Pitt-Villanova: What To Watch For

Pitt has an opportunity to take a big step closer to clinching first-place in the Big East, and a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Villanova, with a win, can erase any lingering memories of Wednesday night's loss at Rutgers, while also remaining in contention for first-place and a first-round bye.

Will Travon Woodall pick up where he left off, or is he still ‘inexperienced?'
Actually, there's nothing about Woodall that is inexperienced. In his first start of the season at West Virginia, the sophomore point guard overcame a 1-of-6 start in the first half, to finish off 3-of-5 in the second half, which included Pitt's lone three-pointer of the night.

Woodall has started 12 games in his career, so it's not as if Monday's start or tonight's start put any more undue pressure on him. He responded after a sluggish first half Monday, and it's pretty clear the rest of the team will follow his lead, as they too came back from a halftime deficit to defeat West Virginia. Woodall's resurgence in that second half showed the mark of an experienced player.

"He just showed his toughness," teammate Brad Wanamaker said. "We see it every day in practice. He made some big shots, as well as leading the team."

Wanamaker also added that fans aren't used to seeing that side of Woodall all the time. He and his teammates are used to seeing it every day in practice.

"He shows emotion, but he's a pretty laid-back guy who tries to lead his team," Wanamaker added. "He's a leader on this team in some ways. He's the vocal leader. He's constantly talking to us and letting us know where we need to be and what we needs to be doing at a certain point of the game. He just came up with some big plays at certain points of the game to help us win."

Pitt's three seniors vs. Villanova's three seniors
The respective senior classes started off their careers coming off the bench, starting in certain cases, but they've come up through the ranks together, and have eventually come to this senior year, where they are leading their respective teams. Here's a look at what they're doing:

Brad Wanamaker: 12.3 ppg, 100-of-210 FG (47.6%), 5.1 apg
Gilbert Brown: 11.4 ppg, 89-of-194 FG (45.9%), 4.5 rpg
Gary McGhee: 8.2 ppg, 68-122 FG (55.7%), 8.2 rpg

Corey Fisher: 16.0 ppg, 119-279 FG (33.5%), 5.3 apg
Corey Stokes: 14.6 ppg, 105-246 FG (41.5%), 72-77 FT/93.5%
Antonio Pena: 10.5 ppg, 106-199 FG (53.3%), 7.4 rpg

Is Villanova more of an inside team?
Jamie Dixon seems to think so, but realizes that having a backcourt that includes Fisher, Stokes and sophomore Maalik Wayns is still as good as it gets anywhere in the country.

"They have more scoring, but they don't have as much scoring on the perimeter," Dixon said. You have more guys scoring inside, you have less guys scoring on the perimeter. It usually works that way. They're very good. They have NBA guards, as they've had in the past. I think Wayns is as good a point guard in the country and Fisher is experienced. You throw the big guys that they have, they're very good."

Stokes is ninth in the Big East (68-of-164, 41.5%) in three-point percentage, and third in the conference in three-pointers per game with 2.83. Fisher is fourth in the conference with a 2.31 assist-to-turnover ratio. Throw in Wayns, who's averaging 13.7 points a game, and it still looks like Villanova's backcourt is the strength.

They may not be the three-point shooting threat as a unit that they've been in the past. As Dixon alludes to, the combination of Pena and sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou on the inside, which nets close to 15 rebounds a game, might be a cause. This inside game is more of a strength that some previous Villanova teams that Pitt has faced, just as this particular Pitt team is a better-shooting team than Villanova has faced.

"They're still more with the guards with Fisher and Wayns leading the attack, Pena getting better every year," Wanamaker added. "(Pena) has improved his jump shot. They have some big guys down low. I feel they have a strong, balanced team that's attacking at every move they can get."

Does Villanova shake off the Rutgers loss?
Actually, that's more of a concern on Pitt's side. Pitt knows first hand, as the Panthers have only ever lost back-to-back games three times in eight seasons under Jamie Dixon. Villanova, by the same token, has lost back-to-back games under Jay Wright three times in the last three seasons.

"I think there's plenty of motivation for them in getting ready for our game Saturday," Dixon said of Villanova. "They're very good. Its hard to go undefeated, or with one loss or two losses in this conference. Everybody in this conference is used to losing a close game. They've won a few in the past. They'll be ready to go."

Is Pitt done with the scoreless droughts?
It had been affecting Pitt for quite awhile. For example, in last week's 71-59 win over Cincinnati, Pitt went a span of 4:30 in the first half without a point, then another five-minute span in the second half without a point. It's been a recurring theme in a lot of games this season.

Pitt was able to still win by 12 over the Bearcats, as Cincinnati couldn't find a way to get back in the game. On Monday night in the win over West Virginia, Pitt didn't go through a scoreless drought. They struggled on their way to a 29-percent shooting percentage in the first half, but didn't go for long periods without points. Dixon does have a solution.

"You can't have a (scoreless) stretch, but you are going to," Dixon said. "You have to hope your defensive rebounding is there. Our defensive rebounding numbers speak for themselves. We've been consistently good.

"You can find some stretches where you don't score, you don't go to basket but you're getting to the free throw line, or you're getting good shots. That's the thing, not to panic. If you're getting good shots and you're having a good execution, that's fine. We had good shots in the first half against West Virginia. I was quite happy with where we were at offensively."

Mutual Respect On Both Sides
While Dixon is usually pretty good praising players on the opposite side, check out what Wright had to say about Pitt's players this week.

"Wanamaker is incredible, Brown's becoming incredible, I love McGhee," Wright said. "You can argue that McGhee is as good as anybody they've had in that spot. They're just an outstanding team and I definitely think they're Final Four caliber."

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