No. 22 Pitt opens Big East slate at Notre Dame

The Big East Conference slate begins tonight ranked Pittsburgh Panthers and the hometown Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as the rivals square off at the Joyce Center.

Pitt has won each of its last three Big East openers and carries an impressive 11-2 record into this affair. Unfortunately, the team is coming off a truly embarrassing and disappointing defeat, as it fell at home to Wagner on Friday by a 59-54 final to halt a nine-game winning streak.

As for Notre Dame, it is a rather mediocre 8-5 overall this season, but all eight home games have resulted in victory. The team has been idle since December 19 when it crushed Sacred Heart in a 106-65 final, the third win in the last four outings for the squad.

Notre Dame owns a narrow 29-27 edge in the all-time series between these rivals thanks to three straight wins over the Panthers.

The top offensive performer for Pittsburgh is Ashton Gibbs, as he is netting 17.2 ppg despite his disappointing 37.7 percent shooting from the field. Gibbs gets a significant amount of help from fellow guard Tray Woodall, who checks in with 14.1 ppg and over eight assists per contest. Woodall however, is sidelined indefinitely due to injury. Rounding out a trio of double-digit scorers is Nasir Robinson with 12.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg, and he is shooting a blistering 68.3 percent from the field. The Panthers are shooting 49.3 percent as a team while scoring 76.1 ppg, and they are limiting opponents to 64.8 ppg. Unfortunately, Pitt fell 17 points shy of its current average in the loss to Wagner, as game in which the club shot a dismal 39.6 percent overall and 2- of-15 from three-point range. The Panthers finished with only 10 assists against 18 turnovers and even struggled from the foul line.

Notre Dame lost its best players, Tim Abromaitis, at the very beginning of the season, and several players have been asked to step up in his absence. Eric Atkins has emerged as the leading active scorer for the club with his 13.9 ppg, and he is second with 44 assists. Jerian Grant, who is tops with 57 assists, ranks second in scoring with 12.7 ppg. The Fighting Irish are generating 72.7 ppg while limiting opponents to 65.2 ppg on 41.5 percent field goal efficiency. In the 41-point romp over Sacred Heart last time out, five UND players reached double figures in scoring, and Jack Cooley led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds. Grant tallied 15 points and seven assists, while Atkins netted 13 points. The Irish shot 61.4 percent from the field and finished with 25 assists against only four turnovers in what was a tremendous offensive performance.