Panthers to rekindle old rivalry

PITT BASKETBALL


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The old Big East Conference was known as a physical basketball league, one in which the meek were devoured and some nights it seemed like helmets and chin straps were necessary for survival.

Pitt annually ranked as one of the toughest teams thanks to its defense and relentless rebounding.

One other team that was built similarly was Cincinnati, which is why games against the Bearcats were often more a battle of attrition, mental toughness and test of wills rather than a display of skills.

That's the first thing that comes to mind for Pitt's players as the Panthers (10-0) and Bearcats (7-2) head into a 7 p.m. game in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York that likely will be a grind.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Pitt (10-0) vs. Cincinnati (7-2), 7 p.m. today, Jimmy V Classic, Madison Square Garden, New York.

TV, Radio: ESPN; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Is 30-16 at Madison Square Garden over past 12 years. ... Has four players who played in or are from New York/New Jersey area. ... Is 6-2 in past 8 games against Cincinnati. ... Is one of 15 teams in Division I without a loss. ... Is 10-0 for eighth time in Jamie Dixon's 11 seasons as coach.

Cincinnati: Is former Big East Conference rival of the Panthers, although, like Pitt (in the Atlantic Coast Conference) is no longer in the Big East. The Bearcats are in the American Athletic Conference. ... Leading scorer is G Sean Kilpatrick (19 ppg). ... On two-game losing streak after 64-47 loss Saturday to crosstown rival Xavier.

Hidden stat: Series is tied, 9-9.
 
Skinny: This game is part of the Jimmy V Classic, a two-game event today. Florida plays Memphis in the second game.

Neither team is in the Big East any more as the Bearcats are in the American Athletic Conference and the Panthers are in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but this game likely will have a heavy Big East flavor given how physical it likely will be and that the Big East tournament also was played at Madison Square Garden.

"I'm predicting that game will be a lot more physical [than any of Pitt's games to date]," point guard James Robinson said. "It is going to be up and down, they have good guards and wings and they always have a good presence inside, so we are going to have to focus on our defense first.

"But, like I said, they are going to be physical, I'm sure they are going to press us, but it is going to be a fun game."

The game is unlikely to offer much, if any goodwill.

Robinson recalled that, as a freshman last season, he got schooled on how physical the Big East would be when Pitt opened its conference schedule against Cincinnati.

"That was the first conference game for us last year, and I could definitely feel the difference in how physical it was from the non-conference games to the conference games," Robinson said. "I'm expecting them to bring a lot of energy, a lot of toughness, and they will be physical. They are going to attack the whole game, and we just need to be confident and know that we can be just as physical and just as aggressive."

Pitt has won six of the past eight meetings against the Bearcats, but the overall series is tied, 9-9. The Bearcats, however, have won two of the past three, and five of the previous eight games in the series have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

Cincinnati is in a rebuilding season, owns in a two-game losing streak and is coming off a 64-47 drubbing Saturday at the hands of crosstown rival Xavier. Nevertheless, Pitt will have a chance to get a quality win on a neutral court.

Panthers coach Jamie Dixon knows it is never is easy when Pitt plays the Bearcats. He also knows Cincinnati's top player, guard Sean Kilpatrick (19.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3 apg), is capable of getting hot and carrying them to a win on any given night.

"They are big but not as big as before but maybe a little bit smaller and skilled," Dixon said. "They are experienced, they have four seniors, but, when you sign up to play [in the] Jimmy V, you know you are going to play somebody good. They are a team that has been to the [NCAA] tournament three years in a row, they are good, I know they lost some experienced guards, but they do have [Kilpatrick] and that's a challenge.

"The one thing I know [is] they will do is play hard and be physical, so we have a lot on our hands."

Madison Square Garden has been a good venue for the Panthers as they are 30-16 over the past 12 years and won Big East tournament title there in 2003 and 2008.

The Panthers have three players, Derrick Randall (Brooklyn), Chris Jones (Teaneck, N.J.), and Lamar Patterson (St. Benedict's Prep, N.J.), from the New York/New Jersey area. In freshman forward Michael Young's case, he played in that area though he is not from there. Dixon also reiterated that, even though Pitt is no longer in the Big East, the Panthers will try to play in New York each season because of recruiting.


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise.

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