Pittsburgh bounced back from its first loss in fine fashion, cruising through its final two non-conference games before opening its Big East slate with three straight wins.
Georgetown isn’t enjoying conference play nearly as much.
The No. 22 Hoyas should have their hands full in trying to avoid a three-game losing streak with Wednesday night’s visit from the fifth-ranked Panthers.
Pitt (15-1, 3-0) shot 40.7 percent from the field and 59.5 from the free-throw line in an 83-76 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 11, but it’s bounced back with five straight wins.
The Panthers’ shooting has improved during their three conference wins. They have shot 55.0 percent - 52.1 from 3-point range - and averaged 83.3 points, including a 60.0 percent effort in Saturday’s 89-81 victory over Marquette.
Pitt averaged 73.7 points and shot 46.5 percent in winning its first three conference games last season.
“I think we’re good offensively. Are we better than last year’s team offensively? I think we can be,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I think we’re heading in that direction.”
Georgetown (12-4, 1-3) doesn’t seem to know which direction it’s going these days. The Hoyas’ 11-1 start, which included an overtime win over then-No. 9 Missouri in Kansas City and an 86-69 victory at then-No. 16 Memphis, is a thing of the past as they’re off to their worst conference start since 2003-04.
Poor 3-point shooting has been the main culprit. Georgetown has shot 25.7 percent in its four Big East games, missing 12 of 17 in a 65-59 home loss to West Virginia on Saturday.
“We’re in a place where we don’t want to be right now,” coach John Thompson III said. “Everyone in that locker room from myself on down has to figure out how to get us out of this place. We’re the same group of guys who were in there two or three weeks ago, and now we just have to find out how to get back there.”
The Hoyas are 11-0 when they shoot 33.3 percent or better from beyond the arc, and they especially need leading scorer Austin Freeman to get going. Freeman shot 56.8 percent (25 of 44) from 3-point range in November, but he’s made 31.4 percent (11 of 35) in nine games since.
He had 11 points in the loss to the Mountaineers. All of those came in the second half after Freeman attempted two shots in the opening 20 minutes.
“It’s something I can’t do,” Freeman said, “because my team needs me to be aggressive and be able to get my shot and be able to get them easy shots, too.”
Freeman has averaged 9.3 points in four meetings against Pitt. He had 13 on Jan. 20 at the Petersen Events Center, but it was Chris Wright’s game-high 27 points that sparked the Hoyas’ 74-66 win - the Panthers’ lone loss in their last 50 home games.
Pitt’s own backcourt duo struggled mightily to make shots that day, with Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker going 7 of 28 from the field.
The Panthers have been almost impossible to stop when Gibbs, shooting a career-high 45.5 percent as a junior, is on. Pitt is 17-0 over the past two seasons when he makes more than half his shots and 23-10 when he shoots 50 percent or worse.
Even if Gibbs and Wanamaker aren’t hitting, the Panthers are dangerous. Pitt’s plus-13.8 rebounding differential is easily the nation’s best, while Georgetown has been outrebounded in three of its last four games.
Wright and Freeman missed 12 of 15 shots during the Panthers’ last visit to the Verizon Center, a 70-54 Pitt win Jan. 3, 2009.