Louisville/Pittsburgh pregame reading

--Spread check: Louisville by 1

--Though there's not enough history between the two to truly be rivals, the Louisville/Pitt series has spawned some of the Big East's best games in recent years.

Last season, the Panthers stunned the Cardinals by overcoming a five-point deficit in the final 54 seconds of regulation before winning in overtime. Pitino's postgame news conference in the visiting locker room inside the Petersen Events Center was memorable because he was so distraught.

"Outside of Duke and Christian Laettner, this was the worst loss I ever had to experience," said Pitino, the former coach at Kentucky who was denied a trip to the Final Four when Laettner made a buzzer-beater in a 1992 NCAA tournament game.

The year before, inside Freedom Hall, Pitt was No. 1 in the polls and had a 10-point lead with nine minutes left before the Cardinals rallied for a 69-63 victory.

The Cardinals are one of only two teams to beat Pitt twice at the Petersen Events Center, winning in 2007 and '08.

Following each of those losses, the Panthers exacted revenge on the Cardinals with victories in the Big East tournament, including an overtime win in an '08 quarterfinal en route to the Panthers' second Big East tournament championship.

"Their athletic director had mentioned to me this summer that they're second to us since they joined the league [in won-loss percentage]," Dixon said. "With that, there's been some good games between us."

--Perhaps even moreso than the Cards, Pittsburgh is blessed with a deep bench. It's a huge asset for them, especially with backup power forward Talib Zanna out 3-6 weeks with a fractured right thumb.

For most coaches, this would sound an alarm. But, for Dixon, the coach of what has been called the deepest team in America, it was merely a speed bump in the road to another victory.

Dixon turned to a couple of seldom-used second-year players, and they delivered some quality play off the bench to help the Panthers topple the Mountaineers, 71-58.

Redshirt freshman Lamar Patterson, who entered the game averaging 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, scored a career-high 11 points with five assists, two blocks, a steal and no turnovers in 22 minutes. Sophomore J.J. Richardson, who hadn't scored since a Dec. 18 game against Maryland Eastern Shore, was 1 for 1 from the field and had two points and two rebounds.

It was yet another showing of how deep and versatile the Panthers are this season.

"Lamar played really well," Dixon said. "He's a big part of what we've been doing. He just keeps getting better and better. I thought he really let things come to him, didn't force any passes. Just made the simple play. It was very good minutes for a freshman. Between him and Jonathan Moore, we have two very good wings coming off the bench. I'm really excited about their futures."

--Both teams come into today's game off of great defensive performances, but their offensive styles couldn't be more contrasting.

Though the Panthers played excellent defense Thursday - holding the Mountaineers to 33.3 percent shooting - the Cardinals were more suffocating Tuesday at Rutgers. Louisville held the Scarlet Knights to a woeful 29.5 percent (13 of 44) and forced 18 turnovers in a 55-37 win.

Four days earlier, it held then-No. 13 Connecticut to 37.0 percent in a 71-58 victory.

"We're getting better defensively and that's the key," coach Rick Pitino said. "In the last two games we got teams to take bad shots and we came down with the rebound. That's the biggest jump we've made."

Forcing the Panthers to take bad shots won't be nearly as easy. Pitt shoots 46.8 percent overall and 39.7 percent from 3-point range in conference play. Both are league bests, and leading scoring Ashton Gibbs shoots a remarkable 48.8 percent from beyond the arc in Big East games.

It's not the Panthers' long-range success that has Louisville guard Mike Marra worried, though.

"What people don't notice about Pitt, they run their sets so well they can get layups whenever they want them," Marra said.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, take a Big East-high 24.1 3-pointers per game, and if they're not hot from outside they could be in trouble. Pitt's plus-11.3 rebound margin is second-best in the nation, while Louisville is a minus-1.5 on the boards over its last eight games.

--It's been a magical season for Louisville, but it will take more than magic to knock off the top dawg in the nation's top conference.

Louisville will need more than one player to provide a spark if the Cardinals want to beat the Panthers.

Pittsburgh is closing in on the Big East regular season championship behind the typical blue-collar play that has become the program's hallmark under coach Jamie Dixon.

"They're big and they don't beat themselves," Pitino said. "They just do not beat themselves because they're fundamentally so sound."

The Panthers are big, they're strong and they're nearly unflappable. Pitino called guard Ashton Gibbs one of the most underrated players in the country and believes Pittsburgh's dominance is sometimes taken for granted.

"We can't let them dominate," Pitino said.

--Jamie Dixon sees similarities in this year's Louisville team - which was picked before the season to finish tied for 8th in the Big East - with his Panther team of a season ago.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Louisville's middling preseason pick was understandable — the Cardinals were breaking in five new starters in a rugged conference — but he said it wasn't a reflection of the team's ability.

The previous season, Pitt was picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll and ended up as the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament.

"Somebody's got to be picked ninth; somebody's got to be picked eighth," Dixon said. "And all of a sudden, the phrase 'low expectations' comes out.

"It's similar to us last year. Somebody has to be picked down there. You are still an NCAA Tournament team. You are still a high-level team. But in our league, somebody has to be picked down there, and I think they fit into that situation."

--With Duke and Texas both going down on Saturday, Pitt has the added incentive on Sunday of drastically increasing its odds at capturing one of the NCAA Tournament's four top seeds, and also having an outside shot at becoming the nation's new No. 1.

--I'm not really sure what it means, but this is from Pitt sophomore forward J.J. Richardson's Twitter:
and Pitt is gunna go ham tomorrow against Louisville...you already know no turkey

--Tim Higgins was injured during the first half of Saturday's Villanova/St. John's game, and looked a bit gimpy after returning from a brief trip to the locker room. He is still scheduled to work this afternoon's game.

Louisville is 0-3 in Big East games officiated by Higgins this season (Cincinnati, Providence, Villanova), and 1-3 overall (South Alabama).

--Louisville/Pittsburgh will be televised on CBS to 100% of the country.

Let's, as the kids say, show out.

--One last reminder, wear white. Don't be that person. You know who is that person? KentuckyWild is that person. The guy who made that disparaging remark about Preston is that person. Master Shredder is that person.

Wear white. Go Cards.

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