Pitt-Providence College Preview

The first defense for the Pitt men's basketball team's No. 1 ranking this week is against the Providence Friars in a Big East matchup tonight at 7 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Pittsburgh (25-2, 12-2) has won seven straight games and is ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press and the ESPN-USA Today polls for the third week this season. Providence College (16-11, 8-7) is fighting to move up in the Conference standings. The game will be televised by ESPN and ESPN 360 on a regional basis and on FSN Pittsburgh locally.

This is Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 157-42 going into his 200th game. The Panthers also are ranked No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index according to realtimepri.com. Pitt's strength of schedule is ranked No. 12 nationally.

"I think I've said it before, but these three guys (the seniors) are the best group we've ever brought in,'' Dixon said. "And they've lived up to that. So, (the No. 1 ranling is just another feather in their cap. ... But now, we're moving on to Providence.''

Since beating Cincinnati, Seton Hall and Syracuse in consecutive Big East games, Providence coach Keno Davis -- in his first season at the helm -- has guided the Friars to a 2-5 mark in Conference play. They lost to Connecticut, Villanova and West Virginia. Then, Providence beat South Florida and Rutgers, but lost to Louisville and Notre Dame the past two games.

"Getting through the Big East schedule is tough, and this is another big game for us,'' Davis said. "Pitt isn't the No. 1 team for no reason. They're tough, physical and athletic. We're going to have a tough time in this game.''

The Providence starting lineup is expected to include senior guard Weyinmi Efejuku (14.4 points per game), junior guard Sharaud Curry (11.5), senior center Sharaud Curry (10.1, 5.7 rebounds), senior guard Jeff Xavier (9.6 points) and senior forward Geoff McDermott (eight, 8.7). The most productive players off the bench are sophomore forward Marshon Brooks (12, 3.7), senior center Randall Hanke (8.8, 5.3) and junior guard Brian McKenzie (five, 3.1).

Pitt and Providence meet for the 44th time in school history, and the Panthers hold a 27-16 advantage in the series. Pitt has won eight consecutive matchups, including two straight at Providence's Dunkin' Donuts Center. Pitt is 8-12 overall at Providence.

Pitt has won 20 or more overall games and 10 or more league games for the eighth consecutive season now. The Panthers are the only Big East program to win 20 overall games and 10-plus league games during that stretch, and Dixon became the first head coach in school history to win 20-plus games in six straight years.

Pitt's 25-2 record ties the school's all-time best record after 27 games. The Panthers also were 25-2 in Dixon's first year in 2003-04. Pitt was 23-4 in both 2002-03 and 2006-07, 22-5 in 1987-88, 21-6 in 2005-06 and 20-7 in 2007-08. The Panthers finished an undefeated 21-0 en route to the mythical national title in 1927-28.

Through its first 27 games, Pitt has outscored its opponents by a plus-16 margin and out-rebounded the opposition by a plus-10.6. The Panthers are also converting 48.2 percent (797 of 1,655) of their field-goal attempts and limiting opponents to 40.5-percent shooting. Pitt has also held 24 of its 27 opponents to 70 points or less and 11 teams to 60 points or less.

Pitt is ranked among the nation's top-10 teams in five statistical categories. The Panthers are first nationally in rebound margin (10.1), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.56), third in both assists per game (18.2) and winning percentage (92.3) and fourth in scoring margin (15.9). Pitt is 13th in turnovers per game (11.6) and 18th in field-goal percentage (48.2).

Several Pitt players are among the national leaders in several statistical categories. Sophomore center DeJuan Blair is fourth nationally in rebounding (12.8) and leads the nation in offensive rebounds with six per game. He is also ranked No. 16 in field-goal percentage (59.9). Blair became the first player in Pitt history to register two 20-20 performances in the same season. Over the last two games, Blair is averaging 21.0 points and 20.5 rebounds per game. He set Pitt's school record for most rebounds in a two-game stretch with 41.

Senior point guard Levance Fields leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.92) and is second in assists per game (7.5). Senior forward Sam Young is 66th with 18.2 points per game.

This is Pitt's first game in Rhode Island since Feb. 15, 2006. The Panthers also have a road game against Seton Hall Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in Newark, N.J. and finish the regular season with home games against Marquette March 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Connecticut March 7 at noon at the Petersen Events Center.

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