No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers (23-2) +3 at No. 1 Connecticut Huskies (24-1) -3
Gampel Pavilion, 7:00PM Eastern, Monday
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
The top ranked Connecticut Huskies will host another highly ranked Big East opponent when they battle the No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers on Monday night. The grudge match will be amongst the premier teams in the conference and could likely have a big impact on the way the regular season title shakes out. This will be the first meeting between the two teams this year, but they will both meet in their season finales on March 7th. Connecticut has held the top spot for two weeks now which was more than Duke and Wake Forest could as they were both knocked off in their first week as Number 1. The Huskies will try to hold onto the top spot in one of the biggest games of the year on Monday.
The Pittsburgh Panthers have really played well since losing the number 1 spot and losing two games rather close together against Villanova and Louisville. The Panthers have now won 5 straight games striving behind the play of Sam Young and DeJuan Blair. The Panthers are performing extremely well on the offensive side of the court averaging 78 points per game. Pittsburgh also ranks as one of the best shooting teams in America knocking down 49% of their shots as a team which ranks 13th best in the country. One of the interesting battle in this game will be how DeJuan Blair will match-up with Hasheem Thabeet. Blair ranks in the top 5 in rebounding individually, but Thabeet will be entering the contest fresh off a 25 point 20 rebound performance.
Connecticut has nearly been perfect this season outside of their lone loss to Georgetown way back in December. The Huskies have been over powering since as they have now won 13 straight games all by 6 points or more. Connecticut is a team that is very versatile and can attack in a number of ways on the scoring side of the ball. However, Connecticut big advantage comes from the way they play defensive and capture a ton of rebounds. The Huskies rank 3rd in the nation in rebounding with 42 boards per contest and also sport a top 25 ranked scoring defense that has held the high scoring teams of the Big East to only 60 point per game this season. The Huskies will be in for a big challenge this weekend when they try to slow one of the best offenses in the league.
Vegas books opened the betting lines favoring Connecticut by a mere 3 points over the Panthers. The over/under total for the game has been posted at 136 with early bettors favoring the over total for the contest.
The biggest part of the game that Connecticut must continue to control is the rebounding game that they have done so well all season. The Huskies have actually not been out rebounded in one game this season and they will look to continue the streak. Leading the way on the inside is two dominating players in Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet who are both averaging in double figures in both points and rebounds. Jeff Adrien is posting a team high 14 points per contest along with 10 rebounds while Thabeet is scoring 13 points per contest with 12 boards as well. These two stellar performers will need to have a big night and give aid in controlling the Panthers offense to keep Connecticut on top of the standings in both national and conference status.
Pittsburgh has an offense that can be very dangerous at times. However, the Panthers have only scored over 70 in one game over the past 5 outings. Pittsburgh could really pose a bigger threat to Connecticut if they can post a lot of points even though they should give up a big fight either way. Sam Young leads the offensive attack averaging 18 points per game on the season. DeJuan Blair is a big force on the inside giving the Panthers a big lift in the paint with 15 points and 12 rebounds per game on the season. Pittsburgh could really present some problems to Connecticut if they can score some points in transition. Pittsburgh will attempt to try and get the mild upset on the road at Connecticut and take down the nations number one team on Monday night.
Jays Pick - Pittsburgh +3.