It seems as if many great basketball teams feature a trio of players with different skills that mesh nicely on the floor, and Pitt's 2004-05 squad is the perfect example of such synergy. Guard Carl Krauser, forward Chevon Troutman and center Chris Taft provide challenges on both ends of the floor, and make the Panthers a difficult team to defend.
At the center spot, Taft (Jr., 6-10, 240 lbs.) has the bulk to muscle up with anyone, but is also surprisingly quick around the hoop. That combination yields 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on offense, and a team-leading 33 blocks on defense. Taft is no doubt licking his chops at the prospect of facing WVU's undersized front line.
Bracketing Taft in the frontcourt are forwards Troutman (Sr., 6-7, 240 lbs.) and Levon Kendall (So., 6-9, 220 lbs.). Troutman averages 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and is a slasher extraordinaire. He can post up as well, and demands constant attention on the defensive end. Kendall, who recently moved into the starting lineup after the departure of Yuri Demetris, provides a great deal of length on defense, and chips in with 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest.
The backcourt is highlighted by Krauser, who can do it all. Whether it's shooting threes, driving to the basket, or checking opposing guards on defense, the six-foot, two-inch, 200-pound junior is a force anywhere on the court. He averages 16.1 points per game, leads the team in assists and steals, and also grabs 4.5 rebounds per outing. Teaming with Krauser is Antonio Graves (So., 6-1, 190 lbs.) who can hit the three-pointer when left open, and averages 6.8 points per game. However, he doesn't see the ball as often as many shooting guards do, as Krauser dominates the ball, both in transition and in the half court.
Ronald Ramon (Fr., 6-1, 180 lbs.) is the team's leading sub off the bench, averaging 7.8 points per game. Many of those points come on three-pointers, as the precocious freshman has made and taken more shots from behind the arc than any other Panther. Aaron Gray (So., 7-0, 275 lbs.) and Mark McCarroll (Sr., 6-10, 220 lbs.) provide the bulk of the relief work in the frontcourt.
West Virginia guard J.D. Collins vs. Pitt guard Carl Krauser
WVU's steady Collins certainly won't match Krauser in the scoring column, but the Mountaineers' under-appreciated point could have a big effect on the outcome of the game.
|Sat 6:00 p.m.|
WVU 12-7, 2-6
UP 15-3, 5-2
WVU - 73
UP - 40
Collins also figures to see a good bit of Krauser when the Mountaineers play man-to-man, and again, his defense will be a critical factor. Collins can't be expected to shut Krauser down – the Pitt star is too talented for that. However, if Collins can cut down on some of Krauser's forays to the basket and get in passing lanes to prevent him from distributing the ball as quickly as he would like, WVU should be able to stay in the game.
Even if Krauser is able to penetrate, it's important that Collins stay with him, and that other Mountaineer defenders stay at home. Numerous Krauser drives this year have ended when additional defenders drop off their men to help, only to see the senior deliver a deft pass to his unguarded teammate for a thunderous dunk. Collins is one of the few point guards in the Big East with the physical build to defend Krauser when he tries to muscle his way to the hoop, and he must stay with him at all costs as the basketball Backyard Brawl unfolds.
Offensively, Collins doesn't have to score, but he does have to force Krasuer to play him honestly. Collins can achieve that goal by driving the ball as he did in the first half of WVU's game against B.C., and force Krauser (or other Pitt defenders) to account for him when he penetrates. Failure to do that could yield another frustrating series of offensive sets for the Mountaineers against the excellent Pitt defense, which has yielded more than 70 points just once this season.
WVU: D'or Fischer (Illness) Probable
West Virginia must sweep this two-game home stand to have any hope of making the NCAA tournament, and although beating the hard-charging Panthers appears to be a tough task, the fact remains that the Mountaineers have played better in their last four contests. Unfortunately for WVU, the record in those games is just 1-3, and that won't get it done, no matter how tough the Big East Conference is.
WVU must do two things to win this game. The Mountaineers can't fall behind early, because if they do the notoriously fickle fan base will sit on their collective hands and let the 1,500 or so visiting Pitt fans take over the Coliseum. And make no mistake about it - this team, with its fragile self-confidence, needs a vocal and loud crowd behind it if they are to pull the upset.
Second, West Virginia must find a way to control Taft in the paint. Taft will get some points and rebounds, to be sure, but WVU can't allow him to dominate stretches of the game as B.C.'s Craig Smith did last Tuesday. In order to do that, D'or Fischer must avoid the early foul trouble that has plagued him in recent games. If Fischer only plays 20 or 22 minutes, WVU's chances decrease dramatically.
The Mountaineers might also look to playing their 2-3 zone a bit more often. That look could also help against the slashing Troutman, who excels at slithering around defenders and getting to the basket. But whatever the strategy, West Virginia must figure out a way to keep Taft from establishing position on the blocks, because from there, he's almost unguardable.
The Coliseum's record crowd of 16,704 for the Pitt game likely won't fall in Saturday's game, but a 14,000+ crowd, which would be among the top 12 of all time, is reachable. That is, assuming all those Mountaineer fans that bought tickets earlier this year still show up.
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Pitt was just 3-20 in the Coliseum before 2002, but has won on its last three trips to Morgantown. Pitt coaches Ben Howland (2-1) and Jaime Dixon (1-0) are the only Pott coaches in history with a winning record at the Coliseum.
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Although Pitt has enjoyed comfortable margins in their last five wins over WVU, the games have typically been much closer than that. Twenty-four games in the Pitt-West Virginia series have been decided by one or two points.
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Pitt's three losses this season have come by a combined total of nine points.
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Over the last four seasons, only Duke (85.2%) has a better winning percentage than Pitt (84.4%).