Guarding against a letdown may be a bigger challenge for Pittsburgh than guarding its actual opponent.
After knocking a Big East rival from the ranks of the unbeaten, the No. 5 Panthers will try to extend their winning streak to nine Saturday when they visit last-place DePaul.Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) grabbed sole possession of the Big East lead Monday night with a 74-66 victory over third-ranked Syracuse, which entered with an 18-0 record. The Panthers opened the game on a 19-0 run, withstood a 17-0 counter run by the Orange and took control in the second half when Brad Wanamaker keyed a 9-3 burst with five points."We've really been on a mission to just prove to everybody and ourselves what type of team we are and what we're capable of," said forward Gilbert Brown, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "We have all the players and everybody is a valuable asset on this team, and you saw that tonight."Brown is third on the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game, and Pittsburgh is third in the Big East in both scoring at 79.9 per game and shooting at 48.5 percent. While Ashton Gibbs has a conference-high 61 3-pointers and the Panthers are shooting a Big East-best 39.2 percent from beyond the arc, center Gary McGhee's team-high 7.7 rebounds per game has helped Pitt outrebound opponents by an average of 13.6.Plus, the Panthers have limited opponents to 39.7 percent shooting and an average of 29.4 rebounds during their eight-game run."I think they have a good team overall -- top to bottom," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "Their past teams these last few years were very good teams. I think this team shoots better, and more consistently."They're still tough defensively and rebounding the basketball as good as they have been."That doesn't bode well for a DePaul team which is last in the Big East in rebounding (32.1 rpg) and 3-point shooting (27.2 percent). In conference play, the Blue Demons (6-12, 0-6) have been held to 65.5 points per game and 39.5 percent from the field.With first-year coach Oliver Purnell firmly committed to his youth in rebuilding, DePaul has taken a pounding in arguably the best conference in the country. The Blue Demons are last in the Big East in points allowed (74.6 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (48.5), and they have one of the worst rebounding margins in the country at minus-6.3 per game.All three of those problem areas converged in a 94-64 loss to Marquette on Tuesday, DePaul's 18th straight Big East defeat. The Blue Demons committed a season-high 22 turnovers that led to 40 points for the Golden Eagles, who shot 51.5 percent and outrebounded DePaul 41-32."The thing that got us in trouble from the start of the game were our turnovers," said Purnell, whose team has lost 23 straight to ranked opponents since defeating Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008. "When you give up 40 points directly off turnovers, that makes it tough."Purnell does have one building block in freshman forward Cleveland Melvin. A three-time Big East freshman of the week winner, Melvin had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting Tuesday and is averaging a team-high 14.5 points.Fellow first-year starter Brandon Young (12.0 ppg) and sophomore Tony Freeland (11.2) also are averaging in double figures.Pitt has won all six meetings since DePaul joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season. Gibbs had 23 points as the Panthers cruised to a 65-52 victory in the only matchup last season.