Fear not, Pitt fans. This anomaly of a season is almost over. But first, Pitt travels to the Bluegrass State to the Palace of Fried Chicken to play Louisville. The Cardinals beat Pitt at the Pete (who hasn't this season?) in front of the College Gameday crew where the Panthers seemingly left Kyle Kuric open on every shot as Kuric scored 21 points (15 of them came from three-pointers).
Since then, Pitt went on a four-game winning streak promptly followed by a four-game losing streak to get us where we are now. Louisville has won six of their past eight games, with the lone losses coming by one point against Syracuse and a four-point loss on Thursday against Cincinnati.
Pitt is the clear underdog here and even the most optimistic Pitt fan shouldn't expect a win here. But that's usually when Pitt does their best - when no one expects them to win.
For Pitt to claim the rematch, it all rests on the front court. The big guys have to do a better job rebounding and boxing out. Gorgui Dieng absolutely bludgeoned Pitt on the boards in the first match-up and he and Chane Behanan seemingly had their way in the painted area, scoring 13 and 19 points, respectively. I think if Pitt can even do a halfway decent job in shutting down Dieng and Behanan, Pitt stands a chance.
On the perimeter, Pitt, outside of Kuric, did a good job shutting down Louisville's outside shooters. The Cardinals remaining perimeter players went 1 of 8 from the outside in the first game. The problem for Pitt is that there is no one lockdown defender on the outside like in year's past. Cameron Wright is a decent defender, but his time on the floor comes at the expense of scoring. Lamar Patterson can be an okay defender, as can J.J. Moore, but neither has proven to be the kind of defender that Pitt has sorely needed this season.
Offensively, Pitt, with a healthier Travon Woodall, should run better than it did in Game 1. Woodall was 0-5 from the field in the first game, which was his first real game back from injury, but hopefully he has regained some of his shooting stroke that he's seemed to have lost in this 4 game slide. Jamie Dixon said that Woodall was sick and reinjured his hip against South Florida, but should be ready to go for Louisville on Sunday. Tray needs to drive the ball inside and get the big men in foul trouble. Against South Florida, Woodall and Ashton Gibbs didn't attempt a single free throw, which simply cannot be the case for Pitt to beat the Cardinals.
Pitt needs to get quality production inside from Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor, and Nasir Robinson (and Malcolm Gilbert if he plays). Too many times this season Pitt has gotten the ball inside, but missed on easy tip-ins or turned the ball over.
It can't be a Louisville preview without discussing the full court press, which the Cardinals will most certainly use against the Panthers. Pitt has to do a decent job in breaking the press if they expect to keep the game close. Pitt is going to turnover the ball, but if they can limit the turnovers to 10-12 instead of the 16-18 that they've done in their losses, it'll go a long way.
Again, no one is expecting Pitt to win. Which is why I think Pitt is going to certainly put up more of a fight against Louisville than they did in the first game. I don't expect them to pull off a victory, but they can keep it close on the road and put a scare in the Cardinals before falling late.