Pittsburgh (0-0) vs Gonzaga (0-0)
When: Friday, November 13th 2015
Where: Marine Corps Base Camp, Okinawa, Japan
Time: 7:00 ET | TV: ESPN
The Pittsburgh Panthers and Gonzaga Bulldogs will open their 2015-2016 season in the Armed Forces Classic in Okinawa, Japan. Gonzaga is coming off one of their best seasons ever finishing with 35 wins and Elite Eight appearance. The backcourt loses a lot in Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos, but its the frontcourt that will carry this team back to the tournament. All-American Kyle Witljer leads a frontcourt that is considered one of the best in all of College Basketball. Wiltjer averaged 16.8 points last season and had 11 outings of 20 or more points, topped by a 45-point effort against Pacific. He also made 68 3-pointers shooting 46% from long-range. Forward Domantas Sabonis averaged 9.7 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds last season, but may be unavailable tonight nursing an injured back. Przemek Karnowski also back and shot 62.2% from the field last year while averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds. Bulldogs sophomore PG Josh Perkins is back after missing most of last season with a broken jaw and is a great ball-handler.
The Panthers missed the NCAA tournament last season for just the second time in 14 seasons and hope to get things started on a high-note against a top-10 team. Despite a disappointing season in 2014-2015, there is optimism that junior forwards Jamel Artis (13.6 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Michael Young (13.4 points, 7.3 rebounds) and senior point guard James Robinson (8.9 points, 5.1 assists) can spark a revival. Junior swingman Chris Jones, who averaged 8.5 points and nailed 41 3-pointers, is also back and the Panthers hope to receive a boost from two graduate transfers in Rafael Maia (9.9 points, 8.7 rebounds at Brown) and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (185 career blocks at Richmond). Pittsburgh’s offense definitely needs to improve this year. They were ranked 9th in the ACC in scoring last year at 67.0 a game. They took a step back last year after posting an 11-7 ACC record in their first year in the conference to 8-10 last year. Things are pointing up, but don’t expect anymore than a one-and-done season.
Sabonis’ injury will hurt the Zags a little, but they still have plenty of depth and talent to overcome minor injuries. Pitt is still finding its identity, while Gonzaga knows who they are. I’ll take the Bulldogs to win convincingly tonight.
Pick: Gonzaga -4