WVU, Pitt Renew Most-Frequently Played Series

WVU, Pitt Renew Most-Frequently Played Series


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia and Pitt have played the basketball Backyard Brawl 185 times coming into Saturday’s noon renewal at the Coliseum.

Often the games carried league-wide significance, sometimes national significance, for each has etched a place in basketball circles over the years.

But somehow, you just get the feel that this renewal has as much or more meaning to this year’s West Virginia team than almost any Backyard Brawls in the past.

No, there are no championships at stake.

What might be at stake is WVU’s season … for where they might have expected to have been 7-1 or 8-0 coming in, instead they stand at 5-3. Another non-conference loss could be devastating, as Coach Bob Huggins knows.

West Virginia guard Beetle Bolden (3) fights through a push on a drive

“If you look at our non-conference record it’s pretty good,” Huggins said, speaking of it over the years. “If you don’t get to nine or 10 wins in the non-conference it makes it tough. Now you’re talking about playing in the best league in the country and having to win 12 games.

“How are you going to be 12-6? We were 12-6 a couple of times but we were really good, I think second in the league. Road games in this league are really hard. The only place they don’t have a sellout crowd pretty much is Texas.”

If WVU were to lose to a young Pitt team under the new leadership of Jeff Capel, the best they could hope for is a 9-4 non-conference mark … and that would require them to beat Rhode Island and Tennessee.

Think about it. If they then went 9-9 in the conference … and looking at them play right now as did in their most recent loss to Florida, that may be asking a lot … that would give them an 18-13 record going into the Big 12 Tournament, which would probably mean they would have to win at least two and probably three games in the conference tournament to expect an NCAA bid.

Pitt is beatable. They start three freshmen and are not a big team, playing four guards usually and another player whose role is to set screens.

But this is no longer about West Virginia against Pitt.

It’s about West Virginia against West Virginia.

The Mountaineers were awful against Florida.

“We’re searching,” Huggins admits. “We weren’t very efficient pressing full court. We were turning people loose and people weren’t challenging Sagaba Konate the way they were before. They were coming in, jump stopping, pitching out for three rather than attacking him at the rim. He hasn’t been as effective as he has.”

Konate has been ineffective, Esa Ahmad has been inconsistent and Beetle Bolden has been in pain from countless injuries. What’s more, Brandon Knapper, a redshirt freshman who was supposed be a man who eased the transition at point guard from Jevon Carter, missed last year with a knee injury, then over the summer had a blood clot and that left him with little experience at this level.

The result has been sloppy basketball.

Chase Harler

“I don’t know who is going to show up on any day,” said Huggins.

Take Ahmad and his inconsistencies.

“Before we could live with Esa struggling because we had other guys. Now we need him to be consistent and he’s been anything but,” Huggins said.

The result of all this came to the front against Florida.

“When you miss the free throws we missed, let them get open shots, don’t score very well and turn the ball over it’s not the best combination for a win,” junior guard Chase Harler said. “With all that, we were in the game. A couple of plays kind of turned it around.

“I think the main thing is effort. We think we’re playing hard but there’s a whole other level we have to reach at this level. Everything we did wrong is fixable. It’s not horrible, just little things we have to work on.”