The 20th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers will play their final regular season game as a member of the Big East Conference when they visit the DePaul Blue Demons at Allstate Arena on Saturday.
Next season Pittsburgh, along with Syracuse, will make a move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Panthers are sending themselves off in style though with the team at 23-7 overall and 11-6 in league play, while one of six league teams in the top-25. Pittsburgh has won three straight games entering this final bout and depending on outcomes of Saturday's games could be as high as the fourth seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament. The Panthers need a win and a loss by Notre Dame to do so.
DePaul does not have such lofty aspirations heading into this finale. The Blue Demons are currently at the very bottom of the Big East with just two wins in 17 tries against league foes. Thanks to Connecticut's ban from the postseason this year the Blue Demons will still be in the 14-team field of the Big East Tournament but they have already locked in as the lowest seed.
Not surprisingly Pittsburgh blasted DePaul in the first meeting this season as the Panthers earned a 93-55 victory at home. The Panthers have won eight of the 10 all-time meetings.
Though they needed overtime to do so, the Panthers grabbed their third straight win by posting a 73-64 win over Villanova on Sunday. James Robinson nailed a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left that forced overtime and in the extra session the Panthers scored the first seven points to pull away.
The Panthers have excelled in controlling the tempo this season. They have been able to move the ball with ease to find open shooters as they rank second in the conference, and among the top 25 teams nationally, in both assists (16.6 pg) and field-goal percentage (.472). The Panthers also don't make many mistakes with the second best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55) in the nation. On defense the Panthers are air tight holding teams to just 54.9 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting which are also among the top 25 marks in the country. Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 5.3 apg), Lamar Patterson (10.0 ppg) and James Robinson (6.1 ppg, 3.5 apg) work well as a group in the backcourt. The Panthers may be without Steven Adams (7.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg) for a second straight game as he deals with a sprained ankle. Talib Zanna (9.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) will have to carry the load inside if that is the case.
DePaul went into the Carrier Dome its last time out and came out on the short end of a 78-57 romp against Syracuse. Cleveland Melvin (15 points, eight rebounds) and Brandon Young (12 points, 6 assists) had solid efforts but the Blue Demons shot just 37.7 percent from the field and turned the ball over 18 times.
Young (16.6 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Melvin (16.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) have been carrying DePaul this season. The pair are the second-highest scoring teammates in the conference and the only players on the team scoring in double figures. Young also falls among the top 10 players in assists in the conference while Melvin is a top 10 rebounder. With those two at the helm the Blue Demons have actually been scoring just fine this season. The Blue Demons put in 72 points per game despite shooting at just a 43.4 percent clip from the field. However, on defense DePaul has been lacking, allowing teams to put up 75.1 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting.