Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Connecticut

January 31, 2006

Over the last five years, Pittsburgh and Connecticut has been one of college basketball's most entertaining and competitive rivalries. Here they are again, on the last day of January, as a pair of top 10 teams in the nation ready to meet again to stake their claim at the top of the Big East. This year, the only thing missing is the spotlight of a national television audience, but, expect the same intensity and effort from both sides that has been consistent with each meeting over the last four seasons, in which the two teams have split eight meetings.

Here are the pregame stories and previews from around the internet:

Pitt, UConn Brace for Rugged Showdown (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt-UConn is Big Time Big East Match-up (Tribune-Review Notebook)
Pitt Visits UConn, Hunts First Win Over #1 Team (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
...But Does Anyone Care in Pittsburgh? (Waterbury Republican American)
Pitt Rally Still Hurts Huskies Last Year (Torrington Register Citizen)
Huskies Know it Wont Be Easy (Norwich Bulletin)
Meeting Their Match (Hartford Courant)
Gay Works on Power Play (Hartford Courant)
UConn Ready to Get Physical (Connecticut Post)

To read our preview and see our game prediction, click read more below and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section!


Connecticut enters the game as 8-pt favorites tonight and the #1 ranked Huskies will have plenty of ammunition to motivate themselves by just thinking back to their meeting last year in Connecticut, where Pittsburgh rallied from 17 points down in the first half to win by 10 in front of a stunned Gampel Pavilion and national TV audience on ESPN for their inaugural ESPN gameday for basketball. It is a game that has not left the minds of the UConn players.

For Pittsburgh, they still seem to be a team fighting for national respect, as evidenced by the #9 ranking, despite just suffering one loss on the season. Perusing internet sites you will usually see a qualifier attached to Pittsburgh when fans and media mention the Panthers, usually as the "worst top ten team" they have seen. While Pittsburgh is never usually a visual pleasing team to watch, they continue to be effective at what matters most...winning!

Tonight's game is expected to be a physical battle. Pittsburgh will look to hit the boards and slow down the Connecticut running attack by being effecient in a half court game. UConn loves to run anytime, after turnovers, missed shots and even made baskets. In the past, Pittsburgh has done a very good job in forcing UConn to slow down and play in the half court, something the Huskies can get impatient with.

Both teams will look to establish their inside play to set their tone for the game. It should be a good match-up with Pittsburgh using Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Sam Young predominately in the mix with some minutes from Tyrell Biggs. Connecticut will counter with Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien with a few minutes from Ed Nelson. Foul trouble is going to be a key factor in this match-up as neither team would like to see one of their big men pick p a 2nd foul early in the first half, because that would mean plenty of pine time the rest of the half, unless the game seems to be slipping away early for one coach.

The key for Pitt, getting Aaron Gray touches and running the offense through him. Gray is an excellent passer and leads the Big East in rebounding. He can frustrate at times by missing some "easy" shots, but continuing to have him as an option inside opens it up for Pittsburgh. For Connecticut, Armstrong has really stepped out of the shadow of past UConn stars and has taken a leading role for the Huskies, especially in Big East play. He and Boone block a lot of shots and could get in the heads of the Pitt players inside.

At the guard, Marcus Williams and Craig Austrie start for UConn while Pitt counters with Carl Krauser and Ronald Ramon. UConn has the luxury of bringing an offensive spark off the bench in senior sniper Rashad Anderson. Senior Denham Brown is also another luxury coming off the bench and seems to be rounding back into shape after a sore knee limited his effectiveness. But, the part that makes this Husky engine purr is Williams. As long as Williams concentrates on getting the big men the ball and delivering timely passes to an open Anderson, the UConn offense is at its best. If he gets baited into a one-on-one offensive duel with Krauser, his focus could be off making his team better. For Pitt, Krauser is their scoring threat on the perimeter and is playing off the ball this year to take advantage of his scoring skills. The 5th-year senior has thrived in key situations in the past and there seems to be no situations that are new to him. Ramon is a dead-eye 3-pt shooter that is hitting over 50% from the arc in Big East play. Antonio Graves is coming off a career high against Marquette and freshmen Levance Fields will also see significant playing time for Pitt.

On the wing UConn boasts one of the most talented athletes in college basketball in Rudy Gay. At 6'9, he poses significant match-up problems for Pittsburgh with his ability to go inside and outside. Pittsburgh will start John DeGroat (6'5) at the wing and rotate Keith Benjamin (6'2) and Antonio Graves (6'2) into the mix. Last year, Pittsburgh used Levon Kendall at the 3-spot in the UConn game and Gay was ineffective in their first meeting at UConn. In their second meeting, the Pittsburgh wing position was a revolving door and Gay led UConn with 17 pts. It will be a key factor again because the match-up heavily favors Gay and UConn. If he takes advantage, it could be a large gap for the Panthers to overcome, because, they could play very even with UConn in the other match-ups on most nights.

This is an interesting game because it is the style that Connecticut could struggle against and they always have a tough initial game with Pittsburgh. It is also a game in which Pittsburgh looks forward to as a way to show those around the country they are worthy of being mentioned among the country's elite.

On this night, the home team prevails as they have the one clear cut advantage on the wing.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 75 Pittsburgh 68


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