The Panthers won three straight games, including wins over Notre Dame and at Syracuse, immediately following WVU's overtime win at the Coliseum on February 5, but then dropped a game to surprisingly tough Villanova on Sunday while the Mountaineers were bopping Seton Hall.
Pitt continues to be carried by the outstanding trio of Carl Krauser, Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft, but hulking center Aaron Gray has shown signs of making it a quartet. In limited action, Gray scored nine points and snared five rebounds against Notre Dame, then tallied a career high 15 points in the loss to the Wildcats.
At 8-4 in the league, Pitt is currently in fourth place in the conference, and will be looking to solidify that spot as they attempt to lock up a first round bye in the Big East tournament. With games remaining against Connecticut, Boston College and Notre Dame, the Panthers no doubt view this game as one they can't let get away.
Game One of the 2004-05 Basketball Backyard Brawl was owned by the Mountaineers' lanky sharpshooter, so look for Taft to put forth a big effort in the rematch on Wednesday.
|Wed Feb. 23|
Petersen Events Center
WVU 16-8, 6-7
UP 18-5, 8-4
WVU - 64
UP - 36
This time, look for Taft to be more physical with Pittsnogle, especially off the ball. The WVU center is a rhythm shooter, so when the Panthers are in man, don't be surprise to see the Pitt sophomore bumping and banging in an effort to get Pittsnogle out of the flow of the game.
On the WVU side of the ledger, the Mountaineers will likely try to get Pittsnogle the ball outside early to discern Pitt's defensive tactics. If the Panthers do bring Taft away from the hoop, then Pittsnogle must show the court awareness and passing ability he displayed against Seton Hall, where he fed teammates cutting for the basket on several occasions. It would be ironic for this game to be determined on the passing ability of WVU's center, but if the Panthers crowd him outside, that could likely be one of the key factors in the contest.
Revenge may be on the minds of Panther fans, but for the Pitt team this game is more about positioning for the Big East and NCAA tournaments. The Panthers are looking to get to 20 wins and secure a bye for the conference tournament, which is an important factor in the run for the Big East championship.
After getting gunned down from beyond the arc in the second half of WVU's win at the Coliseum earlier this month, one of the most interesting points to watch for in the game is Pitt's defensive tactics. Will the Panthers attempt to lock up against WVU in man to man, where Kevin Pittsnogle has an advantage from the perimeter over any defender the Panthers might deploy against him? Or will they go to a zone that spreads out to the line, and hope that the Mountaineers can't take enough advantage of the mid-range gaps in such an alignment to get a win away from home? Either way, the magic 70-point mark will be WVU's goal, as the Gold and Blue haven't lost a game when reaching that point total this year.
Just as important, however, will be West Virginia's defensive effort. Foes have shot the lights out against WVU's shorter and lighter lineup for much of the Big East season, so much so that the Mountaineers 6-7 conference record is something of a surprise. Although WVU has managed to creep close to the .500 mark in the league with such a burden, it will be very difficult to get a win at the Petersen Events Center if the Panthers shoot close to the 50% mark that has been the norm for West Virginia opponents during the league season.
While D'or Fischer inches closer to the WVU all time shot block record (he needs one to tie and two to break Phil Wilson's career mark of 178), another Mountaineer is also quietly approaching a milestone. Senior forward Tyrone Sally needs 15 points to hit the 1,000 mark for his career, which would make him the 41st member of that elite group.
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Pitt's senior class of Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll needs just one more win to tie the school record for winningest senior class. The current Panthers are 106-21 in their career. That's an average of just five losses per season.
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WVU has protected the ball well all year, even against outstanding defensive teams like the Panthers. In the last two games (85 total minutes of action) West Virginia has committed just nine turnovers against the city slickers.
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The Panthers still childishly refuse to acknowledge a WVU win over Pitt in the series. Thus, Pitt claims that the Mountaineers lead the all time series by 89-77, rather than 90-77. Intentional slight? You make the call.
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Kevin Pittsnogle has been on a roll since returning to the starting lineup against the Panthers earlier this month. The Martinsburg native, who erupted for 27 against Pitt on February 5, is averaging 17.4 points per game in WVU's last five contests.
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Pitts Chevon Troutman is on pace not to break, but to shatter, Pitt's all time field goal percentage shooting record. The senior forward has made 459 of his 720 career attempts, for a 63.8% average. That mark will leave Ontario Lett's current record of 58.9% in the dust.