Pitt-St. John's Preview

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon has no reason to believe the Panthers won't bounce back after consecutive Big East losses, and if history is an indication there should be no doubt.

Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2) gets a chance to snap its two-game skid against St. John's (12-7, 2-5) tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center. The two-game skein is just the seventh for Dixon's teams, which have lost three in a row just twice previously.

"It's not like we're over-confident now,'' Dixon said. "These kids have been through so much, but we could have lost the Louisville game and won the Seton Hall game. We had leads in the second half, but we weren't playing well. You've got to play well early so you're not in situations at the end.

"(And) we're 17 in RPI, so we're not that bad. And we're ready to go out again Thursday to play a very good team. And Seton Hall was a very good team. St. John's is a good team with a lot of experience, but we need to improve.''

Pitt junior center Gary McGhee addressed the issue as well.

"We haven't lost any confidence,'' McGhee said. "We just committed too many turnovers against Seton Hall and had a few defensive mishaps against Georgetown that kept us from winning those games. So, we need to turn those things around for St. John's.

"We had a couple by going for some shot fakes. The turnovers came from not going to the ball a couple times, and that hurt us a lot. We only lost by three, so those things really hurt us in that game. (But) if we stay focused and work to get a win, we can get it done.''

Pitt redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown believed the Panthers were just part of life in the Big East Men's Basketball Conference.

"Basketball is a game of ups and downs, so after a five-game winning streak in the Big East we've got two losses in a row,'' Brown said. "We just had a little two-game slide, and that's due to a loss of focus on the court. (But) I really believe in this team, and I think it's going to pull out of this quickly.

"And we're going to get back on track for the last part of the Big East. ... We just need to do what we do best, get back to playing hard-nosed defense. (And) we hope this is a learning experience for the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs, that we need to be up on our defense all the time.'' Dixon and McGhee agreed that the Panthers needed to pick it up at the defensive end the most. And that would trigger Pitt's offense as well.

"We have to take strides defensively, and we've got to make improvements,'' Dixon said. "But I think our offense hurt our defense with all the turnovers in the last game. When we turned it over, they got a lot of transition baskets.

"We should have had things go the other way. So, we've got to do a better job defensively, and we will. By no means did I believe we'd be peaking in January, so it's our goal to get better all the time. And we will.''

Pitt could get the boost it needs with a strong performance against St. John's. The Red Storm has had an inconsistent start, but Dixon believed that was due to a lineup that was in flux until now. St. John's is coming off losses to Connecticut and Villanova after its two Conference wins against Cincinnati and Depaul.

"I think they're still trying to find their rotation,'' Dixon said. "They play a lot of guys, so it's going to be interesting to see how they fit guys in.''

Junior guard D.J. Kennedy, a Pittsburgh native, leads the Red Storm with 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while junior guard Dwight Hardy averages 11.8 points. St. John's has used up to 10 players in every game, but Kennedy, junior guard Paris Horne (8.4 points), junior forward Sean Evans (7.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) and junior guard Malik Boothe have been the most regular starters.

Junior forward Justin Brownlee (7.8) has started just three games. The wild card is fifth-year senior forward Anthony Mason Jr., who has played in just five games and started one. He could be a tough matchup for the Panthers now that he's back in the mix for St. John's.

"This is a very versatile team,'' McGhee said. "They've got some big men who can go outside and face up to get shots up, and they've got a couple shooters with some good range. So, I think they're a good team.

"With Mason back, their team changed a lot. He's a big-time scorer. He gave us some trouble a couple years ago with (nearly 30 points) at the Garden. So, he's going to be somebody to watch out for on defense.''

But if the Panthers play solid team defense like Dixon has preached, they should be able to handle anything St. John's throws at them.

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