Right after the first half ended, Andy Katz asked Jamie Dixon if this felt like a game in February. I'll take that one, coach - YES. Yes, it did.
As I said over the weekend, Rhode Island wasn't likely to be intimidated playing in the Pete and, well, they weren't. Rhode Island did all it could in Pitt's 83-75 win. The win was Pitt's 48th consecutive non-conference home win.
The game had the look and feel of a Big East game. It wasn't just that Rhode Island played pretty well, they looked like a Big East team out there. They played tough physical defense, got up and down the court, and did all they could to win. The other thing I'll say about Rhode Island is that they didn't let Pitt take them out of the game. Every time it looked like Pitt might pull away, Rhode Island would answer.
After seeing this game tonight, hard to imagine that Rhode Island has lost 22 straight games to ranked teams as they really had Pitt on the ropes much of the night.
This was Pitt's opener and they clearly looked a bit rusty. They had 16 turnovers, shot only 45% from the field, and, more importantly missed a ton of layups. The play-by-play chart says that Pitt missed 17. No, that's not a typo - 17 layups MISSED. I'm not putting a lot of stock in that as Pitt was clearly a bit rusty, but that's just ridiculous.
Three pointers clearly kept Rhode Island in the game. Consider this - 14 of the team's 24 field goals that were made were threes while Pitt only shot 3-16 from beyond the arc.
But fortunately for Pitt, it wasn't all bad.
Dude, is there any way you can win the Most Improved Player of the Year award if you didn't play the year before? Talib Zanna isn't a great player, but he fits in really well. He's a heck of a rebounder as evidenced by his team-leading 11 boards (5 more than the next Panther, Gary McGhee) and he provides some offense. I know Jamie Dixon likes Nasir Robinson, but Zanna seems like he can give the team more production. If Zanna comes out and averages close to a double-double until Robinson comes back, how the heck can Dixon not start him?
And Brad Wanamaker - man, he's the perfect example of how much a player can improve in four years. He was touted as an athletic guard out of high school and when he came to Pitt, everyone (including myself) was basically wondering if this was the same player we'd heard so much about. He looked unsure of himself, wasn't good handling the ball, and really looked kind of stiff. Even last year when he produced, it was hard to see what kind of player he was. Tonight, for maybe the first time, he looked athletic. He zipped up and down the court and pushed the ball more times than I could count. He was good last season but could be a heck of a player for Pitt this season.
And I'll say this, too. I hate to do this sort of thing because both sides alwyas get calls they shouldn't get. But Rhode Island had a pretty good gripe in my opinion about the officiating. Maybe it's just me, but it seemed like it had a lot of calls go against them. There was one sequence where Pitt came down, traveled TWICE, and nothing was called. There were also a few fouls that were called that looked like phantom calls. Again, I'm sure Pitt had some calls go against it as well, but I think the edge definitely went to the Panthers tonight.
This was a test that Pitt probably didn't need this early in the season, but they came out on top and eventually made enough plays to win. The Pitt News thinks Rhode Island could be an NCAA tournament team, and it's hard for me to argue with that.