Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU, Pitt both in search of an identity with the Backyard Brawl approaching

MORGANTOWN — It is a rarity, where it concerns the WVU-Pitt men’s basketball series, but one that will become more common as college basketball dives deeper into the era of the transfer portal.

The Mountaineers (1-0) will travel to the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m. Friday with a roster of 14 players and only one — forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. — knows the feeling of what it’s like playing at Pitt.

The Panthers (1-0) return just three scholarship players from last season, added 10 newcomers, and none of their players know what it’s like to host the Mountaineers.


It sets up a scenario of the 2022 hoops version of the Backyard Brawl being more a meet-and-greet rather than a rivalry match-up.

“They’ve done a really good job of solidifying their roster and they brought in a bunch of guys who can make shots,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “We’re a whole lot different. Last few times we played them, we pressed from start to finish. We’re a whole lot different than what we were then, and they’re a whole lot different from the last time we played them.”

Both teams were impressive in their openers against lesser competition, but are still searching for an identity.

WVU may have taken a step in that direction with the help of a guy from, of all places, Pittsburgh.

That’s where forward Tre Mitchell grew up and went to school, before finishing his last two years of high school at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut.

Then it was a trip through the transfer portal, beginning his college career at UMass, then Texas, and now, closer to home at West Virginia.

If there is someone at least familiar with the WVU-Pitt rivalry — Huggins said Thursday he hadn’t spent five seconds talking to his players about the rivalry — it just may be Mitchell.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Huggins said. “He’s from the Pittsburgh area, so I’m sure he’s well aware of Pitt and their program and their history.”

Mitchell made a surprise and productive debut in Monday’s victory against Mount St. Mary’s with 13 points and three rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.

He had surgery on his foot in the offseason and wasn’t medically cleared to play until the day before that game.

“The preseason has been a journey to say the least,” Mitchell said. “The injury sort of came out of left field. I had to do things day-by-day to stay in shape.

“I didn’t know exactly when I was going to get back.”

The day after the game, Huggins said Mitchell was just as good as he was during the game.

“He looked really good,” Huggins said. “He went through a full practice (Wednesday), which is the first time he’s gone through a full practice. He was moving well and shooting it well. His understanding of what we expect of him is much greater. I’m a little bit shocked he is where he is today, honestly.”

At 6-foot-8, Mitchell gives the Mountaineers another big body, but Mitchell’s talents to see the entire floor and create scoring opportunities for others is rather unique.

“I have yet to see someone who is 6-8 have a back-to-the-basket game like his,” Matthews said. “He can shoot the ball, obviously. He was all over the place on offense. Wherever you put him, he’ll do his job.”

Mitchell’s follow-up at WVU is just another piece of intrigue to this game.

Pitt’s leading scorer from last season, 6-9 forward John Hugley, sat out the opening game with a knee injury.

Published reports state Hugley could be back tonight against WVU. He went for 17 points and six rebounds in WVU’s 74-59 victory last season in Morgantown.

“Hugley is going to play,” Huggins said. “He’s going to play. I’ll tell you what, he’s a load on the block.”

The Mountaineers have won five straight in the series that dates back to 1906. WVU hasn’t won six consecutive games against Pitt since winning nine in a row from 1964-68.


WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)

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