Needing one win to ensure a double-bye to start the Big East tournament, Pittsburgh couldn’t ask for two easier opponents to face to end the season.
The 17th-ranked Panthers go for their sixth straight home win over Providence on Thursday, trying to avoid overlooking the Friars for a second straight year.
Pittsburgh (22-7, 11-5) has won six of seven and is on the verge of securing a two-day bye, awarded to the top four teams in the conference. The Panthers also have a chance to catch 10th-ranked West Virginia, which is a half-game ahead of them, for the No. 3 seed because they hold the tie-breaker against the Mountaineers.
The Panthers, however, earned a double-bye in the tournament last season only to lose their opener to West Virginia.
“You would think on paper it would be a good thing, but last year didn’t turn out to be a good thing,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s something the coaches have to talk about. On paper you would think so, but not everything on paper turns out the way you think.”
Pittsburgh will close the regular season with home games against Providence (12-16, 4-12) and Rutgers (15-14, 5-11). On Thursday, it will be trying to avenge an 81-73 road loss to the Friars last season when the Panthers were the No. 1 team in the nation.
That Providence team was hoping to reach the NCAA tournament, but this one has little chance of earning a bid after dropping eight straight. The Friars have one of the worst scoring defenses in the nation, allowing 81.2 points per game—85.7 in Big East play.
Pittsburgh will be looking to take advantage of those struggles following what Dixon believes was one of the Panthers’ better offensive games of the season.
Pittsburgh bounced back from a 68-53 loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 24 with a 71-64 road victory over St. John’s on Saturday. The Panthers shot 50.0 percent or better for just the ninth time, connecting on 51.1 percent of their attempts.
“Our offense was as good as it’s been,” Dixon said. “We made good passes. We took good shots. … There were some great performances from all of our guys. It was a good team effort.”
Pittsburgh has the top scoring defense in the Big East but is among the lowest-scoring teams at 68.2 points per game. Recently it has relied heavily on its reserves, including Gilbert Brown, who is averaging 10.8 points. During February, the Panthers bench contributed 21.5 points per game.
Providence will try to end its skid after a tough 99-93 loss at South Florida on Saturday. The Friars had a late chance to pull out the victory, but Sharaud Curry was charged with a technical foul and the Bulls converted on a three-point play before hitting two technical foul shots with 14.5 seconds left.
Curry and Jamine Peterson each had 26 points. Curry scored 15 in the win over Pitt last season.
Providence is giving up an average of 89.5 points in its last eight games and its last two opponents have combined to shoot 56.3 percent.