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Pitt's Panthers no joke

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Jan. 3, 2006

I know people have been thinking about college football bowl season, but have sports fans taken notice about what's happening in Pittsburgh?

I'm not talking about the Bill Cowher-led Steelers, featuring Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, making the playoffs. No, my friends, I am talking about the job being done with the Panthers' basketball program. Coach Jamie Dixon is doing an amazing job, and nobody in America seems to know about it. In fact, a lot of people wonder who Dixon is! He's the young leader of the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Look across America, and there are only a handful of unbeatens left in college basketball. Well, the Panthers are one of them, and sports fans across the nation are no doubt surprised by that fact. Yes, some may question the schedule and ask who Pittsburgh has played; some may say they are pretenders. Forget about it.

The Panthers will cause problems in the Big East all season. They play tough defense, are tenacious and hungry. Pittsburgh has a nice blend of young talent and experienced performers. Diaper dandy Sam Young can put points on the board and rebound. Veteran point guard Carl Krauser knows how to win. Up front, Aaron Gray is one of the nation's most improved players.

Good things are happening on the Pittsburgh campus, as the team sits 11-0 entering Big East play. Last week was a real confidence-booster, with wins at South Carolina and at home against a physically tough Wisconsin squad (coach Bo Ryan's Badgers are so tough defensively).

Dixon and his Panthers are operating under the radar, even with a national ranking (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP). Pittsburgh will give opponents fits in the Big East, making the league's depth even greater.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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