Tonight, Pitt and West Virginia square off in the first of two basketball games against each other this season. Tonight's contest is in Morgantown and the two teams will meet again at The Pete in Pittsburgh a few weeks. Pitt has gotten the best of West Virginia in recent memory as the Panthers have gone 8-3 against the Mountaineers over the past five seasons. But as last year's triple-overtime game proved, anything can happen when these two teams meet, and the favored team doesn't always win.
The game could be decided by the status of the teams' biggest stars. Pitt will be missing its top player, point guard Ashton Gibbs, who sustained a knee injury in the team's victory on Saturday against Cincinnati. Gibbs is expected to miss at least the next couple of games. The Panthers will need others to help make up for the 16 points per game they'll be missing. Backup point guard Travon Woodall should get the start tonight in Gibbs' absence.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, have just gotten back their leading scorer, Casey Mitchell. Mitchell recently returned from a three-game suspension and played sparingly in West Virginia's loss to Villanova this weekend. He didn't start in that game and while it's unknown how much time he'll get tonight, I expect him to play more than the 13 minutes he did on Saturday.
So when you look at the fact that Woodall will be inserted into the starting lineup, Pitt could be without its top two bench players tonight. That would be a fairly big blow, and would force guard Lamar Patterson (who should return after a one-game suspension for his role in skipping out on a restaurant bill), forward Talib Zanna, and center J.J. Richardson to play significant minutes tonight.
The loss of Gibbs and potentially Taylor is something that may cause Pitt to be a bit more passive on defense. Pitt doesn't have many options behind Woodall and McGhee and both will need to stay out of foul trouble if the Panthers are to avoid being upset tonight. The problem is that defense is Pitt's bread and butter, and they still need to remain fairly aggressive to avoid straying too far away from their typical style of play.
The Panthers are 9-1 in conference play, while West Virginia is 6-4. Still, on the road, fourth-ranked Pitt is facing a team quite capable of beating them.