Pitt-DePaul In Regular-Season Finale

Jamie Dixon is among those who look at life with a glass half full, so the Pitt men's basketball coach prefers to view the Panthers as a team that has won two of its past three games and is going for three in its final four.

Others, those who Dixon described as having a glass that's half empty, would say that Pitt is reeling with four losses in its past six games and just a 10-9 mark since opening the season at 11-0.

Pittsburgh (21-9, 9-8) faces DePaul (11-18, 6-11) in the regular-season finale Sunday at noon at the Petersen Events Center. The Senior Day ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m., so fans are asked to arrive early and be in their seats by then.

"We try to look at the whole thing, but with that said we've got to do things better,'' Dixon said. "We've got to defend better. We've got to rebound better. We've got to shoot the ball better, and we've got to make free throws. So, it is up to us, but we've played well and have put ourselves in a good position with our RPI. And we've pointed to getting better this past week, which we've done.

"So, it's an opportunity for us to get better, to play our best game of the year, and the senior aspect is a part of it. ... But we're trying to finish strong and win three of our last four, and I think that would be a very good finishing statement to go with what we've done throughout the year. We've had a very good year, and we're looking forward to (DePaul).

"(So), I think we can be better, but I think we got better this week,'' Dixon added. "We've really improved in these last two practices (Thursday and Friday), and we've pointed to these last four games since December. We knew they'd be critical for us, and it's gone as we've anticipated as we try to win three of our last four games.''

Dixon noted that after taking a couple days off to recuperate, the Panthers went through two tough practices when they went through various drills that were difficult to do in recent weeks with the limited participation due to injuries. Now, however, everyone appears to be healthy.

Junior guard Levance Fields was especially buoyed by the rest. He now has no restrictions or limitations during practice after sitting out certain drills and taking days off. Fields joins seniors Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin in Pitt's three-guard offense. The trio needs to pick up the pace at both ends of the court if the Panthers are going to make a run in the post-season.

"I think me and Ronald stepped up to put our team in a great situation, and it's not over for us yet,'' Benjamin said. "Not getting past the Sweet Sixteen ... nobody probably thinks we'll get even that far, but I'm not counting this team out for nothing. I still think our best basketball is ahead of us.

"We have a good shot to win the Big East Tournament still and a great shot to make a run in the NCAA Tournament to get past the Sweet Sixteen. It all depends on how much we want it, and I think this team really wants it.''

Benjamin also preferred to look at what Pitt did this season as a major accomplishment, especially considering all the injuries that occurred.

"The Big East, this is a tough conference, and to still be considered an NCAA team when everyone counted us out, that's a big compliment,'' Benjamin said. "But we have to play better, especially on defense. To me, it's all about focus. A lot of people might say we're not tough enough, but I know that's not true. We're very physical, but we're not always focused enough.

"We have to work on the little things and concentrate on that, and that should help us. Nobody on this team thinks that we're wearing down, but we've played a lot of minutes that we wouldn't have played. And that takes a toll on one's body mentally and physically. It's a very long season, but we need to focus and lock in for 40 minutes. And I think we'll get past it in the end.''

DePaul is among the lower-level teams in the Big East, but Dixon recalled how his TCU team during his senior season in 1987 had a 28-game home winning streak snapped on Senior Day by the worst team in the Southwest Conference.

"They're coming in here fighting to go to the Garden, so they're not going to back down,'' Benjamin said. "They want to get there, so they're coming in ready to fight. And we don't want a bad game on our resume, so it's a big game for us, too. There's a lot of significance to this game.''

DePaul is led by senior guard Draelon Burns with 17.6 points per game, while freshman forward Dar Tucker (13.3) and 6-foot-10 freshman center Mac Koshwal (10.7) also score in double figures. Koshwal also is the best rebounder with 8.4 boards per game. Sophomore guard Will Walker (9.8) and senior forward Karron Clarke (8.1) are the only other scoring threats. Senior center Wesley Green, junior guard Jabari Currie, senior guard Cliff Clinkscales and 6-10 junior center Matija Poscic also could contribute.

Tucker and Burns are the top 3-point shooters, and the duo keyed a sharp-shooting performance when the Blue Demons made 13 of 26 treys in a win at Cincinnati Thursday night.

Panther Digest Top Stories