Pittsburgh (16-15) at St. John's (13-18)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 6, 2:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS:Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Pitt 11-7, SJU 11-6. Away Record: Pitt 3-8, SJU 2-10. Neutral Record: Pitt 2-0, SJU 0-2. Conference Record: Pitt 5-13, SJU 7-6. Series Record: St. John's leads, 34-22.
GAME NOTES: The 12th-seeded St. John's Red Storm return to the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden for the first round of the 2012 Big East Tournament where they will square off with the No. 13-seed Pittsburgh Panthers as both seek an NCAA Tournament bid.
This will be the second bout between the programs in less than a week. Pitt hosted the Red Storm at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday and prevailed with a 89-69 victory over the visitors. The Panthers have won six of their last seven contests versus St. John's, but still trail 34-22 in the all-time series. The winner of this bout will advance to face the fifth-seeded Georgetown Hoyas in the second round on Wednesday.
Coach Jamie Dixon has been very successful since taking over the helm of Pitt's program. Dixon will be seeking his second Big East Tournament title after he led his team to the 2008 crown. The Panthers have advanced to seven of the last 11 championship games, but a trip to the final this year is not going to come easy. Despite clearly having talent, Pitt has had a very disappointing and streaky season. The Panthers 16-15 overall record came courtesy of their losses in six of their last seven games of the regular season, with the only win coming over the Red Storm. Pitt shot a season-high 63.3 percent from the floor and held a 31-17 advantage in the rebounding battle during its victory over St. John's six days ago.
St. John's struggles against Pitt, and for the entire season in general, came due to its very thin rotation. St. John's finished the season in 12th place in the Big East with a 6-12 mark in league action. The Red Storm have only six players receiving significant playing time regularly, which has resulted in inconsistent play as fatigue wears the six men down. With head coach Steve Lavin away from the team as he recovers from surgery he had for prostate cancer, assistant coach Mike Dunlap has been calling the shots. St. John's finished the season 13-18 overall after its hectic season. Dunlap and the Red Storm will have trouble running the table with just six players as they will need to play five straight days to win the Big East Title, but they are very capable of winning a few games as they have pulled off some big upsets this season at home, including wins over Notre Dame and West Virginia.
Pitt's senior guard Ashton Gibbs closed out the season on a terrible shooting slump, but he did manage to score 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor against SJU. Gibbs averaged a team-high 15.4 ppg through the season and despite his late season slump, he is still considered one of the most dangerous players in the Big East due to his lights out shooting ability. Junior guard Tray Woodall and senior forward Nasir Robinson will have to collaborate with Gibbs and form a three-headed attack to push Panthers to another Big East Tournament championship game.
The Red Storm will rely on their freshman combo of D'Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless to power a victory in this one. Harrison, despite being a rookie, finished third in the league in scoring with 18.5 ppg in Big East games. Harkless sustained a minor ankle injury versus Pitt last week, but still played 40 minutes in the team's season finale versus Rutgers. Harkless' health and comfort level will be vital as SJU cannot afford to rest him.
Although St. John's has the homecourt advantage, Pitt has been known for its success in Madison Square Garden. The Panthers finished behind SJU in the standings, but their senior leaders have much more to play for than the Red Storm's young core.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 68, St. John's 60
03/06 10:33:31 ET