Pitt could get a bit of a challenge from American. The Eagles are a pretty good mid-major and while they may not be as good as the 20-win 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams, they're much improved over last year's team that didn't make the tournament.
Those 2007 and 2008 teams played some pretty tough tournament teams to the limit. They gave Tennessee all they could handle in the tournament playing them to within three points with about five minutes to go. They did the same to Villanova in Philadelphia the following year in the tournament when they led by 14 and with the score was tied with about six minutes left. Both times, American fell a bit short, but they're used to playing against very good teams in tough environments.
Many of the players from those teams may be gone, but the coach is the same - Jeff Jones. Jones is known as a pretty good coach and before coming to American, you might remember him from Virginia where he made a few Sweet Sixteen runs and an Elite Eight run. Playing in the ACC, Jones has seen his share of intimidating buildings, so I expect to see a visting team that isn't easily rattled.
Pitt is going to have to stop senior forward, Vlad Moldoveanu. He averages nearly 20 points and five rebounds a game. Moldoveanu averaged 18 points per game last season and he could be a borderline NBA prospect, although at 6'9", he'll need to probably rebound a bit better. Still, Moldoveanu at least entertained the thought of leaving early last year, it seems:
I was thinking about it but I thought it would be better for me to stay in college, get my degree and also play my senior year. It gives me more time to work on my game and get stronger. Also the fact that we did not win our conference motivated me to come back because I feel that I have so unfinished business that I have to take care of.
Moldoveanu ranks second in the conference in scoring in the Patriot League and eighth in rebounding.
For Pitt, it's all about sharing the ball. And the Panthers aren't only doing a good job of doing that, they lead the nation in assists with more than 20 per game. That number was bolstered by their 33 on Saturday against Maryland Eastern Shore - a near school record:
Pittsburgh (11-1) won 97-64 over Maryland-Eastern Shore 97-64 on Saturday, bouncing back from its Dec. 11 loss to then-No. 11 Tennessee. The Panthers, who open Big East play next Monday against No. 4 Connecticut, shot 55.4 percent Saturday and had 33 assists -- one shy of the school record set against Cleveland State on Feb. 14, 1974.
"We're known for our unselfishness, but 33, even for our standards really sticks out," coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's an unbelievable number. Our motion and movement is getting better. I think it's heading in the right direction, especially where we're going offensively. We have room to improve, but I like where it's going."
And then, of course, there's the chance for Jamie Dixon to get to 200 wins.
Yeah, this could be a little bigger than the normal non-conference game.