The youthful Pittsburgh Panthers have undergone an up-and-down season to say the least.
After an unimpressive non-conference slate, it began its conference portion of the season with huge road wins at Syracuse and Connecticut followed by an overtime thriller against Louisville at home.
The Panthers then proceeded to lose four of their next five games, including surprising losses at Seton Hall and South Florida, and it looked like their resume might not be good enough to advance to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.
However, Pittsburgh has not lost since a 70-51 drubbing at West Virginia on Feb. 3 and have won its last five games including consecutive wins against West Virginia, Marquette and Villanova.
The latter, a 70-65 win at home on Sunday, vaulted the Panthers into the coveted fourth position in the Big East standings with West Virginia at 10-4. The top four teams in conference receive a two-round bye in the Big East tournament.
Wildcats woes continue
Before the week began, Villanova found itself on top of the Big East after Syracuse’s late meltdown at home to Louisville. The Wildcats had control of their own destiny and a likely No. 1 seed come March.
However, losses to Connecticut and Pittsburgh in the past week have the Wildcats at 22-4 and they slid to No. 8 in the new ESPN/USA Today rankings released Monday.
Villanova will have plenty of chances in its last four regular season games (South Florida, at Syracuse, at Cincinnati and West Virginia) and the Big East tournament to prove it deserves a No. 1 seed, but two losses in a row certainly won’t help its chances.
“I think the good thing about our team is that they understand how to move on to the next game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “When we were winning, that’s what we told them. It’s what we always talk about.”
Two games to watch
Villanova at Syracuse, Saturday Feb. 27
Both teams play potential “trap” games early in the week, with Syracuse traveling to Providence on Tuesday and Villanova hosting South Florida on Wednesday, but begin the week Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in the Big East standings. Syracuse will look to build on its huge road win at Georgetown last Thursday. Andy Rautins led the Orange with 26 points and seven rebounds in the win.
Georgetown at West Virginia, Monday March 1
The Hoyas will look to snap a two-game losing streak with games on the road at Louisville tonight and hosting Notre Dame on Saturday before heading to Morgantown, W. Va. for this pivotal matchup. The Mountaineers will have a chance to clinch a top-four spot in the conference standings, while also having a chance to send their seniors out with a win at home one last time. Last time out, West Virginia needed a late 12-3 run to erase a 19-point deficit in a 75-63 win over Seton Hall at home.
Player of the week
Dane Miller, Rutgers Freshman F
Miller averaged 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in a 2-0 week for the Scarlet Knights, which has won four of its last five games. He had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a 71-68 win against Georgetown, including a put-back with 22 seconds left to give Rutgers the lead for good. Miller leads all Big East freshmen in scoring in conference games at 12.5 ppg.
Points per game: 9.4
Rebounds per game: 6.1
Assists per game: 2.4
Steals per game: 1.1
Field goal percentage: 43.5
3-point percentage: 30.6