Free Falling

Pittsburgh has spent the past 42 weeks ranked in the Top 25, rising as high as No. 2 in the nation.

Losing its next game to its archrival could make that lengthy streak disappear.

The No. 22 Panthers (17-5, 5-4) look to avoid consecutive Big East losses for the first time in nearly two years on Thursday when they host West Virginia, making the 75-mile trek up I-79 from Morgantown.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Pittsburgh -3 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 89% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -3 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The last time Pitt dropped back-to-back conference games was Feb. 27-March 3, 2006, when it lost to then-No. 16 West Virginia and Seton Hall. But after falling 60-53 at Connecticut on Saturday, the Panthers are not only in danger of falling out of the Top 25 with another loss - they could find themselves in the bottom half of the crowded Big East race.

Pitt led the Huskies with less than seven minutes to play in Hartford, but in the end, poor shooting (32.2 percent) doomed the Panthers.

"We got some good looks, especially in the second half when our execution was better," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had our opportunities, we just didn't get it done at the end."

Now, they get a visit from the Mountaineers (16-6, 5-4), who have performed well against the three ranked opponents they've faced. They're just 1-2, but their losses came by a combined three points - 74-72 to No. 7 Tennessee on Nov. 24, and 58-57 to No. 9 Georgetown on Jan. 26 after a controversial non-call on a potential goaltending call at the buzzer.

The Panthers have gone 6-4 since losing starters Mike Cook and Levance Fields to injuries at the end of December. They've alternated wins and losses the last six games, having dropped three of five since a win over Georgetown on Jan. 14.

Sam Young has led the way for Pitt in the absence of two of its top four scorers, averaging 18.1 points to rank fourth in the Big East. But he's scored only 14.7 points per game in his last three while shooting just 32 percent (16-for-50).

The Panthers have been off the mark as a team in their last three contests. They're making just 37.5 percent of their shots - 25.0 percent from 3-point range.

The recent series between Pitt and West Virginia, though, has belonged to the Panthers. They've won three straight and nine of the last 12 meetings on the hardwood, and also can claim supremacy on the football field after a 13-9 Pittsburgh victory at West Virginia cost the Mountaineers a chance to play in the BCS title game.

The Mountaineers didn't respond well after their heartbreaking loss to the Hoyas, shooting a dismal 20.0 percent from the field - 1-for-22 from 3-point range - in losing 62-39 to Cincinnati on Jan. 30.

But they got back on track on Saturday, winning 77-65 at Providence, though the 12-point victory didn't quite satisfy West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.

"We're in a hole and we're still in a hole - we're in a helluva hole," Huggins said. "We've got to fight our way out of it.

"This is a good win and it gets us started on the road back but (the Pitt game) is the deal."

West Virginia has a balanced offense, with four players averaging at least 12.0 points. Joe Alexander (14.8 ppg) and Alex Ruoff (14.5) lead the way, but both have been in shooting slumps lately. Alexander is shooting 31.0 percent and Ruoff 33.3 percent in their last three contests.

The Panthers and Mountaineers will meet again on March 3 in Morgantown.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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