A pair of undefeated teams square off in New York's famed Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, as the Pittsburgh Panthers do battle with the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.
The winner will move on to face either Kansas State or Delaware in Friday's title tilt, while the losers of each will square off in the consolation game.
Pittsburgh is 4-0, having posted double-digit wins in each contest. Following these next two games in the Big Apple, the Panthers won't likely face another significant challenge until kicking off Big East Conference play at home against Cincinnati on New Year's Eve. Pitt has enjoyed a ton of success over the years at MSG, going 28-14 and winning a pair of Big East Tournament titles.
Michigan too has shot out of the gates this season, winning each of its first three games in blowout fashion. While the level of competition ramps up considerably with this contest as well as on Friday, the Wolverines still have tough bouts against NC State and Arkansas on the docket before the start of Big Ten Conference play, which gets underway on Jan. 3, 2013 at Northwestern.
Michigan owns an 11-6 advantage in the all-time series with Pittsburgh, but the teams haven't met since 1996 -- an 85-76 Panthers win. Pitt has won 10 of its last 13 encounters with a Big Ten foe.
Pittsburgh is getting it done at both ends of the floor here in the early part of the 2012-13 campaign, averaging 79.0 ppg while allowing only 53.5 ppg. The Panthers are shooting 52.6 percent from the floor overall, but they have struggled from long range, hitting a mere 30.2 percent of their three-point tries. The defensive effort yields an average shooting percentage of .398, and Pitt owns considerable margins in both rebounding (+12.8) and turnovers (+8.0). Talib Zanna (14.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) heads a list of three double-digit scorers, as both Tray Woodall (13.8 ppg, 7.3 apg) and J.J. Moore (13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) have proven their worth as well. Moore came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points in Pittsburgh's 72-62 win over Oakland last time out, and he was joined in double figures by James Robinson who tallied 14 points, and Dante Taylor who chipped in with a dozen. The team as a whole never really got into an offensive rhythm thought, hitting just 41.7 percent of its total shots, which included a 7-of-24 effort from beyond the arc (.292).
As well as Pittsburgh has played, Michigan has been even better in netting a gaudy 89.3 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .561 overall and .531 from three-point range. The Wolverines have dominated the boards (+15.7 rebounding margin), albeit against clearly inferior opposition. Those foes are shooting only 34.2 percent from the field, which includes a low 29.4 percent from downtown, and as a result average just 54.3 ppg. Trey Burke is averaging 18.3 points and 8.0 assists per game to lead the team in both categories, while Tim Hardaway, Jr. adds 17.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest. Glenn Robinson III nets 13.3 ppg while grabbing 7.0 caroms per contest, and Nik Stauskas rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers with 11.0 ppg. Cleveland State was UM's latest victim, as the Wolverines shot 51 percent from the field compared to 30 percent for the Vikings in what turned out to be a 77-47 triumph in Ann Arbor a week ago Tuesday. Hardaway, Jr. led all scorers with 17 points, while Stauskas tallied 15 and Burke pitched in with 12 points and seven assists. CSU managed just 14 points in the first half, and shot a mere 30.4 percent from the floor for the game. The Wolverines owned a 45-28 edge on the glass.