Pitt looks to stop guards at home

By Evan Burgos

There aren’t many ‘gimmes’ in a power conference like the Big East. But when Pitt hosts South… There aren’t many ‘gimmes’ in a power conference like the Big East. But when Pitt hosts South Florida Wednesday at the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m., it will be as close as it gets. The No. 1 Panthers (15-0, 3-0 Big East) are experiencing some of their greatest success in program history this year, while the Bulls (6-9, 1-2 Big East) continue their perennial floundering among the conference’s bottom feeders. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. Since joining the Big East four seasons ago, the Bulls have yet to beat Pitt. Last year in Tampa, the Panthers soundly won 79-66 behind a balanced attack, led by Sam Young’s team-high 22 points. But despite coming in No. 1 in the country and a heavy favorite tonight, this is a game the Panthers would love to have in a conference currently boasting eight teams in the top 25. After Wednesday night, Jamie Dixon’s squad faces a tough stretch of conference games, including ranked opponents in Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova and Notre Dame. In order for Pitt to avoid a monumental upset, it will come down to the Panthers containing the Bulls’ athletic guards. ‘Their perimeter guys can put it in the basket,’ said Dixon. ‘That’s really what we’re concerned about.’ They do more than just score. In the Bulls’ last game, a trouncing road triumph over DePaul 80-58, the Bulls’ starting backcourt tandem of Dominique Jones and Jesus Verdejo combined for 16 rebounds, heading the Bulls’ total domination on the boards in which they outrebounded DePaul by 18. They also chipped in 22 and 18 points, respectively. One way to keep those guards off the glass is to plug big DeJuan Blair in the middle of the lane. The sophomore is second in the conference in rebounds per game at 12.6. If the 265-pound Blair isn’t enough, Pitt touts the league’s best team rebounding averaging at almost 42 a game and outrebounds its opponents by an average of 10.9 a game. The one big man Pitt might want to pay attention to is Augustus Gilchrist, whose athleticism and 6-feet-10-inch frame yielded a career-high 16 points Saturday at DePaul off the bench. And though they came away with the road win at DePaul in convincing fashion, it was only the Bulls’ second road win in Big East play over the past three-plus seasons. Pitt doesn’t want to become the third.