Tuesday, January 29, 2008


January 30, 2008

The Big East conference can change on a whim and two teams that suddenly find themselves facing lots of questions meet in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh has lost two of three, including a shocking home loss Saturday night to Rutgers. The Panthers circled the wagons when injuries decimated their club in late December, but the lack of depth and numbers looked to be taking a toll as the Panthers seemed in a mental fog on Saturday. However, that performance came just days after a dominating win over St. John's on the road.

After Villanova won at Syracuse, it was the Wildcats that seemed poised to make a litte run and position themselves favorably in the conference race. However, a trip to the RAC was no picnic as Rutgers came up with a win and then a trip home to face Notre Dame resulted in another double-digit loss. The Wildcats yielded 85 points a game in two losses last week, nunbers that Jay Wright will implore his team to improve upon vry soon.

Here are the local media previews on tonight's game:

Snapping out of Funk Wont Be Easy for 'Cats (Philadelhia Inquirer)
Pitt in a Must-Win Situation (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Must Avoid Turnovers (Beaver County Times)
Ramon Settles in at Point (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt Tries to Solve Villanova (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

These two teams have already met once and Villanova came away with a thrilling one-point victory at the Villanova Pavillion when Dante Cunningham hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left. Villanova extended their defense and forced the Panthers to commit 22 turnovers, including one as the clock expired saving the victory for 'Nova. The Wildcats were keyed in that victory by Malcolm Grant and Antonio Pena off the bench as the Villanova reserves combined for 34 points and Dwayne Anderson added five more for 39 points from the bench compared to just 7 from the Pitt bench.

Villanova will have to use their deeper numbers and defensive pressure again to come up with a road victory. By extending the pressure against Pitt's guards, who do not have a true poit guard, Villanova can counter the Panthers' inside advantage.

On the other side, Pittsburgh needs to get back on the boards and pick up the defensive intensity once again. The Villanova guards are tough match-ups for Pitt, but the Panthers will have to make adjustments to control the dribble penetration of the Wildcats and to make sure they can get into their offense and are able to get shot attempts during their possessions. Pitt will likely get second chance opportunities, so every turnover takes away not only one shot attempt, but also potentially Pitt's biggest advantage, their front line duo of DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.

For Pitt, staying out of foul trouble and hiting some perimter shots to free up room for Blair and Young is the key to their offense. Rediscovering their intensity level is also a must and must come on their home floor.

While Pitt is not getting any healthier soon, Villanova might have Casseim Drummond available and the big body would be a big help against the Pittsburgh front court.

A lot of things point to Pittsburgh in this game, but this is a difficult match-up for the Panthers without Levance Fields to handle the ball. However Pittsburgh usually finds a way to get things down when you begin to count them out. The game is huge for both teams, while the loss to Rutgers is concerning, as of now it looks like an anomaly for the Panthers rather than the norm. So, look for the home team to pull it out, but it likely will not be easy. The Panthers are a 7.5-pt favorite and that seems a little too high to me.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 67 Villanova 61



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