Pitt-West Virginia Preview

The men's basketball version of the Backyard Brawl can be just as intense as the football one, and the former's latest installment is today at 4 p.m. at the Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 4 Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-1) faces West Virginia (14-4, 3-2) in a key Big East game televised regionally by ESPN, ESPN 360 and FSN locally with John Sanders and Anthony Buford at the announcers table. A sellout crowd with more than 14,000 is expected for the matinee game.

"When we go on the road now, it's always a packed house,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It didn't start off that way when we got here, but that's the way it is now. And that's what we expect at West Virginia.

"There's a lot of history down there, starting with Jerry West and then with Coach (Gale) Catlett. He had a great run there. So, it should be another large and loud crowd facing us on the road.''

The Panthers' two guard, junior Jermaine Dixon, played for a small school scholastically and at Tallahassee Junior College, so this could be the largest and certainly most raucous crowd he's had to face. For his JC team in the Florida Panhandle League, Dixon said the largest crowd probably was around 2,000 when he played against the No. 1 team in the country.

"I really didn't hear about the Coliseum from my teammates,'' Dixon said. "My brother played for UMass, and he told me about it before. He played down there and said it really gets crazy down there. I didn't know much else about them, but Levance told me that it's a rival school. And that makes it very crazy. But we can play anywhere, I think. We're a good road team.

"Louisville, that's about the wildest place I ever played at, the loudest. Every time Levance called a play, I had to ask Brad what it was, because I couldn't hear it right away. (But) I did all right. I like playing in front of big crowds, because I never did in high school or JC. They told me what to expect, but you never know until you get there. And it's been crazy so far.''

This is the second season for WVU coach Bob Huggins, and the team apparently has settled in with players he recruited in the fold more.

"I wouldn't say they're that much different, because they've got a lot of guys returning,'' Coach Dixon said. "So, I'd say they're similar to last year's WVU team. ... They've got some talent there. Huggins' teams will play some man-to-man and some switching zone (at the defensive end).

"But the main thing is the players they have. They're long. They have Alex Ruoff, a 6-5 or 6-6 guy at the point. And they're long across the front line. So, they've got length and quickness, and that's a good start defensively. And they're also patient on offense, so that also makes it a low-scoring game.''

Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair was looking forward to the matchup, mostly because it featured a coach he's familiar with and a team that's similar to Pitt.

"It's going to be fun,'' Blair said. "Coach Huggins, that's my man, so we'll have two excellent coaches in that game. I know Coach Huggins real well. He would come up here to (recruit), and we'd watch some football on Sundays. He's a good guy, and his teams play hard. Just like we do.

"He might not have the biggest teams or quickest, but they always play hard. And that's how we play, so it's going to be a good game and a lot of fun. And he's a lot different than when Beilein was there. All they did was shoot. If I played against those teams, I would have had a hundred rebounds.''

Blair's rebounding, obviously, will still be critical against this WVU team. It's also going to be important for the Panthers to get off to a strong start.

"Against Georgetown and Syracuse, both good teams, we went through a tough first half,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "But in the second half, we picked things up and were able to pull away from them. We hit some shots and made things happen, and our defense really helps the offense a lot.

"Our defense has been good all year, and when we shut teams down on defense that allows our offense to get going. It seems like we get a lot of easier shots in the second half, lay-ups and transition buckets, and that comes from our defense. So, our defense definitely gets the offense going.''

Junior Da'Sean Butler and Ruoff lead WVU with 16.9 and 16.1 points per game, respectively, while freshman Darryl Bryant chips in with 10.6. Freshman Devin Ebanks and junior Wellington Smith also tally 7.8 and 6.4 points per game, respectively. Ebanks (6.3) and Butler (6.1) are the leading rebounders. Ruoff, Butler and Bryant are the main 3-point shooters for the Mountaineers.

Notes: Pitt has won four of the past five meetings in the 176-game series, including a stunning 55-54 win on Ronald Ramon's buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers also lost, 76-62, last year at WVU.

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