Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has made himself at home in some of the most difficult road venues in the Big East Conference. He has kicked up his feet at Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., and plopped onto the couch at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
In his seven seasons as Pitt's head coach, Dixon has won in every Big East arena except for one. Whenever Dixon and the Panthers travel to Milwaukee to play Marquette at the Bradley Center they get the door slammed in their faces.
Pitt is 0-3 at the Bradley Center since Marquette joined the Big East in 2005. In Pitt's most recent visit in 2008, the Panthers absorbed one of their worst losses under Dixon when the Golden Eagles won, 72-54.
- Matchup: No. 19 Pitt (19-6, 8-4 Big East) vs. Marquette (16-8, 7-5), 9 p.m. today, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis.
- TV/Radio: Internet: ESPN, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
- Pitt: Coming off 98-95 triple-overtime victory against West Virginia. ... Has won consecutive conference games after losing four of five. ... A win would give Pitt its ninth consecutive 20-win season. ... Has won three of the past four against Marquette, but is 0-3 against the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee. ... Sophomore G Ashton Gibbs (16.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg) is shooting 38.8 percent from 3-point range. ... Junior G Brad Wanamaker (12.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) recorded his third game of 20 points or more against West Virginia when he notched a career-high 24.
- Marquette: Coming off 63-52 victory against South Florida. ... Has won five consecutive games. ... 2-3 against ranked opponents this season. ... Led by senior F Lazar Hayward (18.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg), junior G/F Jimmy Butler (15.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and sophomore G Darius Johnson-Odom (12.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg).
- Hidden stat: All five of Marquette's starters shoot 35 percent or better from 3-point range while two of Pitt's starters shoot 35 percent or better from behind the arc.
There have been plenty of reasons for Pitt's struggles in Milwaukee. In the most recent game, Levance Fields was working his way back into shape and playing in only his second game since returning to the lineup with a foot injury that kept him out for seven weeks. In another game, Aaron Gray was hobbled with an injury. And invariably, Dixon said, the Panthers always seem to encounter foul troubles when playing at Marquette.
No. 19 Pitt (19-6, 8-4) will attempt to exorcise its Bradley Center demons tonight when the Panthers play the Golden Eagles in an important Big East contest.
It won't be an easy task.
Marquette (16-8, 7-5) owns the longest winning streak in the conference. The Golden Eagles have won five consecutive games and are only one game behind Pitt in the standings. The winner will have an inside track on obtaining a top-four finish in the conference.
Like Pitt, Marquette has been one of the surprises in the Big East. Pitt was picked to finish ninth; Marquette 12th in a preseason poll of the league's coaches. Coach Buzz Williams graduated a talented trio of guards who were among the top scorers in school history.
Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews are gone, but the Golden Eagles remain a dangerous team. Williams has received stellar efforts from his seniors and inserted some talented junior-college players into the mix to make a contender out of a team that no one thought would be a factor in the conference.
Marquette's three seniors have been a major part of the team's resurgence. Forward Lazar Hayward (18.6 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game) is the team's leader in scoring and rebounding. Maurice Acker is fourth on the team in scoring. David Cubillan, another starter at guard, is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
"They have seniors who are playing really well," Dixon said. "It's a testament to the job coach Williams is doing. The seniors are stepping up to the challenge."
And with junior forward Jimmy Butler and junior-college transfers Dwight Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom developing into immediate contributors, Williams has patched together a team that is fighting for a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Johnson-Odom, Cubillan and Acker have filled in admirably for James, McNeal and Matthews.
"They're still getting a lot of production," Dixon said. "They don't have the physicality of [James, McNeal and Matthews], but they shoot it better. It's different, but they're getting production out of those guys."
Acker is shooting 50 percent (35 for 70) from 3-point range and Johnson-Odom is shooting 49.5 percent (54 for 109).
They have helped Marquette become the top 3-point shooting team in the Big East and among the best in the country. The Golden Eagles shoot 42.4 percent from 3-point range as a team. That ranks second in NCAA Division I behind Utah State, which shoots 42.6 percent.
Pitt is the best team in the Big East at defending the 3-point shot. Pitt's opponents only average 30.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc. That ranks 31st in Division I.
"They have a lot of guys who can penetrate and kick," Pitt sophomore Nasir Robinson said. "They play a lot of guards, a spread-out offense.
"We just have to close out with our hands up and play defense. If we communicate on defense we should be good."
Dixon said the Panthers must exercise their power inside in order to win. Marquette is among the worst rebounding teams in the conference, and the Panthers must capitalize on their opportunities near the basket.
"They move the ball very well because they have five guards out there," Dixon said. "What we have to do is hurt them in other areas, hurt them on the glass and get some easy points around the basket."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published February 18, 2010 5:00 AM