For the first time in several outings, WVU will face a traditional two guard, two forward, one center lineup.
The focal point of the backcourt is Carl Krauser (Sr., 6-2, 200 lbs.), who leads the Panthers in scoring (16.2 ppg), steals and assists. He is the emotional leader of the team as well, and is quite capable of lifting the Panthers to victory on his own broad shoulders. Point guard Ronald Ramon (So., 6-1, 180 lbs.) is a scoring threat in his own right, averaging 7.2 points per outing on the strength of 40% shooting from three-point range. Two-thirds of his shot attempts come from beyond the arc, so if he penetrates, look for a pass first.
On the front line, Aaron Gray has rapidly progressed from role player to headliner. Gray (Jr., 7-0, 270 lbs.,) averages 13.7 points and 11 rebounds per contest, and is especially effective on the offensive glass. He snares more than four per game at that end of the floor, and usually turns those second chance opportunities into points.
Flanking Gray are Levon Kendall and John DeGroat, who assume complementary roles in the Pitt attack. Kendall (Jr., 6-9 220 lbs.) tallies 7.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, while DeGroat (Sr., 6-6, 220 lbs.), who averages just more than 12 minutes per game, chips in with 3.1 points and 2.0 rebounds.
The bench is a Panther strength, as it has outscored foes in 16 of Pitt's 20 games. Forward Sam Young (Fr., 6-6, 210 lbs.) leads a balanced group with 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while guard Levance Fields (Fr., 5-10, 190 lbs.), an occasional starter, provides 20 minutes of time while scoring 6.0 points per contest. Guards Keith Benjamin (So., 6-2, 190 lbs.) and Antonio Graves (Jr., 6-3, 190 lbs.) round out the foursome, tallying a combined 8.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest.
Those assuming that the Mountaineers will waltz to another season sweep of the Panthers might be in for a rude awakening. This year's Pitt team is better that last year's edition, in large part due to one fact: Carl Krauser no longer plays the point.
|Thu Feb 9|
Petersen Events Center
WVU 17-4, 8-0
UP 17-3, 6-3
WVU - 27
UP - 9
Many fans look at WVU's season sweep of the Pitt last year, combine it with the Panthers' back-to-back losses coming in, and presume another win on Pitt's home court. That's certainly not going to automatically happen. Those looking for Kevin Pittsnogle to have the same success against Pitt seven-footer Aaron Gray as he did against Chris Taft a year ago might also be in for a surprise. Gray is a much harder worker than the lackadaisical Taft, who apparently viewed defense with the same enthusiasm as he did school work. Gray, although not the most nimble of defenders, won't allow Pittsnogle to get free easily. Pitt could also choose to guard Pittsnogle with Kendall, whose length and athleticism could keep the Mountaineer sniper from getting clean looks at the basket. In either event, it's certainly not a foregone conclusion that he will have the same sort of shooting nights he did against the Panthers at this time last year.
Pitt will have a number of intangibles going for it in this game. An unbeaten home record, the revenge factor from last year, and the desire to show that it did not build its lofty record on the back of cupcake opponents are all factors motivating the Panthers in this contest. WVU has an extra day's rest and preparation time coming into this game, but will that be enough to overcome all the items on the other side of the scales? West Virginia typically plays well on the road, but this figures to be the toughest away-from-home venue the Mountaineers face all season.
Pitt's top four subs off the bench average more time per game than starter John DeGroat. A fifth, Tyrell Biggs, tallies just three minutes per game fewer than DeGroat, who is pretty much a starter in name only.
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Patrick Beilein and Kevin Pittsnogle are tied for WVU's all-time leader in career three-point field goals made with 218. Should there be a presentation at each remaining home game if the pair trades the all-time record back and forth?
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The last twenty games in the series have yielded ten wins for each team.
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WVU will be attempting to become the first team ever to win more than one game at the Petersen Events Center. In the four-plus year history of the building, only Connecticut, Syracuse, Bucknell, Georgetown and West Virginia have defeated the Panthers in their current home, and none have done so more than once.
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West Virginia will be going for its fourth consecutive Big East road win – a feat the Mountaineers have never accomplished.