Featuring an up-tempo offense, Pittsburgh is off to a strong start. Meanwhile, upsetting the 22nd-ranked Panthers could help restore Saint Louis to national college basketball prominence.
The Panthers play their third game in as many days when they host Rick Majerus and Saint Louis on Sunday as part of the Hispanic College Fund Challenge.
Pittsburgh (2-0) has easily won its first two games in the event, beating Houston Baptist 103-62 on Friday and North Carolina A&T 88-61 on Saturday. Sam Young, who averaged 7.2 points last season, scored a career-high 22 in the opener, then bettered that mark with 24 on Saturday.
He made four 3-pointers against North Carolina A&T - nine fewer than his total of 13 from all of last season.
“I didn’t expect to shoot that many 3s, but they were leaving me open and those opportunities presented themselves,” Young said. “But I do have high expectations for myself.”
Young has looked more comfortable in Pittsburgh’s new up-tempo offense. The Panthers are running the ball more than they did in the last two seasons, when the offense ran through 7-foot center Aaron Gray - now in the NBA.
“The players like it and the coaches like it, too,” point guard Levance Fields said. “I think we need to be more patient on some shots. But I think we’re mostly going to show the up and down stuff.”
Pittsburgh uses a similar system to the motion offense employed by Majerus, who is in his first season as coach of the Billikens (2-0). Majerus went 422-147 in 20 seasons at Marquette, Ball State and Utah - giving him the seventh-best record among active coaches - but hadn’t been on the sideline since health problems forced him to quit after the Utes started 15-5 in 2003-04.
“I never think about that stuff. I never give contemplative thoughts about any of that, I always think of the here and now,” Majerus said on Friday when asked about his coaching resume. “I think, ‘OK, today I’m in Pittsburgh and I’m coaching.’”
He seems to be coaching well at his new school. The Billikens have won each of their first two games by double digits under Majerus, beating North Carolina A&T 54-43 on Friday and Houston Baptist 91-56 on Saturday.
Junior guard Kevin Lisch had 24 points on Friday and chipped in 14 against Houston Baptist. In Saturday’s victory, Saint Louis placed six players in double figures for the first time since Nov. 27, 1998.
Tommie Liddell, another junior guard who led the team with 15.4 points per game last season, scored 15 on Saturday after a 10-point effort in Friday’s opener.
Remaining undefeated against Pittsburgh won’t be easy, as the Panthers are 49-1 at the Petersen Events Center against non-Big East schools.
Saint Louis has won each of the three previous meetings between the teams, but they haven’t faced each other since the 1958-59 season.