GameNight: Louisville vs Pittsburgh

January 17th, 2009
Jan 17 2009 - 6:00pm

Preview & Prediction: By Douglas Phillabaum





The University of Pittsburgh Panthers (16-0, 4-0) are #1 in the land as they host a dangerous #20 Louisville team (12-3, 3-0) at Peterson Events Center in snowy Pittsburgh this evening. Louisville struggled mightily in the non-conference schedule, including bad losses to UNLV and Western Kentucky, but Pitino's squad started off well in the Big East. Thanks to Louisville's clutch wins over Villanova and Notre Dame week, this evening's game is for first place in the conference.

Pittsburgh is a very physical team that Louisville coach Rick Pitino calls "the best offensive rebounding team in the nation". The Panthers play an aggressive, defense-driven brand of basketball that will challenge Samardo Samuels--the 6'11" center for Louisville--in a way he has never been tested in his life. As every discussion of Louisville will note, Samuels has help in the form of 6'9" junior Earl Clark and 6'6" senior Terrence WIlliams, but if Samuels disappears or gets into foul trouble in this game, Pittsburgh will not miss the opportunity to rule the paint. Samuels' progress has been slow to come for the Cardinals; although he leads the team at almost 14 points per contest, his rebounding (6 per game) and ball handling (2.5 turnovers per game) need work. Samuels fouled out in a loss against Minnesota and again in a close win at Villanova, making the match up with Pitt's DeJuan Blair a focal point for Cardinals fans.

Forgetting about Samuels and the battle in the paint, a good analysis of Louisville needs to discuss a very talented and underrated player, Terrence Williams. Louisville needed overtime to beat Notre Dame at home last week, as Luke Harangody lit up Freedom Hall for 28 points and 13 rebounds, but Terrence Williams answered the challenge for Louisville by putting up his best game of the season at 24 points and 16 rebounds (including 4 offensive rebounds leading to 3 baskets). What might surprise people who don't see Louisville a lot is the fact that Williams, normally a forward, is the Cardinals' best passer and creator... while finding time to do his frontcourt duties and grab over 9 rebounds a game. Against the Irish, Williams had the ball in his hands a tremendous amount, taking 20 shots and registering 8 assists. Williams has the experience and skills to drive Louisville to a Final Four spot this year, but it it remains to be seen if he'll get consistent guard play (none of Louisville's guards have stepped up as consistent scorers) to open things up inside for Samuels. Pitt doesn't really have a way to "stop" Williams, but they can force Louisville's guards to try to beat the Panther's defense. For now, it seems like that strategy is a good way to defend Louisville.

Pitt's win at Georgetown was their only good test so far this year. DeJuan Blair (6'8" center) owned freshman phenom Greg Monroe of Georgetown, registering 20 points and 17 rebounds (including 7 offensive rebounds). Living up to their glass-dominating reputation, the Panthers smoked the Hoyas on the boards, 43 to 17. Pitt's 18 offensive rebounds sealed the game, despite the Hoya's advantage at the foul line. Looking at how Pitt's skills transfer to the Louisville matchup, it's easy to see that Pitt should be able to force Terrence Williams to make a choice--play like a guard or play like a forward. It's hard to foresee Williams going off for 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists against the Panthers.

Another advantage for Pittsburgh is the skill of its guards--Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon play more defined roles than the Louisville guards. Pitt's point guards play with a "pass first" mentality, while their two-guards mainly contribute defense and outside shooting. Fields, a 5'11" point guard from New York City, is averaging over 7 assists. In Big East play, Fields is averaging nearly 10 assists... and this is a guy who plays "in control" and rarely turns it over (1.5 per game). At the other guard spot stands Jermaine Dixon, an intriguing 6'3" freshman from Baltimore. Dixon, the nephew of Baltimore's mayor, can score in bunches but he won't do it in the paint and he doesn't rebound. As such, Gilbert Brown, a 6'6" G/F will likely see 25 minutes of time in the game, and play a role in defending Terrence Williams on the wing. Brown is a good rebounder (3.7 per game in about 20 minutes) for a guard, although he lacks the quickness of Dixon, who is better at defending at defending smaller guards.

Pittsburgh should have the muscle to rule the paint and remain unbeaten.

Prediction: Pittsburgh   Margin: 6-8 points