Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: West Virginia @ Pittsburgh

February 27, 2007

The Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia meets for Act II on the hardwood tonight when the Mountaineers travel north to take on the Panthers. Pittsburgh won their earlier meeting this season at Morgantown, 60-47, when Sam Young scored a career-high 21 pts off the bench. Tonight, the Pittsburgh fans will converge on the Peterson Events Center one last time to send-off seniors Aaron Gray, Antonio Graves, Levon Kendall and Doyle Hudson. West Virginia will hope to dampen the party by making it rain threes.

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

Anatomy of Gray's Climb from Obscurity (Charleston Gazette)
Well-Rested Mountaineers Seek Revenge at Pittsburgh (Register-Herald)
A Tough Task for Pete's Sake (Charleston Gazette)
Pitt Keeping Title Hopes Alive (Tribune-Democrat)
Panthers Learn Lesson (Beaver County Times)
Match-up: West Virginia @ Pitt (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Seniors Bid Farewell to Peterson Events Center (Tribune-Review)
Panthers Try to Solve Shooting, Defensive Problems (Post-Gazette).

Pittsburgh, a 9-pt favorite tonight, saw their chances to share the Big East Regular Season title greatly enhanced on Monday night with Syracuse knocking off Georgetown. However, they need to take care of business against their rivals from West Virginia tonight in what will be an emotionally charged Peterson Events Center. When West Virginia comes to town, the Pittsburgh fans will be ready, and tonight, they will be saying farewell to seniors Aaron Gray, Antonio Graves, Levon Kendall and Doyle Hudson, a senior class with 100 wins in their four years.

West Virginia has seen their hopes for a return to the NCAA Tournament put in limbo with their inability to win away from home and lack of quality wins. They only have one win against a Big East team (DePaul) with a current winning record in the conference. Their lone marquee out of conference win was impressive, beating UCLA at home earlier this month, but the Bruins were without their starting point guard. So, after a week off after a loss to Providence, where the Mountaineers shot 9-41 on three-pointers in a 64-61 loss, the Mountaineers will be a desperate bunch playing for their March lives when they come to Pittsburgh tonight.

The Panthers have shown some vulnerability of late, losing two of their last four, including a home loss to Louisville. The Panthers have also not won by more than six points since their win at West Virginia 20 days ago. Pittsburgh's offense has been inconsistent, at best, of late as their one-time league leading 3-pt shooting percentage in league play has dropped to 38%, which still leads the league, yet is down from the 43% that it was a few weeks ago. The Panthers are also slowed by the severly sprained ankle of their big man, Aaron Gray. The 7-footer gutted through 21 minutes of play in their 61-53 loss at Georgetown on Saturday, scoring 10 pts, but he was obviosuly not close to 100%. It is doubtful that he will be 100% tonight, and is questionable if he will play. Battling the WVU 1-3-1 zone, having that big body to anchor inside is a huge advantage for the Panthers. They have also found good luck with Sam Young on the baseline using his athleticism to score over the 1-3-1 defense.

West Virginia will need to shoot the 3-ball effecively and slow Pitt inside to have a chance to night. Coming off a 9-41 effort beyond the arc at Providence is not encouraging, but the Mountaineers have had a week off to regroup and get their touch back. Darris Nichols will look to run the show and get Frank Young and Alex Ruoff the ball in position to light it up from beyond the arc. Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler will try to slash to the basket and keep defenses honest with their ability to hit from beyond the arc, but if they are not hitting a high percentage, Pitt will just grind out the game and pull away late.

Pittsburgh is not playing their best and with Gray definitely limited, if playing, this game might be a tad closer than expected. Pitt should still get the win, but the dangerous shooting of the Mountaineers will likely make it closer at times with a few flurries of 3's, but overall, too much Pitt.

NBE Blogger Preview: Pittsburgh 68 West Virginia 61

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Monday, February 12, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Louisville @ Pittsburgh

February 12, 2007

Louisville travels to Pittsburgh for ESPN's Big Monday match-up tonight. The Cardinals are still looking for their first signature win of the season, home or away, and a win over Pittsburgh will certainly get the nation's attention. The Panthers fought off a pesky Providence ballclub on Saturday in a similar situation and they will look to stay ahead on the conference tonight against Louisville.

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

U of L Hopes Williams Ends Bad Spell (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Cardinals Venture in the Pitt (Lexington Herald-Leader)
Cardinals Dance Card Needs Games (Herald-Leader)
Now Cards Need a Signature Win (Courier-Journal)
Louisville Making First Trip to Pitt (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Cook Breaks Slump in Time for Louisville (Beaver County Times)
Pitt's Reserves Look to Key Long Run (The Tribune Democrat)
Freshman Center Gives Louisville a Boost (Post-Gazette)

To read our brief preview of the game and to see the NBE Blogger's prediction on the outcome, click 'Read More' below.

Also, we'd love to see the reader's thoughts and predictions on the game in the comments, so feel free to add your toughts!

