BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Marquette
February 18, 2006
At the beginning of the season, not too much was thought of when the schedule was released and Pittsburgh and Marquette were selected as one of the home and home games in the conference. Well, here we are in the 2nd half of February, starting the stretch run of the Big East conference schedule, and both teams have put themselves in position to be a marquee game in the conference.
Saturday night, their second meeting of the season, takes place in primetime at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the home of the Golden Eagles. Marquette will be bouncing back after a short turnaround from Thursday night's primetime ESPN win over Georgetown, in a very tough and intense game, and look to earn another impressive win.
Pittsburgh is coming off a Wednesday night win over Providence in which they erased a 4-pt halftime defecit to claim a road win and move into sole possession of the coveted 4th bye in the conference tournament, a position that Marquette, among others, will be gunning for.
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With their win over Georgetown, the Golden Eagles, at least temporarily, put the breaks on a little losing skid that saw them drop three of their last four. The losing trend began with a 77-71 loss at Pittsburgh, in a game that might have gotten a little chippy when Dominic James aggravated a shoulder injury and got a little extra shove in the back by Pitt's Antonio Graves, an incident that the Marquette fans have definitely not forgotton. Marquette was leading at the time and Pittsburgh took advantage of his absence to seize control of the game with Marquette struggling to find a replacement ball-handler. Dan Fitzgerald, running the back-up point position, turned it over five times in his 25 minutes. Pitt also beat Marquette up on the boards with a 45-30 rebounding advantage as Aaron Gray, battling the flu, grabbed a career high 20 rebounds.
Since that game, James has looked healthy again and Steve Novak, who was battling a lingering ankle injury, seems to be back on two feet and showed that touch Thursday hitting 5-8 from beyond the arc against Georgetown. In the first meeting with Pitt, Novak scored just 8 pts against the Panthers. It is likely that Marquette will be without Mike Kinsella and Jamil Lott this time. In the first meeting, they were rotated in to try and put a body on Gray, playing a combined 14 minutes and scoring 7 pts. So, this time around, Ryan Amoroso, Ousmane Barro and Chris Grimm will get the playing time against the big 7-footer. Amoroso had a big game with 14 pts in 18 minutes in their first meeting, but has been a non-factor since, including not getting off the bench in a couple games. However, he could be a factor Saturday in pulling Gray away from the basket on offense as they will have to respect his ability to hit a 3-pt shot. Marquette also has the services of Wesley Mathews in this game, he was still out with a foot injury in their first one.
For Pittsburgh, their key all season has been their depth. It is not uncommon for the Panthers to have their entire starting five on the bench by the eight minute mark of each half. They are also a rare combination of youth and experience, where one could argue if they are a young team or a veteran team and both would be correct. It is also more than normal to find Pitt down early in games, but as they work through their rotations, find the right combination and wear down an opponent, they find themselves right back in the game. Their rebounding power, depth and stubborness to play their game keeps them in every contest. When people talk about the best teams in the country, Pittsburgh is often overlooked, but this is a team that is 12 pts shy of being undefeated, but more often than not, is underappreciated.
This is a big game for each team and another tough one to predict. Each team has areas that they like to beleive they can exploit in the other that will make them successful. I see another game coming down to the wire, much like the Marquette/Georgetown game from Thursday night. This should put Pitt in good position as Marquette could wear down, but the excited crowd should energize the Golden Eagles and some threes and changing defenses could force Pitt out of the rhythm on offense they usually establish.
NBE Blogger Prediction:
Marquette 65 Pittsburgh 63