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A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Is that Ash in My Mouth or Shall I Keep Perspective? 

My feelings on the game have been, shall we say, jumbled. One minute raging at the officials; the next looking to Pitt's free throw shooting; then to poor shooting; then thinking we were due to lose one like this; and so on. Suffice to say, I'm disappointed. Ultimately, this is the game any Pitt fan had to fear was coming -- a game that could have been won at the free throw line. Losing a game because of foul shots was something Pitt fans knew was coming for some time, but the longer it took the more surprising it seemed.

Let me get this out of the way now. The refs in this game sucked. They were horribly inconsistent. Calling bad fouls on both sides, with even worse make-up calls without any coherence. Pitt, though, did not lose the game because the refs sucked. Pitt lost on their own merit, poor shooting and worse free throw shooting. The poor refereeing only made it more painful because it was an external factor that couldn't be blamed on the Panthers.

Okay, game notes. Box score and play by play are here.

The game on CBS being called by Verne Lundquist with Billy Packer on color. No real opinion or distaste per se. They came in to the game a minute late. Pitt has a 2-0 lead, and the place sounds pumped.

Page shoots an airball for his first shot at 17:50, never a good sign. Page needs to get the baskets falling early. His game, offensively, is dictated early by how he shoots. If the shots fall, he's good. If they don't, it just gets worse.

At around 16 minutes, it is 4-2 Syracuse. The refs seem to be keeping their whistles in their pockets underneath the boards. for now. Pitt is putting up the shots, but they are not rolling or bouncing in. Pitt is able to pass the ball to the inside and back out, but the shots aren't falling. Not completely unlike the way the last game started between the two.

Have I mentioned this is an ugly game?

Big foul called on Hakim Warrick of Syracuse at the 12:54 mark. It is his second. Amazingly, Boeheim doesn't take him out. Pitt has to push the ball inside and challenge Warrick. If Warrick can get 3 fouls before the end of the 1st half, Pitt can quickly put this game out of reach.

At the 11 minute mark Pitt is up 13-5. Only 18 points total in this game through 9 minutes. The Orangemen's 2-3 zone has been useless against Pitt to this point because of the effective interior passing. Pitt just hasn't been able to get the shots to fall. For Syracuse, they can't seem to do anything on offense. They use a lot of the shot clock trying to get a shooter free and have already turned the ball over twice on shotclock violations.

Page gets his first points on a fastbreak layup with 3:28 in the first half. He had missed his first 3 shots and Syracuse had gone on a 11-3 run prior to that to close to within a point. Warrick has not come out of the game, but Pitt hasn't been driving against him and he hasn't picked up another foul.

On the plus side, Gerry McNamara is totally frustrated. He hasn't scored a point. Page has him blanketed. Without Edelin, McNamara is unable to create separation or get an open shot.

At halftime it is 22-19 Pitt. Painfully ugly game, that you have to believe favors Pitt. One negative is that they couldn't or didn't take advantage of the inside game to try and force Warrick into a 3rd foul in the first half. That could have broken the game wide open. The other is that Pitt seemed to stop working the boards after 10 minutes. At around the 11 minute mark, CBS showed a graphic where Pitt had out rebounded 'Cuse 11-4. By halftime, Pitt only held a 16-14 rebounding advantage. There is no excuse for that since Warrick was in foul trouble.

Both teams shot just under 35%. Neither team can shoot that badly in the second half, can they?

The halftime report shows that Seth Davis wasn't paying attention to this game. He says that with Gerry McNamara held scoreless, Pitt looks good with a 3 point lead. Huh?

The only interesting thing out of the halftime report is the news that the NCAA will tweak the RPI to better account for home and away wins.

Second half is just as ugly. Pitt doesn't get a score until nearly 5 minutes into the half. Pitt retakes the lead 25-23. Pitt is playing a sloppy game on offense. They seem almost surprised that their physical play isn't forcing Syracuse to back down -- did Pitt come to believe they invented physical play in the Big East?

Just as Pitt takes a 30-25 lead, and the Pete starts getting excited, then McCarroll commits the lazy foul by being out of position.

The refs miss a foul underneath the Pitt basket, and Dixon gets called for the technical. Packer and Lundquist are surprised by how quickly they call it, and the replay shows that Dixon had a point. Karma for the call against Calhoun a couple weeks ago? I don't know. Just, when calls like that happen, the fear and doubt starts lurking larger.

Suddenly Syracuse has the lead and Pitt can't get it back. Poor free throw shooting and just poor shooting in general starts to catch up with Pitt. Somehow Hakim Warrick has kept playing and only picks up foul #3 at the 9 minute mark. Part of it is just wasted opportunities by Pitt, and part is a strange inconsistency by the refs to call interior fouls.

Warrick then picks up foul #4 away from the ball near the 6 minute mark. The CBS crew speculates that it was something of a ticky-tack make-up call because it was away from the ball, but their own replays shows Warrick putting an elbow to Troutman twice before the whistle blew. Still Boeheim leaves him out on the floor with Syracuse up 37-34 -- and Pitt still can't take advantage of this.

Billy Packer is annoying the crap out of me. He keeps saying Krauser is their only perimeter shooter. He obviously hasn't seen Pitt until now. Page and Brown are both perimeter shooters, but their shots aren't falling. Page has no confidence at the moment, and Brown, while not a 3-point threat is a mid-range shooter.

Syracuse has gone from a 2-3 to more of a 1-4 zone. More just one guy rotating out to the perimeter. They are crowding the basket to get the boards.

Mind-blowingly bad officiating again. Krauser gets called for an offensive foul when Roberts was shuffling his feet to try to block Krauser. Krauser then gets a late whistle for a reach-in foul, his 5th, to send McNamara to the line. CBS can't edit out the very, very clear crowd chants of "Bull S**t" for that one. Still, it is only 42-38 with a little over a minute to go.

Page finally nails a 3 to make it a 1 point game. Wow!

Warrick commits a choke-like travel to give us the Jim Boeheim -- "how can you call that?" face. The face then goes to the "I don't f***in' believe it" face when Forth commits his 5th foul on Troutman with 3.2 seconds left, and Pitt desperately trying to find a shot. Like I said, bad, inconsistent officiating.

Troutman hits the first to tie the game, but misses the second. All I can think is, not making them when you need to today, huh, Jamie?

The refs blow it again. Syracuse should have had the ball with 6-tenths of a second (at least) but the refs refused to give the timeout and so it goes to overtime.

This is the first overtime at the Pete. Not good. Pitt didn't make a single fieldgoal going 0-5. They went 4-6 from the line, but that only raised Pitt's FT shooting to 9-17 for the game.

Pitt lost 49-46.

This game was disturbing because it was the second straight game that Pitt played poorly. They won against Georgetown strictly on talent and conditioning. This time, they were playing a team that can win tough games. Page played another sub-par game. The whole team played like it believed this was merely a formalilty. I had almost become convinced that Pitt wasn't going to fall into the trap of believing it's own clippings, but then this game. Clearly, they let themselves get caught up in looking to the NCAA Tourney.

Now the questions can be answered only by quickly putting this game behind them and going on the road to beat a very good Providence team on Tuesday. Otherwise, Pitt suddenly looks soft and beatable.

Anticipation and Nervous Sensations 

Maybe it's just the lead-up to the game, but I'm getting nervous about Pitt. The game will be on in the Cleveland area -- 4pm CBS, and the line I saw in the sports section had Pitt favored by a whopping 10.5 points. Yes, I know Pitt kicked their ass by 21 last time, their talented but troubled point guard Edelin is out for "personal reasons," Pitt is unbeaten at the Pete (34-0), and hasn't lost a home game since the 2001-2002 season (40-0).

I guess it's just that the Pittsburgh papers are too filled with stories about Pitt going to the NCAA Tourney as a likely #1 seed. Even a column, supposedly about how people ignore the regular season Big East title because of the Conference and NCAA Tourney, seems more about warning the fans that the NCAA has a way of breaking hearts. Then another column about how tough it is to win in the NCAA, even as the #1 seed, according to Syracuse Coach Boeheim. It is just too much right now. Even this shrill, tiresome Smizik column about fans charging the floor after wins -- something Pitt fans have happily avoided doing -- seems to expect the game to be a mere formality to getting the W, "If all goes as expected, sometime around 6 p.m. today there will be cause for celebration at the Petersen Events Center."

There is a big game against a Syracuse team that is and should be looking for revenge and redemption against Pitt. They are talented, and they are fully capable of beating Pitt. Don't kid yourself, consider this scouting report on Pitt

"(To beat them) I think you've got to shoot it well from the outside and stand up to their toughness. You can't have a night where two or three of your guys decide to play soft."

Syracuse has the outside shooters, especially McNamara. Taft has gotten in a lot of early foul trouble lately. If Pitt doesn't shoot well, Pitt can lose.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

A Couple Additions 

Some other info bits that may be useful. Pitt's website is running, and they finally got the press release and game notes (PDF) for tomorrow's game.