It is a big week ahead for Louisville as the Cardinals try to position themselves for one of the four Big East Tournament 1st-round byes and solidy their chances to gain entrance to the Big Dance in March. The Cardinals take to the road to meet Pittsburgh and Marquette in search of their first signature win, let along impressive road victory. To date, Louisville's most impressive win away from home was at DePaul, 59-50. Their only other two wins outside of Freedom Hall have come against Cincinnati and South Florida. They have already lost on their home floor to Marquette and Georgetown, so the Cardinals have not come close to proving they below in the top tier of the conference, but they still have a shot to at least prove worthy of the final bye and a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but at some point, they have to come up with a quality win.

Pittsburgh is playing for a regular season conference championship and high NCAA seed. The Panthers are definitely the hunted as each and every bubble team that comes up against Pitt knows how impressive a victory, especially on the road, will look to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. They will be taking the best shot from everyone here on out and have to avoid looking ahead to bigger things and take care of business on hand.

Louisville presents an interesting challenge to Pitt as the Cardinals will look to force tempo and pressure Pitt all over the floor. Louisville is an athletic group, especially in the backcourt where freshmen Jerry Smith Edgar Sosa, along with senior Brandon Jenkins and sophomore Andre McGee log most of the minutes. McGee and Jenkins have battled injuries all season long and have yet to hit their stride offensively, but Jenkins is one of the better defensive guards in the conference.

On the wing for Louisville is the explosive Terrence Williams. However, the sophomore is mired in a shooting slump, but it doe snot keep the sophomore from trying to shoot his way out of it. Freshman Earl Clark has been getting more and more time of late as he gets used to the system at Louisville and junior Juan Palacios still is at the other forward spot. Palacios always seems one big game away from taking off, but that take off continues to be something Louisville fans, and his coach Rick Pitino, is still waiting for.

When playing Pittsburgh the area of concentration is always in the paint where Pitt's Aaron Gray resides. On Saturday, Gray was the difference for the Panthers as he scored 22 pts in 25 minutes after sitting most of the 1st half with two fouls. Gray took a nasty fall after a two-hand shove in the back on a dunk attempt, but he practiced with the team yesterday. For Louisville, the Cards might not be as lucky as the oft-injured David Padgett missed most of the game against South Florida after injuring his ankle. However, freshan Derrick Caracter is back, once again, in the fold and in just 18 minutes against the Bulls he scored 16 pts and grabbed 10 rebounds. It remains to be seen what kind of game shape Caracter will be in with the short turnaround, but he will certainly be tested on the defensive end by Gray and the Panthers will likely test his decision-making on the offensive end with some double-teams.

Both teams are deep and the Cardinals have a tendency to rotate players in and out, which might have had a cause in their offense not being able to find a rhythm this season. The talent is there, but they just seem to be coming up short in putting it all together. They are young and several injuries have limited their ability to become an effecient team. Pittsburgh starts three seniors and is one of the best (percentage-wise) three-point shooting teams in the country. So, if you try and limit Gray inside, he is experienced enough to find the open man and the Panthers move the ball very unselfishly to find the best shot, and, they knock them down.

Louisville will play Pittsburgh tough as, in terms of their season, the Cards have a lot riding on it. However, they have yet to show the offensively consistency to win a game of this magnitude, especially on the road...so, as they say in Missouri, they have to Show Me first.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 68 Louisville 61

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Friday, February 09, 2007

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Providence @ Pittsburgh

February 10, 2007

The Providence Friars, fresh off their great escape over Cincinnati, travel to Pittsburgh for a Saturday evening Big East contest. The Friars are 5-4 in the Big East and are still looking for a road win to that has some meat to it. Their win the previous weekend at Connecticut was nice, but they are still looking to real in a big fish away from Providence.

Pittsburgh could be in a tight spot, they are coming off a road win at rival West Virginia that followed a 9-day layoff. The Panthers have a tough schedule ahead, as of today, the top four teams in the conference are Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia, according to the standings. Pittsburgh has all three of those contenders still ahead on their schedule as they are the only team that plays all three two times in this unbalanced schedule. Georgetown, Marquette and WVU each only faces Pitt twice among the contenders. Pitt also has Louisville on the short turnaround on Monday night. This will be the first of three consecutive Pitt games on ESPN.

Pittsburgh has the homecourt advantage and the edge with depth. Against UC, Providence relied on their starters for 65 of their 71 points. Against West Virginia, Pittsburgh got more than half of their 60 points from their bench. Pittsburgh will man up and play man to man trying to wear down the Friars, whose starters have been logging a lot of minutes. The Friars will look to press and zone Pittsburgh, which is a pretty good strategy as the Panthers sometimes look a little weak with the ball against pressure, but once they break the press, they are prone to pick teams apart with their passing and effecient offense.

The game also features a measuring stick for Herbert Hill, PC's athletic big man, and Aaron Gray. Hill is having an all-conference type season while Gray was the preseason conference player of the year. Will the big body of Gray take Hill out of his game? Hill is the athletic big man that can give Gray trouble, although Gray was ahrdly phased last year torching PC for 39 pts and 18 rebounds on 16-19 shooting in two meetings. Although, Hill did have some success of his own running the floor and scoring 15 pts in the second meeting, although he grabbed just two rebounds.

Pittsburgh at home is just too tough. Even though this is somewhat a sandwich game and Providence really needs a win like this for their NCAA hopes, expect the Panthers' depth to win out.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 Providence 62

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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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