Last weekend, Pitt continued their march towards a double-bye in the Big East tournament and a potential regular season title by beating Cincinnati on the road after losing to the Bearcats in their first conference game. The Panthers hope to continue the trend by beating Marquette in Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. The game will be televised on CBS at 1:00 p.m.
In the first meeting, Pitt and the Golden Eagles played a tight battle. In regulation, the largest lead was by six points. But poor free throw shooting (13-26) by the Panthers doomed them, including a 2-7 stretch in overtime. Marquette also won the battle of the boards and that game highlighted the low point in Pitt's season.
And then, everything changed. Pitt started closing out games, they improved on offense and defense, and the end result was a victory in seven out of the next eight games. The lone loss was a close defeat to Louisville on the road.
This is a very different team than the one that Buzz Williams saw last month. With the emergence of Steven Adams as a scoring threat and Tray Woodall's lethal stroke from the perimeter, the Panthers can now back up a physical defense with an offense that is efficient and scores enough to get the victory.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles have gotten to the top of the Big East standings in part due to some easy wins and a bit of luck. Several of their Big East games have been close contests where they were able to pull away late. But in their games against the top teams in the conference, they've been exposed, losing to Georgetown, Louisville, and Cincinnati on the road.
They got by Pitt the first time around because the Panthers couldn't make their free throws. Is Pitt better at the line this time around? Not even close. But I think Pitt can definitely win the rebounding margin and that they will shoot better than 50% from the line.
One key matchup to watch will be beyond the arc. The Panthers are 5th in conference play in three-point shooting while Marquette is 12th in defending the long range shot. Then there's the aforementioned rebounding. Pitt is second in grabbing offensive rebounds while Marquette is 10th in preventing them. If the Panthers are able to pull this one out, which Kenpom.com predicts will happen by the way, Pitt will have to hit from the perimeter and the free throw line while also grabbing their misses and converting them for second-chance points.