Largely thanks to a huge rebounding edge, Pittsburgh didn’t have much trouble winning its first three games at home.
In its first trip away from the Petersen Events Center, it might get a little more competition on the glass.
Maryland’s Jordan Williams is among the nation’s leading rebounders thus far, something the fifth-ranked Panthers will need to account for Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Pitt (3-0) had the sixth-best rebounding differential in the nation over the past two seasons, grabbing an average of 7.2 more boards than its opponents while going 56-14.
The Panthers have had a far bigger rebounding edge on their first three foes. They’ve pulled down 21.4 more boards than the opposition while winning by an average of 32.4 points, including a massive 59-28 edge in a 95-49 rout of North Florida on Saturday.
“I think that it’s something that we’re continuing to build and grow on,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We have good size at every position and depth at this point. We’re always looking to be good at rebounding.”
Six Panthers are averaging at least 5.0 rebounds, but they’ll get a look at one of the nation’s best individual interior presences Thursday.
Williams was the third-leading rebounder in the ACC last season with 8.6 per game, but has crashed the boards at another level three games into his sophomore season. He’s averaging 13.7 per game to go along with 21.0 points after finishing with 20 points and 11 boards in Sunday’s 89-59 win over Maine.
Though Williams has a long way to go, the only ACC player to average 20 points and 10 boards in the past decade was North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in 2007-08, when he was named the National Player of the Year.
“I think he has more endurance this year,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said of his big man. “He doesn’t get as tired. He got tired quickly last year. He lost 10 to 12 pounds and has more muscle, so I think he has that ability to play longer and play harder for periods of time.”
Gary Williams, though, knows his star is in for a much stiffer challenge against Pitt.
“They’re a different level of player inside,” he said.
The Panthers figure to have a significant edge in the backcourt, where junior Ashton Gibbs and senior Brad Wanamaker are each averaging 19.3 points.
“They obviously had really good years last year and they’re better this year,” Dixon said. “I always felt Brad was overlooked and underrated. Now he’s scored a few points in some games on TV and people are talking about him. He does a lot of things for us.”
The Terrapins (3-0), meanwhile, lost all-around presence Greivis Vasquez and shooter Eric Hayes to graduation last spring. Senior Adrian Bowie (9.0 points per game) and junior Sean Mosley (8.0) are still finding their footing as Maryland’s new starting backcourt.
The team might have already discovered someone to mimic Vasquez’s tendency for clutch performances, however. Freshman Pe’Shon Howard had 14 points and hit a game-winning jumper in a 75-74 victory over Charleston on Nov. 10.
“I’m seeing some good things out of our young players,” Gary Williams said. “We need to get a rotation and a game like Pittsburgh gets you ready for the season.”
Maryland leads the series 5-1, though the teams haven’t met since 1998.
The winner faces either Illinois or Texas in Friday’s final, while the loser heads to the consolation game.