The first matchup of these Big East heavyweights produced a 22-point, 23-rebound statement from DeJuan Blair, the quietest 25 points in recent memory from Sam Young and two massive Levance Fields jumpers as Pitt took down then-No. 1 UConn, 76-68.
The postgame news conference featured a predictable outburst from Jim Calhoun, who was upset over a more-than-questionable fourth foul call on Hasheem Thabeet and the overall physicality of the game. Jamie Dixon noted in his newser that his team had foul difficulty as well, just not Blair -- Thabeet could neither score on Blair, nor affect his post game.
The second game in what could possibly be a four-game series has UConn back at No. 1 and Pitt stalking yet again, this time ranked fourth. While UConn has not lost a single game since, the Huskies have survived a scare from Notre Dame while finding the right mix without Jerome Dyson, whom they lost just prior to the first meeting with Pitt. The Panthers have suffered through an extremely poor effort at Providence, and Levance Fields has a back injury he suffered during a comeback win over Marquette at home Wednesday.
Key Matchup: Thabeet vs. Blair
Before the first matchup, Thabeet had 25 points against Seton Hall, giving UConn a sense that the 7-foot-3 center could pick up the load without Dyson's offense. But Blair never allowed Thabeet a lob at the rim nor a chance to get his balance in the low post. Meanwhile, Pitt isolated Blair in the low post, leaving Tyrell Biggs or Young outside the 3-point line so that there was no help, and Blair either backed Thabeet in by using the rim to keep Thabeet at bay or used a turnaround left-handed hook that Thabeet simply could not get to. When Thabeet was out with foul trouble, Jeff Adrien was just not big enough or strong enough to contain Blair, and Pitt abused that mismatch.
Pitt will play behind Thabeet and make him score over the top of Biggs and Blair, and Thabeet does not appear to be far enough along offensively to score against the strength of Blair. UConn will probably try to get Adrien more touches as he has shown that he can hit the 17-foot jumper to loosen up the dense paint area.
UConn may try to take Thabeet off Blair so he can be free to roam and block shots, but Biggs and Young can both shoot it well enough to make it a difficult rotation. This matchup comes down to Thabeet continuing to try to play behind Blair and block his shots, but UConn would be smart to try and "dig" out the ball as Blair backs in.
A.J. Price is a fearless shooter, and Blair does a below-average job hedging on ball screens. Expect Price to try to take over the scoring load as he has at Marquette and so many other big games in the past. Price likes to go baseline, bump you with his shoulder and pull up for a jumper, but be careful about guessing on the baseline drive. Jerel McNeal guessed wrong and looked like he was on the wrong side of an AND-1 video.
As for Pitt, its guards shot just 1-for-25 before Jermaine Dixon and Fields combined to hit three 3s to seal the game. If Fields can't go, Gilbert Brown becomes a huge factor. Brown has the most talent of any Pitt guard, but his production is as inconsistent as his minutes.
And remember, kids, you can always e-mail me at Douggottlieb@espnradio.com. My new radio show, "The Doug Gottlieb Show," airs 4-7 ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNradio.com.