranked opponent in 2010-2011, had trouble hanging onto the ball last year, as they had the second-worst turnover margin in the conference. Without last year’s leading scorer Darnell Porter, South Carolina State will look to its deep bench for offense. Seven players had between five and 10 points per game last year.

Dec. 20, 7 p.m. vs. Saint Francis (9-21, 7-11 Northeast)

The Panthers have the same record against Saint Francis that they have against Robert Morris: 28-0.

The Red Flash lost badly to Cincinnati and North Carolina last season but will challenge itself again with an out-of-conference schedule that features trips to Pitt, Virginia Commonwealth and Patriot League champion Bucknell. No other team in the conference had a worse shooting percentage from 3-point range than did Saint Francis last year.

“It’s the biggest cliche in the world, that we’re still 0-0,” coach Don Friday said in a news release on the Saint Francis athletics site after the team’s first practice. “But it does feel good because we’ve had a good summer.

We think we’ve really added some depth and the ability to put the ball in the basket.”

Dec. 23, 8 p.m. vs. Wagner (13-17, 9-9 Northeast)

Also from the Northeast, Wagner is the exact opposite of Saint Francis, as the Seahawks had the best 3-point shooting percentage in the conference last season. The guard trio of senior Tyler Murray, senior Chris Martin and sophomore Latif Rivers carried the Seahawks to a sixth-place finish in 2010-2011. Six of the top seven scorers from last year’s team return this year.