Last Big East regular season game. Forever. Considering Pitt doesn’t do much in the way of Chicagoland recruiting, there’s not going to be much of an interest in future scheduling with DePaul. After a brief glimmer of hope at not finishing in dead last in the Big East, they are right there for a 5th straight year.
Clemson just hasn’t been the same since Oliver Purnell left for DePaul. I would wonder if Purnell looks at the fact that he’s won 6 Big East games in three years at DePaul, and has a bit of remorse. But then I remember that he’s getting $4 million a year for 4 years (or is it 5?), guaranteed. He made the money grab and damn the losing.
DePaul is a team that wants to score and tries to pressure and trap on defense to create turnovers. They do score well, but not exactly efficiently. It makes their defense that much worse since pressure defense depends on scoring to give them a chance to set things up.
When they don’t score, or teams break the pressure it can get really ugly as we saw in the January blowout where Pitt won by 38. That game was one of only three all year where DePaul didn’t crack 60 points (Louisville and Gardner-Webb were the others).
The concerns for Pitt are three-fold. It’s a road game, and things have gone wrong for plenty of teams on the road this year (Michigan losing to Penn State, Wake Forest over Miami, all the top Big East teams that lost at Villanova, Washington St. stunning UCLA…). Pitt has been off since last Sunday, and we have seen Pitt look extremely sluggish and struggle when they have extra breaks between games.
Finally there is the injury issue.
Starting center Steven Adams missed Sunday’s game against Villanova with a left ankle sprain. The 7-foot freshman is expected to play, but was sore and limping in practice this week and could be limited.
His backup, 6-9 senior Dante Taylor, also missed two practices with a stomach illness. That could force 6-9 power forward Talib Zanna, coming off a 14-point, 19-rebound game, to play the post.
“They’re obviously not ideal (circumstances), but that’s where we’re at,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “Depth is our strength … but if you take one away, it changes your depth.”
Pitt’s depth doomed DePaul in a 93-55 victory Jan. 26 at Petersen Events Center, as the Panthers’ bench outscored the Blue Demons, 52-26. Pitt also enjoyed a 58-34 rebounding margin, as Adams had 14, Taylor eight and Zanna six.
Another area of concern is DePaul’s press. Pitt had 18 turnovers in the first game against the Blue Demons, who have since started to rely more upon press defense.
“I’m sure they’ll throw a different look at us,” said junior guard Trey Zeigler, who scored a season-high 18 points against DePaul. “When you have a game like we had, you played really well, they’re going to try to take something away.”
To make matters worse, freshman point guard James Robinson injured his thumb in practice this week. Robinson leads the Big East and ranks seventh nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.18).
These are not serious, long-term injuries. But they are reason to be cautious heading to the Big East Tourney and the NCAA. The last thing you want is to have one of your key players go down or exacerbate a minor injury against the worst team in the conference, in a relatively meaningless game.
That said, I have no doubt that Pitt will play to win this game and the banged-up players will do as much as they can. Coach Jamie Dixon just doesn’t do it any other way.
When Pitt was rolling to #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in 2009, Fields suffered a bruised tailbone in the second-to-last game of the season. A reasonable precaution would have been to sit him for the finale against UConn. But Fields was out there for his usual minutes. Yes, that was UConn and Senior Day at the Pete, not DePaul in a half-deserted Rosemont Arena; but you get the picture.
Next week, at the Big East Tournament, there will be plenty of sentimentality on the end of the Big East. Hard to do it, even for a season finale, when the foe is DePaul. But damnit, it will get shoehorned in there somehow.
“It’s somewhat sad it’s coming to an end,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who is in his 10th season as head coach. “We’re in a good place, but we’re going to a good place. We’ve had great memories, but I’m sure it’s going to be great [in the ACC], too.
“It’s hard to believe it getting better than this, the rivalries we’ve had. But I see that continuing. It will be a little different. We found new rivalries in the Big East. We developed rivalries. That will happen in the ACC, too.”
Pitt’s first Big East victory didn’t come until almost a month later. The Panthers opened their first Big East schedule with four losses before beating Seton Hall Jan. 22, 1983.
That first season Pitt finished 6-10 and in sixth place in the standings and then lost their first Big East tournament game to St. John’s. It wouldn’t be until four years later, in 1987, that the Panthers finally would win a Big East tournament game and 20 years until they finally cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden for their first tournament title.
As an aside. For possibly the best piece on the loss of the Big East Tournament (or at least the early leader in the clubhouse), this Dan Wetzel piece was top-notch. He actually talks about hope for the future BET, but when you read it, you just know that it will never be the same.
It’s 2pm eastern (1pm in Chicago). Locally the game will be on WTAE in Pittsburgh. As for the rest of the country, it will be ESPN3, ESPN FullCourt or one of many Big East syndicated outlets:
New York (SNY), Los Angeles, Calif. (KJLA, 5 p.m.); Chicago, Ill. (WCIU-DT4), Washington, D.C. (MASN), Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota, Fla. (Brighthouse), Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Fla. (Brighthouse-O), San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif. (CSN-Bay), Pittsburgh (WTAE-TV), Baltimore, Md. (MASN), Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (SNY-CT), Columbus, Ohio (WWHO), Milwaukee, Wis. (TW-WI), Cincinnati, Ohio (EKRC), Las Vegas, Nevada (KVMY), Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, Pa. (EHP), Louisville, Ky. (WHAS), Buffalo, N.Y. (TW-Buffalo), Wilkes Barre-Scranton (WSWB), Albany-Schenectedy-Troy, N.Y. (TW-Albany), Dayton, Ohio (WBDT), Lexington, Ky. (WTVQ-DT), Green Bay-Appleton (TW-WI2), Toledo, Ohio (WTVG-DT2), Rochester, N.Y. (TW-Rochester), Syracuse, N.Y. (TW-Syr), Madison, Wis. (WMSN), South Bend-Elkhart, Ind. (WMYS), Johnstown-Altoona (WHVL), Evansville, Ind. (WTVW), Youngstown, Ohio (WYTV-DT2), Lansing, Mich. (WHTV), Binghamton, N.Y. (TW-Binghamton), Wheeling-Steubenville, W.Va. (WTOV-DT2), Utica, N.Y. (TW-Utica), Elmire, N.Y. (TW-Elmira), Watertown, N.Y. (TW-Watertown)
Emphasis added to sports networks that those of us who don’t live in some of these areas get on our sports package.