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CBB Pittsburgh at Villanova Preview

January 29, 2007

College Basketball - Pittsburgh Panthers at Villanova Wildcats (-1.5, 131) 7:00 PM EST

Aaron Gray of PittsburghPitt (19-3, 7-1 Big East) is running hot, with wins in nine of their last 10 games, but they are 1.5 point underdogs.

The only blemish to Pitt's record in the past month was an upset home loss to Marquette eight days ago. And after Coach Jamie Dixon read his players the riot act following that poor performance, they responded with a 67-51 win at Cincinnati on Wednesday, and a 72-46 thrashing of St John's last Saturday.

While Pittsburgh put on some good offensive plays, the most notable feature of the St. John's win was their interior defense. Big men Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall gave St John's few opportunities in the key and helped restrict them to a pitiful 32.1 shooting percentage from the field.

The challenge for Villanova (14-6, 3-4 Big East) is to prevent the two giants from dominating their offense, and producing a far better shooting effort than St John's.

But the signs aren't good for Villanova, whose impressive recent three-game winning streak came to an abrupt end at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday night. After leading at several stages of a see-saw affair, the Wildcats fell away badly in the crucial final four minutes, going down 66-63.

The Wildcats actually led 60-57 going into the home stretch, but failed to make a shot from the field in the final 3:45, a situation they can't afford to repeat against Pittsburgh.

Pitt is enjoying its best-ever start to a season in the Big East, and are playing with enough confidence to make a real splash in the post-season.

Gray, who stands at an imposing seven feet, leads the team in points per game (14.8) and rebounds (10.2), and is clearly the man the Wildcats need to contain tonight.

And the man earmarked for the job is rival big man Curtis Sumpter, who has been a model of consistency for Villanova this season. The problem is that Sumpter is giving up five inches, and 50 pounds to Gray.

The good news is that Sumpter's hunger for points has seen him average 18.3 this season, and if he can come close to that tonight, the Wildcats can defend their home court advantage.

Summing Up: Pittsburgh has strength and depth with 10 players scoring against St. Johns. Their road record (5-1) shows they will have no fears about traveling to Philadelphia, where the Wildcats have already lost to Drexel and DePaul. Look for Pittsburgh to pull off the minor upset.

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