PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 27: J.J. Moore #44 of the Pittsburgh Panthers brings the ball down court against Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies at Petersen Events Center on December 27 2010 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh defeated Connecticut 78-64. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Big East portion of Pitt's 2011-12 basketball schedule is now out and in case you haven't seen it, here it is (dates/times are TBD):
Home: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, South Florida, Villanova, West Virginia
Away: Connecticut, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia
Now, while the Oakland Zoo won't be any less raucous, it's clear that home fans may be a bit disappointed. The home schedule is extremely light, with no UConn, Syracuse, or Notre Dame at the Pete this season. The Huskies and the Orange show up in many preseason top 10 lists, and not getting either at home is a bit of a downer. In particular, Pitt-Connecticut has become one of the premier rivalries in college basketball and the two teams have played some great games. And as the reigning National Champions, the Huskies, would have been an especially good draw.
The Panthers do get Georgetown, Villanova, and West Virginia at home. But while they typically provide for some good contests, all three programs are in a partial rebuilding mode. After initially declaring for the NBA Draft, Kevin Jones is returning to Morgantown for his senior season. However, the Mountaineers, who had eight scholarship players on the roster late last season, lost Casey Mitchell, Cam Thoroughman, John Flowers, and Johnnie West to graduation. Villanova lost three of its four top scorers (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena) and Georgetown will be without its top two scorers, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. ESPN.com's Andy Katz doesn't place any of the three in his preseason top 25 rankings.
And with a weak home schedule, the flip side is, of course, a difficult road slate. There's no such thing as an easy Big East schedule, but road games at UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, and West Virginia is maybe even a bit more difficult than usual. The Panthers would be fortunate to get through that stretch with a 3-3 or 4-2 record.
Then there's the issue of the home and away opponents. Because of the large size of the conference, Big East teams play three schools twice during the year - once at home and once on the road. Pitt's home/away teams in 2011-12 are Louisville, South Florida, and West Virginia. In terms of big-time matchups, those opponents don't have the sizzle of UConn or Syracuse. But Pitt will have a good chance to win five of those six games, as West Virginia will be down and South Florida should again finish near the bottom of the conference.
All in all, another challenging schedule in the country's toughest conference.
For more on Pitt basketball, check out Cardiac Hill.