Pitt hoops ready to roll with Davidson at Madison Square Garden


Jamie Dixon’s Pitt Panthers will head into New York and put their 8-1 record on the line against Davidson in the Gotham Classic.

Pitt is looking to improve their nonconference resume with a win over competitive defending Atlantic 10 Conference champion Davidson.  Besides Gonzaga and Purdue, the Wildcats are the next best opponent for Pitt in the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Davidson comes into the contest with a 7-1 record, defeating Central Florida, Mercer, and Charlotte among others.  Their lone loss has come on the road to No. 9 North Carolina 98-65.  Their matchup against Pitt is the highlight game of the fourth annual Gotham Classic, which also included Eastern Washington, Western Carolina, and Morehead State.  The Wildcats return four starters, while Pitt has much experience and three returning starters from last year.

Thus far, Pitt and Davidson have both faced Eastern Washington.  Pitt blew them out 84-51, while Davidson defeated them 96-86.  If numbers did not lie, we would expect Pitt to blow away Davidson.

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But that is not how it works.

Pitt’s best win for now is likely Duquesne, so a victory against Davidson could prove important come NCAA Tournament time.  Pitt was beating Gonzaga at halftime in the season opener, but a slippery court ruined Pitt’s chance of securing an early big-time nonconference win.

Known for Golden State Warrior’s NBA MVP Stephen Curry, Davidson boasts junior guard Jack Gibbs who is averaging 25.3 points per game.  Gibbs dropped 41 against Charlotte, 37 against Eastern Washington, and 35 against Central Florida.  Pitt will have to carefully guard him Sunday afternoon.

Gibbs is not the only scorer for the Wildcats.  Senior guard Brian Sullivan averages 17.6 ppg, sophomore forward Peyton Aldridge averages 14.6 ppg, and senior guard Jordan Barham is scoring 13.5 ppg.

Pitt’s lone loss was to No. 11 Purdue who remains undefeated.  The leading scorer for Pitt is junior forward Michael Young at 17.4 ppg and 8 rebounds per game.  Junior forward Jamel Artis is averaging 15.1 ppg, while senior point guard James Robinson has looked comfortable shooting from outside, chipping in 10.1 ppg and 4.9 assists per game.

Dec 6, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Michael Young (2) handles the ball as Central Arkansas Bears forward

Justin Foreman

(5) defends during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt and Davidson had played five times in the past, with the last meeting resulting in a 90-63 victory for Pitt on January 9, 1974.  That was the year that Pitt made the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

I expect Davidson to have matchup problems with Young and Artis, but Pitt could be in trouble if Gibbs starts to light it up. Ultimately, Pitt should have the advantage in the rebounding category, and incoming graduate transfers Rafael Maia, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, and Sterling Smith should make an impact.

Smith has been very solid thus far, and he provides a dangerous three-point shooting threat, which the Panthers lacked last season.  Maia and Ododa also provide an inside presence, which Pitt lacked last year.  Guards should not be able to easily drive to the basket like last season.

I’ll predict that the X-factor for Pitt will be junior forward Sheldon Jeter, who is arguably the most athletic player on the court.  Pitt should rack up their biggest win of the season to date.  Pitt 81, Davidson 74.

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The Pitt vs. Davidson Gotham Classic battle can be watched on ESPNU at noon EST on Sunday.