Double trouble awaits Panthers
DeJuan Blair can't watch as the Panthers lose to West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East tournament.
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It has been sold as a reward for a highly successful regular season, but the double bye the Big East has been giving to the top four teams in the conference tournament has been more of a detriment than an advantage in the two years it has been instituted.
It became so controversial last spring that the Big East coaches voted to get rid of it and drew up plans for a different tournament format. The coaches were overruled by the athletic directors, who determined that two years was not enough time to study the issue.
It appears to be a moot point anyway because the addition of TCU as a 17th member of the conference likely means the double bye is here to stay for the foreseeable future. When TCU joins in 2012 the Big East is likely to continue to invite all schools to the conference tournament and play five first-round games on Tuesday.
Those details have not been officially discussed by the conference, and the option does exist for the tournament to revert to its old format with 12 teams, with five failing to qualify.
Pitt is the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament that begins today at Madison Square Garden. Eight games will be played before the Panthers take the court for their quarterfinal-round game Thursday afternoon. The possibility exists that their opponent will have played two games in two days before the game with the Panthers.
Eight teams in the conference -- the ones finishing in ninth through 16th place -- play first-round games today with the winners advancing to play the four teams that finished fifth through eighth. The top four seeds play Thursday.
Of the eight teams to receive the double bye to the quarterfinal round, five have lost their opening game, including Pitt both years. In 2009, two of the top four seeds lost their opener. No. 2 seed Pitt lost to West Virginia and No. 3 seed Connecticut lost to Syracuse.
Last season, three of the top four seeds lost their first game. No. 1 seed Syracuse lost to Georgetown, No. 2 seed Pitt lost to Notre Dame and No. 4 seed Villanova lost to Marquette.
- Game: Pitt vs. TBA in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
- When: Noon Thursday.
- TV: ESPN.
"I guess having so much time off sometimes it gets to teams," Pitt junior Ashton Gibbs said. "It got to us the last two years. We can't let it get to us this year. I think we'll be prepared. We have a lot of experienced players, a lot of players who have been in situations like this. We'll be fine."
The tournament format suggested by the coaches had the top four seeds playing the bottom four seeds on Tuesday with winners advancing to Thursday's quarterfinal round. The middle eight teams would have played on Wednesday with the four winners advancing to Thursday.
In that scenario, each of the top eight seeds would play once before the quarterfinal round.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the team will not change its Big East tournament routine. The Panthers have enjoyed great success at the tournament over the years, and Dixon is not making any big changes because of the early losses the past two years.
Dixon said the strength of the league and the number of upper echelon teams has been more of an issue than teams sitting around and waiting to play. Pitt's opponent Thursday is likely to be Connecticut or Georgetown, two teams that are ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.
"Georgetown will be the No. 8 seed and they were No. 7 in the RPI," Dixon said. "That's what we're talking about here. No matter how you set it up, the quarterfinals are going to have eight really good teams playing in it. That's just the way it's going to be. There's no other way to look at it."
Senior guard Brad Wanamaker had a similar outlook. He said the losses to West Virginia and Notre Dame the past two years were because the Mountaineers and Fighting Irish were playing well entering the tournament.
"I don't think it's anything to do with the double bye," Wanamaker said. "Most teams that get the double bye run into a good team that's hot at the time. Last year, we ran into Notre Dame, which was playing good basketball. This year we're going to be prepared and ready for our opponent."
Dixon has long been an advocate of the Big East being the best conference in the country, but he said the league has elevated to an even higher level the past two years. He said the double bye coinciding with that jump in quality is a coincidence.
"It's hard, but it's fun," Dixon said. "It's what we signed up for. It's why we came to the Big East. There are a lot of great tournaments out there. I've been a part of a number of different conferences. They're great. Consistently, year in and year out, we have so many good teams. I think we're elevating each other's play and taken our league to a whole other level. I think that's being shown in the number of teams we'll get in the [NCAA] tournament. Teams have elevated their status, their play, their talent. That's why we'll have 10 or 11 [NCAA] tournament teams. We've made each other stronger."
First Published March 8, 2011 12:00 am