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The calm before the storm

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Here’s a little history lesson for Pitt fans to consider.

Remember what happened the last time Pitt routed St. John’s and then, exactly three days later, hosted an overmatched opponent?

Rutgers came into Petersen Events Center Jan. 26, 2008, and stunned the Panthers, 77-64, in one of the most head-scratching showings under Jamie Dixon. The loss haunted Pitt all the way into the NCAA tournament seedings.

Tonight, No. 1 Pitt (15-0, 3-0) is a three-touchdown favorite over South Florida (6-9, 1-2) and faces a Bulls program that has never beaten any team – ever — ranked above No. 15 in the national polls (that was Tulane about 17 years ago).

Surely, it can’t happen again. The Rutgers loss, a total reversal of Pitt’s glorious victory over then No. 5 Georgetown only 12 days earlier, saw the Scarlet Knights do little wrong.

Pitt, meanwhile, allowed a 20-2 second-half run by an opponent on its home court. Unthinkable.

South Florida, which has won two of its past three Big East road games after starting life in the conference 0-23 away from home, has the type of shooters who can get hot, and stay hot.

Sophomore guard Dominique Jones, one of the streakiest shooters in the Big East, is coming off a 22-point game against DePaul.

“You have to go play your game,” Jones said. “We need a win. This would be a good win, a big confidence booster for us and a good lift for the program.”

Dixon has excelled at focusing his team on the next opponent. The Panthers just don’t look ahead. But consider the upcoming schedule and tell yourself there is no chance that South Florida is a trap game.

First, there is a road trip to resurgent No. 20 Louisville on Saturday, where Freedom Hall will be electric and Pitt may find itself an underdog. Then, the Panthers play, in order, against No. 8 Syracuse, at West Virginia, at No. 22 Villanova and against No. 13 Notre Dame. That’s four ranked teams in a two-week span, plus an always-tough trip to Morgantown.

Pitt should have its way with a South Florida team that lost to Niagara at home, but everyone said the same thing about Rutgers less than one year ago.

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