Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ West Virginia

February 7, 2007

One of the Big East's most intense rivalries in all aspects is highlighted tonight as the Backyard Brawl on the hardwood comes to Morgantown for the match-up of Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The Panthers look to solidify their hold of the conference's top spot while the Mountaineers look to state their case for a 1st round bye in the conference tournament and a spot in the national top 25 with a win over their rival.

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

Toughest Test for WVU (Charleston Gazette)
WVU Skips Rebuilding (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt Seniors: You Have to Be There to Believe It (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt vs WVU: The Match-up (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Will Carry Big East Lead to West Virginia (Tribune-Democrat)
Pitt Goes to WVU Zone (Beaver County Times)
Old Rivals Meet Once Again (Register-Herald)

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


Pittsburgh travels down I-79 south as 3-pt favorite and with the Big East conference lead to meet West Virginia. The Mountaineers with attempt to turn the Big East conference race into a mad spring to the finish by knocking off their rivals in the Backyard Brawl.

West Virginia will look to attack Pittsburgh with their 3-pt shooting and 1-3-1 zone defense and with a charged crowd that loves nothing more than to beat Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won the last two meetings at the Coliseum by making 25 3-pt shots and turning it over just 10 times in the two games. Pittsburgh meanwhile turned it over 29 times in the two games and made only 12 3-pt shots inthe two contests. West Virginia will hope to outscore the Panthers from the arc and take care of the basketball once again, if they do, this game will be hotly contested from beginning to end.

Pittsburgh has not played since beating Villanova at the Wachovia Center on January 29th. The 9-day break should definitely be concerning to Jamie Dixon as Pitt has a habit of starting games a little flat, at least comapred to the opposition. If that happens tonight and a few 3's come raining down, the roof might seem like it will come off the Coliseum and the atmoshere will get downright crazy.

If Pittsburgh can weather the early storm, look for them to attack the 1-3-1 zone like the veteran team they are. Levance Fields and Antonio Graves will look to penetrate the gaps of the defense and dish inside to Aaron Gray or kickit out to a variety of shooters, led by Graves and Ronald Ramon, that lead the Big East is 3-pt shooting percentage. That is the major difference with this Pitt team over the previous couple versions, they pass the ball really well and shoot it even better. They might not be as good of a rebounding team as in the past, but their offense is highly effecient and their 3-pt weapons add a new dimension. They also have the luxury of brining Ramon and Sam Young off the bench, Young was very important last season finding room on the baseline against the 1-3-1 zone to use his athletic ability to finish, if Pitt gets a good night from him offensively, WVU could be in trouble.

This year's West Virginia team seems to have more shooters than in the past. They still do not rebound much and might be turning it over a little more, but they are more athletic and a bit longer in thier 1-3-1 zone defense than in the past. Tonight they will have to take care of the basketball, which was the difference in their two tight wins over Pitt (83-78 in OT and 67-62) the last two years. You know they will launch a lot of 3's and chase down some loose balls and hit you with a backdoor cut, but they can not afford to turn the ball over and allow Pitt to have extra possessions, because this Pitt team seems to be better at making the opponent pay for their mistakes.

The starting line-up for WVU is likely Darris Nichols, Alex Ruoff, Frank Young, Joe Alexander and Rob Summers with Desean Butler and Jamie Smalligan seeing most of the time off the bench. Pittsburgh will go with Levance Fields, Antonio Graves, Mike Cook, Levon Kendall and Aaron Gray with Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin and Sam Young seeing most of the action off the bench. Pitt can go smaller this year, adding a 3rd guard to the mix and Sam Young at the '4' and still match-up well with WVU's attack, but who they use to defend Alexander and Young will be interesting.

This is a game I keep going back and forth on. Pitt's effeciency numbers look so strong in Big East play (and, as we will look at later, they are even stronger when compared to the averages of who they play) and their added 3-pt talents this season with the extra pass makes them very dangerous against any zone. I worry about their 9-day layoff, especially at the beginning of the game, which could be a rallying point for West Virginia.

Still, I like Pitt's experience in this one and as the game goes on, they will have too many answers, but...in a rivalry game, anything can happen...and, this one will likely come down to the end.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 73 West Virginia 69


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