Staff picks: Pitt looking to make it six in a row
The Pitt Panthers are playing their best stretch of basketball in quite some time. Pitt has reeled off five straight wins, including an impressive 68-60 win over North Carolina State on the road last Friday. Jeff Capel's team now has a 6-3 record and will be looking to make it six straight wins tonight, though it will be another challenge.
Pitt will play on the road for the third straight game, and it will be against another power-five opponent. The Panthers are in Nashville tonight to take on Vanderbilt. This is the second game in a home-and-home series between the two programs, as Pitt will look for revenge after losing to the Commodores at home a season ago.
Vanderbilr is led fourth-year head coach and former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse. He led the Commordores to 19 wins and a NIT berth a season ago, but expectations are not high this season. Vanderbilt was picked to finish 12th in the SEC in the league's preseason poll.
Vanderbilt is coming off of a 65-62 win over Wofford and enters with a 4-4 record. The Commodores are a front court driven team with 6'7" Myles Stute leading the team with 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and 7-footer Liam Robbins posting 12.1 points per game.
In Pitt's last game, the Panthers were led by senior guard Jamarius Burton, who posted a career-high 24 points. He has been the catalyst for the team this year and will look to help keep his team's winning streak alive.
Can Pitt make it six in a row? The Panther-Lair.com staff gives their picks.
Stephen Gertz (6-3): I have seen enough. I am taking the Pittsburgh Panthers until they give me a reason not to, and I do not think that reason is going to come tonight. The Vanderbilt Commodores are not an overly impressive team in my opinion, but they do have size and experience. Pitt is going to have to contend with 7-footer Liam Robbins down low and a trio of upperclassmen guards that can put the ball in the basket. I think this is the game that John Hugley gets on track, despite having to go against Robbins. Even if he is not great, the Panthers have shown they can win road games on the back of Jamarius Burton, Blake Hinson, and Nike Sibande. Vanderbilt does defend the three-point line very well and does not usually allow opposing teams to crash the offensive glass. But that has been the profile of quite a few teams that Pitt has not had problems with and they seem to be content to shoot themselves into games, which has worked so far.
Prediction: Pitt 68, Vanderbilt 61
Houston Wilson (6-3): Pitt comes into this game against Vandy on a 5 game winning streak and has another good opportunity to pick up a power five road win tonight. Vandy has had an inconsistent start to the year as they are currently 4-4 and currently stand at 119 in the NET rankings while Pitt is at 78. If Pitt wants to keep on climbing, this is a game they can't lose. I think it very well could come down to the final possession but I like Pitt to squeak it out on the road.
Prediction: Pitt 71, Vanderbilt 68
Jim Hammett (6-3): It is hard not to be encouraged by the way this team is playing of late. The Panthers were very impressive last week in that they won two road games with two different styles. Pitt showed off its long-range shooting in a win over Northwestern and posted 89 points. In the win over NC State, the Panthers clamped down defensively and leaned on Jamarius Burton to get a rare win in Raleigh. I am not overly impressed by this Vanderbilt team. Myles Stute is certainly a problem, but otherwise I like this matchup for the Pitt guards. I'll take Pitt, but it should be a tough game.
Prediction: Pitt 72, Vanderbilt 68
Matt Steinbrink (5-4): This Vanderbilt team is solid but with limited ceiling. They have a few different scoring options but lack an explosive, take move the game type of player. The setting in Vanderbilt is an odd one and the benches behind the basket can present challenges for teams that have not been there before. However, this Pitt team is playing with a ton of confidence at the moment. It will likely be a close game that is lower scoring, and I see Pitt making enough shots in the end to pull it off.
Prediction: Pitt 69, Vanderbilt 65
Chris Peak (6-3): Everybody is buying in on Pitt, and I (mostly) am, too. There are two things that concern me about tonight's game: Myles Stute and Liam Robbins. Stute is a three-point shooting forward; he has made more three's than two's this season, and he is shooting 51% from beyond the arc. That's going to be a unique challenge for Blake Hinson and Jorge Diaz Graham. Meanwhile, Robbins is a seven-foot center and Vanderbilt's second-leading scorer; that's going to be a unique challenge for John Hugley and Federiko Federiko. Ultimately, though, Stute and Robbins are Vanderbilt's primary threats, and the Commodores don't really present many challenges beyond them. They're not a great offensive team, so while their defense will likely be more difficult to beat than most of Pitt's opponents in the current five-game winning streak - Northwestern aside - I think Pitt's offense will come through again.
Prediction: Pitt 71, Vanderbilt 61