The Backyard Brawl returns.
The Pitt Panthers return to the floor Friday night after losing to The Citadel Tuesday at the Peterson Event Center.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (0-1) journey to Morgantown against the West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0).
Bounce Back Opportunity
Pitt opened the season with a stunning 78-63 home loss to The Citadel Tuesday night. Pitt entered the game as 10.5-point favorites and struggled offensively. The team shot 38% from the floor, an eye-opening 12% from three, and 48% (15/31) at the free-throw line despite winning the turnover battle 7-10.
The upset started Pitt off on the wrong foot in what was anticipated as an easy victory. The Panthers finished last season 10-12 and 4-2 out of conference, facing their toughest test outside the ACC in the Mountaineers. A win would also instill a glimmer of hope in a program currently moving completely downward.
Defeating WVU would put a better taste in the mouth of Pitt fans for numerous reasons and bounce back the early season while surprising the basketball world.
Hugley Huge to Offensive Production
Sophomore forward John Hugley impressed head coach Jeff Capel with a double-double in the opener with a team-high 27 points and 10 rebounds. The Panthers are struggling to find someone capable of being a dependable scorer, but if the Cleveland, Ohio native can flourish in the offense after missing time last season, the team can put up a fight.
“It’s good to see John be able to put the ball in the basket and to play through contact,” Capel said. “His impact can be significant for us, but he’s got to be able to do it for every second he’s out there and in practice.”
Hugley will be a key threat to watch on the offensive end especially with Ithiel Horton suspended, Nike Sibande tearing his ACL, and Jamarius Burton recovering from knee surgery. Femi Odukale and others will also be looked upon for scoring depth, but the weight of the offense may fall on Hughley for the foreseeable future. Taking a step up can provide the Panthers a bright spot in what could be a tough winter.
The West Virginia Report
West Virginia looks to defend their country roads after a 60-53 win over Oakland on Tuesday to begin the year. The Mountaineers won the last Backyard Brawl 68-53 on November 15, 2019, at the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt and WVU have only played each other three times since 2012, but head coach Bob Huggins believes the rivalry should be an annual tradition, being an intense part of his early basketball life and memories.
“I think it should, but I haven’t been right here much of late so…” Huggins said in a piece written by WV Sports Now’s Ethan Bock. “There was a fight at West Virginia-Pitt, just about every time. If it wasn’t the players fighting with each other, it was in the stands.”
The rivalry has cooled in recent years due to no games being played from 2012-18, but still has the makings of a classic matchup whenever these local teams hit the floor.
WVU concluded last season 19-10, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Syracuse. The team returns fifth-year guard Taz Sherman, who scored a team-high 18 points in the season opener. Guards Sean McNeil and Kedrian Johnson along with forwards Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell will be players to watch throughout the night.
West Virginia is favored by 12.5 points heading into Friday.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread and 5-3 on the road. The Panthers also finished 4-6-1 after a loss.
The over/under for the ACC-Big 12 battle is set at 137.5.
WVU finished 14-15 against the spread during the 2020-21 season, according to Teamrankings.com, and 6-5 in non-conference matchups.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Backyard Brawl will begin at 8:30 p.m. and broadcast from the WVU Coliseum on ESPNU.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt returns home to host UNC Wilmington Tuesday night starting at 7 p.m. The game will air on ACC Network Extra and 93.7 The Fan.