Pitt senior PG Levance Fields
Cincinnati is among the hottest Big East teams right now, but the Pitt men's basketball team has won four of the past five games between the two and are a prohibitive favorite in the 13th meeting in the series.
No. 4 Pittsburgh (22-2, 9-2) plays its second consecutive Big East home game when it plays host to Cincinnati (17-8, 7-5) today at 4 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center. The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN with Sean McDonough and Bob Wenzel handling the announcing duties.
"They're an NCAA-Tournament team, and there's a lot of (those teams) in our conference,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "So, I probably say that a lot. But they're playing very well right now, so we're looking forward to the matchup. I was surprised by their losses early, but I don't consider them a surprise.
"They had their point guard out a while, so they had to make some adjustments. They have depth and experience, especially on the perimeter. It's the third year for Williams. Vaughn has been around. Some junior-college kids have been around, so they have some experience and have played well.''
Cincinnati is on a three-game winning streak after beating Notre Dame, Georgetown in overtime and St. John's. Junior point guard Deonta Vaughn (16 points per game), senior forward Mike Williams (9.7) and freshman forward Yancy Gates (10.7) lead the Bearcats offensive attack.
Vaughn also takes twice as many shots as his teammates, so it would appear that if the Panthers can contain him they should be successful.
"It's always team defense for us, and one of our strengths is that we can put a couple guys on (Vaughn),'' Coach Dixon said. "So, Jermaine will be guarding him and Bradley Wanamaker will be guarding him. But Vaughn's in there for 40 minutes, so he'll have different guys on him.
"Levance Fields will guard him as well, and so will Ashton Gibbs. And then there will be switch situations, so it all comes down to team defense. (But) he's playing more on the ball this year, on the point, but he has the ball in his hands a lot and gets a lot of shots.''
Junior guard Jermaine Dixon will start out guarding Vaughn, and he'll be the primary defender. But that doesn't bother him at all.
"I like going against the tougher guys on our opponents like Vaughn, and I'll probably start out on him,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "But we haven't (discussed) that yet. When I saw Cincinnati play Florida State out in Las Vegas, Vaughn had a big game, so I know what he can do.
"And they have some good guards, but he takes a lot of their shots. (And) we'd never look past a team like Cincinnati, because they're pretty hot right now. So, we definitely won't overlook them, just because we have (No. 1) Connecticut coming up on Monday. But we didn't overlook DePaul, either.''
And Pitt has been extremely successful with that outlook. Following a loss at No. 21 Villanova Jan. 28, the Panthers have bounced back with wins against Notre Dame, Robert Morris, DePaul and West Virginia. Pitt goes for its fifth straight victory against the Bearcats.
"They're a good team,'' Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. "Cincinnati, they fought their way into the NCAA Tournament last year. And they're playing good right now, so we just have to keep our composure and play our game. They started a little sluggish, but they're picking it up right now.
"So, they should give us a good game. Their big guy's pretty good, but they have an excellent player in Vaughn. He just shoots 'til he drops, so if we can lock him up we should be all right. But they have a lot of good role players, too, so we can't let them beat us.
"But if we stop Vaughn, it'll be tough for them to get their offense going,'' Blair added. "The best way for us to stop him is to not let him get the ball. He had three big games against us last year, so we have to do a good job against him. And that means Jermaine's going to have to step up in this one for sure.''
Pitt split its home-and-away regular-season series with Cincinnati last season, but the Panthers won the first-round matchup in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.