Friday, February 15, 2008


February 15, 2008

The Big East gives us a nationally televised Friday Night special as Pittsburgh travels to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee to meet Marquette. The Panthers have a 1/2 game lead on the Golden Eagles for 5th place in the conference standings, so this is an important game in the standings in what has quickly become a very competitive rivalry in the two+ seasons since Marquette has joined the Big East. Marquette has won three of the five meetings with an OT victory at the Pete and two other wins that have come right down to the final minute at the Bradley Center.

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

MU Can Keep Progressing by Pushing Past Pitt (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Pitt's Dixon Far From Satisfied (Tribune Review)
Pitt Begins Grueling Stretch (Tribune-Review)
Final Four Team to be Honored (Journal-Sentinel)
Fields' Return Buoys Pitt's Big East Hopes (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Bradley Center should be in a frenzy with Pitt coming to town for a national television audience for a Friday night match-up. As if they needed any additional excitement, Marquette will honor the 2002-2003 NCAA Final Four squad at halftime. That team was led by Dwyane Wade, Steve Novak and Travis Diener.

This is an important judgement game for the Golden Eagles. We are still trying to determine how good this team is. While many teams in the Big East have been battling the injury big and breaking in new players, the Golden Eagles have been pretty healthy since the season began with a line-up that returned pretty much intact from last season. They spent much of the early season ranked around the top 10, but in recent weeks they have fallen down in the polls as they have been beaten badly by the likes of Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville two times, by an average of 16 points. They were able to snap a two-game losing streak by running Seton Hall out of their own building with a full 40 minute effort that saw them defending and rebounding with renewed energy and effort. They will look to carry-over that effort tonight.

Over the last two seasons, no team has been a tougher match-up for the Panthers than Marquette. The Golden Eagles' attack is centered around their three-guard attack of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Mathews. The trio's quickness and speed gives any backcourt difficulty and Pittsburgh's backcourt has been short-handed for the past seven weeks due to the injury of Levance Fields. The junior point guard Fields is expected to play tonight, his first action since December 29th, but there probably is not a tougher game to get back into action for a guard than this one.

Marquette does struggle shooting the ball and teams have found success playing a variety of zones and forcing Marquette to play at a slower pace and rely on their inconsistent perimeter attack. They have Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan off the bench to knock down the three's, but they give up something in other areas with them on the floor (rebounding, defense). Pittsburgh, however, is a tough as nails man-to-man defensive team. That is their identity and Jamie Dixon is not one to often vary from that plan. Playing a zone could allow Pitt to go with a big line-up against Marquette and try to dominate the paint and the boards.

Marquette will be challenged by Pittsburgh's strength inside. DeJuan Blair will look to be physical inside against Ousmane Barro to score around the basket and control the defensive glass. Sam Young and Lazar Hayward might be the key match-up of the night. If Hayward can be similarly production as Young, Marquette's chances are great. If Young gets to the foul line and Hayward is in foul trouble, it could mean big trouble for MU as they do not likely have another forward on their roster to guard Young.

Keys for Pitt include Blair staying out of foul trouble and getting some perimeter scoring from senior gaurds Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin. Both players have played well in the 12 games since Fields have been injured, as they have persevered through their own ailments. Ramon has a bad shoulder and Benjamin cut his shooting hand a few weeks ago and his perimeter shot has not been the same. If he can regain that touch, and with the return of Fields, the Pitt backcourt suddenly becomes one to fear as well.

Marquette is a 4.5-pt favorite tonight and the history of these two teams indicates a game played relatively close to that number. The return of Fields is likely to give the Panthers a bit of an emotional lift and he is their leader on the court with his play and his fire. Marquette is eager to prove that they are a team that will contend for a Big East title down the stretch and closer to a top-10 calibre team. They know they need to beat some big players in the game and this would definitely qualify.

With the Friday night crowd howling behind them, look for the Golden Eagles to get a tough and important conference win.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Marquette 72 Pittsburgh 66



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