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Ryan Schaitkin

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Pitt vs. Saint Francis (PA) - November 25, 2020 - 7pm - Live Game Thread


Pitt vs. St. Francis (PA) - November 25, 2020 - 7pm - Live Game Thread

Game Preview
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Hello Pitt fans, and welcome to the DreamBackfield.com forums for our first live game thread of the early season, as Pitt (0-0, 0-0) squares off with Saint Francis (PA) (0-0, 0-0) at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Wednesday night, in Pitt's 2020-21 season opener.

It's great to have Pitt hoops back on Thanksgiving-eve, and to do our first live game thread since the ACC tournament this past spring. This is sure to be a weird basketball season, and with the unpredictability of COVID, we likely won't know who is available (or unavailable) for Pitt (or their opponent) with much advance notice. I expect that some games will be cancelled throughout the year, and maybe several games; I also expect that Pitt will play some games with notable absences. We'll have to take that day-by-day.

With that being said, it's great to be back talking Pitt hoops, and without further ado, here's your game preview for the season opener. Tonight's game will be broadcast at 7pm EST on AT&T SportsNet.

Fast Facts
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*Pitt is 29-0 all-time against the Red Flash, having won each contest dating back to 1972-73. Their most recent matchup came in 2011-12 when no. 15 Pitt beat Saint Francis (PA) by a score of 71-47.
*Out of the 29 games that the teams have played against one another, only five have been decided by fewer than 10 points. The most recent of these games occurred in 1990, when no. 13 Pitt beat Saint Francis (PA) 91-85. The Panthers have won every game since by 14 or more points.
*One name that Pitt fans might recognize: Luke McConnell, Director of Basketball Operations for the Red Flash, is the cousin of Pittsburgh native, Duquesne basketball alum, and current Philadelphia 76er T.J. McConnell.

Saint Francis (PA) Background:
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The Red Flash have had several nice years in a row under ninth-year head coach Rob Krimmel. Krimmel inherited a Saint Francis team which had won just six games in 2011-12, and by the 2016-17 season, he had built a formidable and competitive squad in the Northeast Conference. Saint Francis won 22 games last year, has had a better-than-.500 conference record in each of the past four years, and has won 75 games dating back to 2016-17.

However, despite the fact that this program is headed in the right direction, the 2020-21 team could experience some growing pains, as they enter the season having graduated their top two scorers from a year ago--Isaiah Blackmon (18.8 ppg, 41.2% from three) and Keith Braxton (17.6 points per game).

The losses of Blackmon and Braxton are huge for the Red Flash, as those two players averaged 36.4 points, 27.2 field goal attempts (10.3 from three-point range), 9.2 free throw attempts, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. They shot a very respectable 45.7% combined, including 37.7% from three, and 83.2% from the free throw line.

In comparison, Saint Francis returns four players who averaged greater than 10 minutes per game last season. They return just one who averaged 20+ minutes per game--junior forward Myles Thompson, who averaged 25.6 minutes per game and started 31 of the team's 32 games. Those four returning contributors last season averaged 31.1 points, 23.8 field goal attempts (4.4 from three-point range), 7.9 free throw attempts, 15.2 rebounds, and 4.2 points per game. Those players shot 47.0% combined, including 31.7% from three, and 67.2% from the free throw line.

It goes without saying that they have to find a player (or two, or three) to replace a massive amount of scoring and production from those two seniors, and I expect that it will take some time for those players to emerge. As a result, I do expect that Pitt's defense will stifle Saint Francis as the Red Flash try to find their floor general.

Players to watch:
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Saint Francis (PA) - Myles Thompson
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As mentioned above, Thompson is Saint Francis' only returning player who averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season. He's also their only returning player who averaged 10 points per game last year, and he was their highest volume shooter from inside and outside the arc (behind Blackmon and Braxton).

Thompson showed a lot of skill from different spots last year, shooting 51.2% from two-point range, and 33.8% from beyond the arc. Those are solid numbers, especially for a sophomore who was in his first full season as a starter, playing significantly more minutes than he did in 2018-19.

This year, Thompson will need to fill an even greater role for the Red Flash, and given that he's the only returning starter, it is likely that he'll be expected to do the heavy lifting for this team early on as it grows into its new offensive identity.

Thompson will surely be one of the Red Flash's top scoring options, but as a player who has averaged just 0.6 assists per game throughout his career thus far, it will be interesting to see whether he continues to play primarily as an off-ball scoring threat, or whether he'll work more as a facilitator without Blackmon and Braxton around.

Whatever happens tonight, you can be sure that the Panthers enter knowing that Thompson will be a major threat offensively. I would expect Au'Diese Toney and Justin Champagnie to each take a stab at guarding the sharp-shooting forward.
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Pitt - Xavier Johnson
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There are a ton of interesting player storylines tonight for Pitt. What will Gerald Drumgoole's role be after a disappointing and injury-riddled freshman campaign? What impact with sharp-shooting transfer guard Ithiel Horton have? Will Terrell Brown's minutes take a hit with the addition of two freshman bigs in John Hugley and Max Amadasun? Which of the freshmen--Hugley, Amadasun, Femi Odukale, William Jeffress, and Noah Collier--will make the biggest impact?

But really, could Pitt's player to watch be anyone other than Johnson? Pitt's electric junior guard exploded onto the scene in 2018-19, alongside Trey McGowens, putting up 15.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game to gain some national attention as a true freshman point guard for a rebuilding Pitt program.

Last year, he and McGowens both took a step back--or at least didn't improve as much from their freshman to sophomore years--and despite Pitt improving to the middle of the pack in the ACC, their two stars very notably regressed in some key statistical areas.

After the season, McGowens transferred to Nebraska, and Johnson decided to return for his junior year, where he'll hope to build on a breadth of experience (he's started 65 of 66 games since joining Pitt's team) and captain an offense that features six players who have never played a minute of basketball in the ACC.

Last year, the emergence of Champagnie and Toney took some of the burden off of Johnson to be the predominant offensive force for this offense, and those players, combined with Horton, the freshmen, and Brown, will be important to this team's success. Nevertheless, until Johnson graduates or leaves for the NBA, he will be Pitt's most explosive, most dynamic playmaker, and the offense will run through him for 35 minutes per game.

Watch for Johnson to take the reins tonight and lead Pitt in their season opener.

The Odds
According to ESPN, Pitt has a 91.8 percent chance of winning tonight's game. In KenPom's college basketball rankings, Pitt starts the year ranked no. 84 in the country, while Saint Francis (PA) starts off at no. 237. The game tips off at 7p.m. EST and will be broadcast on the AT&T SportsNet.

What do you think will happen today? Sound off in our live game thread! We'll be discussing Pitt hoops throughout the game.

Posted: 11/25/2020 at 3:42PM



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Current Thread:
  Start of the second half, Pitt trailing 46-33 -- Ryan Schaitkin 11/25/2020 8:08PM
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