Game Night: Pittsburgh at UConnPosted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009
Obviously, the big game tonight is #4 Pittsburgh (23-2) at #1 UConn (24-1). We were unable to obtain a media credential for this game, but in our quest to provide you with the best college basketball coverage anywhere (that doesn’t require any broadcast equipment) we’ll be covering the big game from the RTC penthouse in Boston.
I’ll keep this short since there are already a ton of experts out there who have offered their thoughts on this game. Although I believe the news that Jerome Dyson is out for the season is a big deal long-term for UConn, I don’t think it should be a major factor today as the Huskies did not expect to have him in the lineup today anyways. From my perspective, I think this game comes down to 3 key match-ups: Hasheem Thabeet versus DeJuan Blair, Jeff Adrien versus Sam Young, and A.J. Price versus Levance Fields. While there are several other role players (Kemba Walker, Craig Austrie, and Stanley Robinson for UConn and Jermaine Dixon, Ashton Gibbs, and Brad Wanamaker for Pitt) who could potentially have a big impact tonight, I believe that whoever wins 2 out of the 3 big match-ups should win the game.
Thabeet vs. Blair: Thabeet’s ability to block and alter shots has been discussed ad nauseum already this season and we have just crossed the midway point in February. Needless to say, he has a big presence in the paint. One of the interesting things that most people don’t realize is that when Thabeet goes outside of the paint to try to block a shot, it leaves a huge gap under the basket for the opposing team to clean up. Take the Huskies win against Seton Hall on Saturday. Everyone has been raving about Thabeet’s 25 points, 20 rebound, and 9 blocks, but most people have completely ignored John Garcia‘s 22 points, 13 rebounds (6 offensive), and 6 blocks for the Pirates. While I can’t hold Thabeet responsible for Garcia’s 6 blocks, the offensive numbers Garcia put up are pretty startling especially since he is a mediocre player (8.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG). I think Thabeet has an advantage over Blair when they are matched up one-on-one, but watch out for Blair picking up a lot of “garbage” points and rebounds when Thabeet goes after a block.
Adrien vs. Young: This is probably the least hyped of the three match-ups I am featuring, but these two are the leading scorers for their respective clubs. Their numbers are pretty similar with Young having the edge in points and Adrien having a big edge on the boards, but their games are very different. Adrien likes to bang on the inside (only 1 3-point attempt this year) while Young likes to play on the perimeter (95 3-point attempts this year) although he doesn’t mind bringing it inside for the highlight reel finish (see below). Normally, I’d give the edge here to Young, but with Thabeet inside to clean up Adrien’s mistakes, I think it will come out being closer to a draw between these two.
Price vs. Fields: With the two other match-ups probably being pretty close tonight, the match-up at point guard will likely decide the game. Neither guard is a great scoring guard, but both teams have enough talent that they don’t need their point guards to score. Price has a respectable 1.6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio while Fields is currently at an absurd 4.2 to 1. These two guards are fairly evenly matched and it probably would be a draw (or even a slight edge to Fields) if I had to match them up without allowing them any substitutes, but Jim Calhoun‘s ability to utilize Walker or Austrie shifts this match-up in favor of the Huskies. Jamie Dixon has some solid perimeter players in Dixon (9 PPG) and two 3-point threats in Gibbs (49.1% from 3) and Wanamaker (45.2% from 3), but nobody of the caliber of Walker or Austrie.
Prediction: UConn by 5 in a close one that comes down to execution at the end. I’d expect Thabeet to end up with at least 1 block in a frantic final minute of action.
Live blog after the jump.
7:50 PM: And we’re back after some bandwidth limit issues with our host. Blair is killing Thabeet right now. I never expected this. Pitt goes into half with a 36-33 lead, but UConn has some momentum off a ridiculous step-back 3 by A.J. Price. Interesting first half. Some analysis in a few minutes so I can decompress after trying to figure out to get the site back up.
7:55 PM: Big first half for both Sam Young and DeJuan Blair. Young had 12 points early in the game and Blair finished off the first half with 15 points and 13 rebounds. I wonder if Thabeet is still feeling the effects of the WWF takedown from Blair at the start of the game. I doubt it, but it could be affecting his aggressiveness on defense.
8:00 PM: If A.J. Price wasn’t playing out of his mind in the first half, this game might already be over. He is killing Levance Fields. Going into the game I gave the slight edge to Fields and Thabeet. It looks like I was way off on that.
