Pitt and West Virginia have over 100 years of history with one another, especially on the basketball court. The Backyard Brawl has been housed in many an arena — the Pete, the Coliseum, the Ark and Fitzgerald Field House, to name a few — and the rivalry has produced some of the most memorable moments in either program’s history.
For Friday, though, forget the 186-game history of the Backyard Brawl — Bob Huggins is just focused on this game.
“We’re just worried about getting one,” he said. “I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to that stuff.”
The all-time series belongs to the Mountaineers, 98-88, with the last three match-ups going to WVU in a streak that goes back to the BIG EAST days. If West Virginia gets the win on Friday, their four straight victories will be the longest such streak over Pitt since 1977 — a team which included a senior guard by the name of Bob Huggins.
This year, West Virginia (1-0) heads up I-79 to square off against Pitt (2-1) for the third year in a row as the rivalry heads back to the Steel City. Jeff Capel III is in his second year at the Panthers’ helm, hoping to improve on his 14-19 debut season last year.
Pitt returns several starters this season, many of whom were freshman just a year ago, like Trey McGowens.
“McGowens played terrific in the second half against Robert Morris,” Huggins said. “He did everything….he was really, really good.”
The Pendleton, South Carolina native averages 15 points and 6.7 rebounds, the latter of which is tops on Pitt’s team. He is also part of a deep backcourt for the Panthers — six of Pitt’s top seven minutes-getters are guards.
While returners make up much of Pitt’s roster, one newcomer has already made an immediate impact. Junior transfer guard Ryan Murphy leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game, which includes a 28-point outing in the Panthers’ loss to Nicholls State.
“He really stretches the defense,” Huggins said.
They still have size, though, with 6-foot-10 forward Terrell Brown occupying their frontcourt.
“Brown is one of their all-time best shot blockers in school history,” Huggins said. “When you think about that and you go back as far as I’ve gone back in terms of following the program, that’s saying a lot.”
West Virginia’s team is equally as inexperienced in the Backyard Brawl. Just two of WVU’s starters from last year’s game are on the team (Chase Harler and Logan Routt), and neither of them started the Mountaineers’ only game against Akron. This will be the first time many of them will play at the Petersen Events Center, but Huggins isn’t afraid of how his team will respond to the hostile crowd.
“We’ve got some guys…that have played in Allen Fieldhouse, they’ve played in the conference tournament, and played before big crowds — bigger crowds than what they hold at Pitt,” he said. “I’m kind of counting on those guys.”
Several Mountaineers will make their Backyard Brawl debuts. Besides Routt and Harler, just Emmitt Matthews Jr., Jermaine Haley and Brandon Knapper made appearances in last year’s game — they combined for 6 points in 30 total minutes of play.
Not only did Haley and Matthews start the Mountaineers’ season opener, but with 16 and 13 points respectively, they were a major factor in their victory.
Pitt enters this game with a little more game experience than the Mountaineers, as they’ve already played three games to WVU’s one. That doesn’t concern Huggins a whole lot, though.
“I mean, we’ve got three games,” he said. “We had a good scrimmage against Penn State, and our Duquesne scrimmage was more than a scrimmage in that you had 9500 people in there watching. So I think we’re okay.”