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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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Chatter 

Not living in Pittsburgh, I don't know what the sports talk had to say about Pitt's loss to OSU. I had some ideas -- poor shooting, Krauser didn't get the ball inside -- but not enough interest. Well, one of the radio yakkers has a couple columns a week in the P-G. Today, a week later, he unloads.

Guards who can't shoot did the damage in the Sweet 16.
...
But then selfishness entered the picture in the persons of Julius Page and Carl Krauser.

Let me boil down his blaming for you. Page was selfish for deciding he was the "go-to guy" and taking 11 shots in the game, making only 2. Krauser was selfish, didn't pass to his teammates enough, and was only out to make himself look good. After blaming Page, and especially, Krauser, he sort of concedes a key point.

It's true that opposing defenses started collapsing on Pitt after Syracuse provided the model in the aforementioned victory at the Petersen Events Center. Apologists for Page and Krauser ask, "Well, what other options were there?"

He does his best to minimize it, but how can you get the ball inside when the inside guys are contending with 3-4 guys around them to stop the inside pass?

Madden offers his strawman suggestions:

Presented now, in order of perceived preference, Pitt's offensive options:

1.) Run their half-court offense from the outside in, letting Krauser make all the decisions.

2.) Run their half-court offense from the inside out occasionally, getting the ball down low early in the shot clock and letting guys like Brown and Chevon Troutman make the occasional decision.

3.) Run. Get the ball off the boards and fastbreak. Pitt ran liberally in landmark routs at Syracuse and Providence this season.

4.) Shoot from the outside. This obviously was Pitt's worst option. Look at the shooting percentages of those who shoot from the outside. Page shot 37 percent on the year, Krauser 40 percent.

The first option didn't work. So Pitt inexplicably went straight to its worst option.

So, basically, #1 and #4 are already off the board of his options. Well, let's take #3 off as well, because, with the exception of the Providence game (which Madden cites as a prime example for this), that method nearly got them run out of the games with Notre Dame and UConn in January -- closer to the competition faced in the NCAA (and judging by the way Providence bowed out to Pacific, that game would not be much of a benchmark).

That leaves #2. Guess what? Pitt was trying that, especially in the first half. Troutman, Brown and Taft, though, recognized the defense and kicked it out. The problem was that Page and Krauser weren't hitting the jumpers. If the defense collapses inside, whether you start the ball there or pass it inside, you have to make the open jumpers. Like it or not they didn't make the shots, but I can't fault the plan. Madden in decrying Page and Krauser's selfishness ignores the key splits of the halves. In the first half, Page and Krauser took a combined 18 shots, making only 6. Ugly, but at the half, Pitt was actually ahead. The second half, they only took 10 shots.

One of the truisms in the NCAA Tournament is the importance of guard play. There were plenty of examples of that this year. How do you think St. Joe's had the season it had. How it defeated Wake Forest and almost took out OSU? What about Xavier? How did Georgia Tech reached the Final Four? The Guards made shots. Pitt's guards didn't make the shots. I don't like it either, but it wasn't ego or selfishness.

The really sad thing for Madden, is that he waited until today to put this stuff to print. He was pre-emptively struck down by Joe Starkey at the Trib by 3 days.

Disregard the talk-show babble about Pitt's Carl Krauser playing an egotistical game Thursday against Oklahoma State.

Any good point guard appraises the situation and acts accordingly. Krauser obviously realized long ago that his teammates couldn't shoot straight. That's why he was Pitt's leading scorer.

Those who follow college basketball -- and one of the unfortunate aspects of Pitt's rise to prominence is that a lot of people around here only pretend to follow it -- know that Krauser has established himself as one of the nation's premier point guards.

[Emphasis added.]

