Pitt Panthers (13-2, 6-5-2 ATS) vs. Connecticut Huskies (11-4, 6-7), XL Center, Hartford, Wednesday, Jan. 13th, 7 PM Eastern, ESPN
By Z-Man of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Huskies -6/Panthers +6
Possibly the best rivalry in Big East basketball over the last decade heats up again Wednesday night when the Pitt Panthers head to Hartford to take on the Connecticut Huskies.
Many online sportsbooks opened this game with Connecticut favored by 6 1/2 points, but that number has been bet down to six in early action. And while the total opened at 131 or 131 , it’s been bet up to 132 as of Wednesday morning.
Pitt, which lost its big three of Blair, Fields and Young from the team that got to a regional final in last year’s NCAA tournament, was expected to finish in the middle of the Big East this season and have to fight to return to the Big Dance. But the Panthers have been better than expected so far this season. Pitt won won its first four games, then got beat by Texas on a neutral court in Kansas City 78-62. The Panthers then won three straight games before getting upset by Indiana 74-64 at Madison Square Garden. Now Pitt has won six games in a row after beating Cincinnati 74-71 two Mondays ago. The Panthers enter Wednesday’s game not having played in nine days.
Connecticut returned just two starters this season from a team that made it to the Final Four last year, and while a Big East championship seemed a bit out of reach this year, a return to the tournament is very likely. The Huskies opened with four straight wins this season before losing to Duke 68-59 at MSG. They then won a couple of games before falling to Kentucky 64-61 also at Madison Square Garden. Three more wins were followed by a two-point loss at Cincinnati, and consecutive Big East victories were then followed by a three-point defeat at Georgetown last Saturday, a game the Dogs led by 19 points in the first half.
So at 3-0 in Big East play, Pitt trails first-place Villanova by a half-game, while 2-2 UConn is tied for eighth place.
On the season the Panthers are shooting 45% from the floor as a team, 36% from 3-point range but only 66% from the free-throw line. Pitt is also holding opponents to 38% FG shooting and is outrebounding foes by 6.6 boards per game.
UConn is shooting 47% from the field this season, 35.5% from long range and 67.5% from the stripe. The Huskies are also limiting opponents to 37% shooting from the floor and are winning the battle on the boards by 5.3 RPG.
This is the first meeting this season between these two perennial Big East powers. Last season Pitt swept the two games from UConn, by scores of 76-68 and 70-60, both times while the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Panthers outshot UConn in those two games together from the floor 42% to 40%, and outrebounded Connecticut by 13 boards.
These two teams have played one common opponent so far this season. The Huskies lost at Cincinnati two weeks ago 71-69, shooting just 38% from the floor and going just 17-26 (65%) from the free-throw line. Five days later the Panthers beat the Bearcats in Cincy 74-71, shooting 49% from the field and committing just seven turnovers.
Pitt is 5-4 on the totals this season, even though Panthers games are averaging just 126 points.
UConn is 7-5 on the totals, as Huskies games are averaging 139 points.
The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rate the Panthers at 84.1, the Huskies at 84.8. With Sagarin’s updated college basketball home-court advantage figure of 4.2, UConn is a five-point favorite over Pitt on the Sagarin line.
Z-Man’s Pick: I like Uconn to cover the spread.