Pitt is 3-1 since the West Virginia games, with a pair of wins over Providence, a victory over Cincinnati and a loss to Marquette making up the ledger. The Panthers and Mountaineers are tied at 10-4 in the league, and the winner of this game will give itself a huge advantage in securing one of the four Wednesday byes in the Big East tournament next week.
Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray continue to pace the Panthers, but the play of freshman Sam Young off the bench has been the X-factor in Pitt's play this year. He is third on the team in scoring and rebounding, despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game.
The Panthers have been able to avoid the fatigue problems that have faced teams such as WVU due to its depth. Nine Panthers average more than 11 minutes per game, with a tenth, Tyrell Biggs logging 9.2 minutes per contest. This not only fuels Pitt's 40 minutes of man-to-man defense, but also gives the Panthers a number of different looks they can employ offensively.
This game is likely to play out quite differently from the low scoring slugfest won by the Panthers less than three weeks ago.
|Mon Feb. 27|
WVU 19-8, 10-4
UP 21-4, 10-4
WVU - 26
Pitt - 7
While many eyes will be focused on the battle between WVU's Kevin Pittsnogle and Pitt's Aaron Gray, the game will likely be determined by the team that shoots better from the perimeter. Although Gray clearly won the center matchup in the first game, things will likely be much more even at the five spot in this game, leaving matters to be decided elsewhere.
If West Virginia can make its customary ten three-pointers, the Mountaineers will likely send its seniors out with a win in their final home game, as the Panthers aren't likely to be able to match that firepower. However, if Pitt is able to again attack and expose West Virginia's defense off the dribble, it figures to be a sweep for the visitors from the Evil Empire.
West Virginia has started the same five players in every game this season. The last time WVU put the same starting five on the court for every game was in 1988-89, when Herbie Brooks, Chris Brooks, Steve Berger, Darryl Prue and Ray Foster started all 31 games for the Mountaineers. Will head coach John Beilein break up a possible record-breaking streak in order to start all five seniors on Senior Night?
I have two things to say about this. First, my thanks to WVU basketball SID Bryan Messerly for the research on this question – he is the consummate professional. Second, no matter what Beilein does, he will be criticized for it, and unfairly so. There's no right answer to this question, and he certainly doesn't deserve to be harangued for what has to be a difficult choice.
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Pitt has won at least ten regular season conference games in each of the last five seasons. Connecticut is the only other league school with such a current streak.
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Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon is attempting to become only the second Panther coach in history to win more than one game at the WVU Coliseum. Ben Howland (2-1) is the only Pitt coach to win more than one game at WVU's current home. With a win, Dixon would match Howland's mark.
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Although Krauser has the reputation, and the numbers to back it, for being a scorer, the Mountaineers might want to look at a couple of other players to defend beyond the arc before the stocky senior. Ronald Ramon (42.4%) and Levance Fields (44.9%) are both shooting much better from three-point range than Krauser (37.9%). Of course, some of that is due to the greater defensive attention paid to Krauser, but the cautionary tale is that WVU can't expend all of its perimeter defensive efforts on the Pitt shooting guard.