Conference realignment couldn’t fully stop “The Backyard Brawl” between Pittsburgh and West Virginia, although Friday’s rivalry game will be a first for most of the players on the court.
The host Panthers and Mountaineers will meet for the 189th time. Both earned lopsided season-opening wins at home Monday, when Pitt beat Tennessee-Martin 80-58 and West Virginia defeated Mount St. Mary’s 76-58.
The game Friday marks the fifth clash of the rivals — whose campuses are located fewer than 80 miles apart — since the series between the former long-time conference mates resumed in the fall of 2017. West Virginia has a 100-88 lead in a series that began in 1906.
The rivalry paused for five seasons following the 2011-12 campaign. West Virginia left the Big East for the Big 12 in 2012-13, while Pitt departed the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-14.
“It’s an honor to have the chance to play them,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said Monday night. “I understand the rivalry, I understand the intensity of the rivalry. I don’t think it’s hatred — maybe hatred with the fans — but I know that I don’t hate anyone. I have a lot of respect for their program.”
The schools didn’t meet during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season before host West Virginia earned a 74-59 win last Nov. 12. But in another indication of the evolution of college basketball, just 11 players on this year’s rosters– six for Pitt and five for the Mountaineers — were with their programs when they played each other last season.
William Jeffress, Nate Santos and John Hugley IV all started for Pitt and combined to score 30 points, while Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande sat out with knee injuries and Aidan Fisch didn’t play.
Kedrian Johnson and Kobe Johnson had four points apiece for West Virginia while Jamel King, James Okonkwo and Seth Wilson didn’t play.
“We’re a whole lot different than we were then,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “And they’re a whole lot different than the last time we played them.”
Both teams were led Monday by transfers.
Blake Hinson, who last played at Mississippi in 2019-20, scored 27 points for Pitt. Emmitt Matthews Jr., who transferred from Washington, scored 15 points in his return to West Virginia, where he spent his first three seasons before playing for the Huskies last season.
–Field Level Media