What a game scheduled for tonight. Jerome Dyson's injury takes just a little bit off the luster of this game, but this is two teams deservedly in the top 5 full of players with superlatives going toe-to-toe for favorite status is one of the toughest leagues ever. The winner probably gets a stranglehold on a 1 seed in March, and heck, the loser stays in line for one provided they can split the two games these teams will play. So how will it turn out? It's so close that a lot of things need to be considered. Here's how the matchups work 1-5:
PG LeVance Fields versus AJ Price
I give the edge to Fields, because he leads the nation in Assist to Turnover ratio and is on an incredibly hot streak (56 assists to 6 TOs in the last 5 games) He has had 13 or more assists in three of those. Price is a little bit better scorer, though, so it's not a really huge edge.
SG Jermaine Dixon versus Kemba Walker/Craig Austrie
This one's a push for me. Dyson would've given a big edge to the Huskies, but without him Walker and Austire will need to step up. They are capable, but Dixon has come on in Big East play and found his shot...and he's a second weapon to really drive in to the basket.
SF Sam Young versus Jeff Adrien
The fact that these two guys aren't the key matchup of the game shows just how good these teams are. I give the edge to Young because both guys are averaging a double-double but Young has significantly more points, and he can get anyone to bite on that ball fake. Like the previous positions, though, it's close.
PF Tyrell Biggs versus Stanley Robinson
This one goes to Robinson. Biggs is a quality player, but inconsistent...so is Robinson, but his good is a little beter and his bad isn't as bad. The game may hinge more on the play of these two guys than most realize.
C DeJuan Blair versus Hasheem Thabeet
This is the matchup everyone's been looking for (outside of either of these guys vs. Blake Griffin, maybe). Both are the best in the nation at something (Blair at offensive rebounds, Thabeet at shot blocking). I think Blair is the better scorer with better touch, but Thabeet's presence will certainly neutralize at least some of that. Both kids are true athletes, and the matchup should be great to watch but is too close to call. IF the game is called tightly, the edge here goes to UConn because they work the whistle better than any team in the country and Blair has noted problems with ticky-tacky fouls. All else being equal, I'll give it to Thabeet.
So, among the starters 2 Pitt players and 2 Connecticut players have an edge in my opinion, but all 5 are very close battles...These teams are strong at the same positions but in different ways. It makes this almost the perfect basketball matchup.
Moving to the bench, though, there are still some interesting matchups. I'd have easily given the edge to the Huskies were Dyson still healthy, but now I'm not so sure. In fact, it seems to swing the other way for me because it emasn that either Walker or Austrie will not be the sixth man.
Pittsburgh's bench features Gilbert Brown, who hasn't lived up to his potential thus far but is a very talented athlete who finally started making an impact recently, Brad Wannamaker who's a bit of a surprise of late, Ashton Gibbs who has the best 3-pt. percentage in the Big East (though he barely qualifies), Gary McGhee who will get destroyed by Thabeet but can hold his own against the Husky bench, and Nasir Robinson who may get some minutes if McGhee has it rough.
Connecticut's bench, however, features Kemba Walker (unless it's Austrie) who may be the best freshman guard in the league, Gavin Edwards, who has played some quality minutes and is something like Wannamaker in potential, Scottie Haralson who hasn't really been scoring, and a bunch of role-players averaging less than a point per game. So the Dyson injury really hurts this team in terms of depth, and the bench edge now goes to Pitt.
Even though I have the starting 5 basically even and give the bench edge to Pitt, I can't pick my Panthers to win this tough road game. The reason is that I'm not sure Connecticut will NEED many minutes from their bench because their starters are almost never in foul trouble. Pitt, on the other hand, plays a very physical game that may land them in foul trouble, especially on the road against the team with the best FT differential in the league. If it goes down that way, several minutes will be Pitt's reserves against Connecticut's starters...and Pitt's bench, while strong, is not nearly as good as UConn's fantastic starting lineup. Final Pick: