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Penn State vs Pittsburgh Preview: 2017 Progressive Legends Classic Semi-Finals

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The in-state foes meet on a neutral court, each with something to prove.

NCAA Basketball: Never Forget Tribute Classic-Pittsburgh vs Penn State Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, these two teams met on a neutral court in Newark, NJ. A slow start by Penn State saw them fall behind by 20 at the end of the first half, a deficit they were unable to overcome against an experienced Pittsburgh team. This year the roles, and hopefully the outcome, will be reversed. In a down year for their program, the Pitt Panthers will be looking to upset a more experienced Penn State team. With the health of Tony Carr and Josh Reaves in question, and playing on a neutral court, the possibility of a Pittsburgh win can't be ruled out.

Scouting the Opposition

Pittsburgh Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Pittsburgh Panthers Monday, November 20, 9:30 PM EST Barclays Center ESPN3 142 1-2, 0-0 ACC PSU -10

Pitt came into this year having lost their top 6 scorers from last year. Three games into the season and they've looked like a team that lost their top 6 scorers from last year. Losses to Navy and Montana were followed by an important win for morale against UCSB. One of the youngest teams in the country, this is a rebuilding season for Pittsburgh. So what do they have to rebuild with?

The Panthers return three players from last year's team—yes, three players. Senior forward Ryan Luther and senior guard Jonathan Milligan were role players throughout their careers, and while Luther has been productive thus far, Pitt has been forced to rely on a cadre of newcomers for key minutes this year. Zach Smith, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last year is also back, but he has been used sparingly.

Of the new faces on the Panthers roster, freshman guard Marcus Carr holds the most promise. He and wing Shamiel Stevenson have taken on major rolls immediately since stepping on campus (similar to our own Carr and Stevens). With a starting front court of Ryan Luther (6’9”) and Shamiel Stevenson (6’6”), without much depth behind them, Penn State should be able to exert their will and dominate the paint.

With a young and undersized roster the outlook is grim for Pitt this season. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they hang around for a bit because, well, Penn State hasn't proven they can come out on fire and keep it up for 40 minutes even against lesser opponents. But by the final buzzer the Nittany Lions' talent and experience should prevail giving them their fifth straight win by double-digits to start the season.

What to Watch For

Battle on the boards: Pitt has been out-performed on the boards in each of their games this season, including their win against UCSB. This should be an area of the game where Penn State dominates.

Feed Mr. Watkins: We saw a glimpse of what happens when Mike Watkins is a focal point of the offense in the second half of Penn State's win over Columbia. This is another favorable matchup for Watkins with Pitt's lack of size. If the team takes advantage of it they should put the Panthers hopes of a victory robbed in the first half.

Status of Carr and Reaves: As of publishing, it sounds probable that the two key contributors will be back on the court for this game after missing the win over Columbia. Their performance shouldn't be critical to come away with the W, but a full-strength roster will be necessary to come away with a win on Tuesday.

Prediction

I’m hopeful that the display Mike Watkins put on in the second-half against Columbia carries over into this game. If it does, I see this mirroring last year’s match-up between the two teams with Penn State building an insurmountable first half lead, only to loosen their grips slightly in the second half. If Watkins is quiet or gets into foul trouble it might take a little longer for the Nittany Lions to pull away. Either way, in the end Chambers and Co. are looking at a comfortable win. Penn State 81, Pitt 68