Pitt Hoops Has High Expectations, Tough Opener Vs. Rhode Island

John Nestor – AHN Sports Correspondent

Pittsburgh, PA, United States (AHN) – Pittsburgh faces a long road if it wants to make an overdue return to the Final Four and the Panthers are not looking to take any shortcuts.

Ranked fourth in the country heading into the 2010-11 men’s basketball season, The Panthers start their journey Monday when they host Rhode Island in a 2K Sports Classic matchup at the Petersen Events Center.

Pitt has become one of the more successful programs in the country under coach Jamie Dixon, but is still in search of its first Final Four since 1941.

Not much was expected of Pittsburgh a year ago but the Panthers went 25-9 and tied for second in the Big East. The Panthers return four starters and seven of their top eight scorers from a year ago.

In the last five years, only Duke, Memphis, Kansas and North Carolina have won more games than the Panthers, but all of those teams have been to a Final Four in that span and all advanced to the title game.

Pittsburgh’s only Final Four trip came 70 years ago when the field was just eight teams.

Ashton Gibbs leads the returners and averaged 15.7 points per game a year ago. Brad Wanamaker (12.3) will team up with Gibbs in the backcourt.

Gilbert Brown and 6-foot-10 Gary McGhee will be key players in the post for Pitt.

The Panthers have won 13 straight season openers, but No. 14 won’t come easy.

The Rams return three starters from last season’s 26-10 team that advanced to the semifinals of the NIT. Senior forward Delroy James is the top returning scorer (13.2) and rebounder (5.3).

Pitt is 132-11 at the Petersen Events Center, incuding a 75-1 record against non-conference opponents.

Rhode Island has lost 22 straight to ranked opponents and has dropped five straight to Pitt.

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