Orangenation didn't seem to bother with a game preview this time. It's a shame because they do great work on looking at the match-ups and breaking the game down. A couple good articles on their site worth noting, though. This is a Big East update from last Friday.

Pittsburgh (23-2, 9-2): The Pittsburgh Panthers have turned into the team that nobody wants to play this year. After losing senior catalyst Brandin Knight and center Ontario Lett, it looked like it would be a mediocre season. Don't look now, but Pitt is ranked fourth in the nation and holds the nation's longest home winning streak, dating back to the 2001-2002 season. This past week was a mixture of success, however. Earlier they lost a tight battle, taking Seton Hall down to the final seconds before Andre Barrett sealed the game with a couple of free throws. Just six days later, Connecticut came knocking, and the Panthers slammed the door in their face, 75-68. Pittsburgh's last test of the season will come March 2nd when they visit the hot Providence Friars.

Notice they didn't say it would be the Syracuse game tomorrow. That makes tomorrow's game essential for Pitt, to avoid taking a bad loss. Nevermind losing at home.

The other article is a report card on Syracuse. Brutally honest in its evaluations, it provides a lot of things to watch for in the game.

The game is on CBS, but they don't let you know where the coverage is for this or Kentucky/LSU. I have no clue which Cleveland is going to get.

Syracuse - Pitt: No One's Talking 

Quiet week and quiet day before the game. Oh, will someone let Mike Waters from the Syracuse Post Standard know that the game is tomorrow.

SU, Pittsburgh get defensive in showdown today
They play completely different styles, but both have been effective.

February 28, 2004
By Mike Waters
Staff writer

Defense wins championships.

The cliche originated on the football field, but it works just as well on the basketball court.

This afternoon, Syracuse and Pittsburgh face each other in a nationally televised game at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

Call his hotel, meet him in front of a locked up Pete. Something. He appears very confused. And not just about the day of the game.

In contrast,Syracuse's lineup includes no defensive stalwarts other than junior small forward Josh Pace. And yet, the Orangemen continue to frustrate opponents with their 2-3 zone defense.

Even when Pitt handed Syracuse that 21-point whipping in January, the Panthers made only 44.3 percent of their field-goal attempts. While Syracuse was 4-for-16 from 3-point range, the Panthers were 5-for-16.

Wow. Pitt shot only 31.25% from behind the 3-point line. Clearly the defense must have done its job to keep Pitt below its season average of 32.8%. It had nothing to do with bad shots and starting the game with 3-12 shooting. Talk about looking at the glass half-full. The game was over with 10 minutes left.

Speaking of the 2-3 zone, Pitt also outrebounded 'Cuse 50-36. There's a reason why Syracuse is looking to go man-to-man a little more often tomorrow.

They had 20 offensive rebounds and received dominating inside performances from freshman center Chris Taft and junior forwards Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll, who combined for 42 of the team's 66 points and 21 rebounds.

Pace said the Orangemen have been working a lot on their zone defense, but plan to mix it up with some more man-to-man this game to offset Pitt's strong post presence.

Syracuse has won 4 of its last 5, but it ends the season on a rough ride. Playing at Pitt, then at West Virginia and ending the season at home against UConn.

Back to the Syracuse beat writer who previews the game and notes the record for Pitt at the Pete. Interesting to note that it will still be a while before Pitt approaches the record for most consecutive wins from the opening of a new arena.

UCLA, which won its first 51 games at Pauley Pavilion beginning in 1964, and Providence, which opened the Providence Civic Center with 41 straight victories in 1971-72.

Waters sees hope in history for the Orangemen. Prior to the opening of the Pete, Syracuse is 14-5 in Pittsburgh since Pitt joined the Big East in 1982.

Finally, Brandin Knight is tracked down in Ashville, NC where he is toiling in the NBDL for his thoughts on this year's team and Krauser.

"They have everything," Knight said. "We weren't as big last year as they are now, which sometimes would get us into trouble because Ontario (Lett) wouldn't be on the court and we'd have matchup problems. They have a lot of bodies and experience, so they should be able to do more things."

Knight, who plans to attend tomorrow's game, added a caveat.

"It all depends on which Pitt team comes to play," said Knight. "If it's the team that played against UConn in Pittsburgh, I don't think anybody can beat them. But if it's the team that played against Georgetown the other night, they'll be out in the first or second round."

Knight doesn't anticipate an early exit for these Panthers, though. He said they matchup well with any team in the nation, including programs with a superstar such as former Marquette guard Dwyane Wade, who took over in the second half of the Panthers' Sweet 16 loss.

"With the way they play defense, they're tough to beat," said Knight, who's been impressed with first-year coach Jamie Dixon. "People talk about shooting being a problem for those guys, but if they rebound and keep taking control of people, that (off-sets) it."

I'm not taking Syracuse lightly. If McNamara shoots well from the outside and Warrick plays as expected inside, Syracuse can score and even force the pace. Syracuse, though lacks Edelin and has been getting by without a real point guard and a sure 3rd scoring option. Josh Pace has become their 3rd scorer, but he hasn't been consistent. I think 'Cuse will handle the physical play much better, simply by virtue of having gone through the Big East schedule. Pitt may be the most physical team in the Big East, but they aren't the only one. The Syracuse players know what to expect, and have experienced it.

For Pitt, obviously keeping the halfcourt game and preventing fast break and transition scoring are always major keys. Assuming Syracuse comes out to start in the 2-3 zone, rather than simply settle for the outside shot by Page and Krauser, it might be best to get it inside to Troutman and Taft to let their height and width do some work. It may also force some early Syracuse fouls. Page may want to try and take it inside himself, with some layups and runners. He needs to show that the Georgetown game was just a bad game, not the norm. Krauser and Brown are givens in what they do.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Slow Day for Media Run-Up 

Not a lot to comment on in the papers today. There's an article on how defense in the Big East is the key to the best teams (Wow. Defense in basketball wins. Who'd a thunk?) There is also lots of love for Pitt from Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim from his requisite teleconference with the media concerning the game on Sunday.

Jim Boeheim is one of 31 coaches who votes in the ESPN/USA Today college basketball poll. His most recent ballot listed Stanford at No. 1 and Saint Joseph's at No. 2, but he conceded Thursday that his rankings don't truly reflect how he feels.

"I don't think either of those teams are better than Pittsburgh," said the Syracuse coach, who voted Stanford and St. Joe's ahead of third-ranked Pitt (25-2) because both are undefeated. "Pittsburgh is the best team in the country right now overall."

The rest of the article is full of quotes from other Big East coaches and ESPN commentator Jay Bilas singing the praises of Pitt.

Up in Syracuse, there are a couple articles that I missed earlier in the week from the Syracuse student paper. An article focusing on Pitt's home winning streak and the glory that is the Pete. An impressively honest piece assessing the Syracuse team, and giving the fans news they may not want to read.

Truth is, there's still a prevailing belief that the real Syracuse team has yet to emerge, as if some late-season bloom will reconvert an inconsistent, sloppy 2004 team into the dynamo of 2003. Well, after watching Syracuse sputter - but win - two consecutive games in the past week, I'm ready to admit it: these are the real Orangemen. Ugly. Unsightly. But sometimes, effective.

Copying and pasting a national championship formula from one season into the next is almost impossible. This season has proven it, convincingly. But that's OK, once expectations are realigned with reality. By almost any account, last year's title lifted expectations - perhaps unfairly - for Version 2.0 into the stratosphere. Jim Boeheim teams normally begin the season underrated, then spend the next four months disproving it. This year, the opposite has been true.

The Orangemen began the season a vastly overrated team, the product of both an easy out-of-conference schedule and the respect normally afforded by poll voters to the defending champs. The Associated Press ranked the Orangemen the No. 7 team in America as late as Nov. 23. Now, three months later, Syracuse is playing without three of its six leading contributors from last season.

I have to admit, Syracuse has a very good student paper and accompanying website.

In an article from today, looking at the game, the author feels rebounding will be the key. I hope so, because that totally favors Pitt. Pitt has the superior inside game.

The Syracuse Post-Standard looks at the freshmen on the team and finds, surprise, that they've been a bit inconsistent.

Fairfax Cuse has his take on a similar round-up.

Pitt's Website hasn't been working this morning. I'll have to check it for game notes later.

Syracuse Silencing 

Syracuse University doesn't want anyone to know what the students really think of their professors.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Peeking At Syracuse 

I really love reading something like this

What to watch:Sunday, SU at Pitt. No better way for the Orange to become a stone-cold lock - and transform Pitt from top seed to a 2 - than gain by far its most meaningful win of the season.

It's a thrill to see that Syracuse -- a basketball team, and let's be honest here, that has been one to envy for its consistent success in the Big East -- is looking to get it's "most meaningful win of the season" against Pitt. Not that it should happen.

