Pitt Ready For Big East Tournament

Even though the Pitt men's basketball team lost its opening game as a No. 2 seed at the Big East Tournament, the Panthers won't be changing their pre-tourney routine anytime soon.

The 16th-ranked Panthers, who enter the event seeded second again, are 24-7 overall and 13-5 in the Conference. And they'll still practice at home this morning and fly to New York City in the afternoon. Pittsburgh always stays at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan and practices at Baruch College on Lexington Avenue.

What the Panthers will try to change is last year's results. Despite beating West Virginia twice during the regular season, Pitt lost to the Mountaineers in a quarterfinal matchup at Madison Square Garden. This year, the Panthers could face either Providence or Seton Hall, which play tonight for the right to face Notre Dame in the second round Wednesday night.

Pitt has a double-bye before playing the winner between Notre Dame and its opponent Thursday night at 7.

"We split with Seton Hall this year and had a game-winning shot against Providence, and we lost to Notre Dame,'' Pitt junior guard Bradley Wanamaker said. "So, we want to play all of them as much as they want to play us. And it doesn't matter who we play, we have something to prove to all of them.''

Pitt sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs agreed.

"It really doesn't matter, but I think we have a point to prove to all three of those teams that we have a chance to play,'' Gibbs said. "Providence, we didn't play particularly well against them. We split with Seton Hall and lost to Notre Dame, so all three of those teams, we really want to come out strong against them and go after them.

"Last year, we just didn't come prepared to play in that game. West Virginia was a team that we had already beaten twice last year, and they came after us. You can't play like we did in this conference and be successful. You've got to come out hard each and every night, and if we do that and play hard on the defensive end it will carry over to the offense. And we'll be fine.''

Player reaction has been somewhat mixed concerning the double-bye. Some noted that getting an extra day off from playing a game can't be a bad thing at this stage in the season. Others would rather get one bye and then play an early game just to get their legs under them.

"I guess if I learned something from last year, it would be to not get my entire team in foul trouble,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had beaten West Virginia twice, and we were up in that third game. But we had everybody in foul trouble. Six guys were in foul trouble. We had Nasir Robinson at the 5 and Gilbert Brown at the 4

"That's something we didn't practice all year, so the entire team was in foul trouble. A difference this year is that we've gotten healthier as the year went on, and that's not something that we had happen last year. And it's been exciting to have a lot of young kids to split time with in practice. We've had 15 guys help each other improve. ... I don't think any team in the country has improved as much from the beginning of the season to now.''

Wanamaker, junior Gary McGhee and redshirt junior Gilbert Brown are the only Panthers who were part of Pitt's 2008 Big East championship team, and this over-achieving group would like nothing more than a repeat performance.

"I just remember at the end, when the final buzzer sounded, running out on the court to celebrate,'' McGhee said. "It was a great feeling, winning the title in the Big East Tournament, the best conference in the nation. So, winning the championship two years ago is something that I'll never forget.

"That team, some people had us not making the tournament at first, but we were able to make a run and win four straight games in four days to win it. We played hard every night, and it was tough. But it's something we want to do again this year, only we'll just have to win three straight games.''

Every Big East Tournament game will be nationally televised. ESPN2 and ESPNU will split the first-round games, and ESPN will carry all the remaining games. The semifinals are at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday night, and the title game is Saturday at 9 p.m.

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