Pitt-Marquette Preview

The Pitt men's basketball team has two regular-season games remaining and would like nothing better than to go out with a bang.

No. 3 Pittsburgh (26-3, 13-3) plays host to No. 13 Marquette (23-6, 12-4) in a Big East matchup tonight at 7:30 at the Petersen Events Center. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN2 and ESPN-360 with Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale handling the announcing duties.

The Panthers close out the season against No. 1 Connecticut Saturday at noon at the Pete. That game is a national broadcast as well by CBS-TV.

"The rankings really don't mean much now that we're in March,'' Pitt junior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "We only have a couple games left, and then we'll get into the Big East Tournament. And it'll be one and done. So, we just have to win these next couple games and then get ready for the tournament.

"This is my first time playing in the NCAA, so I think we're going to play these final two games hard and then get ready for the Big East Tournament. So, I'm ready and really excited about playing in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. And I'm definitely excited for the NCAA Tournament.

"I've thought about that since I was little, so the excitement is there for me,'' Dixon added. "We know we need these two wins to secure a bye going into the Big East Tournament, so we're going to play hard. And it's great to have two home games to end the season.''

Panthers coach Jamie Dixon was just happy to be home to close out the season.

"Not many teams get their last two at home in our Conference, so we're unique in that regard,'' Dixon said. "Every team would rather play at home than on the road, but we've done well on the road -- as well as anybody in the country.

"And we've beaten good teams. So, that's why we're at the RPI that we have. But the past doesn't do anything for us Wednesday and Saturday. We have to play as well as we can play, and that's what we'll try to do.''

Unlike Pitt, which has remained relatively healthy throughout this season, both Marquette and UConn recently lost their starting point guards. Senior Dominic James suffered a broken foot against UConn Feb. 26, and the Golden Eagles played without him in the last game -- a second straight loss -- to Louisville. Diminutive junior Maurice Acker has replaced him.

James had averaged 11.4 points per game. Senior guard Jerel McNeal leads Marquette with 19.8 points per game, while senior guard Wes Matthews and junior forward Lazar Hayward are at 18.8 and 15.9, respectively. Hayward also leads with 8.6 rebounds per game, while McNeal and Matthews are at 4.8 and 5.2 boards, respectively. All three are dangerous from 3-point range as well.

"I wouldn't say that they're a different team (without James), but ... they just try to utilize the same game plan that they had before when he was playing,'' Pitt guard Bradley Wanamaker said. "They just use Acker at the point.

"It changed a lot for us last season when we lost Mike and then Levance, but Marquette has a lot of players who have been playing all season. So, they were able to step up. Acker, he's been playing all year, and I think he'll be able to play as good as Dominic James was playing.''

"(And) Marquette, it seems like they should be able to do that since it's late in the season,'' Wanamaker added. "They only lost by four to Louisville, so they obviously stepped it up without James there. And that's what you have to do.''

For Pitt to be successful, Wanamaker noted that the team's turnovers were too high in its past two games with a season-worst back-to-back performance in a loss at Providence (18) and hard-fought win at Seton Hall (23).

"We know that we've got to cut down on our turnovers,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "Against Providence, in our first 15 possessions, eight of them ended with a turnover. And that's not going to win any games at all, so we know we've got to take care of the ball a lot better.

"I'll probably be on McNeal, and he's a good player. He's a good shooter, and he can go to the basket. So, I'll have to work hard to keep him from getting the ball. (But) he's not that different from some other guys that I played against this season, I think I'll be all right.''

Jamie Dixon noted that after several years facing the same players, Pitt knows Marquette all too well.

"We really didn't have to go through a scouting report for our guys,'' Dixon said, "because they're familiar with them. They're very experienced. I don't know if there's a more experienced team in the country.

"So, we know them real well. They had a big injury, but they've played with this same team the entire season. So, I don't believe they'll have a problem dealing with it. ... I think they're doing the same things as when James was in there.

"They try to run and get the ball out to those wings, so that won't change,'' Dixon added. "Acker's a good player, but he's just not as experienced as James. But the next group ... they're doing a good job picking it up in the rotation.''

Pitt and Marquette meet for the 12th time. The Panthers are 5-6 all-time and have won two of the last three meetings with a 3-4 mark since the Eagles joined the Big East.

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