Though the Orangemen, are saying they are just taking it one game at a time, and not looking to the NCAA tourney. Sure.

Despite, having McNamara back and healthy to face Pitt this time, Syracuse lacks Billy Edelin for "personal reasons" and the fans are a little doubtful about their chances against Pitt in the Pete.

That said, Syracuse will have to exceed expectations if they hope even to stay close with Pittsburgh on Sunday. Earlier in the season, the Panthers destroyed Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

I don't think that will happen again, but I think Pitt will win this game.

What is Being Said in Pittsburgh

The beat reporters do their feature notebook stories on Chevy Troutman.

Columnists have chosen to focus on the NCAA Tournament. Smizik at the P-G has a bizarre piece arguing that Pitt might be better as a #2 seed than a #1 -- this after decrying the whole obsession that has arisen over seeding in the tourney so early, and that seeding is overrated.

Pitt and the NCAA tournament are so large in our sports consciousness that while the Panthers flirted with defeat Tuesday at Georgetown, the all-consuming fear of those at the game in Washington or watching on television no doubt was not what it would do to the team's ranking or to its place in the Big East Conference standings but what the loss would do to the its seeding.

The Panthers, after all, are in line for a precious No. 1 seed, which, in theory, gives them the easiest path to the Final Four.

But theory and practicality are two different things. Truth be known, seeding is grossly overrated, as anyone who follows Pitt basketball should know.

It's rare to get to see such inconsistency in the same column.

Ross at the Trib wonders what will be Pitt's distraction at the NCAA Tourney, this year.

Two years ago, pre-tournament diversion was provided by Brandin Knight's right knee, injured in a collision with Connecticut's Caron Butler late in the Big East title game.
...
Last year, the distraction came straight from the top. UCLA fired head coach Steve Lavin on March 17 and Howland's name was first on the list of potential replacements.

He thinks the distraction might be a problem with Krauser. He doesn't know/say what, but he just doesn't see anything else that could be a significant distraction. I think it will be allegations from St. John's players that it was the Pitt players that tipped them off to go to Club Erotica in McKees Rocks.

Baseball and Steroids 

Some of my thoughts.

Recapping Pitt-Georgetown -- Sloppy 

But at least it was against a bad team. Apparently they decided this would be the real let down game. Pitt committed 23 turnovers and did their best to lose the game in the first 30 minutes or so. Of course then Pitt wore down the Hoyas and ended up turning a 10 point deficit into a 10 point win, 68-58. Krauser was the difference. Pitt seemed to have taken the game as lightly as I did. I'm just some co-writer on a blog. What's their excuse?

The Washington papers went with G-town coach Esherick's excuse for the Hoyas' collapse that the team just got beat up and suffered because of a lack of depth. Pointing out that the starters for Georgetown played 183 (out of 200) minutes. Of course Pitt starters played 172 minutes and spread over 5 guys, 11 minutes is hardly the reason. Talent and superior conditioning would appear to have been the real difference.

Page was abysmal, again. He shot 0-7 from the field (0-6 from 3-point land). He ended up with 4 points because of 4-6 free throw shooting. Krauser was fantastic (except for 9 turnovers) with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Pitt completely dominated the inside game -- once they woke up -- with Troutman and Taft having very good games.

Esherick (does he have naked pictures of the AD at Georgetown to keep this job?) endorsed Coach Dixon as Big East Coach of the Year. I expect it to come down to Dixon or Tim Welsh of Providence. It might be decided based on the outcome of the game on March 2.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Infernal Loop... 

I normally don't watch MTV much anymore as I'm too old for their programming faire. But I have managed to catch the videos for the Darkness and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' new singles. At first I thought both were kinda dumb. I hated hair metal in the '80s and don't want to experience even an "ironic" look back. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, on the other hand, have that "too cool to care" indie vibe that makes me wish that someone like James Hetfield would just pimp-slap the "cool" right outta them. And yet both singles are now looping through my head on an alternating, unending, unyielding basis. It's both horrid and ecstactic.

Thank you for helping me to process my issues.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Belated Pitt-WVU recap 

Sorry this took so long, but I've been ill with some kind of stomach virus - this is my second day off of work.

Anyway, I start by giving the Hoopies kudos for both their dance team and cheerleaders.
The cheerleaders were clad in mid-riff exposing tank tops, and all of them seemed quite fit. They did a lot of pyramid type formations as opposed to dancing and tumbling, but they still looked good.
The dance team also had exposed mid-riffs; they were clad in tight, form fitting leggings and tops. They actually seemed like they could DANCE, with a lot of sexy strip club moves and floor sprawling. I prefer Pitt's dance style to this, but it was alright with me - and they were in a lot better shape than Pitt's dance team.

Now on to the game: the Coliseum was packed with over 14,000 fans. Quite a few of them were Pitt fans, but it was overwhelmingly pro-WVU. There was a taped message from Jerry West played over the PA (he couldn't be there because of his demanding schedule - bullshit, I say) congratulating WVU on 100 years of b-ball. At halftime, they trotted out many past hoops stars, some of whom played in the 1940's.

Our seats were in the corner, upper level - although the layout makes it seem like one seemless tier. They older guy next to me was into the game - he couldn't bring himself to swear, though. A lot of grandfatherly non-curse words like "for Pete's sake" and "shoot" and "darn it" were thrown about. The fact that he was not-swearing so much was good news for Pitt. Still WVU was in the game almost the whole time - closing to within 3 points VERY late in the game.

I'm not sure if it is because it is basketball, or perhaps a totally different crowd goes to these games, but the hostility to Pitt did not measure up to the football crowd. Sure, some kids were saying the usual "shit on Pitt" and "Pitt cheated" on the way out of the game. But the animosity wasn't there - similarly, this win was not enough payback for losing at football. Perhaps beating Syracuse at b-ball is better, since they care about b-ball more, but we need to beat WVU in football to get our mojo back. This was nice, though.

I'm still impressed with Pitt's ability to shoot foul shots. And you got'a love Krauser.

Pregame Media Review -- Reversal of Fortune 

Pitt up, Georgetown down. No where is this more obvious than in the media coverage for the game. Georgetown gets only a brief article in the Washington Times, focusing on their postseason goals -- qualifying for the Big East Tournament and making the NIT. Meanwhile, the Washington Post ignores the hometeam to focus on the visiting Panthers. Mainly the story focuses on how the team has continued to succeed without Howland as coach and Knight at point guard. And that is it. Georgetown has fallen off the map in DC. Any attention Georgetown still gets nationally is from sports writers and ESPN producers who still remember when Georgetown was a name in college basketball.

Both the Trib and the P-G beat writers focus on the reversal of fortune and point to the 2000-01 season and the game against Georgetown as the starting point. Specifically, the posterizing of Reuben Boumjte Boumjte by Page when Pitt upset the then #10 Hoyas.Both reporters take pains to point out, that despite G-town's slide and Pitt's ascendance, the games between these teams have been very tight and not comfortable wins. Still Pitt has prevailed in 5 of the last 6. This would be a huge upset if Pitt choked on this game. It is G-town's final home game of the season, so the seniors might be playing with a little more emotion.

Pitt rose to #3 in the polls. USA Today did a piece on Krauser and Dixon leading Pitt. Here is the Pitt press release and game notes.

Cook noticed that Page has had two straight good games and essentially calls him out to be the go-to-guy come the tournament. Page kind of has to, since he admits what this team should be seeking

"Coach Dixon probably will hate me saying this, but we have to go farther," Page said. "We have to get to the Final Four."

Pirusta at the Trib also states the need for the go-to-guy, but believes it can be Page or Krauser. I have to go with Pirusta on this one. While I would prefer to see Page be the one, I now feel Krauser is capable of being the guy to help take over a game. It doesn't matter which one of them does it, so long as one does.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Vicarious Recap 

I'm still hoping John and Pat recount their experiences at the game (assuming they didn't just sell their tickets for a tidy profit), but I'll do the round-up of media coverage. Straight facts in the form of box score and game log are here (PDF).

The game was never out of reach for WVU, but it was still a Pitt victory. They led by four with about 8 minutes in the first half, but managed only 5 more points in the half, and Pitt ran off 17 to take a 38-30 lead into the half. Pitt shot well from the perimeter, 4-6 from 3-point land, and this was good since Taft who looked to dominate, picked up 2 fouls in the first few minutes (while scoring 6 points) and then a third with almost 6 minutes left in the half. It limited Taft to only 7 minutes in the half. Pitt shot very, very well in the first half -- better than 60%.

