BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh vs Villanova
March 10, 2006
It was a shame that the two Pennsylvania schools in the Big East were not scheduled to play this year in the regular season. However, Pittsburgh and Villanova took care of that in the Big East Tournament and will meet tonight in the second game of the doubleheader at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
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Pittsburgh advanced to the semifinals by beating West Virginia last night in the quarterfinals and Louisville in the first round. Pitt has looked VERY good at times and not-so-good at times, in the same game, and for long stretches. Last night, playing without starting forward Levon Kendall who was out with back spasms, the Panthers rallied from an early 12-pt defecit to come back and beat the Mountaineers 68-57. Aaron Gray, started off the game shooting just 1-8 from the floor in the first 10 minutes, but held it together and finished with 19 pts and 15 rebounds. Freshmen Sam Young added 14 pts and 11 rebounds while fellow freshmen Levance Fields added 10 pts and sophomore Ron Ramon added all 10 of his pts in the 2nd-half. Even better news for the Panthers, they will all be back next season!
Villanova earned a 1st round bye so last night was their first action in Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats were in quite a tussle, leading Rutgers by just a point at the half. Quincy Douby was a one-man gang for the Scarlet Knights, scoring 24 pts himself in the first 20 minutes, but Villanova took control in the 2nd half, whipping Rutgers by 31 pts to finish off an 87-55 win. Allan Ray scored 19 of his team high 26 in the 2nd half.
The status of Kendall is unknown at this time, but it is probably a safe bet he will be held out of action. With Villanova's 4-guard line-up, it might be a good night to let him rest for next week and the NCAA Tournament. Pitt showed last night they are willing to go small and played 3-guard lineup with Carl Krauser, Ramon and Fields for most of the 2nd half with Antonio Graves rotating in. Pitt also went even smaller with Keith Benjamin subbing in for Young at a couple key portions of the game. Tonight, to give Aaron Gray a breather, you might see Pitt go small again, which would match up with the 'Nova 4-guards, and use Young in place of Gray and Tyrell Biggs as well. Gray was clearly tired late last night and chasing Kevin Pittsnogle on the perimeter definitely took its toll on the big guy. Tonight he will be anchored near the basket and Pitt will look to go to him often as he is clearly the position on the floor that Pitt will have their biggest advantage.
Villanova will be a difficult match-up for Pitt, however. Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye and Ray are all bigger and more athletic than the Pitt guards. They will pressure the ball and work to get into the lane for their own shots. Pitt does struggle at times in allowing dribble penetration, but plays excellent team defense, especially with their switching and defensive rotations. However, that can get you in trouble against Villanova as Foye and Lowry love to break you down off the dribble and spot up Ray and Mike Nardi from beyond the arc. The Pitt guards are going to have to rebound, especially against Foye. Pitt is vulnerable to the style of play that the Villanova guards excel at on both sides of the ball. Inside, the Wildcats are going to have to anchor down on Gray with Will Sheridan and he will be backed up by Jason Fraser. When the Wildcats need to go a little more traditional to give some of their guards a breather, freshmen Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham at the forwards. This is a line-up that Pittsburgh hopes to force Villanova to use more often to contend with Gray and Young.
Villanova is a 5-pt favorite in tonight's game, which seems just a touch low for me. After a pair of games back to back for Pitt and Villanova cruising last night, I am not sure how much the Panthers will have in the tank. The ball pressure and trapping that Villanva will apply will cut down on the ability of Pitt to get the ball inside. I really look forward to the match-up, and wish we got to see it earlier. Coming off their win over their rivals last night, it is a valid excuse for Pitt to be a little tired tonight. Villanova righfully has their sights set on a possible #1 seed overall in the NCAA Tournament.
NBE Blogger Prediction:
Villanova 74 Pittsburgh 64