Quite simply, Pitt has it all. The Panthers have a strong backcourt that penetrates and defends extremely well, a spot up wingman that can knock down threes, and two solid front court players who get on the boards and are becoming scoring threats in their own right. And that's just the starting lineup! It's no fluke that they are ranked third in the nation.
At guard, the Panthers feature all-conference selection Brandin Knight and Julius Page. Together, the pair average 23 points per game. Page is an explosive slasher who gets inside frequently, while Knight (2-1 assist to turnover ratio) deals the ball and runs the offense with authority. They form a great combination that don't have many weaknesses. They even rebound the ball well, which adds another level to their overall game.
Swingman Donatas Zavackas (10.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) provides much of the Panthers' scoring punch from three point land. The Lithuanian is hitting 54% of his trey attempts, many of which are open looks due to the pentration ability of Page and the passing of Knight.
Guard Carl Krauser, a one-time recruiting target of West Virginia, provides valuable backup minutes at either guard slot.
On the front line, Ontario Lett (10.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Jaron Brown (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are the starters, but not the only story, for the Panthers. Backups Chevon Troutman (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Toree Morris (6.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) form a four man rotation that makes it diffcult to zero in on any one Panther perfomer. All four of these players have started games this year, and none of them can be viewed as a weak link in the Panther arsenal.
Pitt's key this year has been teamwork. With five players averaging in double figures and a sixth just percentage points short of that mark, the Panthers are an unselfish bunch that plays defense first, shares the ball on offense, and as a result, wins a lot of games.
What's that? A forward/guard matchup? You read it correctly. In this game, Sally's play at the point of West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone defense will be a huge key in slowing down Pitt's offensive assault.
|Tue 1/14 7:00 PM|
WVU 9-4, 1-1
UP 10-1, 0-0
WVU leads 89-74
WVU - 78
UP - 17
|Line: UP -14|
On the defensive side, Sally, at the point of the 1-3-1, must make Knight commit to one side of the court, then keep him there. He must not allow Knight to dribble penetrate to the foul line, otherwise, the Panther point will shred WVU's zone with accurate passes.
Watch Sally as he attempts to keep Knight contained on one side of the court and cut down on his driving lanes to the basket. It's a tough assignement, but Sally must keep Knight out of the lane if WVU is going to get its second win of the season against a top ten opponent.
The challenges just keep getting bigger for WVU, and at some point everyone expects them to hit the wall and start getting pounded.
While that may happen sooner or later, don't expect it to happen this week. The rivalry with the Panthers, plus the excitement of what could be a capacity crowd, figures to keep the young Mountaineers jacked up for this contest.
Pitt's well-rounded offense presents a lot of different challenges, but one thing that WVU might do is yield outside shots to guard Brandin Kinght and Julius Page. The drive and dish is a staple of the Panther attack, so slowing the pace and keeping the guards on the perimeter seems to be WVU's best chance at success.
That outlook doesn't hold for Zavackas, who often provides the dagger in the heart from three point range after Pitt's other offensive options have bene covered. WVU still has to double down in the post, but they cannot leave Zavackas alone, or they will pay for the error.
The Mountaineers have managed to bounce back in many ways this year. They've rebounded from disappointing losses and they've dug themselves out of double digit deficits in games. Will they be able to do so after dropping a league game that they easily could have stolen?
WVU's record for made three pointers in a year is 171. That was the magical Sweet Sixteen season of 1997-1998. WVU played 33 games that year.
In just 13 games this year, the Mountaineers already have made 93 treys. At their current rate, this year's squad will be threatening the record around game number 24.
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Pitt's one weakness may be free throw shooting, where the Panthers are hitting only 61.8%. That number, however, still puts them ahead of WVU's 58.4% rate. The Mountaineers have been climbing in that area over the past few games, however, and made 72% of their freebies against Georgetown.
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Pitt swingman Zavackas is shooting better from three point range (54.3%) than from two (48.3%).
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WVU has 385 rebounds on the season. Pitt has 385 defensive rebounds this year. Add in 158 offensive boards, and West Virginia's challenge on the glass is clear. Everyone in Pitt's lineup rebounds well, so the Mountaineers will have to do their best job of the season in terms of team rebounding to have a chance.