- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2008

There’s so much chatter pouring out of Pittsburgh that it seems like Pennsylvania is gearing up for the next primary.

Rallying around the sports world’s impossibly cliched xenophobic banner, No. 20 Pittsburgh (14-2, 2-1 Big East) has been waiting months for tonight’s shot at respect, revenge and No. 7 Georgetown (13-1, 3-0).

Minutes after dispatching Seton Hall on Saturday, the Panthers began caterwauling about the Hoyas. Senior shooting guard Ronald Ramon brought up “a ring that was taken away from us.” D.C. area product Sam Young (Clinton) spoke of “revenge.” And freshman pivot DeJuan Blair explained that Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert would not be having his way in the paint at Petersen Events Center because Blair was “still underrated.”

The Panthers don’t just have a chip on their shoulders when it comes to the Hoyas. They have a casino’s worth.

“When I go home, [people say] Georgetown is a better team than us,” Young told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I don’t have that in my mind. I just feel like we are better until they prove otherwise.”

Just a quick review here on recent events in the series: The Hoyas have won four of the last five games between the teams, including a 65-42 demolition of the Panthers in last season’s Big East tournament final.

Last season Georgetown swept the Big East regular-season and tournament titles en route to the Final Four. Pitt made it to the Sweet 16.

In 2005-2006, the Hoyas beat the Panthers in their only meeting and finished in the Sweet 16. Pitt was eliminated in the second round. In four outings against the Hoyas, Young has averaged 6.0 points.

It’s possible a jury would place the burden of proof in this instance on Young and the blue and gold. But if Young and Co. want to cover the Georgetown bulletin board with lunacy, so be it. Nothing could amp up the drama for tonight’s first Big Monday matchup of the season like a serious dollop of animosity.

“Honestly, it’s just another game to us,” Hibbert said Saturday after stunning Connecticut with a game-closing 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Perhaps the most quizzical part of Pitt’s pregame lip is that so few active players on its roster had anything to do with the recent series against Georgetown.

While Georgetown opens tonight’s game with four starters from last season’s Big East title game, Pitt will counter with not one who suffered through that humbling experience at Madison Square Garden.

Three of Pitt’s starters from last season graduated (Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Antonio Graves). Two others were lost to injury in back-to-back December games against Duke and Dayton (Mike Cook injured a knee, and Levance Fields suffered a broken foot). Fields might be back for the postseason.

Perhaps accentuating the us-against-them mentality has been Pitt’s way of responding to the losses of Cook and Fields, respectively the team’s versatile glue-guy wing man and point guard soul.

Without that upper-class tandem, the team has leaned almost exclusively on the frontcourt pairing of 6-foot-6 slasher Young (18.4 points, 7.0 rebounds) and 6-7, 265-pound punisher Blair (12.2 points, 9.9 rebounds). Young, who averaged just 7.2 points last season as a sophomore, has become the Big East’s fourth-leading scorer.

Blair, on the other hand, is a relentless Charles Barkley-type (Auburn, not Houston/Phoenix) who entered the league with a can’t-miss tag and already has a Big East freshmen-best seven double-doubles.

Despite Blair’s delusions, nobody has missed his torrid start or undervalued his instant place as one of the league’s top big men. That said, Blair was dominated by the only true center he has faced this season. Though Pitt survived South Florida with a 13-point victory, 6-9, 270-pound Kentrell Gransberry torched Blair and Co. for 26 points and 11 rebounds.

That’s not the best news for Pitt with Hibbert coming to town. After a slow start, the 7-2 senior has averaged 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in Georgetown’s last two games, both over more impressive teams (DePaul and Connecticut) than any the Panthers have beaten since Cook and Fields went down.

“I thought he was aggressive. He was assertive,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of Hibbert’s performance against Connecticut. “I don’t know if it was the most complete or the best he’s played. I know it’s not the best he’s going to play. But I said this yesterday: League play is here, and we all have to play a little better, and he knows what time of year it is.”

Today’s game

NO. 7 GEORGETOWN (13-1, 3-0) AT NO. 20 PITTSBURGH (14-2, 2-1)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh

TV/radio: ESPN, AM-570

Outlook: The Panthers are tough to figure. Pittsburgh was considered Big East fodder after key backcourt veterans Levance Fields (broken foot) and Mike Cook (torn ACL) were lost for the regular season. But local product Sam Young is experiencing a shooting renaissance, and freshman forward DeJuan Blair is a blossoming star. On the negative side, Pitt has a one-man bench, no true point guard and Young is a turnover machine. On the positive side, the Panthers are 90-8 at Petersen. On paper, the Panthers don’t present nearly as many problems for the Hoyas as Connecticut, which is the toughest matchup in the Big East for Georgetown.

Barker Davis

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