It's not a marquee matchup -- the Seminoles aren't in anybody's Top 25 -- but this will be the Panthers' only game in a hostile home arena before Big East play begins, and should provide valuable experience to Pitt's freshmen.
Coach: Jamie Dixon (6th year) 2007-08 record: 27-10 Big East record: 10-8 (7th) NCAA tournament: Second round
*Returning starter **High school stats
The Blair Weight Project has a Panthers big man slimmer and ready to run
Like a lot of players, Pitt's DeJuan Blair spent the off-season adding a newwrinkle to his game -- in his case, a little 10- to 12-foot jump shot to extend hisrange away from the basket. But the sophomore power forward also devotedconsiderable energy to subtracting something. This winter the 6' 7" Blair,whose ample frame has often been compared with that of Charles Barkley, and wholast March was described by one overwrought ESPN announcer as "bootylicious,"will be carrying slightly less junk in his trunk. After several months in theweight room (and away from the training table), he's down to 265 pounds,about 10 below his playing weight last season. "It's to help me run up and downthe court," he says. "I wanted to be a little more lean."
A streamlined model of the Blair who bashed his way through the Big Eastlast season should strike fear into the heart of even the sturdiest low-postplayer. A native of Pittsburgh's Hill District who grew up less than a half milefrom the Petersen Events Center, Blair's physical game and 7' 2" wingspanmade him a terror in the paint at both ends of the floor as the Pantherssurprised the league by winning the Big East tournament in March. He ledthe conference in offensive rebounds (3.9 per game) and frequently finishedwith a go-to move amusingly described by point guard Levance Fields as "bangin'and a jump hook."
Blair's powerful style is a perfect complement to the athleticism of hisfrontcourtmate, high-flying 6' 6" senior Sam Young. A dazzling dunker,Young is coming off a breakout year in which he set the school single-seasonrecord for points. Key to his development was the addition of a pull-up jumper,as well as improved accuracy from long range -- he shot a career-best 38.3% frombehind the three-point line.
Young's stroke will relieve pressure on a talented but shallow backcourt ofFields, a senior, and sophomore swingman Gilbert Brown. Joining them are a pairof promising freshmen, Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. Both will see plenty oftime early on as Fields recovers from a fractured fifth metatarsal in his leftfoot, which caused him to miss a third of last season before he returned lastFebruary.
The development of their young guards will be a big factor in how far thePanthers go in this year's postseason. Fortunately, they're not being asked tocarry the team. "Shooting threes is going to be tougher for everybody thisyear," says Dixon, noting the more distant three-point line. "At the end of theday, you've still got to be able to rebound and defend."
With Blair, Pitt has both areas well covered. -- Mark Beech
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