Thursday, March 12, 2009


March 12, 2009

Round three of the 'Backyeard Brawl', Hoops Style, is set for tonight and the location does not get any better as Madison Square Garden in New York City plays host to the intense rivalry.

Normally it is Pittsburgh bringing the local flavoer back home to NYC, but the Mountaineers have also dipped into the 'Big Apple' market with their freshmen trio of Devin Ebanks, Darryl 'Truck' Bryant and Kevin Jones. WVU opened their 2009 Big East Tournament play with a 74-62 win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night. As the tournament's #2 seed, Pitt had a double-bye for rounds one and two and they are now hitting the court at MSG for the first time this season in the quarterfinals.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's game:

Ruoff Bounces Back in Big Way (Times West Virginian)
Vesatile Ebanks Big on the Boards for WVU (Five Boro Sports)
Solid Defense Carries WVU To Win over Notre Dame (Charleston Gazette)
Panthers Feel at Home in MSG (Beaver County Times)
WVU's Win Sets Up Third Meeting with Pitt (Post-Gazette)
Pitt's Dixon Closing in on Mark (Tribune-Review)
Pitt finds Comfort in Big East Routine (Tribune-Review)

West Virginia overcame some cold shooting, just 36% from the field, by dominating the boards and hitting their three's in the ROund 2 win over the Fighting Irish. NYC native Devin Ebanks had 18 rebounds and 'Truck' Bryant, another NYC-bred performer had 17 points and 4 assists. While their performances were key, it was the WVU stars that shined the brightest last night on Broadway as Alex Ruoff scored 25 points and Da'Sean Butler added 20.

The WVU stars will have to bring their game again tonight if they are going to match the talent of Pittsburgh. The Panthers took both games of the season series this season, handily, winning 79-67 in Morgantown and 70-59 in Pittsburgh. Sam Young averaged 21 points in the two prior meetings.

The one area that WVU has continued to struggle with inconsistency is their shooting, but in many games, they have been able to make up for it on the boards. However, that will not be easy against Pitt, one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. Motivated by playing their rivals, the effort on the boards by WVU should be very high.

One question surrounding this game is the health of Levance Fields, the fantastic Pittsburgh point guard. Fields was a gametime decision against UConn last Saturday with a severely bruised tailbone he suffered in a win over Marquette the week before. Fields played an excellent floor game against UConn, but has not practiced since. With a #1 seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament virtually assured, resting Fields could be a possibility if he is not yet at 100%. However, missing his last chance to play in front of his friends and family from NYC might not sit well with the tough NYC point guard.

The other factor that could lead to a quarterfinal upset is the psyche of the Panthers. They have once again become the popular 'it' team among the media and they have said all season long their focus is past the Big East Tournament. Coming off the emotional high of Senior Day and a two-game sweep of Connecticut, will the Panthers be 'up' for this one right from the start? You know WVU will be as they have been beaten by their rivals twice already this season, and Bob Huggins will not let his team strike out against the big, bad Panthers without a fight.

It should be a good one in MSG tonight. Once the lights come on, I expect Pitt to focus on the game in front of them, but they will certainly have a fight...with a potential date with UConn ahead of them for Friday night in a game EVERYONE seems to want to see, maybe that is the opening that WVU needs to get the Panthers off focus.

The college basketball betting odds have Pitt listed as a 4 1/2-point favorite. For a team with a pair of double-digit wins over this very team, maybe it should be higher. So, we will do the obvious...look for the upset!

NBE Blogger Prediction:

West Virginia 69
Pittsburgh 63



At 5:05 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

Just for the record, I will chime in with a prediction of Pitt 70, WVU 64. I didn't think Pitt would want to go all out in this tournament with bigger fish to fry in the near future, but with WVU, UConn, and Louisville possibly being the opponents, I don't think they'll be able to help themselves.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I stand corrected. Pitt looked completely disinterested. While I assumed they wouldn't kill themselves to win, I didn't think they would play with no desire whatsoever.


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