Could the Panthers be back? A win over Providence on Wednesday was nice, but with a resounding win over a top ten team in Georgetown, Pitt is starting to gain some momentum as they head into their Big Monday clash against West Virginia.
Unlike football where Pitt has lost three straight to West Virginia, the basketball team has won three straight and six of the past six games. With another trip to Morgantown on the way, let's remember some the good times we had there.
Oh wait, that's right - it's Morgantown, West Virginia, which means it absolutely sucks when Pitt has to go there. Whether it's throwing things on the court, throwing things at our coaches, or being called out on ESPN for doing what they do best (being West Virginia fans), Pitt always seems to bring out the best in West Virginia.This time around we have Ashton Gibbs, who sat out last year's trip to Morgantown. Last year's team, though, was clearly much better than West Virginia and could handle a serious loss like Gibbs. This team, as we saw for a solid month, can't. But now that everyone's healthy and playing well, Pitt should have a shot in this one.
West Virginia is coming off a heartbreaking loss on the road at Syracuse where the game should have at least gone into overtime, but the refs essentially screwed them over (but if it had to happen to anyone, let's face it, at least it happened to West Virginia). So yeah, they're mad.
That could mean that the one-man wrecking crew, Kevin Jones, is going to go off against Pitt on Monday, like he has against virtually every other team this season. Jones is currently averaging a double-double per game(21 points, 11 rebounds), and that hasn't changed a bit since conference play started. Just looking at this past five games, he has scored 20, 26, 26, 25, and 24 points and recorded more than 10 rebounds three times.
There are a few other names Pitt fans will recognize. Turkish big man Deniz Kilicli is still in the paint, but in his past couple of games has struggled a bit offensively. He's still a very strong rebounder and will provide a tough matchup in the paint for Pitt. It was only just over a week ago that Louisville's front court completely overpowered Pitt, so that should be a concern for Jamie Dixon's squad in this one. Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor have to secure rebounds and box out. West Virginia is just as good a rebounding team as Pitt is.
Darryl "Truck" Bryant also is back for the Mountaineers and is their second leading scorer at 17 points a game. He, like Jones and Kilicli, has seen his scoring numbers increase this past season with more of the offense involving him. Bryant is a good shooter and a solid guard for West Virginia.
After those three, it's all new faces. The probable starters figure to be freshman Jabarie Hinds in the backcourt and freshman Keaton Miles, who has started every game for West Virginia this season. Hinds is a solid player for Bob Huggins and is WVU's leader in assists. Keaton is much more of a defensive player and while that's great for WVU, his offensive production is lacking. He's only averaging about a point a game.
For Pitt to secure another win over West Virginia, obviously continuing to build on the momentum from the Georgetown win is big. The players are looking more comfortable and getting into a nice groove as we've reached the halfway point of conference play. Rebounding will be the key stat in this one. Both teams are great at it, especially on the offensive glass. Whoever controls the boards will probably win the game. We've seen, though, that Pitt's frontcourt can be exposed and nothing about having Tray back can change that. Pitt has to box out Kilicli and Jones or it will be a long night.
Pitt also just has to make shots. West Virginia is a good defensive squad and with the pace that these two schools play at, I expect this game will be played in the 60s. I'd start with getting the ball inside to Nas, who had a huge game against the Hoyas on Saturday, and let him do what he does best - pound his way for easy shots. Defensively, Pitt has to slow down Kevin Jones. He's going to get his points, but if Pitt forces him to take a significant number of shots to get there, that's a win.
When it's all said and done, I don't think Pitt is going to win this one. But they've been playing really good basketball in the past two games and in rivalry games, anything is possible. But for me, it comes down to slowing Kevin Jones, and I don't know if they'll have an answer for him.
Game is at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.