Both Pitt and West Virginia are struggling heading into what may be the last Backyard Brawl for a while. With news that the Mountaineers are joining the Big 12 next season, the programs will need to make arrangements to play as a non-conference game if the series is to continue.
After winning four straight games, Pitt has lost their last two and will be hard pressed to reach the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, West Virginia was looking like a clear tournament team a few weeks ago, but after dropping five of their past six, that could be in doubt.
The Mountaineers, though, probably aren't as bad as that record indicates. West Virginia was plagued with several close defeats, losing to Syracuse by two, Louisville by three, and Notre Dame by four during that six-game stretch. The other two defeats to Pitt and St. John's were only by a combined 12 points. The Mountaineers have been in every game.
The two teams met a few weeks ago with the Panthers winning in Morgantown, 72-66. If Pitt intends to win again, though, they'll need to get two key players back on track.
Since a career night in a home win against Villanova, point guard Tray Woodall has been slowed down considerably. After averaging more than 25 points a game against the Wildcats and Mountaineers and being named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week, Woodall has gone cold. In the past two contests, he's averaged only ten points on 6-of-23 shooting from the field, including 2-of-11 from three-point range. Equally as disturbing is the fact that he he hasn't taken care of the ball, with 23 turnovers over his past five games.
The other player in an offensive slump is senior forward Nasir Robinson. After a run of 13 consecutive made shots, Nas has struggled in his past three games, averaging fewer than five points per contest (far below his season average of nearly 12 per game). Like Woodall, he's also shot the ball poorly, making only 33 percent of his shots.
Pitt will likely need at least modest contributions from both players in order to beat West Virginia on Thursday. Ashton Gibbs has reverted back to his old self since Woodall's return, but after him, there aren't many guarantees offensively for the Panthers. Woodall and Robinson need to step it up if Pitt expects to finish the season strong.
For more on the Panthers, check out SB Nation blog, Cardiac Hill.