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Pitt's lofty status not norm for league

Thursday, January 30, 2003

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Should Pitt dare to dream about a No. 1 ranking? A Final Four? A national championship?

Why not? It's all within reach.

Those lofty heights haven't been scaled often by members of the Big East Conference, but Pitt (15-1) is No. 2 in The Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls and has a chance to become the first team from the Big East to reach No. 1 since Feb. 1, 1999, when Connecticut was on its way to a national championship.

This is the highest a Pitt team has been ranked this late in the season. The Panthers, led by Charles Smith and Jerome Lane, were No. 2 Jan. 4, 1988.

Only four Big East teams have been No. 1 during a season -- Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's and Syracuse. Notre Dame, Seton Hall and West Virginia were top-ranked before they joined the league.

The Big East has had a team in the Final Four 10 times in the 24-year history of the league -- Connecticut (1999), Syracuse ('96), Seton Hall ('89), Providence and Syracuse ('87), St. John's and Villanova ('85) and Georgetown ('82, '84 and '85).

The league has produced three national champions -- Connecticut ('99), Villanova ('85) and Georgetown ('82).

Pitt's page

Julius Page's team-high 12.8 scoring average would make him the lowest high scorer for a Pitt team since Mike Caldwell's 11.6 average in 1968-69. ... Pitt hasn't had a 20-point scorer for a season since Brian Shorter's 20.6 in 1990. Don Hennon's 26-point average in 1957-58 is the highest for a Pitt player since World War II. ... Pitt doesn't have a scorer among the top 20 in the Big East and its top rebounder, Ontario Lett (6 per game), is 18th. The last player to lead Pitt in rebounding for a season with an average lower than 6 per game was Mike Patcher's 5.6 in 1967-68. ... Chevon Troutman (77-102, .775) and Lett (64-101, .634) both would surpass the school record for field-goal percentage in a season, but they don't qualify for Big East statistical leaders because they haven't made the minimum of 5.0 field goals per game. Boston College's Craig Smith leads the league at .627.

East Division

Villanova's Gary Buchanan holds the school record with 303 3-pointers. ... Villanova is No. 2 in the league in rebound margin at plus-9.3, behind Pitt's plus-10.8. ... Connecticut, which plays at home Saturday against Boston College, has won 26 of the past 27 meetings. ... St. John's senior guard Marcus Hatten is averaging 23.2 points in 22 career league games. The league record is 22.6 by Georgetown's Allen Iverson in 1994-96. ... Virginia Tech forward Bryant Matthews is the first player in Ricky Stokes' four years as coach to score 20 or more points in three consecutive games.

West Division

The top five defensive teams in the league are from the West -- Pitt (57.5), Georgetown (64.6), Notre Dame (66.0), Syracuse (66.5) and Seton Hall (66.6). ... Pitt has won 13 consecutive league games. ...After averging 9.7 ppg. as a freshman, Drew Schifino (Penn Hills) leads West Virginia in scoring with a 20.6 average and has led the team in scoring in each of the past 10 games. ... Pitt and Rutgers are the only teams in the league that don't start a freshman. West Virginia starts three. ... Georgetown's Mike Sweetney has 28 career double-doubles (points and rebounds), the most of any active Big East player.

Classy freshmen

The league boasts one of its most impressive rookie crops, led by Syracuse's 6-7 Carmelo Anthony, who averages 21.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The league scoring record for a freshman is 20.4 ppg in 1994-95. ... Other candidates for the league's top rookie are Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara (14.9 ppg, 2.5 steals, 5.1 assists, .918 free-throw percentage), Boston College forward Craig Smith (21.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, .627 field-goal percentage) and West Virginia forward Kevin Pittsnogle (12.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 24 blocks, .544 3-point percentage).

This 'n' that

The league attendance average per game is 8,553, led by Syracuse's 18,086. Miami is low at 3,483. ... Pitt (11-0), Syracuse (11-0), Notre Dame (10-0) and Connecticut (11-0) are undefeated at home. ... Miami junior forward Darius Rice is player of the week and Pittsnogle is rookie of the week.

Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.

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