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Cincinnati vs. Pitt: Panthers open Big East portion of conference with tough challenge

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt begins the Big East portion of their schedule on New Year's Eve against Cincinnati. For the Panthers, it will be a stiff challenge.

Cincinnati enters the game with an identical 12-1 record as Pitt, but the Bearcats have faced better competition in their non-conference schedule. While Pitt has played only one quality opponent in Michigan to date, Cincinnati has faced (and defeated) Xavier, Oregon, Alabama, and Iowa State. The Bearcats' lone loss was a slim one-point defeat last week to 13-1 New Mexico.

Pitt still should have a good chance to win the game, though. In addition to playing the game at The Pete, the Panthers showed plenty of potential in their five-point loss to No. 2 ranked Michigan earlier this year. Cincinnati also has had trouble shooting well this season and if the Panthers' defense can force them into bad shots, the team's already low 43% field goal percentage could be even worse.

To win, the Panthers will need strong rebounding from their frontcourt. Starters Steven Adams, Talib Zanna, and Lamar Patterson will have their work cut out for them trying to keep Cincinnati off the glass. The Bearcats rank second in the nation in rebounding, pulling in nearly 46 boards per game. The rebounding work of backup center Dante Taylor will also be key once he enters the game. He's battled a heel injury recently, and Pitt really needs him close to 100% for this one.

It will also be interesting to see what kind of crowd turns out at the Pete. Not only is the game being played on a workday afternoon, students are also still just getting back on campus after the holidays. A good crowd can go a long way to helping Pitt to a win.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.