The second half came, and Pitt built a 49-35 lead in the first 7 minutes of the second half. Then WVU really started to claw and fight its way back into the game. Johannes Herber who had only 4 rebounds in the first half grabbed 10 in the second half-- 8 came off the offensive glass to help give them lots of second chance points. WVU outshot Pitt took 35 shots compared to 19 for Pitt in the second half. They were within 3 with just under 3 minutes to go. Krauser though, knifed through the WVU defense for a pretty layup that was shown during game updates and halftime highlights and then on Sportscenter. WVU couldn't buy a bucket after that. They shot 1-6 the rest of the way. In the final minute, they fouled Pitt 4 times to no avail.

As I said last night, this was a game Pitt could have lost and I would not have been surprised. Disappointed, annoyed and frustrated, but not surprised. WVU had the home court, a big emotional crowd, and were playing to get a seat at the big dance.

Some are ready to say that Pitt has to get to the final four this year. Maybe.

Page had another good game. Maybe he is finally getting healthy. He shot 6-8 for 15, so the only complaint might be that he didn't get enough touches. Krauser was only 4-11 for 13, but he did have 7 assists. Troutman had a great game at both ends with 3 blocks, 7 rebounds and 15 points -- 7 of which came from the free throw line. Taft in only 14 minutes had 10 points and 6 rebounds. Arguably, his early foul trouble kept Pitt from really blowing the game out early. Just your typical team effort from Pitt.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Whoo-Hoo! 

Pitt Wins. Pitt Wins. More tomorrow, when hopefully a couple of the guys who were at the game will choose to post on the game and the whole atmosphere (John and/or Pat). All I could do in Cleveland was keep watching the UAB-Memphis game for higlights and updates.

Still, this is great. This is a big win to me, because this is the kind of game Pitt would usually lose. Road game where Pitt doesn't win too often, opponent trying to get on the NCAA Tourney bubble, lots of emotion on the other side. Throw in Miss. St. losing to Alabama (who Pitt beat to start the season), and a couple Duke losses, and Pitt could be #3 Monday evening. Keep focus, though, 4 more tough games to go.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The Big Let Down Game 

The Pitt-West Virginia game tomorrow has all the makings of an even bigger potential let down game than the BC game. Going to a place where Pitt has a 5-20 record, against a WVU team that knows that a win over Pitt would definitely place them on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The game is sold out, in part because it is also the celebration of WVU's centennial of hoops. Really, the 100 year thing, is the only real story about WVU hoops in WV newspapers.

Early in the week, some were sure Pitt had a handle on their emotions and confidence, but it's been a week where Pitt has heard how great it is. Pursuit of a #1 seed. Puff pieces abounded -- even from WVU sports. From the bench players to the reserves to the senior leaders. Lots and lots of signs of a big let down game.

Look, there is no question that Pitt has more talent than WVU. WVU kicked its best player off the team earlier in the season. WVU, though, will play its first sell-out tomorrow. Lots of talk of the past great WVU teams and players. You have to believe they will really be up for this game.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Over the Boulder 

My thoughts on the Colorado football scandals are over here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Perhaps I Spoke a Tad Too Soon... 

O.K., I griped about the lack of in-depth coverage on espn last Sunday night but apparently they do actually like us. Thank you Dickie V! Of course, being a native yinzer, I now worry about how this praise will jinx Pitt's chances in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Media Self Pity/Defensiveness/Perception 

I was going to take the day off from PSB, but Shawn inspired me.

How long had Pitt basketball been down? Think about it. Pitt was off the radar for the better part of the 90s. A brief flash in the early part of the decade then nothing -- other than the occasional police blotter. Pitt didn't actually show anything worthy of notice until the Big East Tournament in March 2001. Pitt, maybe 6 deep, went on a run in the tournament in Howland's second year. They were carried by Senior Ricardo Greer all the way to the Big East Championship game, where they had nothing left in the tank and lost to BC.

That was only 3 years ago. Pitt has been one of the best teams in the Big East since that time. But it has only been 3 years. The national media fawns over teams like Duke, Stanford, UNC, Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas and so on because they have been good/great teams for a long time in the past and show no signs of not being the same in the future.

St. Joe's gets attention this year because it has two things going for it that Pitt doesn't. 1) That one great player that carries the rest of the team and is clearly the best player (the best player on Pitt's team is debatable -- Krauser, Page, Brown, Taft -- because Pitt is a more complete and balanced team). Jameer Nelson is a focal point, it makes the story easier to tell. 2) They are unbeaten. Another storyline, and it gives writers a chance to be lazy and do comparisons to the runs of Indiana or UCLA.

Last month I excerpted something which commented on Pitt's soft non-con schedule. Here's the salient note.

Pitt doesn't have the luxury of being an established commodity like Syracuse, and a couple of big-time games on national TV would do wonders for elevating the program.

Right now, Pitt fans are feeling underloved. They are letting national sportswriters know. That commenting on the non-con got a lot of response

I won't go tit-for-tat with every team whose fans wrote to complain, but it's clear there are plenty of people rooting for Pittsburgh and Wake Forest who believe their teams warrant a "Buy."

And apparently they continued to badger Seth Davis at SI.com. A little aside in his column -- where Jaron Brown was listed as "captain" of his "All-Glue Team."

Yes, Pittsburgh fans, I should never have sold your stock a few weeks back.

Sticking with the SI.com writers, Grant Wahl listed 8 teams he thought played team ball and could win the national championship a few weeks ago. Pitt wasn't one of them. He got some mail on the subject.

Sorry guys. My eyes glazed over from all the mail about last week's Magic EightTM. If the 'Bag had one of those electronic light-board maps that Google uses to measure worldwide traffic, it would've been Christmas-treeing in the Pittsburgh area.) Before I let the readers speak, some points:
...
3. Pittsburgh is a nice team. Pittsburgh is a nice team. Pittsburgh is a nice team. There. I said it. Still don't think the Panthers will win it all, but they do play Team Ball and they could go far in the tournament.

While we got plenty of arguments for Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Saint Joseph's, by far the most responses came on behalf of Jamie Dixon's Panthers in the wake of their drubbing of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome last week. One of the more sane takes was that of reader Patrick Lister of Jersey Shore, Pa., who writes:

Does any team exemplify Team Ball more than the Pittsburgh Panthers? When five players are averaging 10 points a game or more for the majority of the season and your team has one of the best scoring defenses in the nation (holding Syracuse to a Carrier Dome-low 45 points) and you're coming off a strong showing in back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, I think you deserve a little recognition. Need I mention the 19-1 record? But if you're looking for the perfect definition of team ball, look to the loss to UConn at the Hartford Civic Center. With three seconds left, down three, and the ball in the team's top scorer's hands, what would most teams do? (Hint: Not dish the ball out to an unheralded freshman averaging 2.8 points a game.) THAT is team ball. I look forward to seeing that picture of you in Panthers gear.

Patrick: Thanks for the points. I like the Panthers a lot, and they've certainly taken a leap forward in many eyes after the win at Syracuse. You're also right about winning over converts with the loss in Hartford. For me, though, the real tests will come on Feb. 15 (at home against UConn) and March 2 (at Providence).

Is Pitt sophomore point guard Carl Krauser already better than Brandin Knight was as a senior? Krauser shoots better, scores more and plays solid defense. As much as Knight helped establish Pitt as a burgeoning program, could Krauser help the Panthers take the next step? -- Jason Wawrzeniak, Melbourne, Fla.

Good question, but don't sell Knight short here. Keep in mind that statistics mean less when evaluating point guards than with other positions. The only stat that really matters is winning percentage in March, and Knight has a pretty good one. Head to head, though, Krauser has advantages over Knight's senior stats in points per game (15.1 to 11.2), field-goal percentage (.472 to .367) and free-throw percentage (.786 to .575). Meanwhile, Knight leads Krauser in assists per turnover (2.07 to 1.86) and steals per game (2.12 to 1.56). Krauser may not be better than Knight was last year, but he is certainly in the same discussion, which is very good news indeed for Pitt.

The following week, his column disclosed the location and occupation of Pitt legend Jerome Lane.

Another factor that helps with media coverage -- the coach. Pitt has a newbie, Jamie Dixon, and is boring copy. He does the total coachspeak thing. Longtime, successful coaches have built up relationships with national media that has covered them -- Roy Williams (UNC, formerly Kansas), Bob Knight (Texas Tech), Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Gary Williams (Maryland), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Tom Izzo (Mich. St.)Rick Pitino (Louisville) and so on.

The nature of the coverage in general is to ignore until they are sure the team will be around for a while, and then continue the coverage even if the team doesn't merit it.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Media Recap -- UConn's Turn 

A bit late, but the kid has a cold.

Let's start with the personal POV. Over at the Courtside Seats, Mike is frustrated. Mike has been totally stand-up in calling the Huskies as he sees 'em, and was gracious in the defeat of his team. Obviously, I haven't heard his radio broadcasts, but if he is even half that professional in his broadcasts, then I expect I will hear him in the future.

The Hartford Courant probably has the most and best overall coverage. They even provide a recap of the 5 biggest games over the last 6 years. There was no common theme to the reporters coverage, which is nice. Each had their own take. For one, it was the fact that Pitt just manhandled UConn.

