Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati

January 24, 2007

The Pittsburgh Panthers look to rebound from their first conference loss tonight when they travel down the Ohio River to meet the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnait, under first-year head coach Mick Cronin, picked up their first conference win of the season on Saturday when they rallied to beat West Virginia in overtime as Marvin Gentry shredded the WVU defense for a career-high 32 points. The Panthers made a big comeback of their own, but were unable to hold off Marquette in overtime as Dominic James made two free throws with 0:00.9 left in the clock to win ot for Marquette.

Here are the pregame stories and previews found on the internet this morning:

Pitt's Loaded With Weapons (Cincinnati Post)
UC Keeping Enemies Close (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Panthers Will See a Completely Revamped Cincinnati Line-up (Post-Gazette)
Panthers face New-look Cincy (Tribune Review)
Pitt vs UC: The Match-up (Tribune Review)

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


The Panthers are currently 9-pt road favorites tonight when they travel to Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena to meet the Bearcats. A week ago at this time we were beginning to consider the Bearcats down and out for the season under Mick Cronin as they were preparing to play Syracuse coming off four consecutive losses, which included a 15-pt loss at South Florida, a 54-42 home loss to Rutgers, a 33-pt loss at Memphis and a 13-pt loss to Ohio at US Bank Arena. Then, the Syracuse game looked like much of the same as the Orange raced out to a 30-9 lead in the 1st half. Something, however, changed in these Bearcats as they decided they were not going to roll over and die. UC stormed back and had a 3-pt lead with 35 seconds left, but four Eric Devendorf free throws provided Syracuse with a 77-76 win. On Saturday, the script was similar as West Virginia raced to a 27-10 lead out of the gates, but the Bearcats came all the way back and forced the game into overtime where they dominated WVU and pulled out a 96-83 victory for their first Big East win of the season.

Pittsburgh had raced out of the Big East gates winning their first five league contests to take control of the conference race. However, their cruise to a league championship hit some choppy waters on Sunday as the lethargic Panthers booted the ball around for much of their game against Marquette and trailed by as much as 11 in the 2nd half and by 9 with under four minutes to go on their home court. Pitt did not quite and tied the game in the final seconds to force overtime and twice had a 3-pt advantage in OT, but Marquette went 10-10 from the line in OT and James' winning free throws led Marquette to a 77-74 win.

In their last two games, Cincinnati has found some room beyond the arc against the zone defenses of Syracuse and West Virginia. Against SU the Bearcats were 13-32 from 3-pt range with Marcus Sikes lighting up the Dome with an 8-12 performance from the arc for all 24 of his points. Sikes lines up as the center in the undersized Bearcats line-up and therefore, Pitt's Aaron Gray will have to follow him out to the arc. This pulls away Pitt's best rebounder and should give the athletic forward duo of Cedric McGowan and John Williamson some room to work on the glass, a match-up the Bearcats will look to exploit. Against West Virginia it was Marvin Gentry leading the way as the Bearcats went 9-20 from the arc, including Gentry's 5 of 7 as part of his 32 points. Earlier in the season, Cincinnati was turning the ball over at alarming rates, however they turned the ball over just 13 times total in their last two games. The Bearcats are not the best shooting bunch around and they will not be seeing a zone tonight to allow them to get comfortable, but they are going to have to spread the floor to get Gray away from the hoop and use their size-disadvantage to their advantage by attacking the basket and hustling for rebounds.

On offense, Pitt will likely not lose sight of Aaron Gray like they did for a LONG stretch on Sunday. Look for Pitt to make a concentrated effort to get Gray the ball and run the offense through him at times to free their 3-pt shooters. Ronald Ramon leads the league in 3-pt shooting at nearly 48% and Antonio Graves is not far behind at 46% as Pitt only trails Notre Dame in the league in 3-pt shooting percentage as a team. Cincinnati will likely play some zone and press the Panthers to try to get them out of their preferred tempo and Levance Fields will be the key to Pitt's fortunes. Fields must keep Pitt on track, even with changing defenses and an attempt to make the game end to end by the Bearcats. He needs to make sure Pitt runs their offense and keeps the big man involved.

Avoiding a slow start is a must for Cincinnati. If Pitt gets out early and forces the Bearcats to press on their shots, you wont have a lot of luck catching pItt as they will shorten the game, tighten up the defense and hit the boards. The Pomeroy computer also has this as a 9-pt Pitt win, same as the spread, it does look to be a pretty accurate assessment of the game. I think Cincinnati will scrap with the Panthers, but Pitt pulls away with their depth and gets a big night from someone off the bench when they need it.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 70 Cincinnati 59


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