The situation is not one Jamie Dixon is used to being in. His Pitt Panthers, who suffered a 57-54 loss to Louisville on Feb. 26, have only one route to the NCAA Tournament and that is to win the Big East Tournament. That's a long shot for a team that has made it to the tournament 10 straight seasons.
"We do believe we can get back to where we thought we would be," Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We showed some signs, but we've had to deal with guys getting reinjured or new injuries. We've shown stretches. We just have to get a good feeling about how we're playing and how we're feeling."
Things aren't getting any better. Point guard Tray Woodall, who missed extended periods earlier with a hip injury, had a setback in the past week and missed some practice time.
Pitt had won 11 of its first 12 games, but when Woodall was forced out of the lineup they lost eight in a row.
As he returned they put together a four-game winning streak, then came undone again and now are attempting to put it together again.
--Guards Ashton Gibbs and Tray Woodall have disappeared from the Pitt offense recently. Gibbs, the team's leading scorer with 15 points a game, has five field goals in 23 attempts over the last three games, scoring just 14 points and never reaching double figures. He's had company with Woodall over the last five games hitting only 14 of 53 shots and scoring just 38 points.
--Another offensive drag has been F Lamar Patterson who scored but 3, 0 and 4 points against WVU, USF and Louisville.
BY THE NUMBERS: 50 -- Prior to the Louisville game on Feb.26, Pitt had been held to fewer than 50 points in consecutive games for the first time since the 1968-69 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just have to get healthy. We lost a couple of tough games on the road. We've played good for periods of times but not the entire time. Hopefully, we have everyone healthy. Hopefully, we'll be better (today)." -- Coach Jamie Dixon, looking for a turnaround heading into the Big East Tournament next week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. St. John's, Feb. 29
KEY MATCHUPS: Pitt will use the final two games to get itself geared up for the Big East Tournament, thinking that it is a team that underachieved in part because of injury and might be able to put a run together. St. John's is a talented young team that is far better that is far better at the Garden than on the road. However, the Red Storm is hot now, coming off a surprise of Notre Dame for a third straight victory. D'Angelo Harrison and Moe Harness are special players who are averaging 17.0 and15.9 as freshmen. Pitt has to get a slumping Ashton Gibbs unwound.
--at Connecticut, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: A tough finale no matter how you slice it, whether Jim Calhoun is coaching there or not. It has not been a great season for UConn with 11 losses, including two of their last 3, but those two losses were to Syracuse and Marquette, the two leading teams in the Big East. The game is probably going to come down to whether Pitt can find a way to score on a UConn defense that is second in the conference in field goal percentage, allowing just 38.5 percent. G Jeremy Lamb has emerged as one of the conference' top scorers and Shabazz Napier one of the best point guards.
FUTURES MARKET: A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story recently compared reserve small forward J.J. Moore and some of the troubles he's had to another small forward of yesterday, Sam Young. They noted that Moore could follow Young on to a big junior season. The light does seem to be coming on for him as he scored 21 in a loss to South Florida and had 10 points in 21 minutes against West Virginia, nine in 19 minutes in a previous loss to South Florida and 16 against Louisville on Feb. 26.
"J.J. has been playing better and better," Coach Jamie Dixon told the newspaper. "We've tried to talk to him about not focusing on how he's shooting but doing other things. He's been playing better defense and rebounding better. Now he's getting to the basket and cutting, moving without the basketball.
"He's been playing better defense first and foremost. That's why he's been playing more and more. He can do other things and not rely on outside shooting. That will come as he feels more comfortable."
--PG Tray Woodall missed some practice time as the hip that he injured earlier this season flared up. He played against Louisville on Feb. 26.
--F Nasir Robinson had fluid drained from his surgically repaired knee before the Louisville game. That's a procedure he undergoes once or twice a week, but he has been able to play. Coach Jamie Dixon said doctors are "amazed" at the amount of fluid they get from the knee every time they perform the procedure. Robinson, Woodall and Ashton Gibbs each missed practice time this week.