There is nothing subtle about the Pittsburgh experience.

Especially at the Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers climb inside your brain with their talk. Then they climb inside your uniform to make it stick.

Not the greatest mental image to have, but you get the point. For the column piece it was all about poise. UConn is lacking it. Plenty of compliments for Pitt, but ultimately the column is a critique about the soft play of UConn.

UConn's biggest rival in this season of grand expectation is Poise State.

The Huskies' toughest opponent is Patience A&M and patience in the p.m., too.

Their most dreaded competitor is mental toughness.

Until they find - what is it the French call it? - that certain sang-froid, UConn isn't going to win the national championship.

UConn's 75-68 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday was merely further proof.

Make no mistake, Pitt is the best thing to happen to UConn athletics in recent years and the Petersen Events Center is one of the best things to happen to Big East basketball in a long time.

St. John's and Georgetown may prompt tales of romance in our neck of the woods, but the hard fact is Pittsburgh, with its long football history and hardscrabble, non-negotiable basketball team, is where the future action is for our state.

Then there's the issue of Okafor's second half disappearing act. It seems, that Pitt has his number.

Okafor, UConn's national player of the year candidate, has had his struggles in the past with the Panthers' physical style. They have found ways to rattle him throughout his career, whether riding him out of the post so he doesn't get good position to score, or surrounding him with multiple players down low.

For the record, I don't disagree that Okafor got hosed on that call for his 4th foul. It was clearly a block, but if you believe Pitt won because of that, you're just too far gone. Even Calhoun has conceded that wasn't the reason UConn lost.

The toughness and ability of Pitt to finish was admired.

The Huskies weren't exactly out-toughed as they held a 38-31 rebounding advantage -- led by Josh Boone’s 13, nine of which came on the offensive end -- but every time UConn needed a big basket, it failed to convert.

Pitt led 36-28 at the half, but the Huskies got the deficit down to four points on a Gordon 3-pointer with 13 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. After two Brown free throws for Pitt, Boone tipped in a miss to get it back to four points at 47-43 with 11:41 left.

But that’s when Pitt took over on separation Sunday in the Big East.

The Panthers scored the next 11 points, the first seven coming on free throws, to take a commanding 58-44 lead. The run was capped on a Chris Taft dunk with 7:41 remaining

"That run was about it for us," Boone said. "But no matter if they’re up seven or down seven, they’re still going to run their stuff and keep taking time off the clock."

The reporters covering the Huskies have to be commended for their fairness. There wasn't whining about Pitt bullying or bad calls in the coverage I have read. There was, in fact, admiration for how well Pitt did what it had to against UConn.

Other Coverage

Number 4 vs. #5 gets attention, having one of the teams being UConn means the NYC papers will pay a little more attention. The New York Times write-up, came courtesy of one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnists (Chuck Finder). Guess their guys were all in LA for the NBA all-star game.

NY Daily News columnist Dick Weiss, definitely felt Pitt is just the tougher team.

The Panthers were just too physical for Connecticut in a 75-68 victory, leaving Calhoun to lament his team's lack of toughness afterward.

"This team doesn't show any emotion," he said. "I'm trying to remember the last time our kids came into the locker room and just went crazy ... maybe two years ago against Arizona. We beat Oklahoma by 40 points and it's, 'Oh, well. Ho-hum.' We have a bunch of nice kids on this team, kids you'd like to take home with you. What I'd like to have is a couple kids I wouldn't want to take home."
...
Calhoun was like that as a player and is like that as a coach. But aside from senior point guard Taliek Brown or defensive specialist Shamon Tooles, no one on this talented Connecticut roster falls into that category.

No one on the Huskies (19-5, 7-3 Big East), especially 6-10 All-America center Emeka Okafor, wanted to address the subject of country club living right now. "They beat us, so I can't say anything," he said.

But that's what separates these two teams right now. And it is why Pitt (23-2, 9-2) has emerged as the team to beat in this conference.

This is a team that plays with a chip on its shoulder.

Fun With Personal Biases

A couple articles caught my eye, because the bias is so blatant.

Take this from the Philadelphia Inquirer writer, who has clearly decided that local St. Joe's has the player of the year in Jameer Nelson.

One nationally televised opportunity for Connecticut center Emeka Okafor to show that he - not that point guard from the little Philly school - is college basketball's player of the year is gone now, lost in the frenzied Petersen Events Center.

Pitt fans can only shake their heads. This was the sort of thing that was written after the loss to Miami regarding Fitzgerald and the Heisman. That, "see, I knew it," line of crap.

Sadly, the Altoona Mirror only offers a tease of Lee's favorite columnist. I hope Lee will provide a full, frontal Fisking of this.

The collapse of the Big East has created a dark cloud over the Pitt football program.

But the basketball team has given the Panther faithful plenty to cheer about, and even with the 2005-2006 additions of powers Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East, it's clear the road to future conference prominence will continue to run through here.

Finally, for those UConn fans who seem to wonder why Pitt still seemed pissed about Calhoun's talent vs. team comment from last year, I'll try a quick explanation. When Pitt won last year, Calhoun made it in a very backhanded compliment sort of way along with a lot of complaints about how Pitt wasn't getting called for fouls like UConn was. In the context of the stories, Calhoun seemed almost dismissive of Pitt. Coach Howland played up the talent comments in part to stick up for his players, but also to keep them fired up about UConn, considering the Big East Tournament was only a week or so away. Considering what Pitt did against UConn in the Big East championship, I'd say it worked.

ESPN's late-night coverage... 

While the local media are tittering like schoolgirls who've just met their crush in person, the national media are perhaps a tad more agnostic about us. Last night's Sports Center covered our victory in a very perfunctory manner. Granted, it was on a weekend during which a blockbuster baseball trade was being mulled but Dale Jr. and N.C. State also got much, much more airtime as well. Again, I will grant that it was the weekend of the Daytona 500, the 'Super Bowl' of the left-turn crowd (I guess I'm un-American for not getting into this 'sport.') and that the Wolfpack pulled off a huge upset but the tone of our coverage was still tepid. And it was the ho-hum tone that grabbed me. Yes, these are worthy and exciting stories, but Pitt vs. Uconn was as well. I mean, this was #4 vs. #5, a battle for first place in one of the country's premier basketball leagues, a possible preview of the Big East's tournament, and a possible NCAA tournament preview as well. Something doesn't add up here...

Media Recap -- Just Pitt 

Seems to be a veritable avalanche of stories now. Big Wins will do that. Expect some follow through for a couple days.

The Horse's Mouth

Pitt put out a list of key quotes from interviews following the game. Jamie Dixon is totally boring coachspeak. Compare it to Calhoun, and you can get part of why the Husky fans love him. He is blunt and direct. He actually says things that are worth quoting.

Opening Remarks:
"Congratulations to Pittsburgh on their win today, they played great defensively as a team. They wore us
down because of how physical they were. Pittsburgh deserved to win this game."

Comments on the Built up to the Game:
"I was really excited about this game, but the team wasn't at least they didn't show it. This team really
doesn't show emotion, but I wish they did, I’m a very emotional person."

Comments on Pittsburgh offense:
"No matter how good we played defense, Pittsburgh still executed offensively. This is because Pittsburgh
has great basketball I.Q. and believes in the system that Coach Jamie Dixon has brought to the team."

Expect the lack of emotion from the UConn team to be a continuing theme. Especially up in Storrs.

Coverage

The game itself -- payback or roughhousing. The payback article, is practically giddy about Pitt.

It might be premature to make reservations to San Antonio, site of the Final Four, but Pitt sent a statement heard around the nation Sunday afternoon with a resounding 75-68 victory over Connecticut at Petersen Events Center.

Given the disappointments of the past in Pitt sports, there is a part of me that cringes at seeing things like this.

Looks like the desperation from UConn, and their inability to keep it together was seen by more than just me.

Every time the Huskies made a run, the Panthers did not panic, but rather responded with a run of their own and never relinquished the lead. In almost every crucial situation down the stretch, according to Gordon, the Huskies crumbled under the pressure.

"You have to be poised out there and we weren't," Gordon said. "I think if there is one weakness in our game it is being poised in certain game situations. If we look back on this game, there were a number of times we had a chance to make something happened and didn't. We got out of our game a little bit at times.

"Pitt seemed to take one possession at a time and they were consistent at it. A combination of their defense and us just not being mentally focused enough to stay with what we do, even if a shot wasn't there, hurt us. We have to be more patient and use the whole shot clock if that is what it takes to get a basket."
...
Boone said the Huskies never got into a rhythm and every time they made a mistake, Pitt would make them pay for it.

"It is heartbreaking when we get within four points there in a critical possession and something happens like we turn the ball over," Boone said. "Then they come down and score to make it a four-point swing. Moments like that have really killed us. It is a matter of us keeping our heads together, keeping our composure. We need to settle down, run our offense, run our fast break and play good defense.

