Big East play kicked off at noon on New Years Eve, and while midnight may bring us a new year, it looks like some things haven’t changed in Pittsburgh.
The No. 24 Panthers lost to No. 8 Cincinnati 70-61 at the Peterson Events Center, as Mick Cronin’s club got 47 combined points from Cashmere Wright, JaQuan Parker and Sean Kilpatrick.
This was a far cry from the way that Pitt hoped to start the Big East campaign. Coming off of a thoroughly disappointing season, the Panthers entered this game with a 12-1 record and took a 34-26 lead into the break. But a combination of defensive breakdowns and offensive struggles allowed Cincinnati to scrap their way back into the game.
The biggest question now becomes whether or not Pitt is truly a tournament caliber team. Their best win on the season right now is either Lehigh or Detroit, which is to say that Jamie Dixon’s club has quite a bit of work to do in Big East play. And as good as the Bearcats are, it’s not exactly a promising sign that Pitt is blowing leads at home to conference foes.
As far as Cincinnati is concerned, this win is a great way to erase the home loss to New Mexico from their memory. The Bearcats have issues with scoring in the paint — they literally do not have a single back-to-the-basket threat — but their guards are excellent scorers, they defend, they score in transition and they can get to the glass on both ends of the floor.
They’ll struggle in matchups with teams that can get out and defend on the perimeter and they’ll get beat on the nights that their threes don’t drop, but this is still a really good team that is going to win a lot of games.
Pitt may be in the midst of a bad stretch, but picking up a win in the ‘Pete’ is never an easy thing to do.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.