Pitt coach Jamie Dixon sets the rather lofty goal of outrebounding opponents by 10 every game. That goal was reached with striking regularity when DeJuan Blair and Aaron Gray were roaming inside for the Panthers, but now Dixon would settle for his team just to outrebound opponents. Period.
Pitt, for so long one of the premier rebounding teams in NCAA Division I, has been outrebounded in five of its past eight Big East games. And the Panthers have reached the plus-10 goal on the boards only seven times in their first 26 games and only twice against Big East foes.
"That's something we strive for," Dixon said of being plus-10 in rebounds. "That's a high number, a tough goal to reach. But that's something you want to try to do. We were rebounding well early on, but we're not rebounding as well of late."
• Game: No. 12 Pitt (21-7, 10-5 Big East) vs. St. John's (15-12, 5-10), noon, today, Madison Square Garden, New York.
• Television, Radio, Internet:FSN Pittsburgh, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
• Pitt: Coming off 68-53 loss at Notre Dame. ... Has won the past four meetings against St. John's. ... G Ashton Gibbs (16.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg) has made five of his past nine 3-point attempts. ... G Brad Wanamaker (12.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is 24 for 46 from the field in the past five games. ... Gilbert Brown (10.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg) has missed eight of his past nine 3-point attempts.
• St. John's: Coming off 63-61 overtime loss to Marquette. ...F D.J. Kennedy (Schenley High School, 14.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) scored 20 points against Marquette. ... G Dwight Hardy (10.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg) is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. ... G Paris Horne (8.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg) was 3 for 3 from 3-point range against Marquette.
• Hidden stat: Jermaine Dixon has taken more than 10 shots in 12 of the past 14 games.
Notre Dame became the latest team to beat Pitt on the boards. The Irish held a 35-24 advantage in rebounds in a 68-53 triumph Wednesday night. Pitt had won its five previous games and had won the rebounding battle in four of those. Pitt lost the rebounding battle to West Virginia, but won the game in triple overtime.
In addition to Notre Dame and West Virginia (twice), Pitt has been beaten on the boards by South Florida and St. John's. All this has taken place after the Panthers outrebounded 17 of their first 19 opponents, including their first seven Big East foes.
"We're getting beat on the glass more than we should," Dixon said. "[Wednesday] night was a strange game. It seemed like [Notre Dame] got every long rebound, and we didn't get any. A lot of different things go into it, but, if you defend well and force to them to miss, you'll have more opportunities for rebounds."
Blair was one of the most ferocious rebounders in school history, and his presence has been hard to replace. Pitt was first in the Big East and tied Michigan State atop all of NCAA Division I with a plus-9.3 rebounding margin last season.
This season, Pitt is fourth in the Big East and 28th in NCAA Division I with a plus-5.0 margin.
Blair averaged 12.3 rebounds per game last season. His replacement, Gary McGhee, is averaging 7.0 rebounds per game.
Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs, the forwards last season, averaged 6.3 and 4.3 rebounds per game. Nasir Robinson and Brad Wanamaker average 6.0 and 5.6 per game.
What makes Pitt's inconsistencies on the boards hard to figure is the performances against some of the top rebounding teams in the country.
Pitt outrebounded Texas (11th in the nation), Cincinnati (12th) and Villanova (19th). The Panthers grabbed 21 offensive rebounds against Villanova.
Yet the Panthers have struggled against some of the worst rebounding teams in the conference. They were outrebounded by St. John's (10th in the Big East) and South Florida (13th).
St. John's, Pitt's opponent today at Madison Square Garden, outrebounded the Panthers by 10 in a Pitt win Jan. 28 at the Petersen Events Center. That's the most Pitt has been outrebounded by an opponent this season.
Rebounding has been a big emphasis in practices, and it seemed to be paying off before Notre Dame. Now, Dixon will preach to his players again.
"We'll continue to emphasize it," Dixon said. "It's something we have to get better at."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published February 27, 2010 5:00 AM