8:10 PM: UConn ties it at 36 with a 3 from Craig Austrie, but Hasheem Thabeet picks up his 3rd foul on a drive by Sam Young. Thabeet has stayed out of foul trouble for most of the season. He has only fouled out once (in an overtime game against Gonzaga) and had 4 fouls just three times (against Villanova, Providence, and Michigan).
8:15 PM: Jim Calhoun has to be thinking about keeping Thabeet on the bench until the 12 minute mark. The Huskies lose a lot on the inside without him not only in terms of the obvious shot-blocking, but also because he frees up Jeff Adrien for rebounds because Thabeet demands so much attention.
8:20 PM: This has really been a two-man show for Jamie Dixon‘s squad as Blair and Young have 35 of the Panthers’ 44 points. Young needs to be careful though as he has 3 fouls and likes to attack the rim. Losing Young for any extended period tonight would be a huge blow to the Panthers.
8:25 PM: How is Sam Young only projected as the 28th pick in the NBA draft? He certainly has more than enough athleticism to play in the NBA. If anything, you would think NBA scouts would tend to overrate him compared to his level of play in college because of his athleticism. Side note: He’s projected to go to Cleveland. How ridiculous would Lebron James and Sam Young be coming down the wings on a fast break?
8:30 PM: Great move by Adrien attacking Young who has 3 fouls. Young responds by nailing a 3. Wow. Huge foul on Thabeet. That’s 4 on Thabeet. He’ll be sitting until the 5 minute mark. Getting back to Young, he may be playing his way into the NBA lottery with his performance tonight. Big game against the #1 team on the road with RTC Game Night covering it. I can’t wait to see what Young does when RTC Live comes to Providence for the Pittsburgh-Providence game on February 24th.
8:35 PM: McDonough just called out the Big East officials. I can’t remember too many incidents involving them this season outside of the infamous incident at Providence, which really wasn’t their fault.
8:40 PM: Wow. A lot of contact there for the officials to hold their whistles especially since they called the start of the half so tight. Pitt really needs the timeout to regroup and quiet the crowd.
8:45 PM: Blair gets the “and1” to tie the game at 56 with 5:44. He has 22 points and 22 rebounds so far. Here comes Thabeet to finish off the game.
8:50 PM: A big 3 by Dixon gives Pitt a 1-point lead with 4:20 left. The Panthers will need somebody to hit an outside shot if they are going to pull this one out.
8:55 PM: Levance Fields finally gets on the scoreboard with a huge 3 to give Pitt a 3-point lead. Hopefully, UConn doesn’t try to equal here. . .and they do, but fail. Airball by Price. The Huskies need a stop here. Fields with a huge 3. Back-to-back 3s by Fields for his first points of the night. It’s awfully quiet in the XL Center right now.
9:00 PM: Huge steal by Kemba Walker. He finishes the lay-up to cut it to 4 with 1:37 left. Huge play by the freshman on the Panthers senior floor general.
9:02 PM: Awful play by Fields after back-to-back huge 3s. Big miss by Stanley Robinson on the 1 and 1. Neither team shoots FTs well, which could come back to haunt them in March. Big block by Blair on Thabeet followed by an outlet and layup by Dixon should seal it. Round 1 to Blair over Thabeet in a TKO. Get ready for the inevitable round of criticism about Thabeet’s game that will be coming on ESPN over the next few days followed by a lovefest when he puts up another ridiculous line. Gotta love their never-ending quest for ratings.
9:05 PM: Thanks for the question, Scott. I agree on Young. Is he related to Greg Oden. I know he a little old for his class, but he looks older than rtmsf (inside joke). I think Pitt has almost the ideal team to make a run in March, but it seems like they are always like that. Is this finally the year that the Panthers make it past the Sweet 16? I would think so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they kill my bracket. They need to work on their free throw shooting to make me more certain. They’re not quite Memphis last year (61.4%), but 65.3% isn’t exactly comforting coming down the stretch.
9:10 PM: A couple quick thoughts as we finish up tonight. Huge game from Blair (22 points and 23 rebounds) as he dominated Thabeet (5 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 23 foul-plagued minutes). A very efficient performance from Sam Young (25 points on just 13 FG attempts). Nice finish by Levance Fields (10 points in the last 3 minutes) in contrast to A.J. Price who scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half. A tough loss for UConn, but they should be ok going forward particularly if they can get more PT for Kemba Walker, who looks like he can replace Jerome Dyson. Pitt hit its FTs tonight (16/20 from the charity stripe), which is something they will need to do if they want to cut down the nets in Detroit.
That’s it for tonight everybody. We’ll be back in the morning with our weekend After the Buzzer.