Containing Colorado big man Scott will be key to Panthers' success

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 10:50 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Entering his first season in the ACC, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon remembers going through rosters and being surprised by the lack of physical, inside presences like his team faces Thursday against Colorado's Josh Scott.

“We didn't face a lot of big-body guys in our conference, as much as I would have thought,” Dixon said Wednesday, preparing for his eighth-seeded team's NCAA opener against ninth-seeded Buffaloes.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Scott leads Colorado at 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds, providing a major challenge for Panthers forward Talib Zanna, a 6-9, 230-pound senior who was slowed by flu symptoms Wednesday but is expected to play against the Buffaloes.

Asked for the closest match to Scott that Pitt has faced this season, Dixon pointed to North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo, who was a big part of the two games split with the Tar Heels this season.

In the first meeting, a 75-71 UNC win, McAdoo had 24 points and 12 rebounds; in the second, an 80-75 Pitt win Friday in the ACC Tournament, he was held to 15 points and seven boards, while Zanna went off for 19 points and a career-best 21 rebounds.

Both teams made the tournament despite losing key players midway through the season. Colorado lost wing Spencer Dinwiddie, its leading scorer and still a potential first-round draft pick, and Pitt lost promising sophomore Durand Johnson.

It's helpful, then, that Scott and Zanna can step outside the paint and show some range. Scott called Zanna “an energetic, athletic, hard-nosed big man,” comparing him to Arizona's talented freshman Aaron Gordon, who helped the Wildcats to three wins against Colorado.

Both teams got lost nationally in the second tier of deep conferences — Pitt (25-9) took fifth in the ACC, its only win against a ranked team coming against UNC last week, while Colorado (23-11) was stuck in a five-way tie for third in the Pac-12, with solid wins against two top-10 opponents in Kansas and Oregon. Thursday's opener — leading to a showdown Saturday likely with top-seeded Florida — is a chance to provide one of the opening weekend's biggest upsets.

While the point guard matchup of Colorado's Askia Booker and Pitt's James Robinson can't be overlooked, Dixon spoke highly of Scott. Dixon said his biggest threat is as a rebounder, especially on the offense end — McAdoo had seven offensive boards when UNC beat the Panthers — and said containing him there will be the biggest test.

“They'll both put it down on the floor. They're both big bodies,” Dixon said. “Their offensive rebounds are our biggest concern. ... Scott, obviously the leading scorer, a big that plays inside-out, that's a big concern.”

Greg Auman is a freelance writer.

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