Pittsburgh, Villanova in Big East betting battle

By: Willie Bee | Friday, February 11, 2011
Ashton Gibbs

A knee injury has Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs doubtful for Saturday’s game.

Six Big East teams hog most of the space from No. 4 to No. 16 in the latest AP rankings.  Two from that 13-slot span collide in Philadelphia on Saturday when the fourth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers visit the No. 9 Villanova Wildcats for a 6 p.m. (PT) tip at The Pavilion and on ESPN.

It's the first of two meetings between Pitt and 'Nova this season, maybe first of three if they meet in the Big East Tournament eventually.  It's the collision oddsmakers envisioned when making both squads the co-favorites in the conference before the season started.  Current standings show it's a shot for Jamie Dixon's crew to keep a two-game cushion in the loss column over Notre Dame, presently second in the conference race.

Pittsburgh (22-2 straight up, 10-9 against the spread) hits the hardwood in Philly riding a three-game win streak since their upset defeat to Notre Dame on Jan. 24.  The latest victory was Monday's 71-66 contest at West Virginia which closed as a pick 'em at some NCAA betting windows.  The Panthers rallied from a two-point halftime deficit behind forward Nasir Robinson's 15 points that led the Pitt ledger.

Neither team shot well from outside in that game, with Pitt 1-for-6 from three-point range and the Mountaineers 4-for-17.  Glass work was key in the Panthers win, a 39-25 overall rebounding edge and huge 18-6 advantage on the offensive end.  Pittsburgh ranks fifth in the nation in rebounding, 41.9 per game.

Panthers leading scorer Ashton Gibbs did not play against West Virginia due to a knee injury that could sideline him at least two weeks. He's officially listed as doubtful for Saturday's game.

The triumph was the second straight against the odds for Pitt backers, as well as second consecutive 'over' with the last two games sporting identical 128½-point totals.  Pittsburgh is 11-7 to the high side on the season, but 3-2 'under' in Big East road tilts.

Villanova (19-5 SU, 12-9 ATS) is off an upset road loss at Rutgers on Wednesday, dropping a 77-76 decision to the Scarlet Knights as 5½-point chalk.  Jonathan Mitchell completed a four-point play in the final second to stun the Wildcats who dropped their third Big East contest in the last five tries, and fourth game in five that they failed to beat the spread.

Jay Wright's club won the game in just about every statistical column, hitting nearly 56 percent from the floor, 50 percent from long range (8-for-16) and holding slight edges in rebounding and assists. Corey Fisher led 'Nova with 23 points, making it a double-double evening with 10 assists.

The final score went 'over' the 135-point line, snapping a four-game 'under' run by Villanova.  The Wildcats are 10-9 'under' overall this season, 6-5 in conference play.

Senior Corey Stokes, Villanova's second-leading scorer, is listed as questionable for Saturday's contest. Stokes has dealt with a hamstring injury much of this season and now is dealing with what has been diagnosed as turf toe.

Last season's only meeting saw Pittsburgh come away a 70-65 winner at home as a two-point underdog to then-No. 3 'Nova.  The Wildcats won both meetings in 2009, a 67-57 victory at home in the regular season as three-points underdogs and 78-76 in the East Region Finals as two-point pups to send Villanova to the Final Four.

The Wildcats have a 32-28 all-time lead in this series, winning the last six at The Pavilion.

Villanova next hits the Big East highway with games at Seton Hall (Feb. 15) and DePaul (Feb. 19).  The Wildcats better enjoy that little soft spot in their schedule since they close the regular season following that with battles against Syracuse, St. John's, Notre Dame and these Panthers once more.

Pittsburgh will be home on Wednesday (Feb. 16) to face South Florida before ending the week in New York against the Red Storm.

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