"We got rattled but we're going to have a lot of tough games in the Big East tournament and the NCAAs and so we need to learn how to play through that."

Well, at least they recognize there is a problem.

UConn believes there will be a Round 3 in less than a month. There's a good chance.

One focus article on McCarroll's game. Apparently he had a good practice on Saturday.

Then there was the atmosphere leading up to the game. Tickets were at a premium

It was the hottest ticket in town, with sets of tickets on eBay listed anywhere from $50 to $600 the weekend before the game. Ticket scalpers were out in full force, wearing their "I Need Tickets" signs and cutting deals in the shadow of the Pete.

"Wouldn't you rather sell them to students?" said Megan Kelley, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a ticket scalper as they both leaned into the open window of a car in which two men were trying to sell two game tickets.

In the end, the men didn't care for Kelley's $200 offer or even the scalper's bid at $250. Her boyfriend, Mark Esterheld, 26, of the South Side, was somewhat dismayed because he recognized one of the men in the car as a former high school basketball coach of his. But his old coach showed no favoritism for him on that day.

"It all comes down to money," said Kelley, 26, of the South Side, now an elementary school teacher.

Undaunted, they continued their quest.

"Anybody want to sell tickets? $200," she said.

Ticket scalpers reported business was "going good, REAL GOOD!"

A man who identified himself only as Scalper Dan said ticket scalpers were working every corner within a quarter-mile radius of the Pete and getting upwards of $100 a ticket.


Opinions

Speaking of giddy, Ron Cook is so far on the bandwagon it's hilarious.

It's all there for Pitt with five regular-season games left. The inside track to a Big East championship. The top seed for the conference tournament next month. And, if things go well in New York, a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

A team needs that high seed and so much more to have a real chance. It needs strong guard play. Great team defense. Depth. Toughness. Senior leadership. Big-game experience. Poise.

Pitt looks like it has it all.

Two weeks ago, the guy was calling for a little perspective. So much for that.

Here, the win means the glass is half full.

Technically speaking, Pitt and UConn have split a pair of basketball games this season, just as the Penguins technically ended a losing streak by losing in overtime the other night.

These are the situations that scream for a "Yeah, but ... "

In the case of Pitt and UConn, despite how hard both sides were trying to sell the split angle after the Panthers' 75-68 win Sunday afternoon, this felt much better than a split for Pitt, much worse than a split for UConn.

Yeah, they've split, but the teams have played four halves of basketball this season, and Pitt has been the better team in three of them.

Still comes down to the final score, though.

Finally, a little mean-spiritedness to the losing team.

And the Huskies, the nation's No. 1 team in the preseason, are in damage-control mode when they ought to be peaking.

"We split with them," Calhoun said, citing UConn's 68-65 win over Pitt on Jan. 19, when the subject of psychological fallout was broached. "I'll sell it that way.

"I can lie with the best of them."

He'll have to if the Huskies are to rebound from the drubbing they absorbed at the Petersen Events Center.

Calhoun will have to lie like a rug to shake the malaise from his current collection of underachievers in time to save Connecticut's season (given the talent and expectations, only a trip to the Final Four can accomplish that).

Like I said, Calhoun's a great quote. Not many other coaches would take shots at his own team. That shows a little bit of their own toughness, in being able to take the public criticisms from their coach.

Final thoughts

Pitt has some tough games ahead. The season isn't over.

The let down game isn't until Saturday at West Virginia. A week of lionization of the team, before going to face a desperate bunch of Mountaineers.

At Georgetown after that. Then Syracuse and at Providence in the space of 3 days. Then ending the season with Villanova -- who always seems to give Pitt trouble.

Plenty of possible slip-ups.

40-0 At The Pete 

Recapping. Game notes, Only a couple box scores and some game logs to keep the facts straight.

Only a couple minutes of pregame, since they were showing important speedskating action earlier. Dick Vitale in a goldish jacket to blend with all the "Oakland Zoo" t-shirts behind him. Subtle.

Pitt controls the tip. No rushing. Miss a shot, UConn can't push it up court. Pitt scores first when Taft slams home a missed shot. UConn ties it, but then a technical is called on UConn coach Jim Calhoun. What? Later in the game, Vitale said he thought the call was premeditated by the officials. Sadly that makes sense. Calhoun is a screamer at the refs for an entire game. As I recall from the last time Pitt and UConn played, both coaches kept coming out of the box, screaming at the refs. Looks like the refs are trying to keep the coaches from pushing it today.

Krauser sinks both the shots, and then Page nails a big 3 pointer. Pitt takes a 7-2 lead.

At about 17 minutes, Pitt lets the pace pick up, and UConn looks like it is ready to break out. Chevy Troutman picks up his second foul in under a minute. Not good. Troutman has to come out, McCarroll in. At least he fouled Okafor, who can't make a FT to save his life.

Pitt still keeps the lead, 11-6 in a slow game, but at 13:57 Taft picks up a foul and comes out of the game for Torree Morris. Troutman and Taft out? There is no reason for Okafor not to dominate, or at least get a lot of shots from the FT line. Sure enough, Okafor grabs an offensive rebound and puts it in for an easy 2.

Page, though, buries another 3. Okafor doesn't seem comfortable. He misses a couple close shots. UConn looks completely out of sorts. No reason, they are not comfortable being forced to play half-court. Pitt actually builds a 21-11 lead without Troutman and Taft by 10:32. McCarroll has 3 boards and 9 points, shooting very well. Morris is doing his job of committing a couple fouls and standing around.

The thing about McCarroll that keeps him from getting more playing time, though, is his defense. It isn't there. He doesn't get in good position, and he isn't fast enough to get away with that. He ends up getting blown past to the basket too often.

Okay, who the hell is the big slow white guy for Pitt that just scored on the nice pass from Brown? Looking at the box score, it's a 7' freshman named Aaron Gray from outside of Allentown. This was the 13th game he's made an appearance in, but the first one I've seen.

UConn has been shooting horribly from the FT line and the field. Pitt better keep a good lead, because I can't believe UConn will shoot that bad in the second half.

At about the 5 minute mark, there is a Yuri Demetrius sighting. Hey, he gets a rebound and gets to the FT line. Sinks them both. Statistical relevance today. 27-20 Pitt.

As the half winds down, UConn is pressing to get close and get above 30 points. Villanueva tries to drive quickly and commits the offensive charge. An easy call. Pitt gets the last shot. Sunk by McCarroll for a 36-28 lead at the half. McCarroll was huge in the first half with 11 points on 5-6 shooting. Okafor led the Huskies with 12, but only sank 2-7 FT, missing two front-ends of a 1-and-1. UConn went only 5-13 from the line. I worry about Pitt losing a game because of FT, but UConn is worse statistically, and definitely today.

After the half, UConn seems to have picked up the pressure. They have stepped out to stop giving Pitt so much of the perimeter to pass and set up. Pitt travels twice and a blocked shot on their first 3 possessions. Dixon calls a smart timeout at 17:40. UConn's within 4, 36-32.

The timeout seems to have helped Pitt. At 16:08, the lead is back to 8, 42-34. UConn has just not been able to make the adjustments against Pitt to play half court, slow, physical play. They desperately want to run a fast break, press and push, but can't. Pitt keeps pushing them back, every time they start to get closer.

Denham Brown of UConn, who has been slumping terribly, still can't find his shot and it is wearing on him. He commits 2 fouls halfway through the second half and misses a shot in between, forcing Calhoun to pull him with 4 fouls.

Pitt suddenly is up 52-43 with 9:50 left. You can see the whole UConn team start to press. Instead, Pitt keeps going, and Okafor gets whistled for a cheap foul trying to block Krauser, his 4th. I think Vitale and Musberger were sure that would send Calhoun into the fit needed to get his second technical and ejection. Nope. Considering Calhoun had complained about the lack of emotion from his team earlier in the week, maybe he should have, just to try and fire them up.

At 7:44 Pitt has expanded to a 58-43 lead. It just seems that Pitt wants it more, everytime.

At 4:17, Troutman scores in what basically shows how much the game is just going Pitt's way. He put the ball up, and it bounced on the rim a couple times, then for a split second that seemed longer, balanced there perfectly, before falling into the hoop. 62-51.

The final 2 minutes take the longest. 66-57 at that point. UConn commits 8 fouls in the final 2 minutes. Up to this point, Pitt was having the best FT shooting game of the season. One of the stories of the game should have been the fact that Pitt had gone 15-17 from the free throw line. But, Pitt went 9-16 down the stretch. Jamie Dixon remarked after one game that Pitt made the FT when they had to. In this case, making them early, meant there wasn't the same pressure to make them later. Funny about that.

