SCOUTING THE PANTHERS
Pitt has gotten off the schneid that dumped them at the bottom of the Big East standings, and with wins over Providence and Georgetown last week, are now fighting to get back into the race for a postseason tournament -- perhaps even the NCAAs. True, that would take a long winning streak in the Big East, but a comfortable win over the ninth-ranked Hoyas shows that the Panthers have the talent to do it.
The first key in the turnaround had been the return of guard Tray Woodall, who missed 11 games this year with an abdominal strain. Woodall took just a short time to get reacclimated to playing, scoring 17 points against Providence in his second game back to help his team to its first league win of the year. Just how valuable is Woodall? Consider that, despite missing half of Pitt's games, he still leads the team in assists with 81, and will likely be fourth on the team in total points after the Mountaineer contest.
Backcourt mate Ashton Gibbs leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game, and although he makes fewer than 40% of his shots, is an importat part of the Pitt attack. He is successful on 35% of his threes and hits close to 84% from the free throw line, which allows him to get points even if some of his tries are off the mark.
Forward Nasir Robinson, who exploded for 23 points against Georgetown, leads the front court in both scoring (12.6) and rebounds (6.8) per game. The 6-5 senior is an experienced player who does all of his work close to the hoop, where he makes 60% of his tries. Fellow forward Lamar Patterson is a great sidekick, averaging 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He can range out to the three point line, where he's made 40% of his attempts, and thus provides a nice contrast to the inside game of Robinson. Center Talib Zanna, the fifth starter, averages a very productive 6.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes per game. He, like many of his teammates, can't be overlooked on the offensive boards.
Donte Taylor (6-9) gives Pitt more height up front, and provides a counter to Robinson and Patterson, who both stand 6-5. Taylor averages 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in nearly identical minutes to Talib, and allows the Panthers to go big when they need to. Sophomore J.J. Moore is also provides good productivity in a backup role on the front line, averaging 5.9 points and 3.0 rebounds in just under 16 minutes of action.
Backcourt sub duty is shouldered by John Johnson, who scores 5.5 points per game, and Cameron Wright, who pitches in 2.9 per outing. Neither has shot well from three-point range this year, which has eliminated one of Pitt's biggest weapons in recent seasons -- long-range scoring firepower off the bench.
Most Mountaineer fans think their team will be breathing fire after a series of bad and no-calls took away their chance to win at Syracuse -- but just how much of a factor will that be?
WVU 15-7, 5-4
UP 13-9 2-7
WVU - 14
UP - 77
While the Panthers don't put a tall team on the court, they have been relentless on the boards. Despite the 2-7 league record to date, Pitt holds a +10.3 rebounding margin over its foes. Some of that may have come from poor shooting games, where more chances to get rebounds have occured, but over the course of the season such a margin says one thing only -- this team gets to the glass. So too does WVU, so the team that can impose its reboudning will is going to have a great shot at getting the win. The squads are virtually identical on the offensive boards (Pitt 322 - WVU 320) and overall (WVU 860 - Pitt 857), but the Panthers have been much better at keeping opponents away from the rim.
Look for West Virginia to again pound the ball inside against a defense that's geared to guard against three-point shots. Pitt, as noted at the top, isn't as big on the front line as it has been in recent seasons, and on paper doesn't have players that can match up phyiscally with Deniz Kilicli. The big beard might, in fact, be the key to this game. If he can convert a few of the chances that he couldn't get to go down against the Orange, WVU's offensive attack might have the chance to score enough to put the game out of reach.
Defensively, the Mountaineers must make Pitt pay for its Ashton Gibbs scores. The senior guard is going to get his points, but WVU needs to make him take a lot of shots to do it. WVU can't allow him to shoot 48 or 50% from the field -- if that happens, the Panthers are likely going to get out of the Coliseum with a win. WVU needs to hold him in the high 30s or low 40s from the field, which would give it a much better chance to get back on track with a win.
Kevin Jones is currently on a seven-game streak in which he has scored 20 or more points in a game. The current record holders are Jerry West and Rod Hundley, who each have a streak of ten such games. While matching or passing that mark will be difficult, this is one record of West's that Jones actaully has a shot at. The Logo holds numerous Mountaineer basketball records, and most of them are far out of reach, despite the fact that West piled up his totals in just three years of play.
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Fifty-six of the 182 games played in the basketball version of the Backyard Brawl have been decided by five points or fewer.
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In his four-plus seasons as West Virginia, Bob Huggins has never lost more than two consecutive games.
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Head coach Jamie Dixon gets credit, deservedly so, for all of the work he has done at Pitt. However, one game note provided by the school calls him a "Youtube sensation" for hitting a game-winning heave against Texas in 1986. We didn't even know YouTube was around in 1986.