Plus and Minus

There are items on both sides of the balance sheet in play as West Virginia prepares to face Pitt tonight in the quarterfinals of the Big East conference tournament.

PRO: WVU will face its second consecutive game against a man to man defense

Against Pitt, WVU will see a steady diet of man, just as it did against Cincinnati five days ago. And while there will be a few offensive variations for the Mountaineers to incorporate with the change in opponent, the basic strategy will be the same -- work off screens and picks to drive the ball to the basket against the Panthers' pressing defenders, then cut back to the three-point line when (or if) they begin sagging off.

WVU saw the return of its backdoor game against the Bearcats, who overplayed passing lanes and put pressure on the ball, and will need to continue to get those hoops in order to keep Pitt off balance on the defensive end.

CON: WVU will be coming into the game cold

Yes, getting the bye was a big deal, but it won't pay dividends until Friday or Saturday night. For now, Pitt has the advantage of having played a game, and is a bit more familiar with the rims and the lights (definitely an issue in the Garden). WVU, of course, played St. John's here earlier this year and has a lot of experience from last season to draw on, so this isn't a huge negative. However, it's a slight advantage to the Panthers, who are now fully into tournament mode, while WVU will be looking to get into that frame of mind. The first few minutes of this game could be key ones for the Mountaineers.

PRO: WVU is probably as well-rested now as it has been for quite some time

The Saturday-Monday-Saturday-Monday-Saturday end to the regular season allowed West Virginia some decent breaks in the schedule to get reenergized. While there was travel involved since the end of the regular season, the Mountaineers have had several days of light work to allow them to recharge for the tournament. Pitt, while it coasted for much of the second half against a Louisville team that was about as accurate as M*A*S*H's "Five O'Clock Charlie", did have to expend some energy in the first round.

CON: West Virginia might not be the media darlings they were of a year ago

One of the unexpected boosts of last year was the huge support West Virginia got from both the crowd in the Garden and the local media, especially the tabloids. A confluence of circumstances came together to make WVU the favorites, and several of those factors aren't in evidence this year.

First, there was the presence of the traitors from Boston College, who knifed the conference in the back while moving to the ACC. All of the other team's fans would have rooted for Saddam Hussein against the Eagles, so it didn't hurt that WVU got to play, and knock out, the Beantown turncoats.

West Virginia attracted more attention with its style of play, which is obviously different than any other conference school except Georgetown. The tabs, looking for any angle to hype out of sight, jumped on that,tied it to WVU's homespun image, and created a tidal wave of coverage. That probably won't be the same this time out, even if WVU is just as efficient as it was a year ago.

PRO/CON: WVU will be playing a rivalry game for its tournament opener

For the first time ever, the Mountaineers and Panthers will be facing off in the Big East tournament. How will the teams react? This is an emotional game, of course, but the stakes are now far higher. Both regular season games were bitter, intense struggles with the home team coming out on top in the closing minutes.

On the plus side, there certainly shouldn't be any sleep-walking on either side of the floor in tonight's game. Both teams, expecially the seniors, would dearly love to capture the season series with a win and send the other team home from the tournament.

With all that emotion, however, can come sloppy play. Both WVU and Pitt will likely be very emotional for the contest, which can lead to forgotten fundamentals and lack of execution. The thinking here is that the team that is best able to control those emotions will have the better chance in advancing to the semifinals on Friday night.

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