Wonder who he's referring to? Starkey's column is quite good and has some interesting notes about the game.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Perspective 

The season is over. Bitterness still lingers. Thursday night I didn't want to hear it. Even now, part of me winces to admit this. We have been witness to one of the best runs of Pitt basketball ever. I don't want it to peak here. I don't want it to stop. I don't even think it is over. I don't deny the disappointment. I just think there has to be a moment to acknowledge what has transpired.

Pitt has played in the Big East Tournament Championship 4 straight years. Only Syracuse has done that. Three straight years in the Sweet 16. Pitt has gone from being lumped with Rutgers and Miami to UConn and Syracuse in the Big East. From being lucky to being listed as among the best 100 teams in preseason rankings to among the top 25.

This years starters have accomplished so much that already has them placed among Pitt's records. I looked at Pitt's records (PDF). Looked at the individual summaries through last year (PDF) and what the starters accomplished this year, to determine some things.

Julius Page
The all-time Pitt leader in Games Started @ 128, passing Sean Miller with 124.
The all-time Pitt leader in Minutes played @ 4398 to pass Brandin Knight with 4307.

He is ranked amongst Pitt players:

#2 in total games played @ 136.
#2 in minutes played in a season, 2003-04, @ 1281.
#4 in minutes played in a season, 2002-03, @ 1201.
#7 in minutes/game for a career with 32.3.
#12 in total scoring with 1512 points.
#11 in Field Goals Made (FGM) for career with 544.
#10 in Field Goals Attempted (FGA) for career with 1250.
#3 3-Point shots made in career with 210.
#2 3-Point shots attempted in career with 624.
#7 for 3-point Attempts in a season (2001-02) with 182.
#9 for 3-point Attempts in a season (2003-04) with 170.
#12 [tied with Sean Miller and Brandin Knight] for 3-point shots made in a season (2001-02) with 57.
#15 [appears tied with several] for 3-point shots made in a season (2003-04) with 56.
#9 3-point shot Percentage for career with .337.
#17 Assists for career with 244.
#18 Blocks for career with 44.

Jaron Brown
The all-time Pitt leader in games played @ 137.

He is ranked amongst Pitt players:

#3 in minutes played in a season 2003-04 @ 1258.
#6 in minutes played in a career @ 3777.
#8 in games started in a career @ 109.
#6 in career steals @ 192 (and had 6 steals in a game 3 times, tied with several for #2 in game record).
#14 in career points @ 1258.
#14 in career assists @ 295.
#15 in career blocks @ 59.

Carl Krauser
Ranks:

#16 in career assists (after only 2 seasons) @ 238.
#6 in minutes played in a season 2003-04 @ 1155.

Chevon Troutman
Ranks:

#1 Field Goal % for career (minimum 400 attempts) @ .656 (335-511).
#16 Blocks for career @ 61.

Chris Taft
As a freshman already ranks:

#9 in Blocks for a season @ 60.
#17 Blocks for career @ 60.

Amongst Pitt Freshman Records, he ranks:

#1 FGM @ 162.
#2 Points @ 392 (Charles Smith, 1984-85, 435).
#2 FG % @ .559 (Rod Brookin, 1986-87, .564).
#2 FT Attempts @ 125 (Charles Smith, 175).
#2 Rebounds @ 270 (Sam Clancy, 1974-75, 327).
#3 Blocks @ 60.
#4 Rebounds/Game @ 7.5.
#4 Scoring Average @ 10.9.
#5 FGA @ 290.
#6 Minutes Played @ 923.

And if you believe the beat reporters, things can still get better -- even as soon as next season. I'm going to do a Big East look to 2004-05 in the next couple weeks.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Something Familiar 

Unavoidable delays. I was going to post sometime last night, but two things stopped me. 1) I was tired and bummed, so I didn't have the energy; and 2) something about the game nagged at me. Something that seemed awfully familiar. The good news, I figured it out. The bad news, it woke me up at 4 am and made it difficult to get back to sleep. The day pretty much collapsed from there. So, I was going to write up my game notes, but it doesn't seem worth it now. Game notes are more valuable when there are more games to be played, and there is something to take from them into the next game. There is no next game. I'm just going to boil them down to some key bullet points. For accuracy, I'm using the box score and play-by-play along with the Shot Chart

