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December 21, 2008

FSU hosts one of the nation's best teams

Florida State hosts the marquee opponent of its out-of-conference schedule Sunday, when the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers come to town. The Panthers are 11-0 but hits the road for the first time all season when they make their way to Tallahassee for Sunday's 5:30 p.m. tip-off.

Over the past seven years, the last five under current head coach Jamie Dixon, the Panthers have averaged 27 victories a season while winning two Big East Tournaments and advancing to the NCAA Tournament every year during that stretch.

"They represent the elite of the elite," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said of the Panthers. "I think the fact that they have traditionally dominated the Big East over the last seven or eight years shows the kind of program they have established. They represent the type of program that every school strives to become, an established winner who is in contention every season. They have been there and done that."

Pitt has defeated their opponents by an average of 22 points per game and outrebounded them by nearly 11 boards a game. They are converting 48.7 percent (329-675) of their field goal attempts and limiting opponents to 36.6 percent shooting while holding all 11 opponents to 70 points or less.

Senior forward Sam Young (20 points, 5.7 rebounds), sophomore center DeJuan Blair (15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds) and senior point guard Levance Fields (11 points, 6.6 assists) lead their attack on the court.

"That team represents a complete basketball team," Hamilton said. "They can hurt you at all five positions. When they turn to their bench they have very talented players that allow them to not have a drop-off from their starters. They play hard on both ends of the court and make you focus at all times."

While Hamilton said his team admires the success of the Pittsburgh program in recent years, he said it cannot become star-struck with its upcoming opponent.

"You have to be careful. We respect them but the goal is to get to a level where you are consistent with yourself," Hamilton said. "We cannot simply elevate our status because of our opponent. We have to learn as a team to play at a high level no matter what the jersey of our opponent says."

The good news for the Seminoles is they are coming off their most convincing victory of the season, a 71-48 thumping of Charleston Southern,. It showed a drastic improvement over the Seminoles' previous effort, a 10-point victory over Tennessee Tech on Tuesday.

"We didn't get better at dribbling the ball, passing the ball, or shooting the ball in four days," Hamilton said. "What we did was elevate our level of concentration. We took every possession seriously and it showed with the end result."

Florida State enters the game with an 11-1 record and riding a four-game win streak. The Seminoles are led by Toney Douglas' 17.7 points per game and freshman forward Chris Singleton's 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Sophomore transfer Derwin Kitchen has joined the rotation, playing an average of 18.7 minutes in the past three games. He is averaging 5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. With the addition of Kitchen, the Seminoles still are trying to find the right mix of talent on the court.

"The chemistry is always a work in progress," Hamilton said. "We are still developing consistency and chemistry with one another but it gets better with each game and practice."

Hamilton hopes that his club is able to use Sunday as an opportunity to prove its ability to step up against one of the nation's best teams as it works toward its ultimate goal of elevating the program to a level it hasn't seen in over a decade.

"We are moving in the right direction," Hamilton said. "We feel this is an opponent that will allow us to show our progress as a program and a team. Our focus this season is to elevate this program to that next level and (Sunday) is a another step in that direction. We have to take it one game at a time, but this opponent presents a great challenge for us."

The game will be nationally televised by Fox Sports Network.


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