Men’s basketball: Panthers can lock up a Big East tournament double bye with win against Providence on Thursday

By Kyle Craig

The finale of No. 17-ranked Pitt’s regular season schedule isn’t filled with… The finale of No. 17-ranked Pitt’s regular season schedule isn’t filled with traditional blockbuster matchups. The Panther’s last home stand features contests against Providence and Rutgers, two teams that sit within the bottom four of the Big East standings.

Providence (12-16, 4-12 Big East) will enter tomorrow night’s contest at the Petersen Events Center sporting an eight-game losing streak. The Friars’ last victory came on Jan. 27, when they crushed Connecticut, 81-66.

Pitt (22-7, 11-5) will look to exploit the Providence defense, which is the worst in the Big East, giving up an average 81.2 points per game. Comparatively, the Panthers rank first in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 61.7 points per game.

In fairness to the Friars, five of their last eight losses came at the hands of opponents that were ranked in the nation’s top ten. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is wary of the test that Providence will present Pitt.

“[The Friars] seem to be in every game. They go through runs where they give up points, but there are times when they score points in bunches, too,” Dixon said.

Dixon noted Providence’s ability to make shots from the 3-point range, an attribute that abused the Panthers during their last loss at Notre Dame.

“We have to look at how they shoot the ball from three and how they space the floor,” Dixon said. “We have to guard. We know that they can shoot from deep range.”

Leading the offense attack of the Friars is redshirt sophomore forward Jamine Peterson. The team leader in scoring, Peterson averages 19.3 points per game with a 35 percent 3-point record.

The 6-foot-6 native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has shown his versatility by leading the Friars with 9.9 rebounds per game.

“[Peterson is] a tough matchup because of his ability to play inside and out. He’s one of those guys that you see that the numbers don’t lie,” Dixon said.

Besides Peterson, fifth-year senior Sharaud Curry continues to give bite to a Providence offense. Curry averages 15.5 points per game and has a 33.8 percent success rate from beyond the arc.

Lacking a quality center, Providence coach Keno Davis is prone to use a guard-laden lineup that creates matchup problems for opponents.

“They actually play a little smaller, so we have to guard that and prepare for the press at the same time,” Dixon said.

To add a bit of historical motivation, the Panthers will attempt to avenge their 81-73 loss at Providence last season. At the time, Pitt was ranked No. 1 in the nation, a distinction that was removed soon after that contest.

“We’re definitely thinking about last year,” sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs said. “But at the same time, we just want to treat it like any other game and play our hardest.”

Gibbs and his teammates will look to secure a double bye in the Big East tournament by closing out the home schedule with two victories. Marquette (20-9, 11-6) could pass Pitt in the conference standings if the Panthers suffer a final week collapse.

Regardless of how the last two contests go, the Panthers will still finish safely above ninth place, which is where Big East coaches predicted they would finish at the beginning of the season.

Gibbs downplayed the idea of winning these last two games in an effort to defy the preseason doubts, but still highlighted the importance of the victories.

“We want to win every single game,” Gibbs said. “We can’t look at it that we have to win this game. But at the same time, if we just play our game and Coach Dixon does a good job of preparing us for every single game, we’ll be fine.”

ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi currently has Pitt listed as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, a projection that the Panthers will look to hold and possibly improve this week and during the Big East tournament.

After Providence, the Panthers will welcome Rutgers on Saturday for senior day.