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College Basketball Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Louisville

(4)Pittsburgh Panthers @ (16)Louisville Cardinals
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Time: 2:05 pm EST
Television: CBS Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst.
Radio: WHAS (840 AM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst. (also SIRIUS ch. 122, XM 143) Also: Westwood One – Scott Graham, play-by-play; Tom Brennan, analyst.
Series History: UofL trails 4-5 (2-1 in Louisville, 2-1 in Pittsburgh, 0-3 neutral)
Officials: Tim Higgins, Michael Stephens, Bryan Kersey

First off, Miller has to be thrilled to see the lead official in this one:

The University of Louisville currently holds the 3-seed in the BIG EAST Championship should it begin today, it doesn’t. There is one week left of regular season basketball and for the Cardinals that means three games starting on Sunday. Pitino and his minions will host conference leader, and the 4th ranked team in the nation in the Panthers of Pittsburgh. A loss would drop Louisville into a FIVE-WAY TIE for the fourth and final double bye come next week.

A win and the Cards would be sitting pretty with only Senior Night against Providence and the finale at West Virginia to go. It is going to be a battle as Jaime Dixon’s Panthers are playing their best defensive ball of the year. Pittsburgh has not given up more than 66 points since a 89-81 victory over Marquette on January 8th. That’s a span of 12 games, during which they are allowing opponents to score just 58 points per contest.

Pittsburgh is good, real good. Through Feb. 20, the Panthers ranked in the top four in the conference in scoring offense (4), scoring defense (2), scoring margin (1), field goal percentage (3), field goal percentage defense (4), 3-point percentage (1), rebounding offense (1), rebounding defense (1) , rebounding margin (1), assists (1), assist-turnover margin (2), offensive rebounds (1), defensive rebounds (4). Yep, they are good.

They won all three games without their leading scorer, junior guard Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is back and on the season is averaging 16.4 points a game while shooting 46.6 percent from downtown (he makes 3.2 three-balls a scrap and attempts 7.0 of em). If you foul Gibbs it may as well be an automatic two (or three) points as he is shooting 89.0 percent from the charity stripe on the season.

Senior guard, and Gibbs’ backcourt mate Brad Wanamaker is Pittsburgh’s second leading scorer at 12.3 points per game. Wanamaker also leads the team in assists, dishing out 5.0 per game and is third in rebounding the basketball (5.0 per).

Underneath the Cards are going to get a steady diet of Gilbert Brown, Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee. Combined these three average 26.9 points, 17.4 boards and 4.4 assists per scrap. Robinson (53.7) and McGhee (57.4) are both connecting on well over half the shots they take. McGhee is the Panthers leading rebounder, pulling down 7.8 a game, good for fourth in the BIG EAST.

The players off the bench for Pitt would be guard Travon Woodall (2nd on team in assists (3.6)), forwards Dante Taylor, JJ Moore and Talib Zanna (a combined 13.6 points and 9.2 boards a game) and wing Lamar Patterson. However, Pitt suffered a small setback prior to the West Virginia game when Redshirt freshman Zanna was injured after the pregame meal when, according to Coach Dixon he was “messing around” while he was getting into a car. He broke his right thumb, will have surgery and will be out three to six weeks with the injury.

While there is a slight dropoff when these guys are on the floor, it doesn’t change the fact the Panthers are really, really good.

Again, I despise these stats, but will share given I get to mention CARL KRAUSER!!! Senior guard Brad Wanamaker is attempting to become the second player in school history to score more than 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 400 assists. The only other player to do it? The aforementioned CARL KRAUSER, who had 1,642 points, 526 rebounds and 568 assists. Wanamaker needs 43 rebounds over the final three regular season games and postseason play to garner the ‘honor’.

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Deng healthy, the Cardinals should be able to at least compete with Pittsburgh on the glass, but will likely lose that battle (Pitt is 2nd in the nation in rebound margin at +11.7). In order to win the war, Louisville’s shooters are going to have to be on and the Cards will need to push the tempo with a smaller lineup. I think Kyle Kuric will again be the key, presenting the best match-up problem available against a balanced Pitt squad with size on the inside and experience on the perimeter. Kuric has been stellar as of late and Slick Rick’s teams usually peak this time of year. I’m going with the Cards to improve to 17-2 at the KFC Yum! Center with an upset victory over the conference leader, keeping a conference title within grasp.

Louisville will also keep alive their hopes of becoming the first Cardinal squad to go undefeated at home in conference play since the 1974-75 team did it, going 8-0 at home in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Louisville 69, Pittsburgh 62

For anyone going to the game, wear white. It’s a “White Out”. Louisville is 3-1 in four previouw “White Out” games. Whatever.


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