Monday, January 29, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Villanova

January 29, 2007

The Big East's Keystone State Rivalry did not take place last year in the regular season as Pittsburgh and Villanova did not meet until the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden. This year, the lone match-up takes place tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and in front of a national television audience on ESPN's Big Monday.

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

Pitt's Cook Has Hoops in his Blood (Philadelphia Daily News)
Pitt's Cook Finally Heads Home (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Aaron Gray is on Nova's Mind (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Young's Scoring Touch Returns, Pleases Dixon (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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


The Pomeroy Computer seems to be warming up to Pittsburgh as they have climbed up to #9 in the rankings, however, the computer still predicts Villanova to be a 1-pt winner tonight and the oddsmakers seem to agree as Villanova is currently listed as a 1.5-pt favorite in tonight's match-up.

Pittsburgh will hope to use Aaron Gray's size edge over the Villanova frontline to their advantage by feeding the ball into Gray often and running the offense through him. Gray is a very good passer and the Panthers are always one to make the extra pass, so if Villanova decides to double Gray, look for the big man to find the open man and for Pitt to move the ball for a clean look. This year, Pitt leads the Big East in 3-pt shooting percentage, shooting 43% in conference play from beyond the arc, and 40% overall on the season. If Villanova decides not to double Gray, he will look to use his variety of post moves and size to score over Villanova.

When the Wildcats have the ball, they will look to move Gray away from the basket. Outside of Gray, Pittsburgh is not a great rebounding team, so getting Gray out of his normal area will open the lane for Villanova and give them room to crash the boards. Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds are dangerous shooting from deep and when they are hitting Curtis Sumpter finds more room to do his thing. When Sumpter playing small forward, he has a huge advantage over Mike Cook, who is still coming along defensively in the Pitt system. Sumpter, however, has been hobbled the last week with a sore leg and the quick turnaround from a game at South Bend on Saturday could be a tough task for allowing the injury to heal and be healthy for tonight's game. This might be the key match-up in this game.

Villanova is coming off a tough road loss at Notre Dame while the Panthers cruised to an easy win over St. John's on Saturday. Villanova uses several different pressure defenses that could cause Pittsburgh some problems when the Wildcats look to go 3/4 or full court pressure. Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields are very good ballhandlers and decision makers (evidences by Pitt leading the conference in assist to turnover ratio in conference play at 1.46:1), but they are a little undersized and if trapped, they could run into some trouble. Once they break the trap, Pittsburgh should be able to find good shots against Villanova.

This is a really tough game. Villanova is an excellent free throw shooting team, shooting 74% in conference play (2nd in the Big East), while Pitt is at just 64% (13th), so in a tight game, which this is expected to be, that could possibly come back and bite Pitt. However, I feel these offenses are similar, but Pitt is the better defensive and rebounding team. With a hobbled Curtis Sumpter, Pitt should have enough to get a win on the road in this one.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 72 Villanova 67


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