With the Big East Tournament getting underway on Tuesday, we had the chance to have ESPN broadcaster give us some thoughts on it and Pitt. He answered some questions for us about Pitt's chances, the two freshmen, the much-discussed double bye, and more. A big thanks to ESPN for setting this up.
Cardiac Hill: Pitt is starting two freshmen in point guard James Robinson and center Steven Adams. The good news is that they've gotten plenty of minutes and have gone the entire season as the starters. Even though they've played a lot this year, though, there's still a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the postseason for them, right?
Sean McDonough: Many coaches believe that, by this time of the year, freshmen are no longer freshmen. Certainly Robinson and Adams have gained a lot of valuable experience while playing in hostile environments. But, as your questions suggests, the Big East Championship is different. The intensity level is definitely raised. They are playing in the "World’s Most Famous Arena" with the bright lights of New York City shining upon them. There is the pressure that comes from playing in a single elimination tournament. They are playing for a prestigious championship. But I think Robinson and Adams will handle it well. Robinson has shown great poise all season long. He leads the Big East in assist to turnover ratio while playing against some outstanding defensive teams with guards who can turn you over in an instant. James will definitely be a key to Pitt’s chances in this Big East Championship.
In past years, Pitt fans have de-emphasized the importance of winning the Big East Tournament. The thought has been that playing a lot can result in a team being utterly worn out by the time the NCAAs roll around. UConn helped dismiss that notion a few years ago winning the conference tournament and then the NCAAs, but what are your thoughts on that? Is it better for a team to lose early in the conference tournament to get ready for the Big Dance, or do you think winning as much as possible is best?
I strongly disagree with the notion that it is better to lose early in your conference tournament to get ready for the NCAA tournament. It is very important for a team to be playing well and with confidence as it heads into the NCAA tournament. What better way to get on a roll and build confidence than to win the Big East Championship while beating some outstanding teams along the way? I don’t believe playing an additional game or two a week before the NCAA’s wears a team down. These are young men in their late teens or early 20’s. They can handle it. And UConn certainly demolished the myth that you can’t have a long run in your conference tournament and then win the National title.
Along those lines, over the years, there's been a lot of talk about the Big East's double bye. Pitt hasn't fared well when having it in the past. If you were a coach, would you rather have it and play fewer games, or have a single bye, and get what essentially amounts to a bit of a warm-up game first?
In the four years the Big East has had the "double-bye" for the top four seeds, it hasn’t seemed to be a huge advantage for those teams. Two of the last four Big East Champions had the double-bye. The other two came from outside the top four seeds. As you know, Pitt had the double-bye in the first three years of the format (2009-2011) and lost its first game in each of those tournaments. But I still think the double-bye is an advantage if for no other reason than it is very easy to lose on Wednesday night because of the depth of the Big East and the quality of the teams in the middle of the pack. If they are handing you a free pass to the quarterfinals, why not take it?
The Panthers are a deep team, but missing that one superstar player. Can a team do a ton of damage in the postseason without a star?
I think it is more difficult for a team without a superstar player to succeed in the postseason because, obviously, it is an advantage to have a player you know you can lean on to score at crunch time. But Pitt’s formula works well, too. As usual, this Panthers team has won games on the strength of their defense and rebounding. When you lead the league in scoring defense and rebounding margin, you are going to be in virtually every game. And Pitt does a great job of getting good shots. They are among the league leaders in field goal percentage, so even though they don’t have an individual in the top 30 in the conference in scoring, they have a lot of players who can score enough while taking advantage of high percentage shots. It is a typical well-coached Jamie Dixon team.
Give me a surprise team for the Big East Tournament that could step up and challenge for the title.
Providence would be my pick as a sleeper team. They have played very well down the stretch and they have a number of very talented players. Vincent Council is an outstanding guard. Bryce Cotton is the league’s leading scorer. Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton are quality Big East performers who haven’t received as much credit as they deserve because PC doesn’t get as much exposure as many other teams in the conference. Ed Cooley is a strong candidate for Big East Coach of the Year. The Friars are dangerous.
Even if Georgetown isn't the best team in the Big East, it's hard to make a case for anyone else being better at this point, right?
I would make the case for Louisville. They were the coaches pick to the win the conference in the Big East pre-season poll. As always, Rick Pitino has his team playing their best in March. In my opinion, the Cardinals are the best team in the Big East and a serious contender to win the National Championship.
What do you see as Pitt's greatest strength and weakness as they prepare to head into the Big East Tournament?
The Panthers greatest strengths are their quality depth, their defense, rebounding, and high shooting percentage. The coaching of Jamie Dixon and his excellent staff is also a strength. The weakness would be the lack of the “go-to scorer” who you can depend on to get you points when you really need them. I like their team. They truly are “a team”. They have had a very nice bounce-back season after the difficulties of 2011-12 and are certainly a serious threat to win the Big East Championship.
Thanks, of course, to Sean for providing some great analysis.