I think it is safe to say that we all went into Thursday's start of the ACC tournament for the Pitt Panthers holding our breath. One reason was the recent struggles of senior center Talib Zanna. Now...three games later, we will go into the NCAA "Big Dance" with a little bit of confidence. I went from praying that Pitt gets into the tourney to being excited to see what they can do. A lot of that has to do with Zanna and because of his performance in the ACC postseason, he is our Panther of the Week.
With slight apologies to point guard James Robinson, Zanna lifted Pitt up to levels that we only saw in the first part of the season. Robinson had a 6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio through the tourney and put up 19 points against North Carolina. It still wasn't enough as Zanna had solid games against Wake Forest and Virginia and reminded many of a skinny version of DeJuan Blair in the victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday. Overall, Zanna averaged 17 points, 13 rebounds, and even kicked in an average of two assists through the tournament.
We'll start it off with his game against Wake Forest, where Zanna helped Pitt cruise to an easy win on Thursday. The senior checked in with 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals, and one block. If it wasn't for Lamar Patterson, Zanna would have been the best player on the floor. During the second game for the Panthers against North Carolina, the Nigeria native left little doubt who was the best player on the floor. He made life miserable for the Tar Heels during Pitt's win. His final stat line: 19 points, 21 rebounds (that is not a typo), three assists, one steal, and one block. He made many (including me) eat our words that we uttered over the last month plus of the season.
The Panthers needed one more big performance to get to the finals of the ACC tournament and some did not deliver in the first half - but Zanna did. The big man did it again, pouring in 15 points and nine rebounds during the close loss to the Cavaliers. It wasn't enough, but it was a good sign for Pitt. As stated at the start of this column, Panther fans were almost on the bubble heading into the tourney and a lot of the recent stumbles could be put on the center position. If the past three games are any indication, those worries could go away. I'm not saying Pitt will go on a run in the NCAA Tourney coming up, but I think it's safe to say they have entered into the category of "team no one wants to play" for next week. I would not want to play them with Zanna stepping his game up to the highest levels of the season.