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Tough test for Pitt

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

December 19, 2006

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon decided to embark on a tougher non-conference schedule this season. The ambitious agenda included road trips to Auburn, Buffalo, Wisconsin and Oklahoma City for a date with Oklahoma State.

Yes, the Panthers were expected to win at Auburn and Buffalo, though neither came easily as both victories were by single digits. Pittsburgh had to rally big-time from a double-figure deficit in the second half to leave Buffalo with a W.

Dixon and his squad will feel the challenge against Sean Sutton's Cowboys this week. Pittsburgh is coming off a loss at Madison, a very tough place to play (opponents are 5-81 there since Bo Ryan took over the program). The Panthers entered the game against the Badgers knowing it had not allowed an opponent to score 70 points in a game all season.

Wisconsin went out and scored 89 big ones.

So Pittsburgh must regroup and prepare for an Oklahoma State squad led by the dynamic duo of JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan. Let me tell you, my friends, this is a tough Cowboys team that came through against Syracuse at the Jimmy V Classic in NY.

The Panthers have quality depth and Dixon feels like he has nine potential starters on the squad. Defense is the team's strong suit and with the depth, experience and winners mentality, Pittsburgh is capable of bouncing back in this tough situation.

Yes, the Panthers have had some slow starts like the games in Pittsburgh and Madison. This is a club with great character and it can show guts by coming through in Oklahoma City.

Aaron Gray should be closer to 100 percent after being bothered by flu-like symptoms. He had his streak of four straight double-doubles snapped by Wisconsin, though he still had pretty impressive stats (17 points, eight rebounds).

Pittsburgh may need to go more often to Ronald Ramon. He has a smooth touch and is a special player shooting the trifecta. He has to get more open looks.

Levon Kendall has great size and the ability to find open people. Kendall must be even more assertive on the offensive side, trying to get more shots.

Dixon and company will be tested against the Cowboys. It should be an interesting showdown between Big East and Big 12 squads that figure to be heard from come NCAA Tournament time.

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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