Ah, Big East, how we will miss ye.
The No. 23 Pitt Panthers reminded us again how great a league game can be, battling back and forth with No. 17 Cincinnati for 33 minutes before grabbing hold of the game with both hands down the stretch.
The Panthers are making a statement in a stacked conference race that currently features seven nationally-ranked teams. Jamie Dixon’s team is tough, disciplined, and opportunistic, qualities that will come in very handy as the Big East season grinds to a close. In today’s game, they kept the Bearcats from ruling the boards, and completely shut them down from the perimeter, harrassing their hosts into 30.8 percent shooting from the floor.
The most encouraging thing to come out of Pitt’s recent three-game win streak is a balanced scoring attack that leaves few gaps for opposing teams to exploit. Tray Woodall (14 points) has shown the ability to take over a game in crunch time, and he’s got the horses inside to make perimeter scoring easier. Talib Zanna (11 points, 9 rebounds) and seven-foot freshman Steven Adams (13 points, 4 blocks) have found their groove on the blocks, and that creates room for everyone.
Pitt is just one game back in the Big East right now, and will travel to face league leader N0. 24 Marquette next Saturday, and then host No. 25 Notre Dame two days later. After that, no ranked teams stand between them and a postseason bid. That doesn’t mean much in the Big East, but it beats the alternative. And, while all schedules are not equal, there is this:
Don’t be surprised if the Panthers keep fighting for a title in their final Big East season.
Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.
Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.
Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.
Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.
Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.
Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).
In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.