Playing its final regular-season game before moving to the ACC, Pittsburgh still has some unfinished business in the Big East.
The 20th-ranked Panthers have a chance to earn the No. 4 seed and a two-day bye in next week's conference tournament with a win at lowly DePaul and some help Saturday.After losing back-to-back contests to Marquette and Notre Dame last month, Pitt (23-7, 11-6) has responded with three straight wins -- the latest a 73-64 overtime victory over Villanova on Sunday.The Panthers rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit and forced OT thanks to a James Robinson 3-pointer with 32 seconds left. Talib Zanna had 14 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, Robinson also scored 14 and Tray Woodall finished with 13 points and 11 assists."I just kept playing, kept crashing the glass and the ball kept falling into my hands," Zanna said.Pitt is tied with Notre Dame and Syracuse for the fourth and final double-bye spot in the Big East tournament. It can secure the No. 4 seed with a victory Saturday and a Fighting Irish loss at No. 8 Louisville.The Panthers don't appear likely to have trouble handling their part of that equation against a last-place DePaul team that has dropped 14 of 15. Pitt's seven-game win streak over the Blue Demons ended last season with an 84-81 loss at Allstate Arena, but coach Jamie Dixon's team bounced back with a 93-55 rout of DePaul at home Jan. 26.Trey Zeigler had a season-high 18 points in 18 minutes off the bench while Lamar Patterson added 15 and seven rebounds. Woodall scored just eight points, but has since averaged 13.9 while reaching double figures in nine straight games.Pitt is finishing up a 31-year run in the Big East before heading to the ACC next season along with Syracuse."You wonder how it can get any better than this in playing in the best conference in the country," Dixon said. "But our hopes and our plans are to make the ACC the best conference in the country. That's why they came after us and Syracuse. They didn't come after us to pull it down. They came after us to build it up."The Panthers, who lead the Big East in rebounding differential at plus-6.7, will try to continue their dominance on the boards after outrebounding DePaul 58-34 in January. The Blue Demons, on the other hand, rank near the bottom of the league at minus-3.2.DePaul (11-19, 2-15) is mired in a five-game losing streak after a 78-57 defeat at No. 17 Syracuse on Wednesday. The Blue Demons have lost 42 straight games against ranked opponents dating back to 2008, including all five this season.Brandon Young (16.6 points per game) and Cleveland Melvin (16.5) combined for 46 points in last season's win over Pitt, but had just 20 on 6-of-30 shooting against the Panthers in January. While the Blue Demons rank third in the Big East in scoring (72.0 ppg), Pitt held them to season lows in points and field goal percentage (27.7) in the first meeting.The Panthers rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense and are on pace to set a program record, allowing 54.9 points per game.