After a glimmer of hope, Pitt has struggled, dropping their past two matchups on the road. The Panthers NCAA hopes may be fading, but they can hurt West Virginia's chances of getting into the Big Dance by sweeping the series against the Mountaineers with a win Thursday night at the Pete.
Pitt gritted out a tough road win a few weeks back at the Coliseum. Both teams proceeded to win their next game (Pitt vs. Villanova and WVU vs. Providence), but both have since lost their past two. For the Mountaineers, both losses were heartbreaking ones at home where they had leads late in the game only to lose at the end (sound familiar?). Needless to say, the Mountaineers are sliding into this game and it's just the kind of game Pitt can use to make a strong push towards the postseason - even if it's the NIT.In the first matchup, Pitt got solid contributions from several players. But in their past two losses, Pitt has reverted to the same team we saw during the eight game losing streak. Poor ball handling, poor shot selection, bad defense, and letting late leads slip away.
What worked against WVU two weeks ago? Pitt had a great defensive game plan set up to limit Kevin Jones' shooting. Jones had 21 points, but Pitt forced him to work and he also was 0-5 from three-point range. Overall, Pitt's three-point defense against West Virginia was solid in that game. It helps that the Mountaineers aren't all that great from the perimeter, but Pitt still held them to 4-19 shooting, which went a long way towards securing the victory.
Rebounding has to improve for Pitt to win. Even though the Panthers lost the rebounding battle against the Mountaineers the first time, Pitt still shot the ball well. Pitt hasn't done that the past two games so rebounding will be key for Pitt to win barring an offensive outburst.
The one player that may need to regroup the most is Nasir Robinson. Against Seton Hall, Nas had two points on 1-6 shooting and was 0-5 from the foul line. He also committed a careless foul on Herb Pope late in the game that sealed the win for the Pirates. Nas has to continue to be physical in the paint and try and get WVU's big men into foul trouble. Denis Kilicli has given Pitt some trouble in the past, but he's no Herb Pope. Pitt's frontcourt might not put up huge numbers, but they can take advantage in the paint if they play smart and convert easy baskets - something we haven't always seen this year.
Another player that needs to regroup? Tray Woodall. Tray scored all nine of his points against Seton Hall in the first half and went 2-10 from the field for the game. Woodall was fantastic against the Mountaineers in the first round and after some bad games, he'll hopefully be able to get back on track. Turnovers have hurt his game and he's got to play a bit smarter running the point.
Pitt's defense also needs to improve. Seton Hall jumped on Pitt early and the Panthers faltered defensively late in the game. Despite being well known for their man defense, Pitt has struggled at times in this defense. Pitt has succeeded in shutting down opponents using the zone at times, but Kevin Jones is the type of player that can find ways to score no matter how good the defense.
This might be the last Backyard Brawl for a while, so hopefully Pitt can make it count.