West Virginia To Play Own Game Versus Pitt

West Virginia isn't adjusting to Pitt. It isn't game planning solely for it or even bothering to overly fret about one of the nation's top teams. The Mountaineers, head coach John Beilein said, are playing their game and letting their execution and play decide the closeness of the contest.

The stats are there. Pitt leads the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage, leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and sends waves of players at foes, eliminating concerns of late-season fatigue. And the sixth-ranked Panthers, 20-3 overall and a school-tying-best 8-1 within the conference, have had eight days between games, giving head coach Jamie Dixon extra preparation time. Meanwhile WVU, among the poorest rebounding teams in the league, has played four of its last five away from home and has the typical three-day span between games. It's a doomsday, so much so that one Panther player says Pitt believes it can outrebound West Virginia by 25 and easily win the game.

"There is a very high teamwork ethic on this team," Beilein said of Pitt. "They don't care who scores as long as they get points. They make the extra pass, they have that inside game. It's a bit of a dream team that he has up there. They have one focus: winning. They are good defending the outside, good defending the perimeter."

So what's the point in playing? "They have always been this way," Beilein said. And West Virginia has won three of the last five – but only, as WVU's coach noted, when it had the talent and experience to compete.

"We'll wait and see how people play us and adjust accordingly," Beilein said. "Until that ball goes up in the air and you see how people are playing you can only try and formulate a plan. Then you go back to what you have done all year and use that. We are too young to make a lot of adjustments. We have to play our basketball game and hope that it is good enough to keep us around, give us a chance to win at the end."

Pitt will employ a man defense. It's all they play. There will be no junk defenses, no base zones. It's all a constant hand-in-the-face challenge. The difference, the aspect that elevates the Panthers is the ability to tweak the man slightly to fit what it needs to do. Where West Virginia is so fundamentally offense, Beilein said, that it stays in games, Pitt is so fundamentally defense that that area carries it.

"It's 24-7 man-to-man," Beilein said. "They have been able to recruit the players to do that. They can anticipate and change the angles of the areas of attack just enough to blow up an offense."

In response, Beilein said that the Mountaineers (18-4, 7-3 Big East) could have certain players go 40 minutes because of the needed intelligence, recognition and experience. Point guard Darris Nichols is the most likely candidate, and the junior said he feels like he is in the best shape of his life and could easily play that much. He was in 39 of the 40 minutes against Seton Hall, and because of the crush of media timeouts, said he felt no worse for the wear. Backup point guard Joe Mazzulla is a game-time decision after suffering a deep thigh bruise against Marshall and backup guard Devan Bawinkel will not play with a hand fracture.

"Our kids will play within themselves," Beilein said. "It would be a mistake to try to do too much."

Note: The key rebounding statistic is Pitt's offensive rebounding, Beilein said. The coach correctly noted that the defensive rebounds a team gets are directly proportional to the number of missed shots. If West Virginia shoots 100 percent from the field – which Beilein jokingly said would be a great addition – Pitt won't have any defensive rebounds save free throws. It's the offensive numbers that are more revealing, especially with Pitt's interior play with Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall, among others.

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