Pitt heads to DePaul with Big East seeds at stake
Pitt's most dominant performance of the season came against DePaul, a 38-point victory that saw the Panthers wear down the Blue Demons with depth and rebounding.
What have been strengths for No. 20 Pitt (23-7, 11-6) could be concerns when the Panthers play DePaul (11-19, 2-15) in their final Big East regular-season game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
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).
Dixon expects DePaul to press all 40 minutes, and is putting an emphasis on the Panthers to score. In the first game against DePaul, Pitt scored 48 points in the paint, 26 on the fastbreak, 23 off turnovers and 16 on second chances.
“That's key: You've got to score. You've got to attack,” Dixon said. “You've got to take care of it, obviously, but you have to get some baskets on the back end of it and make good decisions on the back end of it.”
The Panthers know not to overlook DePaul, which has lost five consecutive games and 14 of its past 15, because the Blue Demons handed them a loss last season.
And Pitt needs a victory to earn a top-four seed and double bye for the Big East Tournament next week.
The Panthers are in a three-way tie for fourth place with Notre Dame and Syracuse. The No. 17 Orange play at No. 5 Georgetown at noon, while the No. 24 Irish play at No. 8 Louisville at 4 p.m.
If Pitt beats DePaul and Notre Dame loses, the Panthers will earn the fourth seed, regardless of what Syracuse does. If Pitt and Notre Dame win and Syracuse loses, Pitt is the fifth seed. If all three win, Pitt finishes as the sixth seed. If all three lose, Pitt is the fourth seed.
“We're definitely aware of that, but we've got to take care of business,” Zeigler said. “We can't really worry about what everyone else is doing or how it falls. We have to make sure we take care of what we can control.”