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Pitt has a solid identity as they enter ACC play

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If you watched Cincinnati and Pittsburgh do battle in Madison Square Garden earlier this season like I did, you probably didn’t think very much of either team.

The Bearcats changed my thoughts on how good they are with their Saturday road win over Memphis in an AAC contest and, now, after watching Pittsburgh easily handle Maryland, I’m coming around more on the Panthers as well.

It’s not that defeating North Carolina State and Maryland by double digits to begin their tenure in the ACC was all that impressive, but Pitt has a lot of identity markers to like and they can win using a variety of different lineups. Many of those lineups and players were Pittsburgh’s key in a 79-59 win Monday night at home over Maryland.

When you start discussing the Panthers this season you have to start with fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson is one of the most underrated players in the country and the 6-foot-5 wing played a major factor in Pitt’s second-half dominance of Maryland on Monday night.

After getting burned a bit by the shooting of Evan Smotcyrz and his 3-for-3 shooting from the three-point line early in the game, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made the adjustment to go to a smaller lineup and feature the versatile Patterson at the four in the second half.

The Panthers took full advantage of their four-guard look and outscored Maryland 43-29 in the second half and Smotcyrz was held to 1-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc the rest of the game.

Patterson on offense, meanwhile, carved up the Maryland defense, scoring on floaters, mid-range pull-ups, drives and a three on his way to 19 points behind an efficient 8-of-12 night from the field.

While Patterson is the catalyst that drives Pittsburgh, the steady point guard play of sophomore point guard James Robinson is another major reason the Panthers are off to a 14-1 start.

Robinson just always seems to understand time and possession and never tries to do too much when running the Pitt offense. Robinson has turned the ball over only 12 times in 412 minutes of play this season while dishing out 62 assists; remarkable numbers for any point guard, let alone a true sophomore. Since committing two turnovers in Pitt’s season-opening win over Savannah State, Robinson doesn’t have a multi-turnover game since.

Then you have senior Talib Zanna manning the middle. The 6-foot-9 center isn’t flashy, but he defends his area, rebounds and can score on quick hitters around the hoop off of dump-offs from Pittsburgh’s guards.

When you add in the improved play of junior guard Cameron Wright, the scoring potential of Durand Johnson off the bench, as well as the interior contributions of freshmen Michael Young and Jamel Artis and this Pitt team is dangerous because their players all know their roles and play within themselves and the Panther offense.

Pittsburgh doesn’t take many bad shots and they limit turnovers. Jamie Dixon’s team isn’t one you would call “fun to watch” and their schedule hasn’t been particularly difficult during their 14-1 start, but this Panthers team plays together as a team and they have a chance to do some real damage in the ACC this season because they understand what works for them.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Buddy Hield isn’t going anywhere

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket as LSU guard Antonio Blakeney (2) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
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It’s Tuesday, which means that it is once again time for the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

And you’ll be shocked to find out that Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is still No. 1 in those rankings. By a pretty wide margin.

The rest of the top 10?

They can be found here, at the CBT FaceBook page. Follow that page for the countdown: