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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Friday, January 27, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Marquette @ Pittsburgh

January 28, 2006

The two most pleasant surprises in the Big East, Marquette and Pittsburgh, get together in the Steel City for a noon showdown on Saturday. Tom Crean's Golden Eagles enter the contest with a 5-2 conference record and 15-5 overall mark in their first year in the Big East. The Panthers, coached by Jamie Dixon, are 5-1 in the conference and 16-1 overall as one of the nation's biggest surpises on the season.

So far this season, Marquette has played 8 games away from home. They won all three of their contests in the Great Alaskan Shootout in November, but lost a couple OOC road contests to Nebraska and Wisconsin. In the Big East, they played three consecutive road contests, winning at Seton Hall and DePaul, sandwiched around a loss at West Virginia. Away from home, the Golden Eagles allow 79.8 PPG, while scoring 77 PPG themselves.

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!


Pittsburgh is one of the better home teams in the country. Some of their home stats can be a little skewed by their OOC schedule, but in the Big East and against major conference opponents (Wisconsin, Penn St and Auburn) they are averaging 82.5 PPG and allowing 64.7 PPG. Pittsburgh seems to be a much more comfortable offensive team in their home building. Marquette is a team that tends to commit a lot more fouls than their opponents, which is tough against a team like Pittsburgh, who is the opposite, they get to the line a LOT more than their opponents, so Marquette is not only going to have to be physical against the Panthers, but physical within the concept of team defense. Sometimes teams try to adjust, but without concentrating on getting in good defensive position. Against the Orange, Pittsburgh went to the line 35 times compared to SU's 5 attempts for the game.

One of the areas in which the Panthers tend to struggle is in allowing too much dribble penetration from opposing guards. One of Marquette's biggest strengths is their ability to breakdown defenses off the dribble led by freshmen guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. James is by far and away the leading candidate for freshmen of the year in the Big East conference is listed at only 5'9, but he is one of the quickest and most athletic point guards you will see. Reverse slams and in-bounds alley oops are not uncommon to be thrown down by these athletic freak! Plus, James has an all-around game, too, averaging 15 PPG and nearly 6 assists, usually on a variety of pull-up jumpers and runners in the lane created by his athleticism. McNeal adds 11 PPG and the strong right-handed guard loves to get into the lane and take it to the basket. He will also knock down some perimeter jumpers as well. Both players love to play fast, Pitt's preference to control the tempo is a key here. Against St John's, the Panthers were out of sorts early as they let the St John's guards dictate a quicker tempo early on which led to many Pitt turnovers, look for Marquette to try and duplicate that effort. However, doing that in Pittsburgh has not been done often. Usually, slowing the game down with Pitt is the way to go.

The usual beneficiary of the dribble penetration of the Marquette guards is Steve Novak. The 6'10 senior leads the Golden Eagles with 16 PPG and 6 rebounds, shooting a blistering 46% from the 3-pt line on 153 attempts this season. However, a high ankle sprain slowed Novak in their last game in which he managed just 5 shot attempts against DePaul. However, 6'9 sophomore transfer Dan Fitzgerald stepped up htting 6/7 from beyond the arc for a career high 18 (he was 11-37 entering the game from 3). Fitzgerlad and senior Joe Chapman make up the 3rd guard spot for the Golden Eagles combining with James, McNeal and Novak to give most of the scoring punch for Marquette. Ryan Amoroso, Jamil Lott and Ousmane Barro rotate in the paint and will have thier hands full inside with Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh will try and wear down Marquette inside and on the boards by running out 10 players with very little drop-off in changing line-ups. Aaron Gray should be able to carve space out inside and on the boards and make life very tough for the Golden Eagles inside. Marquette will probably use as many fouls as they can with their 3-headed Center monster, plus Mike Kinsella and Chris Grimm can come deeper off the bench and Levon Kendall's size will also pose problems on the boards and Sam Young's athletic ability will also be a challenge in the paint and around the rim. Playing at home usually brings out the best in Carl Krauser. In the 6 home games against the Big East and major conference opponents, Krauser is 15-24 from 3-pt range and 40-70 overall from the field, averaging 21 PPG. He makes this team go and energizes the crowd with his play when in Pittsburgh.

