This is only the sixth season that Louisville has been a member of the Big East, yet the Cardinals and Panthers have already had a number of memorable battles. Since the Cardinals joined the conference in 2005, the Panthers have won five of eight meetings, including three meeting in the Big East Tournament, and a thrilling 82-77 win over the Cardinals last season. In that game, Pitt had to come back from five down with 54 seconds to send it to overtime, where they eventually pulled it out.
"I think they've had a good record since they joined the Big East," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's what their athletic director mentioned to me; they're second to us over the time they've joined the league. I saw him this past summer, he mentioned that to me. With that, there have obviously been some good games between the two of us."
In the preseason, Louisville was predicted to finish eighth, but is far from eighth right now, even with the close proximity that a lot of teams have in the standings. The Cardinals are currently in fourth place (20-7, 9-6), three games behind the first-place Panthers (24-3, 12-2), yet a full game ahead of the eighth-place Cincinnati Bearcats (21-7, 8-6).
Dixon relates to this Louisville team, because his 2009-10 Pitt team was predicted to finish in a similar spot last year.
"It's so funny how teams in our conference, somebody has got to be picked ninth, then somebody has got to be picked eighth," Dixon said. "It's a very experienced team. They've been around. They're used to winning. They have a high-level of recruits. They're good."
With this year's Louisville team, there's some similarities to some things they've done in the past, and a few new things. One thing Dixon expects to see on Sunday, is the 2-3 zone as he's seen from a number of teams this year. Some teams, Pitt has fared well against when facing the 2-3 zone (West Virginia, Syracuse), while they struggled against others who threw the 2-3 zone at them (St. John's). Dixon says that Louisville's 2-3 zone is a whole other animal. Louisville has also pressed well, and this year figures to be no different.
"We're getting ready for a 2-3 zone, press, guarding ball screen; things we've been doing all year long and things we've seen from a number of teams," Dixon said. "Theirs (2-3 zone) is a little bit aggressive. We'll be prepared for it."
Offensively, there's two players that Pitt is primarily worried about. Louisville has traditionally been a solid three-point shooting team under Rick Pitino. The Cardinals have the most three-pointers (124) in all Big East games, and are led by leading scorer Preston Knowles, who has shot 42-of-111 (37.8%) from three-point range this year.
"He's fearless," Dixon said. "He's got range. He's got quick release. He's got long, high release, good athlete that plays hard. He gets some steals on the defensive end. He's really looking to fire those shots up."
Pitt responded well heading into the West Virginia, as they had to contend with a pair of point guards in West Virginia's backcourt in Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant. Both players combined for 40 of West Virginia's 72 points in the previous win over Notre Dame. Against Pitt, both players combined to shoot 5-of-17 (29.4%) from the field. The biggest aspect in this—and the biggest challenge heading into the game—was the help defense. Just ask J.J. Richardson, who had to step in at the last minute, and help fill the void off the bench in place of an injured Talib Zanna. If Richardson, who played eight minutes against West Virginia, understands the concept, Pitt should be well-prepared.
"We've been working on our perimeter defense," Richardson said. "Basically, we're the helpside defense, so everybody is on the same page. We can just work together and stop it. Everything is working together. There's no slip-ups, and everybody is on the same page."
One player Dixon was a bit more concerned with is Peyton Siva. The main reason for that is that Siva, who leads the Cardinals with 77 assists on the season, has similar tendencies that Dixon likes to see out of his players.
"He's the guy who gets them going," Dixon said. "He creates shots for other guys. He can score on his own. In the half court, I think he's especially (dangerous). We have to contain him. We'll have different guys (defending him). Knowles is their leading scorer, but I think Siva creates more shots for other guys."