Friday, March 6, 2009

Pitt-UConn II

Much like the other great rematches of our time, Ali-Frazier III, Balboa-Creed II, Gatti-Ward III, I figured the Pitt-UConn game deserved the little roman numeral addition at the end. And if they meet again next weekend, we'll be sure to tack on another slash to make it III.

Anyway, tomorrow figures to be similar to those other rematches in that it will be an absolute slugfest, and there's a good chance someone like Hasheem Thabeet could end up unconscious by game's end.

It will be the final home game for Pitt legends Sam Young and Levance Fields, as well as excellent role player Tyrell Biggs. There is also a chance (though I don't think so) that DeJuan Blair could be suiting up in the Pete for the final time. The crowd figures to be amped up for one of the best senior classes Pitt has ever seen, and that will only be taken to another level by the fact that the number 1 UConn Huskies come strolling into town. It's hard to imagine a scenario that could get the always rowdy Zoo even more fired up. Except of course, if most of the student body weren't on spring break already. But that's a complaint for another time.

So here are some keys to the game if the Panthers are going to pull off another victory over the number 1 team in the nation.
1. DeJuan Needs to Continue Pwning Hasheem Thabeet
The much-ballyhooed matchup from Round 1 really couldn't have been any more one-sided. Blair basically beat the hell out of Thabeet the entire night and also got poor Thabeet into foul trouble all while nearly ending the guy's career by practically tearing his arm out of his socket. It was quite possibly the most dominant game I have ever from a Pitt player. However, DeJuan has had some issues with fouls, and after Jim Calhoun bitched and moaned like a little girl after last game, I think the refs will keep a very close eye on the Blair/Thabeet matchup early on. DeJuan needs to be very smart and not try to impose his physical will on him too much. Thabeet was badly exposed last game, and I really don't think DeJuan even needs to be that physical with Thabeet to knock him off his game. But, if he does manage to bait Thabeet into foul issues again early on, the game is just about over for the Huskies.

2. Levance Needs to Play and Play Well
It was incredibly terrifying to read today in the Post-Gazette that there is a chance Fieldy might not play against UConn. Personally I can't imagine a scenario where Fields doesn't play. The question probably is how well Levance will play and how many minutes he'll be able to play. Thankfully Levance typically doesn't have to play a very athletic style of point guard, and a back injury shouldn't cause him to be off his usual A game as a caretaker. The one aspect of his game that could be off though is his ability to push the ball in the transition game. As much as I expect Levance to play and take care of the ball as well as he always does, I think we might also see a heavier dose of Ashton Gibbs than usual. And the way he has been playing since Big East play started, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that.

3. Knock Adrien and Price Off Their Games Offensively
I think Blair will be able to at least neutralize Thabeet on the offensive end, as the Huskies' Big Fella is still very raw on that end of the floor. With that in mind, the Huskies are going to have to get either Jeff Adrien or A.J. Price in a rhythm. Both are very good players, but have shown serious inconsistencies when it comes to filling the hoop. Price was a monster last week against Marquette with 36 points, and has gone over 20 points four times in Big East play. But he often is contained and is more than the third option for the Huskies in other games. The same basically goes for Adrien. The 6'7 Adrien averages a double-double, but has laid a few stinkers this season as well, including a recent 2 point 4 rebound dud against Marquette. It figures that if Thabeet is kept at least in check that either Adrien or Price will start scoring, but Pitt needs to prevent either from taking over the game.

4. Control The Glass
Mostly because of Thabeet and Adrien, the Huskies pull in the second most total rebounds per game in the nation. Our Panthers sit at 10th. That doesn't necessarily mean that UConn is a better rebounding team than Pitt, but it does assert that they are definitely a better boarding team than they showed in the first matchup when Pitt outrebounded the Huskies 43-30, and it probably shouldn't even have been that close. I am going to say here and now that if either team is able to win the rebounding battle by more than 5, that will be the winner. If it's close either team can win, but both these teams scheme off of getting second chances and preventing second chances for the other team. Whoever has more success in imposing their will should come out on top.

So that's it for my keys to Pitt/ UConn II. I tried to come up with a fifth, but any of my ideas paled in comparison to the first four, which I think are all immensely important.

As for a prediction for the game? Well I'll say Pitt 80 UConn 69. Young and Blair both go for over 20. I think Fields plays but has limited minutes (say 25 or so) and Ashton Gibbs buries a couple treys in his place.

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