That is the world of opposites and the starring roles in 2012 would go to Connecticut and Pittsburgh. They are the winningest programs in the Big East over the last 10 seasons. The Huskies and Panthers have combined for 12 Big East championships (regular season or tournaments) over the last 10 years.
But for the first time in 21 games and 16 years, Pitt and UConn play Saturday at Gampel as a pair of unranked teams. The last time that happened was Dec. 4, 1996.
Despite that, there are two huge storylines for the Huskies. One is the possible return of coach Jim Calhoun. The Hall of Fame coach has been sidelined the last eight games with spinal stenosis. But after back surgery to relieve the pain on Monday, Calhoun returned to practice Friday.
Calhoun said he will decide Saturday morning if he is capable of returning to the bench. If not, he expects to be coaching in the Big East Conference tournament next week in New York City.
The other storyline involves UConn's record and the pursuit of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies put themselves back on the bubble with Tuesday night's loss at Providence. But buoyed by the nation's top strength of schedule and an excellent RPI, the Huskies remain in the running for a bi despite only two wins in their last nine games.
"I worry about [Saturday's game]," associate head coach George Blaney said. "I think it's important that we win tomorrow's game. I think it's important we win Tuesday's game. You need to pile up as many wins, so that it's not a contest. What we have going for us is a lot of good wins against top 50 teams and the No. 1 schedule in the country. What we need is to take it out of the [selection] committee's hands."
Pittsburgh (16-14, 5-12 Big East) at UConn (17-12, 7-10)
Date: March 3, 2012
Site: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Doris Burke)
Radio: UConn Radio Network/WTIC-AM 1080 (Joe D'Ambrosio, Wayne Norman)
Series: UConn leads, 31-28
Notes: UConn holds a 29-24 advantage in Big East games. . . . The series started in 1949-50. . . . Pitt has won four of the last five meetings. . . . UConn is 14-11 at home against Pitt and 4-3 at Gampel Pavilion. . . . Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 7-6 against UConn.
Last meeting: UConn 76, Pitt 74 (March 10, 2011)
The highlight is part of UConn's pregame video. And when Kemba Walker hits the winning shot from last year's Big East tournament quarterfinals in New York, the UConn fans still go crazy. Walker scored 24 point but it was that buzzer beater that really propelled the Huskies to the Big East championship and then on to the 2011 NCAA championship. The Panthers might remember the moment even without the video.
PITTSBURGH PROBABLE STARTERS
G 12 Ashton Gibbs Sr. 6-2 190 15.5 ppg
G 1 Tray Woodall Jr. 5-11 190 11.5 ppg
C 11 Dante Taylor Jr. 6-9 240 6.5 ppg
F 21 Lamar Patterson So. 6-5 221 8.8 ppg
F 35 Nasil Robinson Sr. 6-5 225 11.0 ppg
UCONN PROBABLE STARTERS
G 3 Jeremy Lamb So. 6-5 180 17.7 ppg
G 11 Ryan Boatright Fr. 6-0 160 10.6 ppg
C 12 Andre Drummond Fr. 6-10 270 10.3 ppg
F 34 Alex Oriakhi Jr. 6-9 240 6.9 ppg
F 22 Roscoe Smith So. 6-8 205 4.3 ppg