During the final 2 minutes, they looked to foul Pitt's worst FT shooter, Jaron Brown. Amazingly, it didn't work. Brown was an astounding 6-6 from the line, he finished with 17 points to lead Pitt. That said, I didn't notice his scoring until looking at the box score.

Final Score 75-68 Pitt.

Pitt never trailed in the game. It was only tied twice: 0-0 and 2-2.

Looking at the box score, this was an amazing game for Pitt. 4 players in double digits (Brown (17), McCarroll (15), Krauser (13) and Page (11)). Just a pure team effort by Pitt. UConn actually outrebounded Pitt 33-28, primarily because Josh Boone was a monster on the offensive glass -- 9 offensive boards.

Ben Gordon kept putting the ball up for UConn, he just couldn't sink enough -- 8-21 for 23 points. Okafor had a respectable 16 points, but it's surprising he only got 13 shots. For UConn, it seemed they were too willing to settle for the outside shot, if they couldn't run the floor with their big guys.

Look forward to reading the media stories.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Media Round-Up -- Quick and Dirty 

Not a lot of time today. As luck would have it, Erie, PA has the Pitt game. Friends of my wife get both Cleveland and Erie stations out in Geneva, OH. Geneva is about midway between Cleveland and Erie (roughly 50 miles either way) off of I-90. So we have to leave a little early, and still do some things around the house.

Here's the news.

Pittsburgh beat

Tickets are going for as much as $500 dollars per. The winningest teams in the Big East the last 3 years. The loser is just about assured of not getting a #1 seed (for what it's worth). This is probably the best article about the actual game from Pittsburgh papers. A little bias on the match-up breakdowns, perhaps, but not unexpected.

"It's Round 2," said Pitt freshman center Chris Taft. "We took a blow in Round 1, but we felt we could have had that game. It's for first place."

Said Pitt senior guard Julius Page: "It's the top two teams in the league. We've been beating up on each other the last couple of years. The crowd will know it's a big game, and everybody's going to be watching. Let's see who steps up to the challenge."

Somehow, another Pitt beat reporter must have missed those quotes

While Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and his players shied away from calling this game any more significant than any of the other final five games on the regular-season schedule, Calhoun and his players reveled in the pregame hype and spoke openly about its importance.

"It's definitely a big game for us," Connecticut junior guard Ben Gordon said. "It's not just another game. It's a game we need, and we're going to approach it like that."

Pittsburgh Columns

Last year it was talent vs. toughness. The differences aren't so clear this time. Paraphrase of the opening lines of the column, and the general gist. Pitt is more talented than last year, and UConn is tougher. Pitt is still a bit more physical, but UConn has a bit more talent. Pirusta is already thinking of a third game in Madison Square Garden.

Cook argues that Pitt-UConn is a rivalry. Sorry. No. It's not. We all wouldn't mind it becoming a rivalry, but rivalries are not made in a couple years. Rivalries take a couple decades, minimum with ebbs and flows -- not one side dominating for a period while the other is in the doldrums. Time is a key component of any rivalry. Clearly that is missing. Otherwise, all you do is look back at a brief period and say, "yeah, those were some good games." (I'm dangerously close to going off on a tangent I don't have time for, so I'll move on.)

Final column is a feature on Chevon Troutman. Kind of typical. Troutman is the soul of the team perspective. IT's been done. With Page, Brown, and even Krauser.

UConn beat

Focusing more on the intensity between the two teams then the potential rivalry, is a good option. This piece sees the game being decided on tempo and fast break points for UConn, which jibes with their scouting report

he quickest way for UConn to quiet the crowd will be to stop Pittsburgh from scoring. If the Huskies can do that, they should be able to run. If the Huskies can get near 20 in fastbreak points, this one is over.

In another story, the key is also seen to be pace.

The Huskies will try and get a lead today by running their vaunted fast break at every chance.

"It’s about will," Calhoun said. "If we make up our mind that we’re going to run after every basket, every time up the floor, we can set the pace."

Pitt, meanwhile, loves to slow the game down and work the 35-second shot clock before shooting. The style suits their physical frontcourt, featuring 6-foot-11, 250-pound center Chris Taft, 6-7, 236-pound power forward Chevy Troutman and 6-4, 229-pound small forward Jaron Brown.

Dictating the pace is point guard Carl Krauser, Pitt’s leading scorer at 15.2 points.

"We did a good of controlling the pace the last time we played them," Dixon said. "We know we have to limit their transition and that we have to grind it out and attack at the right opportunities."

And one passage about this Pitt team that should makes every Pitt fan feel good

That’s Pittsburgh. Get the Panthers down and they don’t blink an eye. And when they have a big lead, you won’t see any chest bumping until the final horn sounds.

"They’re old-school," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "And that’s meant in a flattering way.

They never stop coming at you and that’s the most intimidating type of team to play. No matter what, they keep executing on offense and defense."

Let's Go Pitt!

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Media Round-Up, or lack thereof -- Day Before 

Not much to report. On a personal note, the sports bars I have contacted have all told me they can't get the regional ABC feeds. They can only show the local game from ABC. I was afraid of that. SOL. Looks like I'll be calling friends for updates.

None of the stories are particularly interesting, or I'm just so pissed and bummed about not seeing the game that I can't generate much interest in the pieces.

No.

They just aren't that interesting.

Winning on the road for UCOnn

Denham Brown's slump

Julius Page -- One of the great Pitt defenders

Calhoun feels his team has lacked emotion at times.

Kind of surprised at the lack of stories. Guess they'll all be in the Sunday papers.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Media Round Up -- UConn's Turn 

I said this would be later.

UConn has its game notes out (PDF). Looking at it, the thing that stands out and makes me most jealous as a Pitt fan out of the Pittsburgh market -- the number of national TV games. This is the reward for being a consistent top team in the country for a number of years: 9 games on ESPN/ESPN2 and 5 games on CBS and ABC. That's the kind of national exposure that helps perpetuate the talent levels. Hey, I'd rather see them on TV than any more Duke and UNC.

The Hartford Courant has a notebook piece focusing on Denham Brown and his knee. In another notebook piece from the Connecticut Post there is a good passage about the rivalry with Pitt and the context.

So is Pittsburgh UConn's No. 1 rival these days?

"No, I think Syracuse is," Calhoun said flatly.

After his denial, however, Calhoun pointed to the magnitude the game has taken on in recent years.

"I was talking to a friend in Pittsburgh and he thinks from the game in which Khalid (El-Amin) came back and scored five points in the last 30 seconds to win the game and things were thrown and so on, it was just a heart-breaking loss for Pittsburgh," the coach said of UConn's 70-69 win at Fitzgerald Field House Dec. 12, 1998. "And it was an exhilarating win for us on the way to a national championship."

That game, Calhoun says, made the Pitt players and fans hungry to get back at UConn.

"Since that time, Pittsburgh has felt the team it wants to beat is Connecticut," Calhoun said. "And the fact that Pittsburgh beat us twice last year, clearly they're a team we want to beat."

UConn beat Pittsburgh 68-65 earlier this year in Hartford.

"So I would say that this season they are our greatest rival," Calhoun said. "But I would still put Syracuse, over the last 10 or 12 years, as our biggest rival."

First, it isn't an insult to say the 'Cuse are the biggest rivals of any team in the Big East. Syracuse has been on top in the Big East from day one. Everyone in the Big East wants to beat Syracuse. They've been here longer, and they've been on top the longest.

Next to the painful subject of that game at Fitzgerald. That was the last game I attended at Fitzgerald. Pat had gotten tickets invited me to come for the game. We went from the ecstasy of looking like Pitt was blowing them off the court to the agony of watching Pitt blow that game. That was the game that guaranteed that Ralph Willard wasn't coming back. He never recovered from that game. Weeks later, after a Pitt loss, he would somehow bring that game up in the context of the team still working it through.

So, when I read this column on how Pitt is the big rivalry game with UConn, this passage didn't ring true.

The rivalry was conceived before Pitt became a contender. The date was Dec. 12, 1998, and UConn’s Khalid El-Amin was being pelted with plastic bottles as he danced on the scorer’s table. El-Amin had just drained a buzzer-beating runner in the lane to give the Huskies a 70-69 victory at Fitzgerald, its first signature win during the national championship campaign.

Now of all the things that rained down on El-Amin -- most of them were boos and insults (regrettably, some were of a racial nature -- no excuse for that). Plastic bottles were not pelting him. That's revisionist crap. Some bottles were thrown on the court, but if they were thrown at him, they were poorly aimed.

This article focuses on Pitt's homecourt advantage, and quotes from Ben Howland.

It's going to be a tough, physical game. That is really the only thing everyone can be sure of.

Sports Illustrated lists it as the marquee matchup and in its breakdown of the game, picks UConn. The pick to UConn seems to be decided on a nod to Calhoun's history and coaching. He clearly has the advantage in track record, and so you have to give him the benefit of the doubt with coaching right now.

I can't pick this game, because I can't separate my heart from my head on this one.

