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.