Posted: 6:28 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, 2013
By Anson Whaley
And just like that, today got a bit more interesting.
Okay, so Pitt will be playing Penn State in the B1G-ACC (or Big Ten-ACC ... just go with it) Challenge this year. It's not quite the matchup most were hoping for. Face it - it'd be a lot more fun to watch Pitt try to match up against teams like Michigan, Michigan State, or Indiana, but hey, whatever works. Beats being left out of the thing entirely.
There will be a lot of negative talk about playing Penn State in basketball. And judging by all of the Penn State talk from their fans that I've seen today, you'd think the Nittany Lions have actually had a solid basketball program that has been competitive against the Panthers the last time the two teams met instead of this happening. Or this. Or, ugh, this.
But, it's all good - troll so hard.
Look, Penn State hasn't been very good in recent memory. And when your coach leaves to take a job at Navy (seriously - dude bolted to the freaking Naval Academy), disgruntled about trying to instill a basketball 'culture' as he put it, that speaks volumes about the program. The Nittany Lions have had one NCAA Tournament appearance in the past decade...and even that was as a thoroughly unimpressive 19-15 team.
That said, it's still nice to play an in-state rival and I'd prefer that all day long over a mid-card team like Purdue or something. The primary rivalry is, of course, from football, but basketball will work fine, too.* If you're a Pitt fan, you shouldn't be upset at this matchup. If anything, hopefully it will spur on an annual series - something I've pushed for in all sports since the beginning of time.
One thing that could help that cause? If the game is a close one.
Don't laugh. Look, I fully expect Pitt to take care of business and win this game. But just as Pitt will get up for playing Penn State in football in a few years, I've got to believe that the Nittany Lions' hoopers will look at this as a chance to shock some people. This will be a big game for them and with a pretty good backcourt, the game could be closer than you think.
But even with the mess that could be Pitt basketball next season, I still expect the Panthers to win this one. Pitt is no longer invincible at the Pete, but 180-22 is pretty impressive. And despite the personnel losses, Pitt still has some solid pieces to go along with incoming recruit, Mike Young, and now, transfer DeAndre Kane. And despite the Nittany Lions' strength in their guards, they were still one of the lowest scoring (298th) and weakest shooting (326th) teams in the nation. They surely should be better returning so many key players, but I'm not convinced they'll be a good team just yet.
I don't expect a blowout, but a competitive game is quite possible. Early line? Somewhere around -8 Pitt. When it comes down to a one-game scenario, anything can happen.
Make no mistake, this isn't a dream matchup. But it's still an intriguing one.
* (Disclaimer: Don't ever try to argue that Pitt-Penn State is actually a rivalry in football unless you want to be shouted down mercilessly. Despite the convenient fact of 12-0 or that Pitt lost the previous two matchups by a combined ten points with awful teams, Penn State football is still the best ever).