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November 27, 2011

Game Day: RMU at Pitt

Is this the year that Robert Morris finally beats Pitt?

For the last few years, that's been a common question. As Robert Morris has improved the program to become a regular 20-game winner and postseason contender, fans have clamored for a marquee win over their city "rivals".

But as Robert Morris has taken a few steps forward, so have the Panthers the past few years. Though Pitt fans remain disappointed that the school hasn't made a Final Four appearance, the team has enjoyed unprecedented success under Jamie Dixon.

The rare Pitt loss at home to Long Beach State has offered hope this year, though, to Robert Morris fans hoping for an upset.

Game 6: Pittsburgh Panthers (Big East)
WHEN: Nov. 27, 5:00 p.m.
WHERE: The Peterson Events Center, Pittsburgh
TV/RADIO: WPIT-AM 730 (RMU Radio), KDKA-FM 93.7 (Pitt Radio)
HISTORY AGAINST PITT: Panthers lead 29-0, Pitt won 74-53 last time (11/23/10)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Pitt 85, Robert Morris 108
KENPOM RANKINGS: Pittsburgh 20, Robert Morris 79
PITT COACHING STAFF: Head coach - Jamie Dixon (9th year). Assistants - Pat Sandle, Brandin Knight, Bill Barton
PITT PROJECTED STARTERS: F Khem Birch (6'9, 220, Fr.) 4.6 ppg/4.4 rpg, F Nasir Robinson (6'5, 225, Sr.) 16 ppg/4.8 rpg, F J.J. Moore (6'6, 205, So.) 6 ppg/3.8 rpg, G Ashton Gibbs (6'2, 190, Sr.) 19.0 ppg/3.8 apg, G Tray Woodall (5'11, 190, RJr.) 15.6 ppg/8.2 apg
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Lijah Thompson (6'7, 200, Jr.) 7.5 ppg/2.5 rpg; F Lawrence Bridges (6'5, 225, Sr.) 3.3 ppg/3.3 rpg; F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RJr.) 8.3 ppg/5.3 rpg; G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RSo.) 15.5 ppg/2.3 rpg; G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RJr.) 20.8 ppg/5.3 apg

But the Colonials might be catching Pitt at the wrong time.

After a string of nail-biters, including that loss to Long Beach State, Pitt had a solid game against Penn. The Panthers looked like the Pitt of old, winning 78-58 at the Palestra behind a strong performance down the stretch.

It was the debut start for Khem Birch, who was thrust into a larger role with Dante Taylor out with a migraine. And it was the return of J.J. Moore to the starting lineup with the two-game suspension of Lamar Patterson. Taylor might be available for Robert Morris, but Patterson won't.

More importantly for Pitt, the ball movement that hadn't been there consistently in the previous games was there against Penn. The Panthers shot 58 percent and had 19 assists on 31 made field goals.

So it will be a familiar refrain for Robert Morris when they make the short trip to the Pete: Do anything possible to contain the opponent's ball movement and screens, and be aggressive inside on offense. The Colonials have done well the past two games by shying away from contested jumpers, working the ball around until they can probe inside.

That method has worked even against taller teams, and should be a primary mode of attack against Pitt.

In order for this to finally be "the year", Robert Morris is going to need those outside shots to fall, though. They just have to be smart and come from the right people. Look for Coron Williams to get some early looks as the Colonials try to feed him the ball often to get him hot.

But these two teams know each other so well, not just from the match-ups over the past few years, but from the Pittsburgh Summer League as well. Robert Morris, especially, will need to have something that the Panthers haven't seen if they're going to improve to 5-1.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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