A 68-64 victory over Syracuse on Feb. 14 left Pitt with an 8-3 record in the Big East, tying them in the loss column with Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut, two games behind the Eagles. With a road game in Boston left on the schedule, Pittsburgh can begin thinking of a possible top seed in the conference tournament, if they can pick up a few breaks.
Of course, the infuriating thing about this team is that it's not the Syracuses of the league that give the Panthers problems.
Pitt's played three ranked Big East teams this season: Syracuse twice and UConn once. The Panthers are 3-0 in those games. The Panthers have knocked off NCAA hopeful Notre Dame as well.
On the other hand, St. John's is just one game out of last place, and has two Big East wins all season. One of those is against the Panthers. West Virginia is in eighth place, but knocked off Pittsburgh for one of its four league wins. The only loss Pitt has in league play to a likely NCAA Tournament team is the opening 67-64 loss to Georgetown, and that came when most thought the Hoyas would be fighting St. John's for last in the league.
Pitt tends to play only as hard as it thinks it has to in order to win. Against the big-name teams, that means 40 minutes of strong play and a win. But sometimes the Panthers guess wrong, and they lose to teams they have no business losing to.
Fortunately, the remaining schedule makes any mental lapses unlikely. Of the five remaining games, two are at NCAA hopefuls Villanova and Notre Dame, as well as the trip to Boston College. Defending champion UConn comes to Pitt next week, and only a home date with West Virginia -- a team that beat Pitt 83-78 in Morgantown -- presents a matchup of a team that will likely be relegated to the NIT.
The first half of the Syracuse game was a battle of strength vs. strength. Pitt scored 13 second-chance points off of its 10 offensive rebounds, while the Panthers' 13 turnovers led to 16 Syracuse points.
Chevon Troutman is a 61 percent free-throw shooter, but he's been hitting at a 75-percent clip in Big East play and was 80 percent against the Orangemen. Good thing, too, because he went to the line 20 times on Monday, sinking 16 of the attempts.
It's a clear contrast in styles -- Villanova is backcourt focused, while Pitt's matchup advantage will be underneath. Villanova rebounds surprisingly well, however, so Chevon Troutman may have his hands full even against smaller players. Pitt will have to match the Wildcats' intensity, since Villanova needs a win to shore up its NCAA prospects and is capable of blowing out very good teams if they don't come to Philly ready to go. Just ask Kansas.
Carl Krauser had 16 points and four rebounds against Notre Dame despite being knocked out midway through the second half with a bloody lip and some loose teeth. He enters the week having scored in double figures in seven consecutive games.
Starting center Chris Taft scored only one point and was benched for the final 11:40 of the Notre Dame game. Aaron Gray took advantage of the increased playing time and finished with a career-high nine points and five rebounds.
Next Game: at Villanova, Feb. 20
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