Pitt's non-conference schedule has been criticized from the moment it was announced this summer. While most other major-conference teams routinely play at least two -- some three or four -- games against other teams from top-tier leagues, Michigan was the only such opponent on the 13-game non-league slate for the Panthers, who are now in the midst of playing mid-major and low-major teams in the month before the Big East season gets under way.
Big-name players? At least the Panthers can lay claim to competing against some of the best in the country.
For the third time in the first eight games, Pitt (6-1) will be facing one of the top guards when Ray McCallum and the Detroit Titans (2-3) visit the Petersen Events Center tonight.
McCallum is the third NBA guard prospect the Panthers have faced and the second to play at the Petersen Events Center. C.J. McCollum of Lehigh lost at Pitt in the third game of the season. McCollum is a projected first-round pick.
In the NIT Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden last week, the Panthers played Michigan, which boasted two top-notch guards in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Burke is a projected second-round pick.
McCallum also is a projected second-round pick and, by far, the best player on the defending Horizon League champions.
"I don't know if it was by design, but it's good," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
"It's kind of how it worked out. We've probably played some of the best guards in the country. I thought we did a good job in the half-court against the Michigan guys and McCollum in the half-court. This guy is similar."
McCallum, a junior point guard, led Detroit to the NCAA tournament last season. The Titans beat Valparaiso in the Horizon League championship game and hung with No. 2 seed Kansas for a half before falling, 65-50, in their first game in the NCAA tournament.
- Matchup: Pitt (6-1) vs. Detroit (2-3), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
- TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN3.com, KDKA-AM (1020), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
- Pitt: Beat Howard, 70-46, Tuesday night. ... Junior F Lamar Patterson (7.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is averaging 15 points per game in the past three games. ... Freshman G James Robinson (6.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg) is first in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (6.2). ... Junior F Talib Zanna (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) has scored in double figures in five of the seven games. ... Is 1-0 against Detroit, 21-12 all time against teams from the Horizon League.
- Detroit: Lost at Bowling Green, 70-65, Tuesday night. ... Also has lost against St. John's and Miami. ... Only win against Division I team came against Drake. ... Led by junior G Ray McCallum (20.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and senior F Doug Anderson (14.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) ... Coach Ray McCallum Sr. is in his fifth season and led the Titans to the Horizon League championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament last season.
- Hidden stat: Pitt can win the 1,500th game in school history tonight. The Panthers are 1,499-1,065 all time.
This season, the Titans are struggling, but McCallum is not.
He is among the nation's scoring leaders, averaging 20.4 points per game. McCollum of Lehigh is first with a 26.6 average.
"He's a better shooter than what I remember in high school," Dixon said. "He shoots deep 3s. He has a lot more range than I remember. He's got good size for a point guard, good athleticism.
"I think he's looking to score more than he probably anticipated when he got to college. He can put it on the floor, he can pull up and shoot a jump shot, and he can rebound well."
Freshman point guard James Robinson did a good job on Lehigh's McCollum. He held him to 17 points. It's the only time this season McCollum has been held below 20.
Robinson will draw the assignment of guarding McCallum tonight and will receive some help from Tray Woodall and Cameron Wright.
"Pitt is known for defense," Wright said. "Coach Dixon and the entire staff stresses defense. We'll approach this game as any other game. McCallum is clearly their best player."
Detroit plays only seven players in its regular rotation. For that reason, Dixon expects to see Titans coach Ray McCallum Sr. (father of the star guard) play some zone against the Panthers. McCallum might want to play more zone than usual because Pitt has been effective against man-to-man teams and ineffective at times against zones.
Michigan's 1-3-1 zone baffled the Panthers in the second half, and Howard's zone gave the Panthers some problems in the first half Tuesday.
Dixon said there is plenty of room for improvement with the zone offense.
"Offensively, we've been pretty good against man, so teams are playing more zones because of what we've been doing offensively," he said. "They're trying everything against us, and I anticipate [Detroit] doing the same things.
"We need to get better. We have to get the ball inside. We put some sets in [Thursday] to get the ball inside more against the zone. Our young guys have adapted more to our man stuff than to the zone stuff.
"They'll get better at it. Our big guys have to be more active. Our spacing on the perimeter hasn't been as good."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 1, 2012 5:00 AM