By John Perrotto
Pitt would like to think it is back on track after nearly veering off course and out of the top 25.
The Panthers have won two straight games following a stretch where they lost four of five and put themselves on the brink of going of the biggest surprises in the country this season to one of the biggest disappointments.
The Pirates beat Seton Hall 83-58 on Saturday then dusted and Robert Morris 77-53 on Monday in a pair of home games after dropping Big East games to Georgetown, Seton Hall, South Florida and West Virginia during its cold spell.
“I thought we played well in both games,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We moved the ball well. We shot the ball better. It was two good wins against quality teams that are playing well. I think Robert Morris will win its league (the Northeast Conference) and go back to the NCAA Tournament and Seton Hall is right there fighting for an NCAA bid.”
A test of whether the 25th-ranked Panthers have truly snapped out of their funk will come Friday night when they host No. 5 West Virginia at the Petersen Events Center. Tipoff is at 9 and the game will be televised by ESPN. The Mountaineers rolled to 70-51 victory over Pitt just last Wednesday at Morgantown.
“We’re obviously looking forward to playing them again, getting a second chance,” Dixon said. “I have no doubt we’re a better team than when we played them last time. Rebounding will be the big factor. It was a two-point game early in the second half and we had the ball with the chance to tie or go ahead then it seemed every rebound went their way.”
West Virginia wound up with a45-31 edge in rebounding with Devin Ebanks pulling down 16 boards.
The one edge Pitt has in the rematch is playing at home. The Panthers are a remarkable 5-0 against team ranked in the top five at The Pete.
Despite getting handled by West Virginia but a little more than a week ago, the Panthers are confident they can raise that record to 6-0.
“I think we reacted very well to adversity by winning these last two games,” junior forward Gilbert Brown said. “I think this team is capable of doing anything. It’s how we handle ourselves on the court.”
WVU, Pitt, Top 20 in RPI Rankings
1. Kansas 23-1 RPI 0.6855 Big12 (9-0)
2. Syracuse 24-1 RPI 0.6770 Big East (11-1)
3. Villanova 21-2 RPI 0.6709 Big East (10-1)
4. Duke 20-4 0.6652 7 0.5971 ACC (8-2)
5. West Virginia 19-4 RPI 0.6611 Big East (8-3)
6. Kentucky 23-1 RPI 0.6595 SEC (8-1)
7. Georgetown 18-5 RPI 0.6538 Big East (8-4)
8. Kansas St. 18-4 RPI 0.6517 Big12 (6-3)
9. New Mexico 22-3 RPI 0.6494 MWest (8-2)
10. Purdue 20-3 RPI 0.6432 Big10 (8-3)
11. Vanderbilt 17-5 RPI 0.6343 Sec (7-2)
12. Butler 21-4 RPI 0.6335 Horiz (14-0)
13. Wake Forest 17-5 RPI 0.6330 ACC 7-3
14. Northern Iowa 22-2 RPI 0.6315 MVC (13-1)
15. Wisconsin 18-6 RPI 0.6297 Big10 (8-4)
16. Temple 19-5 RPI 0.6267 ATL10 (7-2)
17. Texas A&M 16-6 RPI 0.6263 Big12 (6-3)
18. Pittsburgh 18-6 RPI 0.6257 Big East 7-4
*Strength of Schedule (15)
19. Rhode Island 19-4 RPI 0.6237 ATL10 (7-3)
20. Michigan St. 19-6 0.6236 26 0.5758 Big10 (9-3)