Nasir = Ichiro? Yeah, that's some comparison. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
I said earlier this week that if Pitt can defeat Villanova, it was completely different than beating Cincinnati or West Virginia as they did despite recent losses of Ashton Gibbs, Dante Taylor, and Lamar Patterson. Well, on Saturday they did just that.
Road game in a building where no road team has won in 46 tries? No problem.
Do it without your best player? Okay.
Against a top ten team? No worries.
Pitt always seems to have an answer and its win over Villanova on Saturday proved that yet again.
By now, this is what we've come to expect from Pitt. Have their backs against the wall and still come out punching their next opponent square in the mouth. You could easily argue that Villanova was the more physical team and yet Pitt adjusted and played smarter...better.
Still, one thing is certain - Pitt misses Ashton Gibbs.
The offense again plodded through a dismal first half where they tied their season low with only 23 points. That season low was set, by the way, against West Virginia in its last game.
Also without Gibbs.
The offense just looks so different and really makes you appreciate Gibbs so much more. Still, guys did step up. Particularly, the Philadelphia guys - Brad Wanamaker and Nasir Robinson. They combined for 36 points and really carried Pitt at times in this game.
Ichiro, one of the best hitters in baseball, isn't known as a power hitter. But if you ask any of his teammates that watch him in batting practice, they say he regularly puts balls over the wall. Why doesn't he do it in a game? He doesn't necessarily need to in order to be effective and his average would drop. Nas reminds me of him in a bit. You don't really think of him as a great scorer, but he can do it if he needs to. Before the West Virginia game, he averaged only about eight points per game. But in the past two with Gibbs out, he's had 15 in each contest. He slashes to the basket, he hustles - he's just a heck of a player.
Wanamaker scored 21 against Nova, but his great night was almost forgotten with a terrible turnover in the last 30 seconds, giving the Wildcats a chance to tie the game with a three. Still, he had a good game and played really well.
The area that Pitt really faltered was in its physicality. You see them occasionally lose the rebounding battle, but by 12 (33-21)? That's basically unheard of. Villanova really beat Pitt to the boards several times and had the Panthers lost the game, that would have been the main reason why. As I mentioned over on the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, Nova big man Mouphtaou Yarou seemed like he was pushing off on nearly every rebound. Still, Pitt's got to rebound better than that and giving up 12 offensive rebounds just isn't like them.
Nova will be a tough out in the tournament. They've got great guard play and are much more physical than I thought.
That said, thuggery was at a high level when Isaiah Armwood literally punched Nasir Robinson in the face. Now, if you didn't see the play, I preface that statement by saying it wasn't an all-out wind-up punch, but he literally had a closed fist and hit Nasir in the face. He then deftly wrapped his arm around a player who was in front of Nas, but it clearly looked intentional. Somewhat surprisingly, he was only whistled for a technical and not thrown out.
Somehow, I've got to think that if a Pitt player did that, they'd have been thrown out just because of the reputation of the team as being tough. The play was completely uncalled for and I'm still stunned that he didn't get the boot.
The end was so fitting as Nova hit a three, but it came just after the buzzer. I couldn't help but think 'almost, but not enough.' Pitt may be bound for another early tournament exit. They may not accomplish everything they want. I've said it before - the NCAAs are a crapshoot. You just need everything to go your way and the best team doesn't always win.
But on this night, Pitt showed the rest of the Big East they're still on top.