The Panthers completed a 5-13 regular season Saturday afternoon with a loss at Connecticut. But by the end of that evening, the Panthers were feeling confident again about the Big East tournament.
The tournament bracket could not have turned out any better for the Panthers. In the first round, they drew St. John's, a team that they beat by 20 points in the final week of the season and dominated again Tuesday in a 73-59 win at Madison Square Garden.
The second-round opponent Wednesday afternoon is Georgetown, another team the Panthers handled rather easily during the regular season. Pitt beat Georgetown 72-60 on Jan. 28 at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.
In that game, the Panthers raced to a 33-22 halftime lead and never looked back. They held the Hoyas to 42 percent shooting while carving up the normally strong Georgetown defense to the tune of 52 percent shooting.
"It's definitely a good matchup," junior point guard Tray Woodall said. "We just have to go out there and defend, not get beat on any back cuts and make sure we rebound. They're not a team that's going to force a lot of turnovers. They're like us; they want to get a lot of stops."
Sophomore forward J.J. Moore is expecting some new wrinkles from the Hoyas this time around.
"They're going to come out strong, stronger than they did the first time," said Moore, who scored eight points and pulled down five rebounds in the victory against St. John's. "They'll have a lot of different things for us this time. We'll have to play through it and play our hardest."
STAR WATCH: No one fills up a stat sheet quite the way Lamar Patterson does for the Panthers. Patterson doesn't take a lot of shots, but he remains a key cog in the offense.
Patterson had nine points, five rebounds and four assists in the victory against St. John's. Patterson is a versatile player who plays power forward, small forward and occasionally shooting guard. When he is on his game, he makes the Panthers a difficult team to guard because of his ability to pass and score when left open.
Watch out for Patterson against Georgetown. In the first meeting in Pittsburgh, Patterson scored 18 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds.
--Under Jamie Dixon, Pitt has built a strong, proud program and it is looking to find a way to erase the memory of what was a dismal regular season, finishing 16-15 and 5-13 in the Big East.
When a team is used to success, it's harder to accept failure, and playing UConn in the final regular-season game may have been a reminder to Pitt of what is out there, even though it dropped that game.
Last year, UConn went into the Big East tournament without a bye, yet ran the table and won the Big East title, then did the same in the NCAA Tournament to win the national championship.
The Panthers can think, if the Huskies could do it, why not us?
"I just believe we are going to play our best basketball of the year," he said, after losing to UConn. "I just believe it's going to happen. I believed it was going to happen today, but we didn't do it for 40 minutes."
Whether it happens doesn't seem to make that much difference, as long as they play well.
Right now, Dixon is looking at a minor tournament bid and would like to push his team forward to play well there to have something to carry over into next year.
He sees good things happening despite not having good results, even in that last UConn game.
"For a stretch there, we were as good as we've been all year long," Dixon said. "We did it for a good amount of time, but not quite long enough."
--For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Pitt has suffered through a pair of five-game losing streaks and heads into the Big East tournament with six losses in its last seven games.
--By beating St. John's in the regular season's next-to-last game, the Panthers avoided having the worst Big East record in school history. There was no celebration.
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 -- After battling it out in games with national implications for so many seasons, Pittsburgh met Connecticut as unranked foes for the first time in nearly 15 years. The previous time neither team was ranked was March 5, 1997.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's real tough on me, how the season has been going. But I'm not giving up. My teammates aren't giving up. We're going to keep fighting. We know this season hasn't been good for us, but we're going to keep fighting. If we keep fighting, good things will happen." -- Senior F Nasir Robinson, who has played despite knee problems that required weekly draining all year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Georgetown, Big East tournament second round, March 7
KEY MATCHUPS: Nasir Robinson went 9-for-9 from the floor and scored 23 points in the Panthers' 72-60 win over visiting Georgetown on Jan. 28. Lamar Patterson added 18 points for Pitt. Three Hoyas scored in double figures, led by Otto Porter (14 points). The Panthers dominated the boards, 33-22.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore F J.J. Moore took a while to get himself together but he has become a key member of the Pitt team, reaching double-figures in scoring in his last five games. He did have a few mistakes late in the UConn game, including being hit was key charging call, but his overall game was why Pitt was around at the end. "I thought J.J. played very well," coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's getting better and better getting to the basket and getting to the foul line. I really liked how we moved the ball down the stretch."
--Senior G Ashton Gibbs struggled with his 3-point shooting at the end of the regular season, going 6-for-32 from behind the arc over the final seven games. On Tuesday, he found his shooting stroke again against St. John's. Gibbs was 4-for-9 from 3-point range and led the Panthers with 20 points.
--Senior F Nasir Robinson has battled through a right knee injury all season, but he provided a big lift for his teammates against St. John's. Robinson was 7-for-10 from the field and scored 15 points. It was only the second time in the past 10 games that he reached double figures.
--With the scholarship that came open when F/C Khem Birch transferred, Pitt signed high school senior SG Chris Jones from Teaneck, N.J., to the 2012 recruiting class. He joins PG James Robinson and C Steve Adams as recruits.