UPDATING THE PANTHERS
Pitt and West Virginia have each played just two games since the last meeting, so this preview will look pretty much like the last one for the Panthers, save now that they list the entire team as healthy; Jermaine Dixon played in the last rivalry game, but was listed entering as questionable. Aside from 20 percent (two of 10) three-point shooting – thanks largely to Devin Ebanks' perimeter play – Pitt produced the game most likely thought they would against WVU. The Panthers managed a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio, but had difficulty dealing with the Mountaineer defense and didn't create great looks, especially in the second half. The 45-31 rebounding margin was a bit wide as well, and head coach Jamie Dixon will look to close that this time. The starting five is the same for West Virginia and Pitt, as the home team will go with guards Ashton Gibbs (6-2, 190 lbs.), Brad Wanamaker (6-4, 210 lbs.) and Dixon (6-3, 200 lbs.). The best of those in the first match-up was the latter, who made five of 12 shots and three free throws for 13 points, 2.3 points above his average. The senior is grabbing almost four rebounds per game as well, and his overall prowess combined with quickness and an ability to hit from all over could again be West Virginia's greatest defensive challenge. Gibbs and Wanamaker were lacking in the first meeting, missing 15 of 17 shots and amassing just 11 points – all of those for Gibbs (five from the line). Gibbs distributes well, but wasn't able to attack the lane as much as he would have liked because of Ebanks. With having time to work on WVU's zone looks, Pitt should be better prepared to attack it properly. Look for more Panther flashes to the middle or along the baseline combined with quick interior dump-offs or challenges to the rim to try and get to the foul line. If Pitt passes around the perimeter and settles for more contested deep looks, WVU should again have a double-digit comfort margin.
Center Gary McGhee (6-10, 25 lbs.) – of tangled-with-John-Flowers fame – and forward Nasir Robinson (6-5, 220 lbs.) had nine and five rebounds, respectively. But Robinson fouled out with five minutes left and McGhee, in missing eight of 11, never obtained a comfortable style on the floor. WVU's length and physicality seemed to bother the junior, held far below his season averages across the stat board. Robinson averages six points and six rebounds and finished with seven and five, but could have significantly aided Pitt down the stretch were he available. The Panther bench, solid if not spectacular, did very little against the Mountaineers. It combined for nine shots, four made, and 11 points in a combined 50 minutes. That equates to a quarter of the game's total of 200 regulation minutes (five players on the floor at any one time times the game length of 40 minutes). WVU managed 16 points mainly because of Deniz Kilici's nine. This should again be a West Virginia edge, as Joe Mazzulla's play changes the pacing and ability of the Mountaineers, while Flowers and Kilicli are solid contributors and provide depth (both) and an entirely different influence (Kilicli). One would think, however, that Pitt's bench, especially Gilbert Brown (6-6, 210 lbs.), would shoot better on the home floor and be better prepared to know exactly how the entire squad matched up after playing WVU within the previous 10 days.
|Fri. Feb. 12
9 p.m. EST
Petersen Events Center
WVU 19-4, 8-3
Pitt 18-6, 7-4
|Sirius Channel: 122|
WVU - 5
Pitt - 18
Pitt should showcase much better energy, and that, combined with crowd support and better execution in shooting and creating chances, would combine for a closer game. Add that to the near certainty that West Virginia won't again make nine of 21 from three-point range, and another 20-point margin is a stretch. WVU is 1-5 at the Petersen Events Center, though it has played well in some games only to give up a key basket at the end to lose. Ebanks will loom large in limiting good three-point looks and keeping guards from getting into the lane and dumping off. Pitt doesn't have anybody that matches Scotty Reynolds' game and isn't likely to outrebound WVU. Villanova did it because it had an excellent mix of quickness, athleticism and some size tossed in by head coach Jay Wright in the form of Isaiah Armwood. The Panthers lack that shot off the bench, instead going with a more bruising-like player in Brown. That's fine at times, but it doesn't work as well versus the Mountaineers. Making shots will be key, as will getting to – and converting – at the line. This is a tough road game, but one West Virginia needs to stay in control of a top four spot Big East, thus earning the coveted double bye in the league's postseason tournament. Rebound, hustle, and convert at the line. The shots will fall as they may.
This is the fifth time in 180 series meetings that both teams are ranked in the top 25. WVU's No. 5 ranking is its highest in the Associated Press poll since Dec. 4, 1962, when it was rated third. According to multiple RPI sites, the Mountaineers are fifth in the RPI and have the second-toughest schedule strength.
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More than half of Huggins' wins at West Virginia have come away from home. He is looking for his 69th overall win, his 36th on the road. Huggins is 3-3 versus Pitt while at WVU.
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Da'Sean Butler ranks fourth in school history in scoring with 1,835 points. He needs 16 points to pass Wil Robinson for third.
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Pitt is 13-1 at home this season, including 4-1 in Big East play. After falling to West Virginia, the Panthers beat Robert Morris this week. WVU is 1-5 in the Petersen Events Center.