Pitt has a couple of games under their belt this year, but the level of competition is about to pick up. The Panthers travel to Madison Square Garden tonight to face SMU in the first 'real' round of the 2K Classic. This is the early game with Marquette and Michigan tipping off afterwards.
Technically, the team's games against Eastern Michigan and Gardner-Webb were a part of that event, but regardless of the results, Pitt was already headed to New York City to play along with SMU, Michigan, and Marquette.
SMU has faced the same two opponents Pitt has and had an easier time of things, beating both teams by nearly 30 points each. The Panthers were given fits by Eastern Michigan, who took Pitt to double overtime before eventually losing.
There are other players to watch for the Mustangs, but the key guy is forward Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye averages team-highs in points (22.0) and rebounds (11.0) per game.
One interesting thing is that fans have talked about the length Pitt has from its starting lineup but SMU boasts a similar strength. The Mustangs start taller guards and as Fran Fraschilla points out, both teams are pretty long.
Young is technically listed at 6'9", but you get the idea.
On paper, these look like two very even teams, so a blowout either way would be a bit of a surprise.
After games against the same opponents, they both produced similar shooting, rebounding, and assist numbers with SMU shooting a little better and Pitt having a slight edge in rebounding and assists. Both teams have turned the ball over exactly 16 times. Both teams have exactly four players averaging in double figures in scoring. Defensively, SMU has been better but as a whole, these teams look pretty even.
The big factor for me could be the bench play. Neither bench has lit the world on fire and that's somewhat ironic since it could be the one separating factor with both teams boasting solid starters. We'll see how much they figure in with the starters potentially playing a lot of minutes. But if either team gets a big game from a bench player, that could determine the winner.
After this one, the Panthers will face either Michigan or Marquette, depending upon the results of the games.
I don't know how Pitt will fare in this one but this is a clear benchmark game. These are the types of games that will help determine if the Panthers will safely get into the NCAAs or if it will be a challenge.