The underdog has won the last four meetings between Pittsburgh and Villanova.
Saturday's matchup in Pittsburgh between the host Panthers and Villanova Wildcats has been circled on many a calendar since schedules were released last year. Co-favorites in the Big East, the Pitt, 'Nova battle was seen as the game that would decide the regular season conference champs and top seed in next week's tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh can still claim the crown with a win, but the game (1:00 p.m. PT, CBS) is no longer a clash of conference titans.
Villanova's demise the last six weeks or so leaves the Wildcats headed towards a second-division finish in the Big East standings. A 16-1 opening run into mid-January seems like so long ago for Villanova (21-8 straight up, 12-15 against the spread). Yes, it's a tough conference and all that rot. Jay Wright's squad has endured some personnel issues like the suspension of JayVaughn Pinkston, a toe injury that kept Corey Stokes out of the lineup for three full games recently and now has leading-scorer Corey Fisher battling nagging injuries.
Still, this is a club that was expected to be better than Notre Dame and Louisville, certainly St. John's and Cincinnati when the conference tournament rolled around and Big East seeds were handed out.
For the record, 'Nova did beat both Cincinnati and Louisville earlier this season, the Bearcats and Cardinals each ranked heading into the matchups. Those two wins are in fact the last time this Villanova team really played like its preseason hype. The Wildcats have gone 5-8 in Big East action since those triumphs, 3-10 versus the odds with spread losers in each of their last seven trips to the floor.
They were embarrassed at South Bend on Monday night, dropping a 93-72 decision to the Irish as five-point underdogs. It was just the third time this season Villanova received points in a game, the 'Cats covering the other two in January road affairs (Syracuse, UConn).
Pittsburgh (26-4 SU, 13-12 ATS) has proven itself human recently as well, but still enters this game and the conference tourney in good fashion. Tough road defeats at St. John's and in overtime to Louisville in the past two weeks have the Panthers needing this win to be the lone regular season conference champ. At worst, a loss could drop them to No. 2 in the Big East bracket next week.
The 62-59 defeat at Louisville a week ago came with the Panthers one-point road pups, also their first loss in three games receiving points. One of the other times Pitt was the 'dog was Feb. 12 at Villanova when Jamie Dixon's lads prevailed 57-54 as a 2½-point 'dog. 'Nova was still a top-10 team in that contest three weeks ago to further illustrate how quickly the Wildcats have fallen. It was also the first time in over four years Villanova had fallen to anyone on The Pavilion floor.
That win in Philly gave Pittsburgh it's second straight cover in the series, and also marked the fourth straight time a meeting between the two ended with the underdog winning straight up. The caveat to that little trend being Pitt was a slight home underdog last season when the two schools met in Iron City. The Panthers emerged with a 70-65 win, knocking off a 'Nova team that was ranked third in the country.
Pittsburgh won't be an underdog this time at home where they are officially 16-2 overall on the season, 15-1 here at Petersen Events Center and 1-1 across town at Consol Energy Center.
Oddsmakers haven't been able to set a number too low for Pitt games recently, the Panthers on a six-game stretch down low and nine of last 11. Three of Villanova's last four have gone 'over,' however.
The next time we should see either team is nest week in New York City. Villanova should be one of the Big East teams playing Tuesday as a lower-half seed while Pitt sits around until Thursday before taking on most likely the 8/9 seed winner.