Preview: Backyard Brawl

One team is surging, the other sputtering as West Virginia and Pitt enter the Backyard Brawl tonight at 7 p.m.

SCOUTING THE PANTHERS

Pitt enters having lost three of four and with starting guard Jermaine Dixon questionable for the game with an ankle injury. But the Panthers have more than enough skill and talent throughout the roster to pull an upset in Morgantown tonight. Guards Ashton Gibbs (6-2, 190 lbs.) and Brad Wanamaker (6-4, 210 lbs.) are averaging 16.8 and 12.9 points per game, respectively, while shooting adequately from the floor. Both are nearing a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and play well off each other on the floor. Gibbs, the shooting guard, is an above average distributor for the slot who can get into the lane and kick out. He is excellent at the free throw line, and plays solid defense. He isn't as dynamic as Sam Young and doesn't finish as well attacking the rim as did LeVance Fields, but this should be an interesting match against whoever West Virginia elects to utilize in defending him. He has taken 119 threes, making 46, and won't hesitate to pop from anywhere. Wanamaker, the swingman, doesn't shoot as well as Gibbs, but he is an exceptional defensive rebounder. In a bit of a surprise, he has the most assists (89) on the team and is as adept at passing as he is shooting. He is an average shooter, but his defense and effort keep forcing Jamie Dixon to keep him on the floor for about 32 minutes per game – second on the team only to Gibbs' 35. Point guard Travon Woodall (5-11, 190 lbs.) is a freshman who was forced into the line-up after the injury to Dixon, the lone returning starter from last year's team. Dixon is averaging 10 points and four rebounds, and he usually draws the most difficult defensive match-up. If he plays, he could hamstring Da'Sean Butler's perimeter shooting. If he doesn't, there should be better looks all over the floor – it's that much of a drop-off when he isn't in the line-up. Pitt has also missed his slashing ability, which creates lanes, forces defenses to help and thus opens other possibilities.

Woodall, another Pitt point guard out of New York City, redshirted last season and thus has a year in a collegiate program. He is a very good passer and can score off the bounce, which can create match-up problems. He is a better passer than Truck Bryant, but doesn't finish as well around the rim and on the break. Both play solid – if not great – defense, and their mentalities should make for an edgy perimeter battle. Woodall is averaging five points in 21 minutes per game, but is struggling from the field at 35 percent overall, 26 percent from three. He is still trying to see how he fits into the line-up despite playing in every game, and he will err on the side of being a distributor rather than a scorer. Forward Nasir Robinson (6-5, 220 lbs.) averages seven points and six rebounds and is doing it by making more than half his field goal attempts. He has talent mixed with a hustlers mentality, and he will physically battle any opponent. He can slide between the three and the four and five, though he is very undersized at the five spot. The junior passes well out of the post, and would best be described as a slasher on offense. He doesn't play with his back to the rim much, and he isn't an incredible finisher off the block, but he does have the range to draw foes out and the moves and quickness to drive past (or through) a four or five man. Center Gary McGhee (6-10, 250 lbs.) is a classic center. He hits for seven points and six rebounds and his game is only inside. He has made an incredible 60 of 86 shots (69.8 percent), but is almost equally as bad from the line at 56.3 percent. His height should bother WVU some on the interior, but he isn't a great rebounder and lacks the overall game of Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones. The Mountaineers should have an edge here, but the size will offset that some.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Wed. Feb. 3
7 p.m. EST

WVU Coliseum
Records
WVU 17-3, 6-2
Pitt 16-5, 6-3
Series
WVU 94-84
TV
Big East Network
Sirius Channel:130
RPI
WVU - 6
Pitt - 20

The depth issue for Jamie Dixon is that sans Jermaine Dixon, the guard depth is reduced to one. Senior Chase Adams (5-10, 190 lbs.) has played in 18 games for about 14 minutes per., He is shooting 36.4 percent from inside and outside the arc. Adams is a serviceable player with experience, but isn't an exceptional shooter, driver or passer. He can play for stretches, but can be a liability if Dixon must press him into action for half a game. The interior numbers are better with Gilbert Brown (6-6, 210) and freshman Dante Taylor (6-9, 240 lbs.). Brown is a very good sub who is shooting well from all over the floor. He is third on the team in average points per game at 11, and Dixon likes his burst off the bench. He has athleticism and good body control, and can be a streaky shooter. He could hit a few shots and get into double digits, or flounder a bit and be primarily a defender and rebounder. Taylor, out of Greenburg, N.Y., plays 15 minutes per game and has made 32 of 57 shots. He struggles from the line (61.1 percent), but has good body control and awareness and is a solid rebounder for a newcomer. A top 30 recruit, Taylor is s till a raw talent who has major upside with his athleticism and quickness.

OUTLOOK

Pitt once had a significant depth advantage in games against West Virginia. That, along with scoring dynamics, has swung to the Mountaineers. Head coach Bob Huggins can trot out eight to 10 players, and with forward Deniz Kilicki now available, the numbers have further increased. Pitt has talent, a very good guard in Gibbs and, as usual, some toughness and defensive intensity. The Panthers are shooting decently, outrebounding foes by an average of seven per game and holding teams to less than 30 percent from behind the arc. They are younger than in past seasons, and Dixon has chosen to play a smaller line-up than Pitt's typical starting five in past years. The defense, too, isn't as good as it has been. WVU has all the tools needed to win this game, and should if it can limit Gibbs and Wanamaker and hit some outside shots to force the defense to defend all areas. This is a bit of trail by fire as Huggins slides Kilicki in and out to see how he reacts to situations and with various players. The Mountaineers have yet to show consistently good play, and this could be the game where it hurts them. West Virginia needs to show it can beat the Panthers – it lost both games against them last season – and with the tough sledding ahead in the final 10 games of the regular season, defending the home court is as imperative as ever. Rebound, make some outside shots and stay physical and intense on defense.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: None.

Pitt: Jermaine Dixon (Ankle), Questionable.

FAST BREAKS

This is the 179th Backyard Brawl – and just the fourth time in series history that both teams enter the game ranked. The last time it occurred was Feb. 22, 2006 when No. 16 West Virginia beat No. 8 Pitt 67-62 in Morgantown.

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Da'Sean Butler is sixth in school history in career scoring at 1,771 points. He needs 15 more points to pass Rod Thorn for fifth place. He has the most career double-figure scoring games in school history.

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Bob Huggins needs one win to tie Ralph Miller for 22nd place on the all-time winningest men's basketball coaching list. He has 656 career victories.

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West Virginia's 17-3 start is its best since the 1997-98 Sweet 16 team started 19-3. That team defeated Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 on a last-second bank shot. The Bearcats were coached by Huggins at the time.

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Pitt started 5-0 in the Big East, but has since lost three of four league games. The Panthers are 4-2 in road games this year, including wins at Connecticut, Syracuse and Cincinnati. Head coach Jamie Dixon's next loss will be his 51st in six years at Pitt against 176 wins.

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WVU has played Pitt more than any other team in school history. The Mountaineers are 58-28 against Pitt in Morgantown; they are 23-8 versus the Panthers in the Coliseum. Pitt has won five of its last eight games in Morgantown.


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