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Analysis: Pitt primed for long run in postseason tournaments

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Pitt's Tray Woodall drives the ball up court against Syracuse at Petersen Events Center Jan. 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt's Tray Woodall drives the ball up court against Syracuse at Petersen Events Center Jan. 2013.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review - Pitt senior point guard Tray Woodall pushes the ball up the court against Howard at the Petersen Events Center Nov. 2012. Woodall was named the third team all-Big East.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Chaz Palla | Tribune Review</em></div>Pitt senior point guard Tray Woodall pushes the ball up the court against Howard at the Petersen Events Center Nov. 2012. Woodall was named the third team all-Big East.

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Shooting percentage: The Panthers are coming off a record-setting 71.7 percent (33 of 46) at DePaul but shot 44.4 percent (24 of 54) against Villanova. They have made 16 of their past 31 3-point attempts.

J.J. Moore (right): His up-and-down season was reflected in following 2-for-8 shooting against Villanova by going 8-for-8 with five 3s at DePaul. Plays solid defense and can be an offensive mismatch.

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Official relations: The barking at officials has backfired at times as Pitt is being called for a lot of shooting fouls. Opponents have converted an average of 18.1 free throws in Pitt's seven defeats this season.

Trey Zeigler: After scoring a season-high 18 against DePaul on Jan. 26, the junior guard had 22 points in Pitt's last 10 games.

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Jamie Dixon is adamant that Pitt's 24-7 record is not an accurate indication of how good the Panthers are.

Dixon believes they are even better given their 1-3 start and 11-3 finish in Big East Conference play.

“We're playing good,” Dixon said. “We started out 1-3 and now we're 12-6. I don't know anybody is playing any better than that as the season's gone on. We've got a group with four new guys, and we expected to get better and we have.

“There's nothing to complain about at 24-7, but I think we're playing better and that something that's indicative about the 1-3 start in conference play.”

Pitt soon will find out whether it is championship material as the No. 20 Panthers earned a four seed in the Big East Tournament and will play in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Which brings us to the dreaded double bye. Pitt is 0-3 in the conference tournament when playing its first game on a Thursday.

The Panthers aren't alone. Since the Big East began the double-bye format in 2009, only one top-four seed has won the championship (No. 3 West Virgina in 2010).

Even so, Pitt players don't think they shouldn't change anything.

“We've got to keep the same approach,” fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall said. “We're a team that wants to stay consistent in what we do practice-wise and our preparation. We're going to do the same thing. Hopefully the outcome is different.”

Pitt hasn't won the Big East tournament since 2008 when it was a No. 7 seed. These Panthers have a shot for the following reasons:

Woodall and senior center Dante Taylor are New York natives playing at Madison Square Garden for the final time. Both have had great games there against St. John's; Taylor went 8 for 8 in 2012 and Woodall scored a season-high 25 Feb. 24.

Pitt goes 10-deep and has had eight different leading scorers this season. It has a veteran point guard who can score in Woodall, a 7-foot center in freshman Steven Adams and a strong supporting cast.

“They're not a team that you can focus on one guy,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “On different nights, different guys have stepped up for them and been the offensive man. They're balanced, and they're physical.”

Most of all, this is Pitt's last hurrah at the Big East tournament before leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Panthers want to leave a lasting impression.

“Every team wants to go out with a bang, but we want to go out there and have fun most importantly,” guard Cameron Wright said. “I'm definitely confident in my teammates, the coaching staff. We lost two games not too long ago, but I feel like we're rolling right now.”

Pitt isn't alone in that belief. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has called the Panthers the best team in the Big East, while Purnell predicted that they are poised to make a postseason run.

“Not a lot of people talk about them being a threat to go deep in the NCAA Tournament or a threat to win the Big East championship,” Purnell said, “but I think they very definitely are.”

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