Big East Conference action kicks into high gear on Monday, as the Cincinnati Bearcats and Pittsburgh Panthers close out the 2012 calendar year against one another at the Petersen Events Center.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats won their first 12 games to open the 2012-13 season, but the win streak came to an end last week, with a 55-54 loss at home to New Mexico. This is Cincinnati's eighth season in the Big East. Last season, the Bearcats tied for fourth in the conference with a 12-6 mark, the team's best mark ever in Big East play.
Jamie Dixon's Panthers are sporting an identical 12-1 record and enter this contest with a eight-game win streak since the only blemish on Pitt's record, a 67-62 setback to Michigan on Nov. 21. Most recently, the Panthers moved to 10-0 at home with a 59-43 victory over Kennesaw State, Dixon's 250th victory.
This marks the 17th all-time meeting between these two teams. The series is tied up at eight wins for each team, as Pittsburgh has claimed victory in five of the last six meetings.
Cincinnati has exhibited strength at both ends of the floor this season, but despite a solid defensive performance against New Mexico, the offensive effort was lacking in the one-point loss. Although Cincinnati knocked down 11 3- pointers, the team shot a mere .313 from the floor overall. Sean Kilpatrick was a meager 5-of-22 from the floor, but still led the team with 15 points. JaQuon Parker added 14 points, while Cashmere Wright chipped in 12.
Normally, the Bearcats are much more productive at the offensive end, coming into Big East action averaging a healthy 77.8 ppg. The defense has been a constant though and as a result, Cincinnati ranks among the nation's best in scoring margin at +20.4. The team's three-guard set has been deadly, led by Kilpatrick, who is averaging a hefty 18.8 ppg. Wright is second on the team at 14.0 ppg, and leads the team in assists (3.5 apg) and steals (28). Parker round out the team's double-digit threats at 11.8 ppg.
Pittsburgh knows a thing or two about balance as well and currently ranks second in the nation in scoring margin (+24.3) and fourth in field-goal percentage (.518). The Panthers are averaging 75.5 ppg this season, while holding foes to a meager 51.2 (second nationally). Talib Zanna is a big reason for the success, as the junior forward is converting 62.4 percent of his shots and leading the team in both scoring (13.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg). Senior guard Tray Woodall adds perimeter support, hitting over 40 percent from behind the arc and putting up 11.7 ppg. Junior forward J.J. Moore has been a catalyst off the bench (10.3 ppg).
The Panthers went on a nice run towards the end of the first half and took a 30-16 lead into the break against Kennesaw State and played stingy defense throughout to earn the win. Pittsburgh did struggle a bit offensively, shooting .423 from the floor overall, including a meager 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Zanna led the way again for Pitt, just missing a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. Pittsburgh was able to force 18 turnovers in the game and outrebound Kennesaw State, 38-21.