Tuesday, February 24, 2009


February 24, 2009

Pittsburgh has reclaimed the No. 1 ranking atop both the AP and Coaches Polls and will but that ranking on the line with a couple of road games this week, beginning with a trip to Providence to take on the Friars.

Pitt's wins at Connecticut and at home against DePaul, along with Saturday losses by North Carolina and Oklahoma pushed Pitt back to the top spot, for the second time this season. Pitt got a pair of monster performances from sophomore DeJuan Blair who tortured UConn for 22 points and 23 rebounds and then produced a double-double just 8 minutes into the game against DePaul before finishing with 20 points and 18 rebounds in just 23 minutes.

Providence suffered a devastating home loss, 103-84, this weekend against Notre Dame at home. The loss followed a 94-76 defeat at Louisville, a game where the Friars led by a point at the half.

PC is now 8-7 in the big East and is still missing a marquee win, something they were hoping for in this three-game stretch, now their backs are against the wall, but opportunity knocks, as a marquee win does not get any bigger when facing the No. 1 team in the country.

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

Pitt No. 1 Again in Both Polls (Post-Gazette)
Biggs a Key Component to Pitt's Run to No. 1 (Tribune-Review)
PC vs. Pitt: Friars Set to Face New No. 1 (Providence Journal)
Capsule Preview - Pittsburgh @ Providence (Providence Journal)
Wild Ones for Pitt (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Young can't Stay out of Gym (Tribune-Review)

Pittsburgh's style of physical defense and hard-nosed rebounding has always made life very difficult for Providence when the two two have met in recent seasons. Even with a new coach, the Friars are still playing catch-up to the rest of the Big East when it comes to the physical play of the conference.

With DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and co., the Friars will see more of the same from Pitt. The Panthers, led by Blair, are nearly impossible to keep off the boards and they lead the nation, easily, in offensive rebounding percentage. PC will have their hands full limiting second-chance opportunities and will likely lead to many open shots for the Panthers.

One way to hopefully have a chance against Pitt is to get Blair in foul trouble. At times he can pick up a ticky-tack foul away from the basket reaching on the high-ball screen. It looks like Pitt has relaxed some of his hedge responsibilities to eliminate this possibility, but sometimes the nimble Blar thinks he is quicker than he really is and he can pick up a foul against a guard.

The Friars other method of attack will be to launch from the three-point arc early and often. You will likely see Jeff Xavier, Sharaud Curry, Weyinmi Efejuku, Brian McKenzie and Marshon Brooks all launching from the perimeter, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle by the way of the three-point shot and getting their crowd into it.

Of course, that philosophy is also a dangerous one against a strong defensive team like the Panthers. If your not on, Pitt will rebound and, as the country's most efficient offensive team, make you pay by scoring points on the other end.

While the Friars are a dangerous team and the target of a No. 1 team usually steps up one's play, this Pitt team is really looking like they are clicking. Now that they have some previous experience as the No. 1 team, they will look to take care of business on the road. Pitt is an 8 1/2-point favorite, which seems a tad low (almost makes you wonder if there is an expectation of foul trouble by someone). Pitt's rebounding and efficient offense will make life tough on PC, as it has time and time again before.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 81
Providence 71



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