Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Pittsburgh Panthers (12-2 SU, 5-5-1 ATS) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3 SU, 4-5 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Monday, January 4, 2009, Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Pittsburgh +4.5/Cincinnati -4.5
Over/Under: 126

The Pittsburgh Panthers and Cincinnati Bearcats both got off to great starts in Big East play last week. Cincinnati defeated Connecticut, a team that was ranked in the top 10, and Pittsburgh got a huge road win at Syracuse, a team that was undefeated and ranked in the top five.

With both teams sitting at 2-0 in conference play, one of these two teams will be very happy after a win on Monday night gets them to 3-0 in the Big East.

After a couple impressive wins in Maui early in the season over Vanderbilt and Maryland, Cincinnati lost in overtime to Gonzaga in the championship of the Maui Invitational. The Bearcats lost their first two true road games of the season at Xavier and UAB. But their season is now back in the right direction after getting wins over UConn and Rutgers. Both of those wins were tight the whole way through and they had to pull them out down the stretch.

In the 71-69 win over UConn, the Bearcats had a 69-66 lead when Kemba Walker hit a game-tying 3-pointer for the Huskies. In the final seconds, Lance Stephenson drove to the basket and got bailed out with a foul call. He made both free throws to get the victory. Stephenson had a team-high 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting and a 7-for-7 mark from the free throw line and he had only one turnover. Deonta Vaughn, who has not been scoring the ball this season like he had been the past couple years, finally came alive in the UConn game with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range.

In the 65-58 win at Rutgers, the Bearcats trailed by five at the half but grinded it out for a close victory. Vaughn had 17 points for the second game in a row, shooting 5-for-9 from the field and 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. Stephenson chipped in with 10 points.

After a 65-52 home win over DePaul, the Panthers shocked many with an 82-72 win at Syracuse. Ashton Gibbs was on fire with 24 points on 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point territory and he even added eight rebounds. Jermaine Dixon showed that he’s finally back to full strength after sitting out the first eight games of the season with an injury. He had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists. The Panthers, who have no legitimate big men and instead rely on guards, out-rebounded the Orange, one of the biggest teams in college basketball, 38-35. The Panthers are rebounding as a team – Dante Taylor and Gibbs each had eight boards, Nasir Robinson had seven, and Dixon and Brad Wanamaker each had five. They got the job done with Gary McGhee grabbing zero rebounds in 15 minutes of action.

The Panthers have a ton of terrific guards and wings. They almost have too many for head coach Jamie Dixon to shuffle in and out of the lineup. Gibbs (17.4 ppg), Wanamker (12.8 ppg), Jermaine Dixon (9.3 ppg), Gilbert Brown (7.7 ppg) and Travon Woodall (6.7 ppg) are all capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night.

The Bearcats are a tough, physical team. Stephenson and Vaughn are terrific at driving to the basket and finishing strong. Yancy Gates anchors the inside game for the Bearcats, averaging 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He is a load down low, but if the Panthers were able to stop Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson of Syracuse they should be able to contain Gates.

Pitt is 3-0-1 ATS in its last four games with a push against DePaul. The Panthers haven’t failed to cover since a December 8 loss to Indiana. Cincinnati is 1-5 ATS in its last six games. Eight of the last 10 Cincy games have gone under. The Bearcats are 7-0 at home this season, while Pitt is 2-0 on the road. Pitt is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games as an underdog and the same record as a road underdog. Cincinnati is 1-4 ATS in its last five games as a favorite and as a home favorite. The over is 4-0 in Pitt’s last four games a road underdog.

Ryno’s Pick: This is going to be a tough, scrappy Big East game, much like most Cincinnati games have been this season. The Bearcats have the size advantage down low but Gates and the other big men haven’t really been producing much lately, plus Pitt had no problem against Syracuse’s big frontline. The key for Pitt is to stop Vaughn and Stephenson from penetrating and force the Bearcats into shooting a lot of 3-pointers, where they shoot just 28.4 percent. Either way, it should be another close game that comes down to the final couple minutes. Neither team will blow the other out, so instead take the under of 126.