Despite not playing in eight days, Pittsburgh has had a historic week.
Taking the court as the nation’s top-ranked team for the first time in school history, the Panthers try to carry some of the excitement from this past week into their Big East home opener Sunday against St. John’s, which upset a top 10 team its last time out.
Pittsburgh (14-0, 2-0), third in last week’s poll, moved to No. 1 two days after last Saturday’s 70-54 win over No. 9 Georgetown, which had beaten then-No. 2 UConn earlier in the week. North Carolina dropped from the top spot by losing to Boston College 85-78 last Sunday.
The Panthers had reached second in the poll nine times, but never No. 1.
“When people consider you to be the No. 1 team, you have to come to play every day, because everybody’s trying to bring you down,” said Sam Young, who is averaging a team-high 19.5 points.
The 6-foot-6 Young and the 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair, who averages 14.2 points and 12.5 rebounds, have led Pitt with their strong play in the paint.
Young had 14 points and eight rebounds in the victory over Georgetown, while Blair finished with 20 points and 17 boards. The Panthers outrebounded the Hoyas 48-23, outscored them 48-22 in the paint and limited Georgetown to 35.3 percent shooting.
Pittsburgh’s stingy defense is a big reason it’s ranked atop the AP poll. The Panthers are allowing an average of 57.9 points and hold opponents to 36.5 percent shooting. Only four opponents have shot better than 40.0 percent all season.
“We’re not going to change any of our approaches to anything,” Young said of the No. 1 ranking. “We’ve done a great job thus far of maintaining our chemistry and our motivation and our preparation for games. Just maintaining our humbleness is the most important thing, and I think we’ll be great.”
Pitt is off to its best start since opening 15-0 in 2005-06. The Panthers’ first loss that season was a 55-50 defeat to St. John’s (10-4, 1-1).
Since that loss, Pitt has won the last two meetings with the Red Storm, including last season’s 81-57 victory behind 26 points from Young.
Pitt, which is 105-10 at the Petersen Events Center since it opened in 2002, has won four straight home games over the Red Storm since an 88-60 loss to then-No. 9 St. John’s on Feb. 6, 1999.
The Red Storm are coming off an upset victory, though, as they beat then-No. 7 Notre Dame 71-65 at Madison Square Garden last Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak.
D.J. Kennedy led St. John’s with 20 points, including four free throws in the final 15 seconds, and had 10 rebounds. Kennedy, who is averaging a team-high 13.0 points, had just nine points on 3-for-15 shooting in his previous two games combined.
The win over the Fighting Irish snapped a 10-game losing streak against Top 25 teams, but the Red Storm have still lost 22 straight road games against ranked opponents since a 64-57 win over then-No. 22 Boston College on Jan. 17, 2002.
St. John’s has not defeated a top-ranked team since it was ranked No. 2 and defeated No. 1 Georgetown 66-65 on Jan. 26, 1985.
“In this league you’ve got to be ready to play No. 2, No. 3, No. 16. There are so many good teams,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “We want our guys to stay focused and not give up. You can’t put your head down. You have to fight through adversity.”