UPDATING THE PANTHERS
Since defeating WVU in Morgantown, Pitt has lost two of its ensuing three games, putting it on the ragged edge of making the NCAA tournament. In those two losses, the Panthers shot 34.6% and 39% from the field. Only twice this year have the Panthers recorded worse marks.
In all likelihood, the Panthers will have to win its final five league games and at least one game in the Big East tournament to extend its streak of ten consecutive Big Dance showings. That's not totally out of the question, as only a road trip at Louisville looks like a very tough assignment. Even if the Panthers don't achieve that goal, however, they'd love nothing more than to knock West Virgina into the NIT as well, and finish the schools' last season in the Big East with a sweep.
Pitt continues to be paced by guards Ashton Gibbs and Tray Woodall, who are averaging 16.7 and 12.9 points, respectively. Nasir Robinson is the big force in the front court, tallying 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, but gets good support from Lamar Patterson (9.5/5.4) and Talib Zanna (6/2/5.9).
Forwards Dante Taylor and J.J. Moore combine for 11 points per outing as subs off the bench, while guard John Johnson (4.8) gives the Panthers an outside threat in a relief role.
There's been a great deal of attention focused on the status of the basketball series between the two schools -- but that's clearly not the important aspect of this match-up.
This could be an elimination game in terms of NCAA hopes -- almost certainly for Pitt, and nearly so for West Virginia. To be safe, WVU needs to win four of its final five regular season games and get a win in its opening Big East Tournament contest. Anything short of that, and it's going to be a very nervous Selection Sunday for the Mountaineers and their fans.
Peterson Events Center
WVU 16-10, 6-7
IP 15-11, 4-9
WVU - 37
UP - 74
With that in mind, what does WVU have to do in order to get a win? It's pretty much a repeat of the same items we've been discussing all year. First, the Mountaineers can't have extended scoring droughts. They went without a field goal for seven minutes in the first game against Pitt -- just one of the many dry scoring stretches that have killed chances for wins this year. They must cover scorers -- Woodall and Gibbs combined for 39 in the first game -- and recognize where those players are on the floor, especially when working against perimeter ball screens. Finally, WVU's bench must contribute points, rebounds and defense -- a trio of areas that have been lacking in one form or another all year.
WVU is again expected to go with its three-guard offense of Truck Bryant, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, which will give the Panthers a bit of a different look from the outset of the game. However, West Virginia must take advantage of those match-ups. It must drive the ball and penetrate, then make good decisions as Pitt defenders rotate to cover. Hinds has a knack for getting to the hoop and getting shots away, but Bryant and Browne must not force shots and find open teammates when they penetrate. Browne, in particular, must do a good job of deciding when to pull up and take short shots (his floaters and runners are good ones) and when to dish the ball. If the Mountaineers can take advantage of the quickness advantage its three-guard lineup provides, it could possibly steal a win. However, given the funk the Mountaineers have been in, and their inability to close out games when presented with a chance to win, it figures to be a very difficult task.
Pitt and West Virginia have played each other in the final collegiate football or basketball game at five different sporting venues. The Panthers have won all five contests. Those games occurred at the Pitt Pavilion, WVU Field House and Fitzgerald Field House in basketball, as well as in football at Mountaineer Field and Three Rivers Stadium.
If this does mark the end of the Pitt series for the near future, it would be nice for West Virginia to hold at least one "last" win.
* * *
Pitt has lost 17 games all-time in the ten-year existence of the Petersen Events Center. Five of those losses have occurred season.
* * *
Pitt and WVU have both made exactly 45.4% of their shot attempts this year, and both are yielding a success rate of exactly 44.2% to their opponents.
* * *
While WVU has played five overtime games this year, the Panthers have yet to go into an extra session.
* * *
Pitt's ten-year streak of winning at least 10 or more league games has been snapped, as the Panthers can finish no better than 9-9 in the Big East this year. Similar length strings of winning at least 20 games and advancing to the NCAA tournament are also in jeopardy.