Pitt vs. Auburn


This Sunday, the men’s basketball team will be playing host to the Southeastern Conference’s… This Sunday, the men’s basketball team will be playing host to the Southeastern Conference’s Auburn Tigers. Although not a power by any means in the SEC, the Tigers should present more of a challenge than Pitt’s first four opponents.

The Tigers and Panthers are very similar in the fact that both teams lack experience. The Panthers have only two seniors and some underclassmen that have some game experience. Auburn’s only returning senior is 6-foot-5 guard Ronny LeMelle, the only upperclassmen likely to get any playing time for the Tigers.

Joining LeMelle in the starting lineup are three freshmen and one sophomore with two more freshmen and a sophomore coming off the bench.

Frontcourt Pitt:

In three of their four games so far this season, junior center Aaron Gray has led the Panthers in scoring. Much improved from last season, and eager to replace Chris Taft as Pitt’s dominant big man, the 7-footer is averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.

Along with Gray, the Panthers’ starting lineup will probably feature junior forward Levon Kendall. Kendall is a solid defender, and has been called the team’s best rebounder by his coaches. Although inexperienced, Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young will provide the Panthers with frontcourt depth all year.

The two freshmen will both see lots of minutes if foul trouble plays a factor. In the only game Gray did not lead Pitt in scoring (last Wednesday against Robert Morris when he got in early foul trouble), both Biggs and Young played 20 minutes and scored eight and 14 points, respectively.


Although the entire Tigers’ squad is young, their frontcourt is especially young. Auburn will likely start two freshmen at the forward positions. Josh Dollard and Korvotney Barber are both 6-foot-7 and around 220 pounds. In reserve, 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman Joey Cameron will likely be there to give them a breather.

Although they are thicker big men than Pitt’s, their height disadvantage is the reason the edge here goes to the Panthers. Gray is 7 feet tall while Pitt has five other forwards listed at 6-foot-6 or better. Look for the Panthers to really pound the ball inside against the Tigers.

Backcourt Pitt:

Senior guard Carl Krauser has done everything the Panthers have needed thus far this season. While averaging a team-high 15.8 points a game, Krauser has also picked up 5.5 rebounds a game and a little more than three steals a game. With his leadership and a lot of depth – four other Panther guards have played more than 60 minutes this year (Ronald Ramon 83, Levance Fields 79, Keith Benjamin 75, Antonio Graves 62) – the Panthers will probably look to run the floor to try and wear out Auburn.


Other than LeMelle, who is averaging 12.3 points a game, the Tigers don’t get too much offense from their backcourt. Sophomore starter Frank Tolbert is averaging 8.3 points a game while freshman Quantez Robertson is averaging 7.3.

The perimeter shooting of LeMelle and Robertson has sparked the Tigers thus far. Robertson is shooting 57.1 percent from beyond the arc while LeMelle has shot 47 percent in the opening contests of the season. The Tigers’ lack of depth in the backcourt is what gives the Panthers the edge.

Coaches Pitt:

Jamie Dixon is in his third year as the Panthers’ head coach. A longtime assistant, Dixon stepped in to replace Ben Howland after the 2002-03 season. He became the first rookie head coach to win the Big East coach of the year honors after leading Pitt to a school-record 31 wins in 03-04. Despite winning a combined 51 games and leading Pitt to the NCAA tournament in both seasons, Auburn’s head coach Jeff Lebo has the more impressive resume.


Jeff Lebo is in his second year at Auburn and is famous for turning programs around. Libo graduated from North Carolina in 1989, where he played under legendary coach Dean Smith and scored more than 1,500 points as a four-year starter. Lebo has held head coaching positions at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Tennessee Tech and has been an assistant at East Tennessee State and South Carolina. His success at those schools is what landed him the Auburn job.

Key Match-up: Ronny LeMelle vs. the Pitt defense

LeMelle could give the Panthers matchup problems Sunday. While Ronald Ramon is the Panthers’ best on-the-ball defender, he is too small (6-1) to shut down the guard. Probably the next best stopper the Panthers have is 6-foot-9 Kendall, who might be uncomfortable chasing LeMelle around all game. Whoever Dixon and his staff decide will be assigned LeMelle will have their hands full. He can shoot and will be very dangerous if he gets hot. However, if the Panthers can stop LeMelle, they should be able to improve to 5-0.