Pitt's Big East Notebook

The Sports Xchange takes a look at the Pitt men's basketball team heading into the Big East Tournament this week at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

GETTING INSIDE In a league that has had its share of surprises in 2009-10, Pittsburgh certainly is among the biggest. Not expected to finish in the top half of the standings in the preseason, the Panthers tied for second with a 13-5 Big East mark and will take the No. 2 seed into this week's Conference tournament.

Moreover, Pitt enters the postseason on a high note, with eight wins in the last nine games. Ashton Gibbs went from being an afterthought on last season's Elite Eight team to a second-team All-Big East selection in this one and the Big East's most-improved player. It's been another remarkable year for Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon.

And yet, as Pitt prepares for the Big East and NCAA tournaments, there's still a lack of belief. Few are talking about the Panthers as Final Four contenders. Syracuse is the obvious top choice from the Conference, but the buzz from Villanova and even West Virginia is stronger.

Part of it is the team's lack of star power. There's no obvious NBA player on this roster as compared to, well, most of the top half of the league. It isn't a flashy team and tends to win with defense first. And in fairness, it did need a last-second shot just to beat a woeful Providence squad last week.

But few teams are playing as a more cohesive group than the Panthers are right now. It still might be able to sneak up on people, but Pitt is good enough to once again last a long time in the NCAAs.

NOTES, QUOTES --Rutgers was the 17th opponent to be held to fewer than 60 points by the Panthers' defense. The 16 points the Scarlet Knight had at halftime were the fewest of any team against Pitt in Big East play this season.

--Five players scored in double figures against Rutgers: Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Jermaine Dixon, Dante Taylor and Gilbert Brown. That's the second time the Panthers have had five players with 10 or more points this season. Not surprisingly, they won both of those games.

ON THE SPOT: It will be interesting to see how the Panthers perform in the Big East tournament if Jermaine Dixon is sidelined or limited because of his ankle injury. The team has experience playing without him, but since recovering from his foot injury he has again become an integral part of the Pitt plans on both ends of the court.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to go back to practice and continue to improve. We've been doing that all year and we're certainly not going to stop now. We'll take care of our bodies and get back to work." -- Coach Jamie Dixon, on his plans for the team heading into the Big East tournament.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: The Panthers swept Providence and Rutgers to finish the Big East regular season with a 13-5 record. That put Pitt in a three-way tie for second place and earned it the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and a two-round bye to the quarterfinals.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Brad Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall.

GAME REVIEW: Pittsburgh 71, St. John's 64

Pittsburgh 73, Providence 71

Pittsburgh 83, Rutgers 54

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Providence, Seton Hall or Notre Dame at Big East Tournament Thursday at 7 p.m.

IN FOCUS: Pitt earned the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament, earning the much coveted double-bye into the quarterfinals. That will be key because it means both additional rest and a chance for Jermaine Dixon to get treatment on his injured ankle.

ROSTER REPORT: --Jermaine Dixon had to leave the Rutgers game early with a sprained right ankle, but he practice Monday and is ready for the Big East Tournament.

--Dante Taylor has emerged from his midseason scoring slump to become a weapon in the post. He scored 11 points against Rutgers on 5-of-8 shooting, the first time the freshman reached double figures since Jan. 2 against Syracuse.

--Travon Woodall spent most of his time on the court against Rutgers guarding a familiar foe -- Scarlet Knights guard Mike Rosario. The two players were teammates at St. Anthony's (N.J.) high school.

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