Media Round-Up -- Just Pitt 

Going to split this up, because I don't know how long Sesame Street can keep my daughter distracted. For those UConn fans that seem to be showing up this week, welcome. During football season, with a week to build up to a game, I usually try to collect some of the stories in the media from both sides. Since there is extra time for both teams, I'm using the format for this game. (Go to the October or November archives for plenty of examples if you are so inclined.) I'll get to the Huskie side later.

Pitt Athletic Department has it's press release for the game, along with the game notes (PDF). Here are Pitt's prepackaged storylines for the game:

Today's game features the two winningest teams in the Big East over the last three years and is a rematch of the last two Big East Championship games.

Pittsburgh is 17-0 at home, owns a 39 home game win streak and is undefeated at the Petersen Events Center (33-0).

Pittsburgh enters the contest with a nation-leading 22 wins. The program reached the 20-win plateau for a school record third consecutive season.

Pittsburgh's defense leads the way as it has held 16 of 24 opponents under 60 points and 21 of 24 under 70 points.

National Coach of the Year candidate Jamie Dixon is the first rookie head coach since Bill Hodges (1978-79) to begin a season with 18 consecutive wins. The national record is 33 consecutive wins by Hodges' Larry Bird-led Sycamore team.

You do have to wonder about how the beat reporters cover the team. Do they get suggested stories from the school? Do they share their information? I don't know. If only we had a guy with real experience in newspapers to share some inside information. A guy who even teaches at a j-school. Know anyone, John? The two papers each have two articles on the same topics, only slightly different.

Topic 1: Freshman Antonio Graves dealing with missing a game tying/winning shot again. The Trib is brief on the subject as the lead in the notebook. The P-G does a full article on Graves coping with it, and expressing his confidence that he will make the shot at some point.

Topic 2: Freshman Chris Taft, as one of the best centers in the country. This time the P-G has it as the short lead in it's notebook column. The Trib runs it as a full story. Both stories quote Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who said,

"I think he's in the top echelon of centers, not just in the (Big East), but in the country," Boeheim said. "He's one of the top four or five guys in the country at that position."

So, the Trib story speculates a little more as to whether he could/should/would turn pro. An unnamed NBA scout said he would be at best a late first round pick -- but more likely after all the Euro-players are included, he would end up somewhere in the second round. The scout agreed with Boeheim's assesment, but added that it was another down year for centers in college basketball. Taft is still too raw, and needs more strength. Someone should put him in touch with Mark Blount. My guess, Pitt will get to keep him for one more year -- barring an academic breakdown. There are no comparisons to Okafor of UConn in the articles -- does that seem strange to anyone else?

There is a column talking about the meaning of this game in terms of seeding potentials for the NCAA Tourney. It's an empty piece. Just skip it, unless you want to read something that will have no meaning in another week. Seeding discussions are fun in the bar, but any discussion now, assumes that the top dozen teams won't lose again until the conference tournaments.

I missed this article earlier in the week. A rare freebie on Pitt Insiders about the Seton Hall game being a Pitt "worst case scenario." A little overwrought and few mangled phrases (how can Page's bad game be "insulting?"), but not necessarily wrong.

Finally, Coach Jamie Dixon was on ESPN2's barely tolerable "Cold Pizza" this morning. Rather typical coachspeak regarding the game. Lots of props given -- by name -- to his assistants and the seniors.

Just One More Thing on Pitt v. Nike 

One of our readers (yes, Lee, we really do have readers) Tony in the (Harris)burg sent me an e-mail with some comments. He also provided a link with some information about what Nike paid some of the top football programs a couple years ago.

FSU: $6 million, 5 years.

Michigan: $5.7 million, six years.

North Carolina: $4.69 million, four years.

Alabama: $2.9 million, five years.

Penn State: $2.6 million, four years.

Illinois: $2.5 million, seven years.

Idle thought: wonder whether Addidas, Pitt's b-ball outfitter, whispered some numbers in AD Long's ear.

The Ice Pavilion Melee 

It's nice to see that the more things change in the Penn State football program, the more they stay the same. Like I always tell my wife, you don't have to trick the Nittany Lions into making asses of themselves. You don't even have to want the Nittany Lions to make asses of themselves. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch the Nittany Lions make asses of themselves. It will inevitably happen.

Perhaps this is just a big conspiracy to get Michael Robinson out of Morelli's way on the depth charts?

You suck, State.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Maybe I'll Go to a Bar 

Crap, crap, crap. I expected this, but still, crap.

ABC/ESPN finally put out the map for what games will be shown where on Sunday (PDF). Naturally, the Cleveland market will have Wake Forest-Cinci (the wife will be happy).

Light Round-Up, Preparing for UConn-Pitt 

It's already Thursday, but the stories are still more internal, than about the game itself. The misleadingly titled Trib story, "Pitt hopes to avenge early loss to Huskies" is more about the media preparations, and dealing with having the game called by Brent Musburger and Dick Vitale -- ugh. The P-G has a good puff piece on Tim Beltz the basketball strength and conditioning coach, and the impressive job done with Pitt b-ball players.

Up in Storrs, Connecticut, the Huskies head coach has given his team the silent treatment for a couple days. UConn sees itself as having had a target on its back all year, with its pre-season #1 ranking. Everyone gets up to play them. It's part truth, part pity poor us sort of thing.

Tomorrow should start to build the talk of "rivalry" between the two teams and more game analysis.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Follow the Money 

Regarding Lee's question over Pitt's dispute with Nike.

Either Lee didn't read the last paragraph of the article, or he didn't catch the significance.

The apparel rights to the football team are arguably more valuable than when the original contract was proposed thanks to its wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy award, and the team's record of 17-9 over the past two seasons.

Rough translation: Pitt didn't think it was getting a big enough cut of the sales of the #1 jersey which became a big seller.

The lawsuit is a device to force a renegotiation. Of course with Fitzgerald gone, and things not looking good in the near term, well...

Information, Please 

Since the game is on Sunday, there is plenty of time to look around the net for news, notes and info on UConn. Not that there is much discussion of the game yet. Like in Pittsburgh, there is still the licking of wounds from a bad loss -- like Denham Brown's slump.

Pittsburgh awaits Sunday, and first place in the Big East will be at stake. It will be a game that requires absolute faith and resolute determination from UConn.

"When they start hitting us and knocking us down, what are we going to do?" coach Jim Calhoun said Monday. "I'll cancel the game if they like. Obviously we're not going to cancel the game. We think we can beat Pittsburgh. I saw this team gut it out with Pittsburgh and out-physical Pittsburgh."

Brown was one of the players who helped do that Jan. 19, when the Huskies won 68-65, but in recent weeks he has not been that player.

So here's where the information can be found on UConn.

UConn's Athletic Site, Men's B-ball

Hartford Courant, UConn section

HuskyBlog -- Rather dry. Not opinion, just news and links.

Courtside Seats -- More fun. Written by a UConn student who broadcasts the games for the campus radio.

The Boneyard -- Rivals operated site for UConn. Always good to see what's on the message boards of the other side. You can access it via Pitt's. Strangely enough, they lack an Insider site.

I'm just hoping they show the game in Cleveland, but I fear I'll be stuck with Cinci. instead.

Where Are They Now? 

Pitt has until Sunday before they play again. This means there needs to be some filler articles. The Trib goes back to the 1995 Pitt recruiting class. Mark Blount lives. Blount came out after his sophomore season in '97. He was drafted #55 by the Sonics but was cut in training camp. He has bounced around in the NBA benches and USBL. He is now starting at center for the Celtics.

Interesting to look at the box at the bottom of the article to see what the other members of that recruiting class are doing today.

Over at the P-G, it's a long article about former coach Ben Howland's first year at UCLA. I still can't forgive him for the way he bolted last year. Not that he bolted, but how he did it.

The day after Pitt lost to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament, Howland had a friend contact Guerrero [UCLA's Athletic Director].

"I knew right away what I wanted to do, which was to pursue this opportunity," the coach said.

That isn't merely "listening," that is blatant pursuit. The body wasn't even cold yet. And going back, this Sunday to talk to his former players hardly makes it right. Goddammit, at least be nice enough to lie and say that you listened to the offer, talked to your family and decided that it was the best decision for everyone. Don't stick it to your former team by saying, in effect, "I couldn't wait to lose in the NCAA tourney so I could jump to a better job."

That said, I do not get this kind of pettiness and erasing

Consider a giant framed picture in the Pitt basketball office, showing players, coaches and team personnel celebrating last year's Big East tournament championship in New York. The picture was edited to cut Howland, the architect, out of the photo.

That omission is reflective of some of the bitter feelings that still exist at Pitt, where some university officials were angered over Howland's hasty and secretive departure to UCLA.

That's crap. Though, according to the article, Pitt had spent a number of years pretending Paul Evans didn't really exist -- and Pitt fired him.

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