December 15, 2007

Steal City?

The last time Oklahoma State played in the Steel City, they lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers, 93-75.

But, on a positive note, that game was 19 years ago. And the Cowboys have won three of the last times they've faced off. The biggest of those wins being during the 2004 Final Four run, though that two-overtime thriller in Oklahoma City last season was a dandy as well.

But this isn't 2004 and this Pitt team is better. Ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll, the Panthers are 9-0 on the young season and have looked pretty solid so far. That's in stark contrast to the down-and-up Cowboys, who ride into the confluence with a 5-3 mark. And while the Panthers are a 14-point favorite in this game, if OSU can figure out how to play solidly on the road, it could get interesting. The game is set for an 11 a.m. tip-off at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

The biggest thing that jumps out about the Panthers is their scoring ability. They start four players who average points in double-figures. Junior forward Sam Young leads them with 18.1 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. The other three are DeJuan Blair (10.9 ppg, 9 rpg), Mike Cook (10.8 ppg, 3.1 assists per game) and Lavance Fields (10.2 ppg, 9.0 apg).

While Pitt has gone unbeaten so far this season, they've had a couple of close calls. On Dec. 5, the Panthers outlasted Duquesne 73-68. Three days after that, they just barely got by common opponent Washington, 75-74. That last sentence would seemingly bode well for OSU, until you add in the fact that the UW game (as well as the DU game) was on the road. OSU's 96-71 win over the Huskies was in Stillwater, so you can likely toss the Washington factor out since OSU was at home and Pitt was on the road. In Pitt's seven home wins, the Panthers' closest margin was an 11-point win over St. Louis on Nov. 11.

That's not a stat you want to hear when the Cowboys have a 13-game losing streak in true road games. This is a team that hasn't shown the ability to play consistently on the road at all in recent months and it's hard to expect the Pokes to be able to suddenly find that missing ingredient to do well away from Orange Country today. OSU seems to be a bit manic, in that the Pokes can hang with anyone if they're shooting well, but look horrible if they're not sinking shots - kind of like some of those Quin Snyder Missouri teams.

That said, the Cowboys' main goal should be to limit mistakes, try to hang close and make a move late if they can. The biggest thing they need to fight against is getting knocked out of the game in the first five or six minutes. If they can avoid that and not let the Panthers maul them, they could make things interesting. But if you're an OSU fan, you need to watch today's game with a dose of realism, because it might be hard to take if not. Pitt is a very good team and OSU is young and unstable. The Cowboys have some nice talent, but it's unrealistic to expect a victory against this Panther team on the road. But if they did win, what a notch for the NCAA Tournament resume.

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