Pitt men’s basketball hits the hardwood at historic Madison Square Garden Saturday facing St. John’s.
The Panthers have dropped five of their last six games to Vanderbilt, UMBC, Minnesota, Virginia and Monmouth, only defeating Colgate on Dec. 9. Many of those games have been decided in the final possession.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (3-7) matchup at MSG against the St. John’s Red Storm (8-2).
To the Last Whistle
To call the Panthers’ 2021-22 season a struggle would be a mild understatement, failing to live up to the limited expectations placed on a program experiencing change and development of new and younger players. One positive has been the fight to the very end.
Pitt’s last four games have been decided by four points or fewer, dropping three of those four. Fans are continuing to be heavily frustrated with the lack of pure talent and scoring ability. The Panthers are 5-1 in the Gotham Classic and will need to bring back their old Big East magic in the Garden to keep up with St. John’s.
St. John’s is heavily favored and having a fantastic season to date, forcing Pitt to play a near perfect game to hand the Red Storm their third loss. Pitt needs a collective effort and career performances from a few players to have a shot at taking down St. John’s.
All in the Family
Julian Champagnie is the most dynamic and explosive member of the Red Flash on both ends of the floor. The twin brother of former Pitt forward Justin Champagnie, Julian leads the team in points (20.3), rebounds (6.7), and three-point percentage (43%).
The junior forward was named first-team Big East last year and the co-winner of the Big East Most Improved Player Award. While Justin is currently looking to make an impact on the Toronto Raptors after finding success in the NBA G League, Julian looks to capitalize against his brother’s old program and also stride for an NBA future.
Champagnie is the most impactful player with a 26.7% usage rate and makes an immediate impact each time he hits the floor. It will be hard to stop Champagnie from finding the basket, but limiting his performance would go a long way in Pitt’s efforts.
Preaching St. John’s
The Red Flash are riding a four-game winning streak including defeats of Monmouth (88-83) and Colgate (82-64), two teams the Panthers also matched up against but could only muster a win against the Raiders. St. John’s lost by 20 points earlier this year to Kansas, but by all indications are back in the fold to compete throughout the Big East and nationally.
St. John’s runs a fast-pace offense putting up top-10 scoring numbers, averaging over 75-points-per-game and tied for eighth in the country. The Red Storm also shoot a tad under 50%, also top 15 in college basketball, due in large part to great passing and ball movement.
Third overall with 20 assists-per-matchup, the team plays solid fundamental basketball but does turn it over more than 14 times. Pitt will face numerous challenges, but stopping St. John’s from finding consistency in its offense will be the most challenging one.
Posh Alexander (16.4) and Montez Mathis (10.7) are other impactful players to keep an eye on averaging double figures and both the next closest trailing Champagnie in usage percentage.
St. John’s is favored by 14 points in Saturday morning’s latest odds.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread. The Panthers are 5-5 against the spread this season.
The over/under for the Panthers’ second-straight home game is set at 140.5 points.
Despite being 9-2, the Red Storm are 4-6 against the spread this season.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The St. John’s and Pitt matchup will air on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) Saturday beginning at noon. John Fanta and Tarik Turner have the call.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt is back at the Petersen Events Center Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. against Jacksonville.