Big East tournament double bye welcomed by Pitt's Dixon

Extra rest will help those with injuries

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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows better than anyone else how the double bye can kill a team's momentum at the Big East Conference tournament.

Dixon believed he had golden opportunities to win another Big East tournament championship in 2009, 2010 and 2011, only to lose to lower-seeded teams that had the advantage of playing one or sometimes two games before meeting the Panthers in the quarterfinals.

When word came down Saturday that Pitt had secured the double bye for the fourth time in five years, Dixon was not worried about past failures as much as the present state of his team. And now more than ever, Dixon is viewing the double bye as a benefit because his team desperately can use the rest.

Three of Dixon's starters are dealing with nagging injuries heading into the postseason. Senior guard Tray Woodall injured a knee late in the first half Saturday against DePaul. He played the second half but was not 100 percent, according to Dixon.

Woodall joined freshman center Steven Adams and freshman point guard James Robinson in the ranks of the injured. Adams, who missed the home finale March 3 against Villanova with a sprained left ankle, played 21 minutes Saturday against DePaul. After the game, Dixon said Adams looked "hampered" against the Blue Demons. Robinson, who has a sprained left thumb that happened in practice last week, played 19 minutes and was 0 for 1 from the field and only scored two points.

"You have a bye week [during the final week of the regular season] and you think you're going to get healthy," Dixon said after the DePaul game. "Our guys can use a day off."

The Panthers will get more than that. They have four days between games. They won't play until 2 p.m. Thursday against Syracuse, South Florida or Seton Hall.

The injuries did not prevent the Panthers from finishing the season on a strong note. They beat DePaul to finish the regular season in fourth place in the league standings with a 12-6 record. They have won 11 of their past 14.

"We're a team that has gotten better as the year has gone on," Dixon said. "We're playing good. We started out 1-3 and now we're 12-6, I don't know if anyone has played better than that."

Pitt's history with the double bye is dubious. It lost as the No. 2 seed in 2009 after a 15-3 regular season. It also lost as the No. 2 seed in 2010 after a 13-5 regular season and the No. 1 seed in 2011 after another 15-3 regular season.

Teams with the double bye are only 9-7 since the Big East started the format in 2009. Woodall, who was a member of all three teams that lost with the double bye, said the Panthers were not going to change much with their approach from previous years.

"We'll keep everything the same," Woodall said. "We have to keep the same approach. We want to stay consistent in what we do practice-wise in our preparation. Hopefully, the outcome is different."

It will be the final Big East tournament as fans have come to know it. The =seven Catholic schools that are breaking away from the football-playing schools will keep the Big East name and the tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York, but it will be minus many of the schools that made the tournament so successful over the years.

Pitt and Syracuse are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference July 1. They have combined for seven conference tournament championships. Louisville, which will join the ACC at a later date, and Connecticut have combined for nine more.

It's the end of an era in college basketball, and the players sense it.

"I'm excited," sophomore guard Cameron Wright said. "I know my teammates are excited. This is the last Big East tournament. Every team wants to go out with a bang."

It appears Pitt received a favorable draw. The Panthers went 3-0 in the regular season against Syracuse, South Florida and Seton Hall -- the three possible opponents Thursday.

If Pitt wins Thursday, No. 1 seed Georgetown could be the opponent in the semifinals. The Panthers beat the Hoyas by 28 points in early January on their home floor.

"I think it is wide open," Woodall said of the tournament. "That's college basketball. We want to go out there and leave the Big East on top."

Big East honors

Woodall and Adams received Big East honors.

Woodall, who averaged a team-high 11.7 points and 5.2 assists per game, was named third-team all-Big East. Adams, a 7-foot center, was named to the all-rookie team.

Adams is the first Pitt freshman to be named to the all-rookie team since DeJuan Blair in 2008. He averaged 7.1 points and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game.

Player, coach and rookie of the year will be announced Tuesday.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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