Preview: West Virginia - Pitt

West Virginia hopes to nail down an NCAA berth and get a measure of revenge when it travels to Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening for the Backyard Brawl -- basketball style.


Since facing WVU on Feb. 7, Pitt has gone just 3-2, losing conference games at home to Louisville and on the road to Georgetown. The Panthers did defend the home court against Washington for a win, and got by Seton Hall and Providence to lock up a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

A hobbled Aaron Gray, who suffered a sprained ankle in the final moments of the win over the Huskies, was forced to sit out the game against the Pirates, and was limited against Georgetown, but still put up ten points and six rebounds. His availability and effectiveness is a huge part of the Pitt offense, and without him the Panthers don't have the effective inside-outside balance that makes them such a difficult team to defend.

Pitt certainly isn't a one-man team, however, as players such as Levance Fields, Mike Cook, Ronald Ramon and Antonio Graves make it difficult to choose whom to defend. Add in Sam Young, who is the latest in a long line of Pitt players to rise to unforeseen heights against the Mountaineers, and it's evident that WVU's task on Tuesday will be a difficult one.


West Virginia must figure out a way to counter, or at least slow, a big inside presence.
Game Info
Tue Feb 27
7:00 p.m.

Petersen Events Center
WVU 20-7, 8-6
UP 24-5, 11-3
WVU 92-80
Sirius Channel: 121
WVU - 57
UP - 6
Teams with big centers that are scoring threats have bedeviled the Mountaineers this year, so they have plenty of tape to study as they try to devise a way to plug some of the holes in their interior defense. At a minimum, WVU has to keep the oversized threats from catching the ball so close to the basket, where shooting percentages zoom into the 70s and 80s.

On defense, there is on thing West Virginia hasn't tried much this year – a 2-3 zone. Head coach John Beilein employed this defense over the past couple of year's, so there's no question that its in his playbook. Whether he chooses to use it against the Panthers remains to be seen, but it could help WVU to prevent the ball from going into the big man as easily as it did in the two teams' last meeting.

The problem with using a 2-3 is that Pitt is also an excellent three-point shooting team, thus putting the Mountaineers on the horns of a dilemma – pack it in, and cede open long range shots, or defend at the line and leave gaps closer to the hoop. If a team is making its three-pointers, the 2-3 is a poor choice, but if it isn't balanced inside and out, the 2-3 could be a nice surprise for the Panthers. Obviously, Pitt has seen any number of defensive looks to this point in the season, so its not like the 2-3, or any change, is going to shut it down. However, if a defensive tweak could prevent just two or three scores per game, the Mountaineers would have a chance to return the home loss that the Panthers dealt out three weeks earlier.

Coming into the first matchup of the season, the Panthers had 11 days' rest, and the downtime and prep work gave them what seemed to be a bit of an edge in the contest. This time, it's West Virginia that has had an extended period of time off, so it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers can parlay the work they've done over the down time into an upset bid.


WVU: Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out

UP: Aaron Gray (Ankle) Probable


Did you know – that West Virginia has blocked 31 more shots that it has had blocked this year? The Mountaineers have swatted 92 shots, as opposed to just 61 by its foes.

Of course, part of this is due to the fact that WVU shoots far more outside shots and three-pointers than its opponents, which allows fewer chances for blocks. However, the Mountaineers have also challenged more shots defensively than a year ago. High-leaping Joe Alexander leads the team with 28 rejections, while Rob Summers is just two behind at 26. Surprisingly, lightly-used freshman Wellington Smith is third with 11, despite averaging just less than five minutes per game.

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WVU is the only team in the Big East conference to have at least five different players score at least 20 points in a game. Frank Young (four times), Alex Ruoff (once), Darris Nichols (once), Joe Alexander (once) and Da'Sean Butler (once), have all topped a score of points for the Mountaineers this year.

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Syracuse's win over Georgetown has pushed the Orange ahead of WVU in the latest RPIs, and although teams don't compete for X number of conference bids (each team is rated on its own merits), the win over the Hoyas likely puts SU ahead of the Mountaineers for an at-large bid. WVU could counter the move with a win over the Panthers, and could also earn its way back with wins over Cincinnati and a first round Big East foe, but it is looking more and more likely that the Mountaineers will have to win two more games to get to the NCAA tournament.

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Pitt's Aaron Gray and Antonio Graves are earning degrees in communications and rhetoric. Wonder if that helps them when they lobby officials for calls?

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