There is a lot to like about both teams and that creates an excellent match-up that is a key game in the conference race. Pittsburgh is about to embark on a 5-game stretch that will see them host Marquette prior to facing road games with Connecticut and Georgetown before returning home for Cincinnati and West Virginia. Having Connecticut on their schedule following this game could be a small distraction to the Panthers. Marquette's schedule is pretty favorable heading down the stretch, a win at Pittsburgh should give the Golden Eagles one final lift toward the NCAA tournament. However, it is going to be a tall order in landing a win against these Panthers at home, especially with Pitt's ability to draw fouls and control tempo, Marquette is a team that likes to go-go-go, which is a tough way to beat Pitt at home. Their guards could cause some problems, but will the freshmen guards commit to causing the problems on the defensive side for 40 minutes? That is what will be needed on the road.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 74 Marquette 67

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Rutgers

January 18, 2006

Last night the NBE Blogger won outright with the three gimme games of Villanova, West Virginia and Georgetown, even though nothing was given to anyone in the conference last night. Again, Marquette proved the NBE Blogger wrong and Louisville was overwhelmed by the athletic and passionate Red Storm, giving the NBE Blogger a 3-2 night and 24-7 on the season. Against the spread, the NBE blogger won with WVU winning by 16, Seton Hall losing by just 9 and Marquette winning, the NBE Blogger was on the correct side with the spread on that game for a 3-2 night, leaving the YTD record against the spread at 18-13.

Here are the pre-game articles and notes from around the net on tonight's game:

Rutgers Catalyst (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Rutgers Seeks 'Show Me' Win (NorthJersey.com)
Rutgers Needs a Webb Gem on Defense (Courier News)
Pitt Notebook (Tribune-Review)
Gray in Shape to Give RU a Fit (Newark Star-Ledger)
Scouting Pitt/Rutgers (Courier-News).
Pitt Frosh Becoming Hardened Veterans (Pittsburgh Trib-Review)

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!


Ninth ranked and 3-pt favorite Pittsburgh travels up to New Jersey for their shot at Rutgers in the RAC. The Scarlet Knights are coming off an overtime road win at DePaul on Sunday and are feeling good about themselves with a 2-1 conference record, where the only blemish was an overtime loss to Villanova last week.

Pitt is one of just three undefeated teams left in the country and are in the middle of a 3-game road trip. On Sunday, they won at Louisville and play at St. John's this Saturday before returning to Pittsburgh to meet Syracuse for Big Monday.

The RAC has certainly claimed a long list of victims over the last few years, but one that keeps escaping has been the Pitt Panthers, who have won the last three games between the two teams at the RAC, all very tight and physical games. Pittsburgh will bring the same mentality on defense and the boards into this game, which makes them a tough team on the road. Of course, they are led by senior Carl Krauser who is having a tremendous season as the move from point guard to the off-guard has been a complete success for the Panthers. On the Rutgers side it is no secret that the man is Quincy Douby. Looking at the numbers, both players shoot between 45-46% from the floor and Douby hits 38% from 3-pt range and Krauser is slightly better at 41%. Both average about 4.5 rebounds a game and do tend to turn it over when they are forced to make something out of nothing at times. Douby is the better foul shooter and averages 23 PPG, compared to Krauser's 17 PPG, but Douby has attempted 95 more shots from the field on the season, so it is very obvious how much Rutgers depends on their junior scorer. He accounts for 32% of their scoring and 31% of their shot attempts.

Last year Pittsburgh won at the RAC in overtime in a game where Krauser scored just 7 points and committed 9 turnovers. Ronald Ramon scored a career best 21 points and Antonio Graves hit the big shots in OT to pull out the win. This year Ramon and Krauser make up the starting backcourt and John DeGroat will start at the wing with Graves and Keith Benjamin in the mix as well. Freshmen Levance Fields rotates in at the guard position as well and has given Pitt a spark of offense in Big East play, especially with his 13 points at Louisville on Sunday. Much of the credit for Krauser's struggles last year can be given to Marquis Webb who has really taken the role of defensive stopper as well as anyone in this league. He will look to do it to Krauser once again.

Last year against Pitt, Douby scored 17, but nobody else (who is returning) found much success against Pitt. Freshmen Anthony Farmer will run the point for Rutgers and senior Marquis Webb will also flank Douby in the backcourt. Douby will probably see a good portion of the Pitt roster on him defensively at one time or another. Pitt is still an excellent defensive team this year. Unlike in the past, where they had lock down perimeter defenders like Jaron Brown, Julius Page, Brandin Knight, etc., this year's Panthers rely on team defense for similar results. Douby most certainly will get his points, but the entire Panther team is going to make him work for them, so, getting other sources of offense is a big key for Rutgers. Freshmen Jaron Griffin is in the guard rotation as well.

