Pitt's had its share of respectable non-conference opponents this season. A game against Maryland in Madison Square Garden. A game against a ranked Texas team in MSG the very next night. Even a challenging opener against Rhode Island.
Now the Panthers get their toughest test to date - a matchup in the Big East/SEC Challenge against undefeated No. 13 Tennessee on Saturday.
Pitt's non-con schedule coupled with the rigorous Big East schedule should pay huge dividends again this year. And that RPI will look even better if Pitt can get a win against Tennessee.
The Panthers have played a challenging non-con schedule, but Tennessee isn't untested, having beaten top ten team, Villanova. And speaking of RPIs, the Vols' is No. 2 in the nation. They've only faced one ranked team, but several schools they've played are off to good starts:
"It's a compliment to the teams we've played against,'' UT coach Bruce Pearl said Monday.
"Look at Belmont, they've only lost at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Missouri State has only lost at Tulsa and Tennessee.
"VCU beat Wake Forest and UCLA. Villanova only lost to us.''
UT's next game - Saturday at No. 3 Pittsburgh - will only enhance Tennessee's stature. UT's schedule is ranked fourth nationally.
And it's not like it gets much easier for Tennessee after this. The Vols still have non-con games against USC and top 15 team, Memphis.
Despite being undefeated, though, Tennessee has had its fair share of close games. A nine-point win against Belmont, a four-point win against Missouri State, and a five-point win against Virginia Commonwealth. One intersting note is that Tennessee hasn't played a true road contest yet. Their wins against VCU and Nova were at a neutral site at MSG, but they've not traveled to anyone's campus this season yet. Technically, they won't do that Saturday, either, but in downtown Pittsburgh, it's safe to say they'll be in a hostile enironment.
The Vols have also had to deal with the Bruce Pearl off-court issues and are responding well.
ESPN.com's Fran Fraschilla says the game will be a street fight (must be an Insider to view) and talks about how rebounding will be key.
Ahhh, rebounding. Pitt's safe haven. Well, the Panthers have beaten up on a lot of smaller teams on the glass and have fought their way to the fourth-best rebounding average in the nation. But things expect to be much tougher against Tennessee who also thrives on rebounds and is ranked No. 14 in the nation on the glass.
Tennessee's best player is probably 6'8" freshman forward Tobias Harris. He averages 16.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He also shoots 53% from the field and 75% from three-point range, connecting on six of eight this season. Harris isn't only their best player, but he's looking like one of the top freshmen in the country and could be a one-and-done player.
I'm eager to see how some of Pitt's frontcourt players match up against players their own size - particularly Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna. It's easy to stand out when your facing shorter players, but I still expect Pitt's frontcourt to play well.
With a virtual home game, I think Pitt wins this one. But it should be close throughout.