November 12, 4:00 PM PST - Fresno State (1-0) vs. Pittsburgh (1-0)
Radio: Fresno fans can catch the Bulldogs broadcast on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM.
Fresh off a wild overtime victory against UC Irvine, the Fresno State Bulldogs head east to visit the Pittsburgh Panthers and finish their season-opening road trip. I reached out to Anson Whaley, who runs Cardiac Hill here at SB Nation, to help preview the matchup.
1. What is your overall sense of where the Panthers program stands as the team enters its first season as a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference?
Overall, Pitt should be fine. The program hasn't been to a Sweet 16 in a few years but after missing the tournament for the first time under Jamie Dixon two years ago, the team rebounded nicely for a 24-win year last season when they again made the NCAAs. Pitt has a very young team and the loss of one-and-done center Steven Adams will hurt going forward, but I expect in a couple of years, they'll be able to compete for an ACC title.
There will certainly be bumps in the road this season as the team is relying quite a bit on three true freshman to play significant minutes. But there is some talent on this year's roster and while going deep into the NCAAs might not be in their future, a trip to the tournament and a win or two isn't out of the question.
2. It appears that both Fresno State and Pitt will be affected by the lack of impact big men in 2013-14, Robert Upshaw and Steven Adams. How will the Panthers compensate for the lack of height against the Bulldogs and beyond?
Jamie Dixon still has some size on the team, but you're certainly right in assuming that Adams' loss makes the team weaker up front. Because of it, Pitt has been forced to move last year's starter at power forward, Talib Zanna, to center. In addition, they also brought in a couple of big men in JUCO transfer Joseph Uchebo and Rutgers transfer, Derrick Randall. With the lack of experience up front, I expect Pitt will look for a bit more scoring from their guards. Point guard James Robinson will take on a bigger role offensively and Pitt will rely on more offense from the combo of Cam Wright and Durand Johnson at shooting guard. There's also freshman Josh Newkirk who the team will be expecting some offensive production from.
3. Which of Pitt's freshmen are you most excited about, and why?
I'd probably say Mike Young since his stock seemed to improve last year before he came to Pitt and pretty big things are expected of him. Starting at power forward this year, there will be nights when he's outmatched against more experienced players. But getting this much playing time this soon will only help him in a year or two when he's asked to take on a bigger role. Young is athletic and really the prototypical pitt player. He rebounds and plays defense, but he'll also add some scoring. He's a long way off from it, but he's the type of player you could see leading the team in a couple of years.
Also have to mention guard Detrick Mostella who the Panthers hope to have for the second half of the season. He committed to Pitt but the rumors are that he didn't qualify for the fall. He was a top 50 recruit that initially committed to Oklahoma State before deciding to join the Panthers. If he gets here, he could wind up being an exciting player.
4. Rutgers transfer Derrick Randall had a solid debut against Savannah State. What strengths does he bring to Pitt?
He provided a nice presence in that game, but it's hard to tell just yet. He rebounded well with a team-high 12 boards, but he also won't see as much time as he did in that game. Randall started in place for Zanna, who was suspended for a game for a violation of team rules.
That said, even though he won't start, Pitt is fortunate to have him. He'll provide good depth there and with Uchebo still not ready for action after knee surgery, the Panthers would really be handcuffed a bit without him. He's not likely to score a lot, but if he provides some rebounding and plays good defense, he'll have done his part.
5. It seems as though James Robinson will have to take a bigger role in 2013-14, but Fresno's backcourt looks like it will be the team's strength. How well does he match up with Cezar Guerrero?
Robinson should match up fairly well against Guerrero. He has a bit of size on him and is a solid defender. Guerrero has a bit more offense than Robinson, but playing against him, I'm not sure he'll go off quite like he did in Fresno State's opener. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Guerrero outscores him, but as long as Robinson runs Pitt's offense and keeps Guerrero somewhat in check, it will be hard to be upset about that.
6. Fresno was 14-of-30 on three-point shots in its opener against UC Irvine, but how much concern is there about Pitt's ability to defend against perimeter shots?
For me, that's a big concern. Fresno isn't expected to win but that's the one thing that can make any game close. And when you compound that with the fact that Pitt just doesn't always play great perimeter defense, it's something Dixon should (and I'm sure, will) make a focal point.
7. Pitt was 16-3 at home last season, so dealing with the Oakland Zoo won't come easy for any team. What is your prediction for this game?
The home court advantage hasn't been quite what it was the past couple of seasons but it's still been a very difficult place to play. And in non-conference games, the crowds often aren't at full speed. There should be some level of concern for Pitt fans here with the three-point shooting of Fresno and the 16 turnovers they had against Savannah State. Fresno State also nearly won at Texas last season, and playing road games against UCLA and New Mexico, they've had some experience in some pretty hostile environments. For that reason, I don't see them being intimidated by the atmosphere on Tuesday.
That said, the Bulldogs won that game against UCI but it went to overtime and they gave up a lot of points in the process - so I'm not sure they have the defense to contain Pitt. I also think the Panthers will enjoy a nice advantage on the boards and that's really one of the staples of their wins. I can see Fresno keeping it close and a single-digit win wouldn't surprise me too much. But I expect the Panthers to come out on top on Tuesday.