The sixth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers will travel to Providence this Tuesday evening to take on the 11-4 Friars. Pitt is coming off a stellar performance vs. Connecticut, in which they upset the 4th ranked Huskies 78-63.
Providence will be looking to rebound from a two-point loss to Big East rival St. John's on New Years Day.
Providence may be unranked, but when it comes to playing Pittsburgh, rankings should not carry any weight. Two years ago, the unranked Friars upset Pitt, who at the time were ranked number one in the nation. Last season, it took a half-court buzzer beater by Ashton Gibbs to drop Providence, 73-71 at the Petersen Events Center.
"Last year we just didn't play well," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "(On Tuesday) we really want to try to win with our defense, and not rely on whether we are shooting it well or our plays at the end of the game."
Pitt will have to contain senior forward Marshon Brooks, the Big East's second leading scorer at 23.1 ppg. Dixon called Brooks a "relentless scorer" that can do so in a variety of ways. "He scores on offensive rebounds- he gets three a game- he can shoot it from the three," Dixon explained. "They play him at the 2, 3, and the 4, they try to get matchup situations to exploit him." Dixon said that Gilbert Brown will likely start off guarding the 6'5", 190 pound Brooks, but was quick to mention that a "combination of different guys will be guarding him."
Pittsburgh should be used to facing top-scorers by now. UConn point guard and Big East leading scorer Kemba Walker scored 31 points in the loss, but was held to 10-27 shooting and 3-11 from behind the arc. As far as similarities between Walker and Providence's Brooks, they have different styles but the same passion.
"Kemba's the point guard, he dominates the ball. Marshon (Brooks) plays off the ball and can create for himself, but, he has help in the backcourt with Vincent Council," senior guard Gilbert Brown said.
In addition to Brooks, Providence boasts Council, the Big East's leader in assists with 6.8 per game. The two combine to make a tough one-two punch for the opposition.
As for the Panthers, the focus is on defense and to keep doing what they've been doing: win. After a few days off following the UConn win, the Panthers returned to a strong four days of practice. Other than Travon Woodall missing Sunday's practice due to flu-like symptoms, the Panthers are healthy and ready for their first road game of the year. Pitt has won 13 of their last 19 games away from the Petersen Events Center.
Over the last nine seasons, Pitt has had the best road record at 46-30. During that same span, the Panthers have the Big East's best overall winning percentage (258-66, .796) league winning percentage (110-41, .728), consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (9), and most 20-win/10-win Big East seasons (9). In NCAA Division I, only Memphis, Duke and Kansas have more total wins since 2001 than Pittsburgh.
Providence is not a Syracuse, a Villanova or a Georgetown, but they do play in the same conference as these perennial powerhouse teams. That being said, the Friars should not be taken lightly. Leading up towards this game, that mentality is definitely intact for both the players and the coaching staff.
"The first road trip- it's a test for us, as well as for our coaches," senior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "It's something we've been looking forward to for a while."
"In the Big East, it's the caliber of players (you face)," Gilbert Brown said. "Night in and night out, you're going to have a game." For Pitt, it doesn't matter what name is on the front of their opposition's jerseys. Either way, they know they have to bring it.