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February 14, 2008Based on the history between these teams, it is no surprise that Pittsburgh point guard Levance Fields targeted Friday's game at #25 Marquette (17-6, 7-5 Big East) for his return from a broken foot suffered seven weeks ago. Even before Marquette entered the Big East, there was the Golden Eagles' 77-74 victory over Pittsburgh in the sweet sixteen of their run to the 2003 NCAA Final Four.
There has also been no love loss between these teams since Marquette joined the Big East three seasons ago. Recent match-ups between these Big East rivals has produced games with play that would make most Big East football coaches proud.
Catching up with the PanthersPittsburgh(19-5, 7-4 Big East) has had an up and down season thus far. Starting with an 11-0 record, a #11 ranking in the polls and coming off an overtime victory over Duke, Pitt looked to be the team to beat in the Big East. However, injuries to key starters Mike Cook and Levance Fields have led to an 8-5 record over the last six weeks. Senior shooting guard Ronald Ramon has moved over to point guard in Fields' absence and freshman Gilbert Brown has filled in at shooting guard. The return of Fields will give depth and experience to the Pitt backcourt. Junior forward Sam Young (team high 17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and super-frosh Dejuan Blair (11.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg) lead the Pittsburgh frontcourt and have picked up the scoring slack keeping the Panthers in position for a run at the Big East championship.
Dominic James vs. Pitt backcourt
It is no secret that as Dominic James goes so go the Golden Eagles. Being the sparkplug in the Marquette offense, Pitt must focus on slowing down dribble penetration and not allowing easy fast break buckets by MU guards. If it is not Fields, whoever draws the assignment of containing James will key Pittsburgh's chances.
Both teams feature up and coming stars in the Big East. Dejuan Blair is making a case for Big East rookie of the year honors averaging almost a double-double. Blair has been a force filling spots vacated by graduating seniors Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall.
The MVP of the Marquette season has been sophomore forward Lazar Hayward. Leading the team at 14 ppg, Hayward has given the Golden Eagles a much needed inside scoring threat to go along with their talented backcourt. Hayward has also become an outside threat averaging 51% (26-51) from beyond the arch. Though neither of these players will be the main focus of Friday's match-up, their success could be the determining factor in the outcome.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE
Of course, bragging rights. Also, the winner of this game is put in position for the much coveted first round bye in the Big East tournament.
Pittsburgh Pos Pts Reb Ast Levance Fields G 11.9 3.8 5.4 Ronald Ramon G 8.1 2.5 4.0 Keith Benjamin G 9.2 2.3 2.1 Sam Young F 17.9 6.8 1.1 DeJuan Blair F 11.8 9.6 1.0 Marquette Dominic James G 13.3 2.6 4.1 Jerel McNeal G 12.9 4.5 3.6 Wesley Matthews G 11.0 4.3 1.8 Lazar Hayward F 14.0 6.5 0.7 Ousmane Barro F 5.4 5.5 0.3