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Pregame thoughts: Villanova at Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Greetings from the Petersen Events Center. Getting ready for what ought to be a tough -- and potentially foul infested -- game between two hard-nosed teams in Pittsburgh and Villanova.

At this time of year, every game has deeper meaning, but for the Panthers and Wildcats it's even more critical. Pitt is sitting in the much-coveted fourth position in the Big East, the last spot to claim a double-bye in the league tournament. With Louisville and Georgetown right behind them, the Panthers need a win to get a better hold on that bye. Villanova, of course, is fighting for the Big East regular-season crown with Syracuse -- with all eyes pointing toward the showdown next Saturday between the two squads. Of course there can't be a showdown if Villanova doesn't keep pace today.

A few other key things/players to watch:

  • Jermaine Dixon. The last time he played Villanova he was in charge of stopping Scottie Reynolds on the last play of the game in the Elite Eight. That didn't go so well, and Dixon remembers it clearly. He said in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he circled this game on his calendar at the start of the year, looking at it as his chance to redeem himself and erase the painful memories of Reynolds' buzzer-beater.

  • Can the Wildcats -- in particular Antonio Pena -- stay out of foul trouble? Because of its high-octane offense and scrappy guards, Villanova has been prone to a lot of fouls all season. The Cats average 33 whistles per game. Against a team as tenacious on the defensive end as Pitt, keeping out of foul trouble will be even more critical for Villanova, and in particular for Pena. The Wildcat big man has fouled out of five games and frequently finds himself saddled with early foul trouble. Nova doesn't have a lot of depth inside, and keeping Pena in the game is of vital importance.

  • Whose style wins? In the end, this game is going to come down to a battle of wits. Villanova leads the Big East in scoring offense, averaging 85.4 points per game; Pittsburgh is second in the conference in scoring defense, giving up just 66.5. If forced into a slower pace and a half-court game, can the Wildcats adjust and win with defense and pluck? Conversely, can the Panthers survive if Villanova gets out in the open court?