It's backyard brawl time as the West Virginia Mountaineers head north to battle their arch-rival Pitt Panthers at the Peterson Events Center. Pittsburgh escaped Morgantown with a five point win three weeks ago, and the Mountaineers hope to return the favor tonight. Here's what on the line from the West Virginia point of view:
- Sealing up the seeding. I'm going to go out on a very short limb and say the 'Eers don't have to worry about missing the big dance. They're in. The way they can make some noise would be by being seeded somewhere in the 4-7 range. Right now, to get there, they need to pick up another quality win or two. Tonight's match-up is a great opportunity to pick up a road win against a top ten team. Win this, and WVU can relax until the Big East tournament. Lose, and the 'Eers have work to do at home next week against UConn and Louisville.
- The Turk, for better or for worse. In the last meeting, the Turk exploded for 19 points, and it looked like the hook couldn't miss. Problem was, on defense, Pitt's bigs had him turned around and out of position all night long. Tonight, on offense, Deniz Kilicli has to be aware that he'll be double teamed, and has to be able to dump the ball to whomever is open. If he can do that with sucess, it will buy him room to move in the paint AND create open looks for his teammates. On defense, he absolutely has to stand his ground against Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee to be effective. If he can use his feet and stay in front of his man, he can stop them. If he slips out of position, he just doesn't have the quickness to recover.
- The guards have to produce. It doesn't have to be points, but the end result has to be offense. Truck Bryant snapped out of his shooting slump on Saturday, which was great. Joe Mazzulla found the path to the rack, which was great. What was better, however, was that this created more offensive opportunities for the rest of their teammates. Kevin Jones had his best day offensively, and for one glorious afternoon you could see how West Virginia's offense is supposed to run. If Truck, Joe and Casey Mitchell can find some success with a balanced attack of deep shooting and driving into the paint, the Mountaineers could escape the Steel City with a win.
- Defending the paint. The Mountaineers are a little undersized to handle Pitt's bodies. Two men who will draw that duty, John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman, are a little under-sized but make up for it with tenacity. Deniz Kilicli has had his problems, mentioned above, and Kevin Jones seems to shy away from physicality under bucket. They will have their hands full trying to keep Pitt's big men off of the glass. Success on the boards will go a long way towards keeping this game competitive and played at the grinding pace the Mountaineers prefer.
I'm off for my first foray into enemy territory at the Peterson Events Center. If I don't post a recap in the morning, call Pittsburgh Police and have them on the lookout for a distraught Mountaineer fan wandering the streets of the 'burgh crying into a coonskin cap.