Well we're here. Pitt is off to Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. A bit early of an arrival than we thought in the preseason, but that's alright.
Pitt has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Going into Saturday, the Panthers would've have began the conference tournament against Rutgers, only to face South Florida and then Notre Dame had they won. All three teams had beaten the Panthers decisively during the regular season. But thanks to various results in the final games, we now face St. John's to open the Big East Tournament, a team Pitt beat by 20 on Wednesday.
Pitt got great scoring contributions from Ashton Gibbs, Dante Taylor, Lamar Patterson, and J.J. Moore as the team shot better than 63% from the field to rout the Johnnies. The Panthers also bludgeoned St. John's on the boards, winning the rebounding margin 30-14.
What worked against the Johnnies the first time?
Virtually everything, but maybe more than anything, Pitt seemed to take advantage inside. Taylor and Nasir Robinson both were perfect from the field and helped Pitt dominate the boards. Pitt will likely try a similar strategy on Tuesday. St. John's has talent, but there is such little depth that Pitt can seemingly do what they want to inside. On Wednesday, St. John's only used six players. Total. Pitt, on the other hand, used six players off their bench. The Panthers should work to get God's Gift Achiuwa (best name ever) and Moe Harkless into foul trouble. Pitt has a real height advantage as the Red Storm's tallest player is 6'8" while Pitt has three players taller than that in Taylor, Zanna, and Malcolm Gilbert. J.J. Moore could also contend a bit with the Johnnies big men in the post.
The turnovers again were high, but Pitt was able to overcome it through great shooting. Pitt can't expect to have this kind of shooting night every game, so again, turnovers have to come down.
This season has not been kind to Ashton Gibbs, but with the conference tournament, it's a whole new season. Time to start fresh and try and regain that shooting stroke that he's had throughout the rest of his career. He hasn't shot well at all from the perimeter, but nothing like the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden to re-emerge as a top shooter. He needs to embrace the moment and regain his confidence as a shooter for Pitt to move forward in the tournament. The Panthers can't go far without him.
Pitt had a rough first half in their last game against Connecticut, but I liked the fight the team displayed to claw their way back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the lead for a short period, only to relinquish it in the end. They only had four turnovers in the entire second half, which is a miracle for this team. Disregard the end of that game - if Pitt can play how they played in the initial 15 or so minutes of the second half, they can definitely get past St. John's.
Another advantage for Pitt is that this will be the first Big East Tournament for virtually the entire Red Storm team and despite having played in Madison Square Garden multiple times throughout the season, the atmosphere is different come tournament time. Add it all up and I think Pitt wins this one. The result might not be as lopsided as it was on Wednesday, but they'll still pull out this win and prepare for a game against Georgetown on Wednesday.