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Tonight is the 181st Backyard Brawl between our #4 Panthers, and the West Virginia Mountaineers. This is a big game for both sides, according to the players, coaches, and especially the fans. There may be “bigger” rivalries in college sports, but I can’t think of may that are more fierce than the Pitt-WVU. If you weren’t around for the last time Pitt went to the Collesium, it was quite, uh, an occasion:

(Credit: Robbie Kleinmuntz, Pitt Media)

Former Pitt Assistant-Coach Tom Herrion had some revenge as Marshall’s new coach a few weeks ago. The Oakland Zoo got its revenge as well as few weeks after the game last year in one of the best games at the Pete ever. The “Mountaineer Maniacs” have never been able to replicate the type of atmosphere and advantage that the Oakland Zoo provides for Pitt. They have to resort to chanting profanities and throwing things on the court to make its presence known. Stay classy, guys.

To tonight’s game though, Pitt has not had a great week. It had a solid win over Cincinatti on Saturday, but Junior guard Ashton Gibbs was hurt with a few minutes to go in the first half. While I don’t believe he’ll be out the full 10-14 days (he played the whole second half with the injury, and scored 9 more points), he is certainly not playing tonight which is a loss. Dante Taylor is also still questionable for this game, and Pitt missed his production on the glass against Cincinnati. RS Sophomore guard Travon Woodall will take Gibb’s spot in the starting line up. Woodall has proved quite a few times this year that he has the ability to change the game (big time 3 vs Providence), but can get discouraged when he makes a mistake or two. He’s one of my favorite players though, and if he can just run the Pitt offense effectively, Pitt has enough playmakers to make up for Gibbs. Seniors Brad Wannamaker and Gilbert Brown were held scoreless at WVU last year, and combined with Gibbs being out, I have a feeling they will want to have a statement game. I’ve made the comment several times that Pitt gets its points as a collective effort of the team, not relying on one guy every night to score. I will stand by that, and this game will be a perfect test of that theory.

The Mountaineers by contrast don’t have too much depth. They play no freshmen, and their best scorer Mitchell had been suspended indefinitely until WVU was down against ‘Nova on Saturday. Why end his suspension in the middle of a game, you ask? WVU Coach Bobby “Huggy Bear” Huggins said, “Because I’m the coach, and I decide who plays and who doesn’t.” Fair enough, Bobby, but buy a freaking suit, and look respectable like this guy

Feed Gary, He's Hungry

This game starts arguably Pitt’s toughest stretch left in the season. (@WVU, @Nova, USF, @St Johns). If Gibbs is out for all of those games, and we drop 1 or 2, I won’t be terribly concerned. Right now, Pitt is in pretty good shape for at least a 3 seed guaranteed for the tournament. If we can win those games though, that’s a very strong statement that Pitt is not only the team to beat in the Big Eat, but they are a deep team that can even handle having their main point guard and leading scorer out. It gives the bench players some quality experience heading into the final stretch of the season. Pitt did itself a favor by building a two game lead in the standings, and just has to hold on to it.

This is a rivalry game in the truest sense, and that means you can throw the rankings out. Both teams have learned before that the number next to your team’s name means nothing when its the Brawl.

I still think, however, that the Maniacs will be going home hating Pitt just a little bit more than they did before the game.

Hail to Pitt.

@Sta7ic, @OaklandZoo on Twitter

(P.S. There will be a fan gamewatch tonight at “Rock Bottom” at the Waterfront in Homestead.  Pitt fans have an area (with brand new HDTV’s from what I heard) reserved along with burger/beer specials. Over 100 people have RSVP’d. Should be a good time, check it out if you can)

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