Pittsburgh provides imposing challenge as Marquette aims for another double bye

Marquette hosts one of the hottest teams in the Big East when Pittsburgh comes to town tomorrow for a noon tip off.

The Golden Eagles are currently tied for first place in the conference standings following Syracuse’s 66-58 loss at Connecticut Wednesday.

“This is probably the biggest game of the year for us so far, we really need this one,” Vander Blue said. “We have to do our part and win this game.

The Panthers come to Milwaukee winners of seven of their last eight after the Golden Eagles won the first meeting 74-67 in overtime on Jan. 12. Pittsburgh has wins over Syracuse and at Cincinnati during that streak and its only setback came by three points at Louisville.

“If you study their (Pittsburgh’s) numbers, they’re as good as anybody in the country,” coach Buzz Williams said. “We were fortunate to win in overtime after we almost gave it to them in regulation.”

Marquette had the benefit of not having to deal with Tray Woodall for the majority of the first matchup after he suffered concussion-like symptoms in the first half. Woodall leads the Panthers at 10.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game.

Talib Zanna (10.6) and Lamar Patterson (10.1) are the other players who average double digits, while freshman Steven Adams pulls down 6.5 rebounds per game.

The Panthers excel in a variety of categories, but rank No. 3 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 41.8 percent of their misses and are the seventh-most efficient offensive team in the country.

Marquette will honor the 2003 Final Four team Saturday, a run that included a 77-74 win over Pittsburgh in the Sweet 16. The school will recognize team members in attendance, a special video and messages from several former players and staff members.

“I don’t know that at that moment in my life, I was really aware of what was going on at Marquette,” Williams said. “I obviously have great respect for coach (Tom) Crean and all of the players involved.”

Tomorrow’s contest will go a long way to know if Marquette will qualify for a double bye in the Big East Tournament, like it earned last year as the No. 2 seed. Pittsburgh is tied for fourth, just a half game behind Marquette at 8-4 in conference play.

“We’ve only had one double bye in the time I’ve been here and it was by far our worst game in the nine games I’ve been a part of in the Big East Tournament,” Williams said. “I haven’t really studied it yet, but I would say numerically, it may or may not be best to have a double bye.”

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