South Carolina a tougher test for Pitt
Pitt has its share of soft spots when it comes to the makeup of its non-conference basketball schedule.
The Panthers' opponent tonight, however, doesn't resemble a cupcake or a creampuff.
South Carolina should not be confused with the likes of Howard, Loyola, St. Francis, Coppin State, Bucknell and Robert Morris.
Although unranked, the Gamecocks are a worthy adversary for the tenth-ranked Panthers. Fresh off an NCAA Tournament appearance last March, the Gamecocks are 7-2, with their only losses coming in nip-and-tuck affairs at No. 2 Kansas (by four points) and at home against Clemson (by one point, in overtime).
"They are probably the most experienced team we'll face so far," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Tuesday. "They obviously are a very good team. They do a good job of changing defenses and they have a lot of guys back from a successful team (last year)."
South Carolina will be a measuring stick for the Panthers, who have crafted a 9-0 record largely by beating up on inferior competition. Pitt has won its nine games by an average of 23.6 points. That represents the third-best scoring margin in the country.
Pitt's unblemished record and lofty ranking aren't the only things at stake. So is the school's impressive non-conference track record. Pitt has won 24 consecutive regular season games against non-conference teams and 47 in a row at home against non-conference opposition.
South Carolina coach Dave Odom is aware the Panthers have never lost a non-conference game in the three-year history of Petersen Events Center and just once overall at their home facility.
"The only way you could not be aware of it is to not watch television and not read Pitt's media guide or the daily notes or not to talk to anybody like you guys," Odom said during a conference call with reporters.
Odom laughed, then noted how South Carolina just lost its first non-conference home game at the three-year-old Colonial Center earlier this month. That was the one-point overtime setback to Clemson.
"Pitt is going to lose to somebody sometime," Odom said. "I'm not going to say it's going to be to South Carolina, but I'm hoping it is."
South Carolina returns three of its top five scorers from last year's 23-11 team, including forward Carlos Powell, who tops the Gamecocks in scoring, rebounding and has recorded three double-doubles this year. Guard Tre' Kelley and forward Tarence Kinsey also are averaging double figures in scoring.
With so much talent returning, Odom decided to beef up his non-conference schedule. He added home-and-away series with Kansas and Pitt, opting to play road games this season in exchange for home dates in 2005. He also scheduled Temple and Clemson at Colonial Center.
"I thought this year's team required a different challenge," Odom said.
The result has been a series of close calls for the Gamecocks. South Carolina's last five games have been decided by four points or less, including an overtime victory last Wednesday against South Carolina State. Wins against South Florida and East Carolina also occurred in that stretch.
Odom expects Pitt's inside tandem of Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman to present problems for the Gamecocks, and he said guard Carl Krauser needs to be monitored.
"We don't match up very well against them," Odom said, referring to Troutman and Taft. "There aren't many teams in the country that do."
|Pitt (9-0) vs. South Carolina (7-2)|
Time, Place: 7 p.m., Petersen Events Center
TV: Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh
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