The bowl season is over, the continuation of the NFL playoffs
still several days away. Looks like we're stuck with college basketball, not that I'm complaining, especially since Wednesday's schedule
includes a top-notch Big East battle between ranked schools, the No. 5 Pittsburgh Panthers at the No. 22 Georgetown Hoyas.
If there is a complaint, it's that Georgetown enters the 4 p.m. PT tip at Washington DC's Verizon Center in a bit of a funk. The Hoyas were one of five Big East teams in the top 10 of both college polls just two weeks ago, but that was before they dropped three of four games, two on the road at Notre Dame and St. John's and one at home last Saturday to West Virginia.
A 1-3 start to the conference slate puts John Thompson III and his team facing something close to a must-win Wednesday.
Georgetown (12-4 straight up, 9-6 against the spread) finds itself out of sorts for several reasons, including the fact it's simply a tough conference slate to play. The Irish have played better than most expected, and that is also certainly true for the Red Storm.
But even in their win over DePaul, the Hoyas failed to play with much intensity. Chris Wright (12.5 PPG) was held scoreless in the first half of that game before turning it on, the Blue Demons swiped 12 Georgetown balls and the Hoyas were anything but aggressive on the glass. They're not a great rebounding team to start with, and if the Hoyas play as passively on the boards against Pitt, the Panthers will eat their lunch.
The 65-59 loss to the Mountaineers came with Georgetown favored by 7½, leaving the Hoyas 0-4 at the window in Big East play. They turned it over 18 times and ran into foul trouble, West Va sporting a 17-10 scoring edge from the line. Wright committed five turnovers, leading scorer Austin Freeman (17.9 PPG) was held to 11 points with four fouls, and Hollis Thompson, one of Georgetown's bigger bodies, managed to stay on the floor just 20 minutes before fouling out.
Pittsburgh (15-1 SU, 4-7 ATS) comes in with a clean 3-0 conference mark, though just 1-2 ATS in Big East action. The Panthers dominated UConn in their conference opener, then rallied on the road to avoid being upset at Providence. Pitt's most recent outing was an 89-81 win over Marquette, just missing the cover as 8½-point chalk.
Coach Jamie Dixon is pleased with the offensive output so far, the 81.2 scoring average ranking 16th nationally and the 49.3 percent shooting mark 11th. Pitt has shot at least 52 percent from the field in all three Big East games, topping out with a season-best 60 percent mark versus Marquette.
Dixon has not been pleased with the team's trademark defense the past two games, however. The Panthers built a big first-half lead against the Golden Eagles, then slacked off. West Virginia's pressure defense was a big reason the Mountaineers polished off G'town, and that's the first thing to look for out of Pitt when they hit the Hoyas' floor on Wednesday. The backcourt duo of Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs for Pittsburgh should match up well against Freeman and Wright of Georgetown.
The Hoyas pulled off the upset last season when the two teams got together in Pittsburgh, ending a 31-game home-court win streak for the Panthers. Wright went off for 27 to lead Georgetown while Gibbs and Wanamaker couldn't buy a bucket for Pitt, combining for 7-of-28 from the field, 2-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The 140-point final last January topped the 127-point NCAA odds total. All three of Pitt's conference games this season have gone 'over.'
Georgetown heads out on the highway for their next two games, Saturday at Rutgers and next Tuesday at Seton Hall. Pitt will return to Iron City for a pair, hosting Seton Hall this Saturday before a big battle next Monday versus Syracuse.