(24) Pittsburgh (12-2) at Rutgers (9-3)
Saturday, January 5, 11 a.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: The RAC (8,000) -- Piscataway, New Jersey. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Pittsburgh 10-1, Rutgers 6-1. Away Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Rutgers 2-2. Neutral Record: Pittsburgh 2-1, Rutgers 1-0. Conference Record: Pittsburgh 0-1, Rutgers 0-1. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads, 24-23.
GAME NOTES: For the first time this season the Pittsburgh Panthers will play in a true road game when they travel to the RAC to battle the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Big East action Saturday night.
In its Big East opener Pittsburgh was take down by No. 14 Cincinnati, 70-61, Monday night. The loss ended a eight-game winning streak for the Panthers who pushed into the national rankings this week as they currently sit at No. 24. After the setback Pittsburgh is 12-2 overall. Up next the Panthers will travel to face Georgetown.
Rutgers also had a winning streak put to an end in its league opener as the Scarlet Knights were routed 78-53 by No. 7 Syracuse. Rutgers had won five straight games before the setback against the Orange. The Scarlet Knights are now 9-3 overall this season including a solid 6-1 mark at the RAC. Rutgers will take the short trip to New York City to face St. John's next.
A year ago these teams split the season series with the away team earning victories each time. The all-time series has been just as even with Pittsburgh holding a slim 24-23 lead after winning 11 of the last 13 meetings.
It was a tale of two halves in Pittsburgh's showdown with Cincinnati. The Panthers limited the Bearcats to 29.6 percent shooting in the first half and led 34-26 at the break. However after halftime the Bearcats heated up to 54.2 percent shooting to pull out the victory. Pittsburgh shot 44.2 percent overall in the game and missed on all 10 of its shots from beyond the arc.
Jamie Dixon's squad has been playing extremely well on the defensive end this season. Pittsburgh is currently fifth in the country in points allowed (38.8 pg) while allowing teams to connect on 38.8 percent of their shots from the floor. Despite being just the 12th-best rebounding team (35.6 ppg) the Panthers still have a sizable margin on the boards (+9.8) as they have allowed the fewest rebounds per game in the country (25.8 pg). Offensively, Pittsburgh has been very efficient scoring 74.4 points per game with the third-best field goal percentage (.513) in the country. Talib Zanna (13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Steven Adams (6.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) anchor the team from the inside while Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) and James Robinson (7.2 ppg, 4.3 apg) have been playing well in the backcourt.
Rutgers trailed by as many as 29 points and shot just 36.4 percent from the floor in its loss to Syracuse Wednesday night. The Scarlet Knights did manage a 38-34 edge on the boards but that was outweighed by the 20 turnovers they committed.
If the Scarlet Knights are going to bounce back from the loss to Syracuse they will need to return to the offensive efficiency they enjoyed in non-conference play. Rutgers is shooting a solid 47.4 percent from the field which even after the loss to Syracuse is ranked 27th nationally. That has allowed Rutgers to score at a healthy 72.5 points per game clip. Rutgers has rarely blown by teams though as foes are putting in 67.9 points per game despite shooting just 41.0 percent from the field against the Scarlet Knights. The backcourt tandem of Eli Carter (17.1 ppg) and Myles Mack (13.3 ppg) have provided Mike Rice's squad with a bulk of its offensive production. However Mack was almost absent against Syracuse as he was held scoreless for the first time this year. No other player is scoring more than 8.5 points per game.
The type of defensive pressure that Pittsburgh can create will cause problems for the Scarlet Knights who do not have a ton of offensive options. Add in the Panthers' ability to control the boards and create open looks and Zanna and company should expect their first conference victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 72, Rutgers 60
01/05 10:31:25 ET