The key in the backcourt is for Pitt to stay even with Rutgers and Rutgers needs to put up big numbers to overcome Pitt's big edge in the paint. The Panthers are big and strong and are led by 7-foot Aaron Gray, the Big East's leading rebounder. Gray gets help from Levon Kendall and exciting freshmen Sam Young with fellow freshmen Tyrell Biggs adding depth. For Rutgers, freshmen JR Inman is the most productive frontcourt player and they will rotate in Byron Joynes, Ollie Bailey, Adrian Hill and Jimmie Inglis to provide size and fouls. Defense and rebounding is a must for Rutgers at these positions, the Panthers just grind away at you inside and keep working to establish themselves defensively and on the boards first and in the end, seem to make the plays to win.

Pittsburgh is a very consistent team, there does not seem to be too many highs and lows and they play the same on the road as they do at home. Their game is perfect to win on the road as they buckle down defensively and on the boards and seem to ride out any surge the home team rides from the crowd's energy. Rutgers is definitely a different team at the RAC than they are on the road. They take pride in being the giant killers on their home floor and tonight they have a giant on their turf. This is one giant that does not mind getting down and dirty with the home team and that is to Pittsburgh's advantage. This game will be another tough, physical game where both teams have to work for everything they get, a game Pittsburgh seems to love.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 66 Rutgers 63 (Pitt to win, no play on the 3-pt spread)

Let's see your predicton in the comments section!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: DePaul @ Pittsburgh

January 12, 2006

The DePaul Blue Demons, fresh off their first Big East conference win last Saturday travel to Pittsburgh to face nationally ranked and undeferated Pitt tonight. The Panthers are 12-0 on the season.

Each team defeated Notre Dame in their last game. For Pitt, the win came eight days ago and was a thrilling double OT 100-97 win. DePaul raced out to a 23-6 lead on the Irish, at home, and held on after the Irish tied the game in the second half and won 73-67.

DePaul has already won games on the road against Dayton and Wake Forest and also beat Cal on a neutral floor that was more or less a home game for the Bears. They have also lost to Northern Illinois on the road early in the year and have also been beaten badly in road trips to Old Dominion and Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh does have to like the match-up with DePaul as the Blue Demons do not shoot the ball very well from beyond the arc (just 31.9% on the season), they do not rebound very well and they will likely be without a strong offensive post presence to challenge Aaron Gray defensively. Although, they might get the services of Wesley Green back, but it would be on a very limited basis for this game if they do. Green would be the offensive threat that would force Gray to work a little harder on defensive and could get him in to a little foul trouble.


DePaul does have Sammy Mejia, a 6'5 junior guard who is averaging 15.6 PPG, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game and has an excellent mid-range game. This is the type of player that can also give the Panthers some trouble as they do seem to lack a big guard that can defend physically at this point in time.

Pittsburgh will be coming off their longest layover of the season, eight days, and that is always somewhat of an unknown variable for how a team will play. DePaul won away from home against Wake Forest and California after each team had a long layover for exams in December, so that might be something to think about.

For DePaul, their likely starting line-up of freshmen Jabari Currie (7.5 PPG, 2.4 assists), Mejia, Karron Clarke (9 PPG 5 rpg), freshmen Wilson Chanler (9 PPG, 7.4 rpg) and Marlon Brumfield will be matched up against Ronald Ramon, Carl Krauser, John DeGroat, Levon Kendall and Gray. Draelon Burns provides an offensive spark off the bench for DePaul and the Panthers will rotate in five players off the bench, including freshmen Sam Young, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs along with guards Antonio Graves and Keith Benjamin. DePaul would love to have the services of Green for this game, but they will also use Marcus Heard and Lorenzo Thompson along with point guard Cliff Clinkscales.

Jamie Dixon will hope his Panthers have not spent the last eight days reading their press clippings as one of the three remaining unbeaten teams in the country and resist to urge to look ahead to Sunday's showdown with nationally ranked Louisville. The Panthers opened up as 12-pt favorites and the Pomeroy Computer predicts them to be a 13-pt winner tonight. They are a team that plays very well together in their roles and their team defense seems to be on par with the excellent Pitt teams of the past few years, even without a top individual defender.

