Last season's ugly loss to Rutgers a painful memory for Panthers
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When was the exact moment last season one knew for sure Pitt's NCAA tournament streak would end at 10 consecutive years? That's difficult to answer if only because low points were many.
Some might point to the November home loss to Long Beach State. For others, it was the December home loss to Wagner. And others will identify the horrific loss at DePaul early in January.
All are perfectly suitable answers, but nothing screamed that the season was headed toward a third-rate postseason tournament more than what transpired Jan. 11.
That was the date Rutgers visited Petersen Events Center and pummeled the Panthers, 62-39. It was Pitt's lowest point total in 38 years and the lowest in a home game in 61 years.
But beyond the backdrop of historic offensive ineptitude was simply that the embarrassing setback came against the Scarlet Knights.
The same Scarlet Knights that have never finished with a winning record in Big East play. The same Scarlet Knights that have not made the NCAA tournament since 1991, or won an NCAA tournament game since 1983. The same Scarlet Knights that finished last season with a 6-12 conference record.
Pitt made a habit of losing to bad teams last season, something teams coached by Jamie Dixon almost never do.
And if the Panthers would like to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season, they better beat the teams they're supposed to beat on their schedule.
Rutgers, where Pitt plays its second conference game this morning, once again is one of those teams.
"We try not to think about it a lot," Pitt junior J.J. Moore said of last year's loss to Rutgers. "We try to let the past be the past."
The truth is Moore and his teammates don't want to think a lot about any game last season. Rutgers was one of several Big East bottom-feeders that handled Pitt.
In addition to losing to a 3-15 DePaul team, the Panthers lost to Seton Hall (8-10) and Connecticut (8-10), though it should be noted the Huskies made the NCAA tournament with that losing Big East record.
"In the Big East, there are 18 tough games," Dixon said. "There are no easy ones. There are no gimmes. We're used to that. We have a good history with that."
No. 24 Pitt (12-2, 0-1) at Rutgers (9-3, 0-1), 11 a.m. today, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
- TV, Radio, Internet:
ESPN2, KDKA-AM (1020), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Lost to Cincinnati, 70-61, in Big East opener Monday. ... 11-2 against Rutgers in past 13 meetings, but lost last year's game, 62-39, at Petersen Events Center. ... Has won its past six games at Rutgers. ... Most recent loss at Rutgers was in 2001. ... Playing its first road game of the season. ... Led by junior F Talib Zanna (13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and senior G Tray Woodall (11.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg).
Lost to Syracuse, 78-53, in its Big East opener. ... 6-1 record at home. ... Coach Mike Rice returned to the bench against Syracuse after a school-imposed suspension. ... Led by Eli Carter (17.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and Myles Mack (13.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
- Hidden stat:
Rutgers is last in the Big East in turnover margin (minus-1.4) and second-to-last in field-goal percentage defense (.410).
Dixon's teams have beaten bad teams more often than not during his tenure. Perhaps no other team in the conference handles its business better than Pitt.
Before losing four games to teams that finished the season with losing Big East records last season, Pitt had not lost such a game since the 2007-08 season.
This Rutgers team does not appear to be any better than the previous ones that found their way to the bottom half of the league standings.
The Scarlet Knights lost in non-conference play to St. Peter's and Mississippi and were blown out by 25 in their conference opener Wednesday night at Syracuse.
Pitt lost its Big East opener, 70-61, Monday afternoon to No. 14 Cincinnati. It would be a stretch to call this game a must-win for Pitt with 16 conference games to follow, but the Panthers are staring at a game with another ranked team Tuesday night when they visit No. 15 Georgetown.
If any team knows how difficult it is to climb out of an early hole, it should be Pitt, which lost the first seven Big East games last season and never recovered.
One of the biggest issues with that team was winning on the road. The Panthers were 1-8 in conference road games.
Playing at the Rutgers Athletic Center can be challenging for visiting teams, but the Panthers have mastered the formula for winning there. They have won their past six at the RAC for their longest road winning streak against any Big East team.
First Published January 5, 2013 12:00 am