Often lean in March, Pitt stocking up now

Weak nonconference slate sustaining Panthers again

Lewis, Clark going west?

Notebook

College Basketball

December 24, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

No conference has ever had three different members win the NCAA title in consecutive years. If that first were to occur this season, it would most likely mean a very happy ending for Pittsburgh.

Syracuse won it all in 2003 and Connecticut is the defending champion, but over the past three seasons the Panthers have been the most consistent team in the Big East Conference, winning 81.3 percent of their league games.

Duke, Kansas and Pittsburgh are the only teams in the nation to finish in the Top 10 the past three years, but the Panthers still have some work to do to shed the tag of January's team. In each of those seasons, Pittsburgh has bowed out in the Sweet 16, falling, in order, to Kent State, Marquette and Oklahoma State.

Other than that hollow feeling in March, the Panthers' cupboard is pretty full.

Two years ago, Maryland and Pittsburgh moved into glittering on-campus arenas, and in some respects, the Petersen Events Center has the Comcast Center beat. When Ben Howland went to UCLA last year, Jamie Dixon moved up from an assistant's post and the Panthers didn't drop off.

Making like the Steelers, Pittsburgh can physically brutalize most of the teams on its schedule. Few have an inside-out combination to compare to sophomore Chris Taft, who's capable of playing bigger than his listed 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, and Carl Krauser, a 6-2 junior guard. They are New Yorkers - Krauser is from the Bronx, and Taft came out of Brooklyn - who aren't afraid of the bright lights.

Senior forward Chevon Troutman is a rugged defender whose career field-goal percentage is better than 65 percent. Dixon goes with a lot of three-guard sets, and sophomore Antonio Graves gives them a much-needed outside presence.

No team in America has had a better winning percentage over the past three seasons than Pittsburgh, but nonconference scheduling has much to do with that. The 10th-ranked Panthers have taken on only two teams who had top-40 RPIs last season, routing reeling Memphis earlier this month and beating Richmond last night.

Ten of Pittsburgh's first 12 games are at the Petersen Events Center, and the Panthers have played once on the opponents' floor. Before the Richmond game, one replica of the RPI computed Pittsburgh's nonconference schedule as the 279th-strongest in the land. That cupcake diet and all its muscle could have the Panthers at 15-0 when they go to Connecticut Jan. 22.

Soft for St. Louis

Krauser wears No. 11 because Isiah Thomas did. He has a sizable collection of throwback jerseys, reveres previous generations and has no idea how his travel goals for this season mimic those of a guy who went really strong to his left two centuries ago.

Stick with me. It's a slow week, and this is actually going somewhere.

In the summer of 1803, Meriwether Lewis began an adventure that changed America when he pushed off from a dock in Pittsburgh and headed down the Ohio River. Along the way, he picked up William Clark, and they wintered near St. Louis. In 1804, they began in earnest to explore the Louisiana Purchase - Big 12, Mountain West and Pacific-10 country - and two years later they returned to St. Louis as heroes.

In the midst of celebrating the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, that city will serve as the site of the 2005 Final Four.

Might any namesakes get there?

Keydren Clark is averaging 26.9 points in his bid to lead the nation in scoring for a second straight year, but he plays for St. Peter's, which hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1995. No. 25 Virginia is getting solid numbers from senior forward Jason Clark. The Cavaliers have lost only once, at Iowa State, where the rotation includes talented freshman Rahshon Clark.

The prospects are slimmer on the Lewis front, where the most significant production has come from Wyoming's Kevin Lewis, a junior-college transfer.

Duke's depth

Depth has been a problem for Duke in recent seasons, and now the Blue Devils face the early portion of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule without Shavlik Randolph.

An assortment of physical ailments kept Randolph from fulfilling the promise that got him to Durham in the first place. He was averaging 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds until he went out with mononucleosis this week.

Don't look now, but Mike Krzyzewski has the only unbeaten in the ACC. J.J. Redick leads the conference in scoring with a 21.3 average, and Daniel Ewing stands sixth at 17.8. Shelden Williams is the ACC's top rebounder, with 11.6 per game. That's the good news. The bad news is that all three are playing more than 30 minutes a game, and Redick's 34.6 make him the busiest player in the conference.

The Blue Devils are in the midst of a 15-day break, and they need the rest.

Tip-ins

In its final season in the Big East before joining the ACC, Boston College is off to a 9-0 start for coach Al Skinner. Its best win was over UCLA, in the Wooden Classic. ... The most bogus unbeaten record in the land belongs to Texas A&M, which won't venture off campus until Jan. 2, when it goes to Penn State. The Aggies have feasted on the likes of Alabama A&M, Prairie View and Texas-Permian Basin. ... Football bowl games have control of the tube, but it will be worth watching ESPN2 on Tuesday (9:30 p.m.), when Gonzaga goes to Oklahoma State.

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