Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon thinks earning a double bye for the Big East Conference tournament next week is a good thing for his team. It's just that based on firsthand experience from a year ago he's not quite certain it's all that it's cracked up to be.
No. 12 Pitt can earn a free pass to the quarterfinal round of the tournament by winning one of its final two games this week at Petersen Events Center. The Panthers play Providence Thursday night and then Rutgers Saturday afternoon.
• Game: Providence (12-16, 4-12 Big East) vs. Pitt (22-7, 11-5).
• When: 9 p.m. Thursday.
• TV: ESPN2.
In the first year of the expanded tournament format last year, when all 16 teams were invited to participate for the first time, Pitt earned one of the four double byes. The Panthers were the No. 2 seed and promptly lost to No. 7 seed West Virginia in a quarterfinal game.
"You would think on paper it would be a good thing," Dixon said. "Last year, though, it didn't turn out to be as good a thing for teams in the tournament and it is something that is being talked about, as far as possibly changing the tournament. It's still a long ways away from that. I know what things look like on paper, but there are some emotions and some other things that come into play."
There is something to be said for the fatigue factor of having to play extra games. But there is also the school of thought that playing a game under the lights of Madison Square Garden in New York and getting acclimated to the pressure of the event is a positive for the teams that have to play early.
Of the four teams that had double byes last season, two lost. In addition to Pitt, Connecticut lost its first game to Syracuse in a six-overtime thriller. No. 1 seed Louisville won the tournament and No. 4 seed Villanova lost to the Cardinals in the semifinal round.
The issue was discussed at the Big East basketball meetings in the offseason. Some coaches did not believe the double-bye format was fair to the team that had earned it. According to Dixon, one of the solutions that was suggested was to eliminate byes altogether.
In a proposed format change, teams would be seeded 1 through 16 with No. 1 playing No. 16 in a first-round game, No. 2 against No. 15 and so on. That would mean the winner of the tournament would have to play four games in four days with the NCAA tournament right around the corner.
The issue will be studied more this offseason, Dixon said.
"At the end of the day, I still think it's an advantage to earn the double bye," Dixon said.
The players agree. They said it's a chance for them to get their legs rested for the postseason while watching their opponent on television a day earlier has its advantages as well.
"That's one of our goals," sophomore forward Nasir Robinson said. "We just try to come out and get wins. Wherever we are, fourth, fifth, third, whatever. We're just trying to finish up [strong]."
Mathematically, Pitt can still get as high as second place and earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. And of the team jostling for position atop the conference the Panthers have by far the easiest remaining schedule.
Providence, the opponent Thursday night, is in 15th place with a 4-12 league record. The Friars have lost eight in a row and 10 of 11. Rutgers is in a tie for 13th place with a 5-11 record.
Second-place Villanova, by contrast, must play at Cincinnati and finish with a home game against West Virginia. The Mountaineers, who are in a tie for third place with Pitt, play host to Georgetown before visiting Villanova.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.