Panthers See More Pluses With Double Bye

Since 1-3 start to conference play, Pitt finishes strong with 11-3 conference record. As a result, the Panthers earned a double-bye for the fourth time in its last five attempts in the Big East Tournament.

Pitt's recent Big East Tournament history hasn't been all that successful. Aside from winning the tournament outright in 2008, the Panthers have gone 1-4 in its last five Tournament games.

In 2009 and 2010, Pitt entered as a No. 2 seed where they were bounced by a No. 7 seed West Virginia and a No. 7 seed Notre Dame in consecutive years. In 2011, as the top seed in the tournament, they were eliminated by eventual champion Connecticut.

With the recent history of getting the double-bye, you would think there would be some hesitancy on the part of this team. Quite the opposite.

"It's different now," senior Tray Woodall said. "Now, its one and done. We don't have a regular season. We have a lot more to fight for."

Looking at the Pitt side of the bracket, they will first get the winner of today's Syracuse-Seton Hall game. Pitt beat both teams by ten points, and in consecutive games.

Should they advance against the winner of that game, they will face the winner of a Georgetown-Cincinnati/Providence winner. Between those three teams, Pitt has a 28-point win over Georgetown, a ten-point win at Cincinnati and a four-point win at Providence.

The thing different about this year's run in the Big East is how Pitt is playing at this time of year. They're riding a four-game winning streak, for starters. More importantly, they've gone 11-3 after starting 1-3 in conference play.

Compared to those other one-and-done exits. In 2009, the Panthers were coming off an emotionally-charged win over UConn in the final regular season game of the season. They won three of their final four games, losing at an unbanked Providence team the week before.

In 2010, Pitt lost at Notre Dame by 15 points. Two weeks later, the Irish eliminated them from the Big East Tournament. it may be the least shocking exit in recent history, but again proof of Pitt not finishing strong down the stretch.

In 2011, when they earned the conference's top seed, they won three of their final five games. Pitt lost only three conference games that entire season, with two coming in the final weeks of the season.

That 11-3 conference record down the stretch has Jamie Dixon confident in this group, which at least is taking the edge or memory of some of these quarterfinal exits in years past.

"Our record has been good down the stretch," Dixon said. "We finished pretty strong. I liked the way we've been doing it. I like how are young guys have gotten better."

Dixon has a good point. He's got two freshman starters in Steven Adams and James Robinson. It would be unfair to call them the go-to guys. It is fair to say Pitt wouldn't be here with this No. 4 seed without them.

Certainly Woodall's play has been a big factor, as has Lamar Patterson's nine double-figure games. But also, there was Robinson's pair of three-pointers that lifted Pitt past Villanova. There was Adams' 13-point game against Cincinnati, as well as Durand Johnson's three, three-pointers twice against Villanova.

Over the course of the year, whether it's been one of the freshmen, or even another newcomer such as Trey Zeigler who came off the bench for double-digit outputs against Villanova and DePaul, all this team needed to do was get the right rotation. It hasn't determined how this season will ultimately turn out, but it's been the main factor in how Pitt surged to a No. 4 seed after a shaky start in conference play.

Of course there is that concern when the lights go on, at such a big stage like the Big East Tournament, that youth and inexperience may show up. However, this group of youngsters have already played two games at Madison Square Garden. Regular season games, just the experience factor, against Michigan and St. John's can help this group now, as they begin Tournament play on Thursday. At the very least, they sound confident.

"We played there before, I think we'll be pretty comfortable going back," Robinson said. "I think the coaching staff has prepared us well to go back and be successful."

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