DePaul is going to have to make shots tonight. It is a pretty safe bet to assume they will find it tough on the boards against Pittsburgh, but making shots, especially from beyond the arc, will keep you in the game against Pitt in the style they play. Karron Clarke and Wilson Chandler also need to have good offensive outings to keep the pressure on the Panthers. Being one of just three undefeated teams in the country does carry some added pressure, so, if they can keep this game close into the stretch drive, with a tough, physical match-up in Sammy Mejia for the Pitt guards, anything can happen.

The Peterson Events Center is a tough place for opponents to play as the Panthers have lost just 4 games there in the history of the building. They seem to play with much more confidence in their offensive game at home and the added offense should make the difference in this one. I think Depaul plays well and makes a few runs at the Panthers, but overall, Pitt is too deep and strong on the boards and defensively for the Blue Demons to pick up a road win.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pitt 71 DePaul 62

Leave your prediction in the comments section!

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh

January 4, 2006

Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh tonight in the Big East opener for both teams. This is a difficult match-up for each time as the style used by the other is almost the polar opposite of their own. Pittsburgh is still a physical, defense-first and tough rebounding team while Notre Dame prefers a more free-flowing game where their skilled perimeter shooters find space to drill open jumpers. Pittsburgh loves to be physical on the cuts and make the opponent have to go out of their way to receive the ball.

Pomeroy's computer has Pittsburgh by 12 on their home floor tonight and the Panthers have won the last four in the series. Notre Dame has been to the NIT in each of the last two years, probably coming up one big win short in each season of the NCAA's. Losing to Pittsburgh four times over that span might have been the final nail in the coffin in their NCAA resume each year. Pittsburgh enters the game with an RPI rating of 10 and are 2-0 against the RPI top 50 and 11-0 overall. Notre Dame, despite a 9-2 record, has an RPI of 78 and are 0-1 against the top 50 and 1-2, overall, against the top 100.


In Notre Dame's two losses, Colin Falls shot 1-12 from the floor (and 1-11 from 3-pt range) against NC St (neutral floor) and Michigan (home). In the 9 wins for the Irish, Falls averages 14 PPG. Falls hits nearly 37% of his 3-pt shots and 32 of his 41 made baskets this season have come from beyond the arc. Pittsburgh has been known to give up 3-pters in bunches, so, a little extra defensive attention will probably be played to Falls. When he is taken out of th egame by the defensive behind the arc, the 6'5 wing can be a liability on the floor because he does not rebound (1.7/game) and is not a gifted athlete defensively. But, he is a threat on the floor at all times and is a crafty player that can find ways to get open for his jumper.

Senior Chris Quinn, who has had some good games against Pittsburgh, leads the Irish with 14.2 PPG and 6 assists. Fellow senior Torin Francis adds 13.6 PPG and a team high 9.5 rebounds. Russel Carter (9.5 PPG) and frosh Luke Zeller (5 PPG) round out the probable starting line-up for the Irish, which will also use frosh Kyle McAlarney (7.8 PPG 49% from 3-pt range) in the guard rotation and senior Rick Cornett and sophomore Rob Kurz will rotate with Francis and Zeller in the front court.

Pittsburgh is led by 5th year senior Carl Krauser who leads Pitt with 16.6 PPG and 4. assists playing primarily from the 2-guard position. Krauser never seems to be rattled and playing off the ball has made better use of his offensive mentality. Sophomore Ronald Ramon and freshmen Levance Fields run the show for the Panthers and they have a combined 3.25 to 1 assist/turnover ratio. Big man Aaron Gray anchors the middle for Pitt and averages 11 PPG and 10 rebounds, although he has struggled in their last 2 games (wins at South Carolina and home against Wisconsin), but freshmen Sam Young has picked it up off the bench, scoring 16 in each game and averages 8.8 on the season. Levon Kendall is the starter at PF and rotates with Young and Kendall, a 4th-year junior, averages 7 PPG and 6 rebounds. John DeGroat is the starter at the SF slot and splits time with Keith Benjamin and Antonio Graves is likely to see action there as well against a 3-guard team like Notre Dame.

For me, I see a very tight game tonight. Pittsburgh will try to be very physical and wear down the Irish, who will knock down 3's and stay in the game. Pittsburgh's rebounding as a team will be their strength and Krauser's experience in the clutch will be enough tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 69
Notre Dame 65

Here are the game previews from around the net:

Fort Wayne Journal
South Bend Tribune
Beaver County Times
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Ttib-Review
Trib-review Pittsburgh Notebook

Feel free to leave YOUR game prediction in the comments!

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