Monday, February 09, 2009


February 9, 2009

The 'Backyard Brawl', basketball-style, heads to Pittsburgh tonight for an ESPN Big Monday showdown between the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers. The two rivals just 90 miles apart will square off in a key Big East conference game at the Peterson Events Center on the Pittsburgh campus. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM with a national ESPN television audience set to watch.

If you subscribe to the Pomeroy Ratings as being the best indicator of team's strengths and weaknesses, then this game should be a dandy as the Panthers are #4 in the current Pomeroy Ratings and West Virginia is a surprising #7. It is also surprising, based on the perception of the two teams, that Pitt is rated that high because of their offense, currently the best in America according to Pomeroy with an effeciency of 123.1, which means they score 1.23 points per posession. The Panther defense is rated #36, with a 90.8 rating. The Mountaineers are #5 in the nation in regards to defense, with an 85.8 rating.

However, if you adjust the WVU numbers for Big East games, in which they are 5-5, WVU has an offensive effeciency of 1.06 and a defense of 0.97 and in road games in the Big East they have a 1.00 on offense and a 0.99 on defense.

Pitt, meanwhile, has an offensive effeciency of 1.17 in league games and a defense of 1.01. At home, in their four Big East contests in the Peterson Events Center, their offense is cranking at an unreal clip of 1.27 and their defense is 1.02, not quite Pitt-like, but with that offense, it more than gets the job done as Pitt has an extremely low turnover rate and is off the charts in terms of offensive rebounding, led by DeJuan Blair.

In Pitt's two losses, at Louisville and at Villanova, Blair struggled with foul trouble and the Pitt offense was held well below their normal average. Blair's offensive rebounding ability and his presence in the paint makes all the difference in the world for Pitt. In the 8 wins, Pitt is at an offensive effeciency clip of 1.26 in Big East games, in the two losses, the Panthers struggled at a rate of 0.87! The case for Blair being the most important player in the Big East could probably be made right there!

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's Backyard Brawl matchup:

Mountaineers Catching Pitt at Bad Time (Times West Virginian)
Mountaineers Set for Rematch (Register Herald)
Can WVU Finish the Job (Charleston Gazette)
Playing the Mind Game (Martinsburg Journal)
Pitt Guard Fields Silencing Skeptics (Tribune Review)
Panthers Taking Long Look at Defense (Tribune-Review)
WVU Energized by Offense (Daily Mail)
Big Backyard Brawl Monday (wvmetronews.com)
Porous Defense Angers Dixon (Post-Gazette)

So, with all the Pomoroy number crunching, their site predicts Pitt by 5 points tonight. The latest odds have the Panthers as a 7 1/2-point favorite and when you factor in the numbers looking just at Big East games, that number seems to be very fair.

The two teams met back in January in Morgantown and Pitt used an impressive run midway through the second half to beat WVU 79-67. Sam Young led the way with 22 points, 16 of which were in the second half and Blair added 16 points and 11 rebounds. Pitt torched WVU with a 54% field goal percentage on their own floor.

With Pitt looking to put more of an emphasis on defense, that is not very good news for WVU. The Mountaineers are still a rather young team, and that has shown itself on the road. They were blown out at Marquette and trailed Louisville by 20 at the half. In their latest road game, they were blitzed by Syracuse as their effort and decision making was very inconsistent, traits of a younger team.

Da"Seant Butler had 21 in their first meeting and Alex Ruoff add3ed 16. Ruoff seemed to snap out of his recent shooting slump, nailing six of seven on three's in Saturday's win over Providence, but tonight he will see a lot of Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker, two of the better defensive players on the perimeter in the Big East. Another key for Pitt has been the offense provided by Dixon and Wanamaker, along with freshman Ashton Gibbs, giving Pitt some capable three-point shooters.

With senior point guard Levance Fields running the ship, Pitt has scored at least 92 points in their last three games. Fields has been incredible, handing out 36 assists with just three turnovers in the three games. He has also picked up his scoring, averaging 14 a game in that stretch. A top-notch Fields makes this a top-notch club, expect them to show it again tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 76
West Virginia 67



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