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Pitt Basketball

Five Things to Know Before Pitt vs. West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl

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The Backyard Brawl returns to the City of Pittsburgh.

After the Pitt football team began its season with a victory over West Virginia, men’s basketball has its chance to defeat the Mountaineers at home. 

The Panthers defeated the University of Tennessee Martin on opening night Monday 80-58 inside the Petersen Events Center. 

Here are five things to know ahead of the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia. 

Welcome to the Zoo

Missing the past two seasons of live college action sure didn’t hamper forward Blake Hinson in any way. The junior transfer from Iowa State did not participate from 2020-22 but put opponents on notice in his first game back. 

Hinson parlayed a 29-point performance in the final exhibition game into game highs in points (27), rebounds (13), and three-point shots made (4-for-12) in 33 minutes played, the most of any Panther. The time away has not contributed to any rust in the early going. 

The debut of transfer center Federiko Federiko went as well as anyone could have hoped against UT Martin. The former West Virginia commit totaled 13 points and seven rebounds, both second on the team to Hinson. 

“I thought Federiko’s energy to start the game defensively, his talk, his ball-screen coverages, his rotations, protecting the basket, I thought that kind of became contagious for everyone out there,” head coach Jeff Capel told reporters following the game including PSN’s George Michalowski. 

The additions of Hinson (6-foot-7) and Federiko (6-foot-11) equips Pitt with depth in the front court not previously seen in the Capel era. The duo also combined for six offensive rebounds, recording three apiece. 

Return of Hugley? 

Pitt forward John Hugley did not play in the season opener due to a knee injury and his status remains up in the air leading up to game time. Despite the uncertainty, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins believes the 6-foot-9 big man will make his 2022-23 debut in the rivalry. 

“Hugley’s going to play,” Huggins said. “I also know everybody in Cleveland, too. So, he’s going to play John [reporter]. I’ll tell you what, he’s a load on the block. He’s really good on the block.”

After the win on Monday, though, Capel seemed less optimistic about Hugley’s health. Even though he was cleared, Capel did not believe he was ready to return to full activity. 

“He wasn’t close to playing tonight,” Capel said. “There was no way he was going to play tonight. He got cleared, he’ll start doing on-the-court stuff, so we’ll get in the gym with him tomorrow [Tuesday] probably on an individual bases.”

Hugley was Pitt’s most productive player last season averaging 13 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He was named an All-ACC Honorable Mention in his sophomore campaign and found a consistent presence at the foul line, making the 26th most free throws in the nation (157).

Ride Up I-79

West Virginia defeated Mount St. Mary’s 76-58 on opening night in Morgantown. Emmit Matthews Jr. led the team in points (15) and rebounds (7) while Texas transfer Tre Mitchell scored 13 points in 14 minutes off the bench. Former Robert Morris forward Pat Suemnick – who transferred to Triton College in Illinois before landing at WVU – did not play with a knee injury. 

Huggins’ team forced 17 turnovers as Mount St. Mary’s shot just over 21% from the floor in the first half and 33% for the game, converting the 17 giveaways into 19 points. With time continuing to pass on the old Big East rivalry, there is a different feeling in the air leading up to the showdown in Pittsburgh.

“We don’t have guys that grew up watching the rivalry or hearing about the rivalry,” Huggins told reporters including WV Sports Now’s Ethan Bock. “They don’t really know anything about it. We haven’t talked about it at all.”

West Virginia defeated Pitt 74-59 last season in Morgantown. Four players scored in double figures for WVU while John Hugley scored a team-high 17 for the Panthers.

Spread, Over/Under

West Virginia is favored by 2 points in Friday’s latest odds.  

Pitt finished the 2021-22 season 15-17 against the spread but closed the year 0-5 ATS. The Panthers covered the 8.5-point spread against UT Martin Monday night, winning the game by 22 points. 

The over/under for the game is set at 138 points and Pitt is +112 on the money line with WVU at -135. West Virginia narrowly covered their 17-point spread against Mount St. Mary’s.

Broadcast, Radio Info

The Pitt and WVU game will air on ACC Network Extra Friday at 7 p.m.  The action can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan. 

Pitt begins the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York Wednesday night against Michigan. The action from the Barclays Center begins at 6 p.m.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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