West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

West Virginia Mountaineers (19-4 SU, 9-13 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (18-6 SU, 11-8-2 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Friday, February 12, 2010, Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pa. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: West Virginia -2.5/Pittsburgh +2.5
Over/Under: 126.5

The Backyard Brawl makes its annual stop in Pittsburgh, as the Pitt Panthers host the West Virginia Mountaineers in a revenge game between two top-25 teams.

When these teams met barely over a week ago on February 3 in Morgantown, West Virginia won the game, 70-51. It was an ugly scene, as the West Virginia fans twice threw things onto the court, once hitting a Pitt assistant coach in the face. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins even had to grab the microphone and tell the students to settle down. As far as the actual basketball game, Da’Sean Butler led the way for the Mountaineers with 18 points, and Kevin Jones added 16 points. Devin Ebanks dominated down low with seven points and 16 rebounds. Jermaine Dixon led Pitt with 13 points, and Ashton Gibbs scored 11. Pitt only shot 30 percent from the field and 2-for-10 from 3-point range, and West Virginia held a 12-rebound advantage on the glass. Despite getting killed inside and not shooting well, the Panthers stayed in the game for a while by protecting the ball, as they totaled just seven turnovers (West Virginia had 11 turnovers). The Mountaineers shot 42 percent from the field and 9-for-21 on 3-pointers.

Pitt started off strong in Big East play with a 5-0 record, including winning at Syracuse to give the Orange their only loss of the season thus far, but the Panthers have won four of their last conference games since then. After a 83-58 win at home over Seton Hall last Saturday to end a two-game losing streak and four losses in five games (the Panthers lost to Georgetown and Seton Hall, defeated St. John’s, then lost to South Florida and West Virginia), the Panthers had a non-conference tune-up game at home against Robert Morris. Pitt struggled in the first half and only held a six-point lead at the break, but the Panthers ran away with it in the second half for a 77-53 victory. Gibbs scored 20 points to lead the Panthers, Dixon scored 18, and Bradley Wanamaker had 12 points and 10 rebounds. They shot 43 percent from the field and 10-for-22 from beyond the arc, got to the free throw line 33 times, and out-rebounded Robert Morris by 13.

After a one-point loss to Syracuse on January 16, the Mountaineers won six games in a row, defeating Marshall, Ohio State, DePaul, Louisville, Pitt and St. John’s. But they got a tough week started on the wrong foot on Monday with a home loss to Villanova, 82-75. Five different West Virginia players - Butler, Ebanks, Jones, Darryl Bryant and Casey Mitchell - scored in double figures, led by Bryant’s 15 points. The Mountaineers shot 41 percent from the field and just 7-for-27 from 3-point range. That is way too many 3-point attempts for this team to attempt. They can certainly knock down some outside shots, but it’s tough to win when nearly half of their shot attempts are 3-pointers. They also missed 14 free throw attempts. Most importantly, the Mountaineers allowed Villanova to shoot 57 percent from the field and 5-for-11 on 3-pointers. They have to step up their defense against Pitt, which is a similar team to Villanova. While the Panthers aren’t quite as prolific a team as Villanova, they similarly rely on their guards and are able to hit a lot of outside jumpers.

West Virginia is shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range in conference play and holding opponents to 32.6 percent. Pitt is shooting 34.5 percent on 3-pointers in Big East play and holding opponents to 32.4 percent. Pitt is out-rebounding opponents by 3.9 boards per game in conference play, while West Virginia holds a +5.9 margin. Both teams are committing about 11 turnovers per game, but West Virginia is forcing about three turnovers more per game in conference play. These teams are very similar. West Virginia has the slight edge in most statistical categories, but Pitt has the home court advantage and the revenge factor.

Pitt is 6-1-2 ATS in its last nine home games, 4-1 ATS in its last five games as an underdog, and 9-3-1 ATS in its last 13 games overall. The favorite is 12-5-1 ATS in the last 18 meetings between these teams. The under is 8-3 in the last 11 meetings between these teams and 4-1 in the last five meetings at Pittsburgh.

Ryno’s Pick: Look for Pitt to come out strong and avenge their previous loss vs. the Mountaineers.