Tuesday, January 16, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Connecticut @ Pittsburgh

January 16, 2007

Over the last five seasons, there has not been a better rivalry in the Big East other than Pittsburgh and Connecticut. Each game has been thrilling, starting with the epic Big East Tournament title game of 2002 in which Connecticut won in overtime. Since then, they split another pair of Big East Tournament championships and split six regular season meetings, each played with top of the conference implications.

This time it is the Panthers on top of the conference at 4-0 while the young Huskies are looking for a big win to jumpstart their careers and nothing would be bigger than winning at Pittsburgh. Here are the pregame stories and previews from around the internet:

Huskies Look for Second Straight Road Win (Danbury News Times)
Tonight, Spotlight is on the Big Guys (Norwich Bulletin)
Tall Task Ahead for Thabeet (New Haven Register)
All Eyes on Thabeet (Hartford Courant)
UConn at No. 6 Pittsburgh (Hartford Courant)
UConn vs Pitt: The Match-up (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt-UConn: The Beast of Big East Rivalries (Post-Gazette)
Pitt-UConn Have Played Some Thrillers (Connecticut Post)
Unranked Huskies Remain Pivotal Hurdle for Pitt (Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Gray Has Someone to Look Up To (Beaver County Times)

Click below for our brief preview and prediction on this game and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section.


Currently the Panthers check in as 7.5-pt favorites tonight, but the Pomeroy Computer sees this as a much closer game, picking the Panthers to win by three points on their home floor. The one area to watch tonight is rebounding. With Jeff Adrien and 7'3 Hasheem Thabeet on the floor together a lot, the Huskies can be very tough on the glass, as evidenced by their +11 rebounding marking on the season. Pitt is a good rebounding team, at +6 on the season, but in their two losses they were beaten soundly on the offensive glass against Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, this is an area UConn can possibly hurt the Panthers.

Connecticut is coming off a road victory against St. John's in which two of the youngest Huskies made their impacts felt more than in any other Big East game so far. Thabeet scored 12 pts, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 7 shots in 36 minutes. If he can stay on the floor that long against Pitt's Aaron Gray, that would be a huge key in favor of the Huskies. Also, Stanley Robinson, making his first career start, scored 13 pts and grabbed 12 rebounds (11 on the defense end) in 29 minutes, giving UConn another 6'9 wing that causes match-up problems for the opponent. With the length and athleticism of Robinson and Thabeet and the toughness of Jeff Adrien, the Huskies have the makings of a very good (although young and raw) frontline. Against St. John's they went to a zone defense and their physical abilities do play well in a zone.

AJ Price, Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins rotate for the most part in the backcourt. The trio is extremely quick, but still learning to value the basketball and little things like making the extra pass to get the best shot. Pittsburgh excels in getting opponents to play at their preferred pace, something that could frustrate a young Connecticut squad that really likes to get out in the open floor. Shot selection is key for this trip and delivering the ball in position for others to score is a big key against Pitt's defense. Craig Austrie and Marcus Johnson have some experience off the bench and they will also dig a little deeper with Curtis Kelly and Jonathan Mandeldove up front to battle Pitt's frontline.

Agianst St. John's, Thabeet was allowed to catch the ball deep in the lane, expect Aaron Gray to make that very difficult for Thabeet to accomplish. Gray thrives on establishing position on the offensive end himself, and understands the importance of forcing his counterpart to catch the ball out of their offensive comfort zone. His expereince and strength will likely make things tough on Thabeet. The Panthers are coming off a game where tey faced 7'2 Roy Hibbert, so they will be comfortable facing a big man in the middle.

Against Georgetown the Pittsburgh offense was clicking on all cylinders, shooting nearly 60% the entire game. The move the ball better than any team I have seen in the country and lead the nation in assist to turnover ratio and showed why against the Hoyas, getting 22 assists against just 7 turnovers. Pitt has been able to dissect a zone and exploit a man to man because they look to make the extra pass and they have scoring threats all over the court that can face up and make jumpshots. To make it even more difficult, Levance Fields is taking control of the team and pushing all the right buttons at the point guard position, this team is much more comfortable in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock than any of their previous couple editions, and when your a team that likes to run 25+ seconds of shot clock in the halfcourt, that is HUGE.

Playing at home the Panthers are really in their comfort zone. They feed off the energy of the Oakland Zoo and with ESPN showcasing the Zoo as part of Spirit Week, look for the Peterson Events Center to be just as jazzed as it was on Saturday night, afterall, even though they are young and full of new players, it is still Jim Calhoun and Connecticut.

The athletic ability of UConn will cause Pitt some problems on the glass and in transition, but Pitt limits transition better than anyone, I can see a few UConn runs making this game closer, but Pitt will frustrate UConn with their patient style and precision passing. Depending on when UConn's last run comes will determine if it is a close win or a comfortable win, but I think Pitt makes the plays at home, like they always usually do.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 75 Connecticut 67


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