On paper, a game between Big East powerhouse Pittsburgh and Buffalo - a little-known program from the Mid-American Conference - would appear to be a mismatch. Coach Jamie Dixon’s Panthers, though, know all too well the dangers of underestimating the Bulls.
Pittsburgh looks to avoid an upset and improve to 5-0 for the eighth consecutive season Friday night when it hosts Buffalo.
The 17th-ranked Panthers hold a 7-1 edge in the all-time series between these schools, but nearly suffered a shocking loss to the Bulls on the road last Dec. 9. Then-No. 2 and 9-0 Pitt trailed by seven points at the half before rallying for a 70-67 victory.
This year’s Panthers (4-0) have yet to be seriously tested, winning all four of their games by 11 points or more and by an average margin of 28 points. All four victories were part of the Hispanic College Fund Challenge, which Pitt wrapped up with a 78-45 home rout of Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 15.
Junior forward Sam Young earned tournament MVP honors after averaging 18.8 points, totaling 39 rebounds and shooting 65.2 percent (30-for-46) from the field over the four games. Against the Delta Devils, he had 17 points and a season-high 12 boards and also started a number of fast breaks.
Perhaps most impressively, the Panthers limited Mississippi Valley State to 26.3 percent field-goal shooting. They have held all four of their opponents to 62 points or less, and have yielded fewer points with each passing game.
“The goal was to be a better team after four games and I think we have improved tremendously, especially on the defensive end,” said Dixon, whose team outrebounded the Delta Devils 50-30. “We defended well and we rebounded well.”
Pittsburgh’s bench combined for 45 points, including a career-high 12 from Gilbert Brown and 10 from Tyrell Biggs. Brown, a 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman, went 4-for-4 from the floor - including two 3-pointers - and also made the first two free-throw attempts of his college career.
“I think I can help offensively and defensively with my height and ability,” said Brown, who has recorded a steal in all four games this season.
The Panthers will be the third Big East opponent for Buffalo (2-2) in the season’s first five games. The Bulls lost 82-57 at Connecticut on Nov. 8, but bounced back to beat South Florida 76-69 at home in their next contest on Nov. 13.
The win improved them to 14-52 all-time against schools from the Big East.
Buffalo lost on Tuesday, though, committing 26 turnovers in an 80-63 defeat at Niagara. Junior guard Andy Robinson scored 16 points, but was the only Bulls player in double figures.
Robinson had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists in last year’s loss to the Panthers. He is averaging 8.5 points per game this season. Junior swingman Greg Gamble (12.0) is the only Bulls player averaging 10 or more.
Buffalo’s only win against Pittsburgh came in the first meeting between the schools, a 34-29 home victory during the 1916-17 season.