The refs were whistle happy in the first half, with 20 fouls called. Some questionable calls, but I wouldn't say bad calls. Unfortunately for Pitt, most of the fouls called on them were when OSU players were in the act of shooting. OSU got half of its points in the first half on free throws (13-14 on FT). Considering they held OSU to only 6-20 (30%) shooting in the first half, they should have let the player shoot. In the second half, the refs called only 14 fouls (with 4 fouls called with about 2 minutes left as Pitt was trying to foul).

Defensively, Pitt was amazing in the first half. OSU was held without a field goal for over 9 minutes during a stretch of the half. The fact that they did this without Brown for more than half of the half -- foul troubles -- made it more impressive. Even the first 12 minutes of the second half, Pitt was still doing a decent defensive job. OSU was 7-15 from the field in the second half at that point, which was still below their 51.4% average.

Pitt took 17 3-point shots, and made only 3. For the game, Pitt had 58 field goal attempts, which means nearly 30% of Pitt's shots were 3-pointers. Take out the 3-point shots and Pitt FG% jumps from 36.2% (21-58) to 43.9% (18-41). By comparison, Oklahoma St. only attempted 8 3-pointers for the game, and made half. You have to wonder just how many better shots could have been taken. The 3 extra points it generated, doesn't seem worth it.

Page took and missed the first shot. As always, that set the tone for his shooting night. He went 2-11 in the game. The Shot Chart does not paint a pretty picture. Page only attempted 2 drives/lay-ups to the basket, and 9 jumpers. He was getting open looks, but they kept hitting the rim.

Krauser was not much better. He was 6-17 overall, but 0-6 from beyond the 3-point line. 4 of his 6 baskets came on drives and lay-ups. On jump shots he was only 2-12.

The perimeter shooting was beyond not there, it was practically non-existent for Pitt. This meant that OSU could drop more guys into the paint to prevent passing inside, defend Troutman and Taft, and inhibit drives to the basket from Krauser, Page or Brown. OSU was able to do this the entire game. Pitt's shooting percentage bears this out.

Pitt won the rebounding battle 33-30, but that is deceptive. The splits for each half shows Pitt was outrebounded in the second half 15-13, and on the defensive rebounds, 15-9. OSU had no offensive rebounds in the second half -- which isn't too surprising since they shot 64% in the second half to limit the number of opportunities. For the game, Pitt was outrebounded on defensive rebounds 24-17. Troutman had 8 rebounds (4-4), but Taft only had 4 (3 were offensive, and all came in the 1st half)

7:45 left in the game. Pitt had just gone on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 42, and OSU called a 30 second time out. Over the next 6 minutes, OSU goes on a 17-5 run to go up 59-47, ultimately winning 63-51. In that period OSU went 8-9 from the floor. In that same period, Pitt committed 3 turnovers and shot 2-6. This is what was familiar, and what I finally recalled was similar -- Pitt's collapse against UConn in the Big East Championship. UConn went on a 21-7 run in the last 8:25. At roughly the same point in the game, OSU takes over and runs away with the game. They both happened in much the same way, with the other team suddenly hitting everything.

This makes me wonder. Did Pitt just run out of gas? Pitt has been a wonderfully conditioned team, but they played 36 games this season.

Look at their minutes for the season. Four of the starters played over 1000 minutes. Page and Brown both played in all 36 games. Page averaged 35.6 minutes/game (1281 minutes) and Brown was at 34.6 minutes/game (1237). Krauser missed 4 games because of injury, but in 32 games averaged 36.1 minutes/game (1155). Troutman missed one game, and averaged 29.2 minutes/game (1022). Taft -- the youngest player -- who was in all 36 games, but didn't start until after 12 games into the season, averaged "only" 25.6 minutes/game (923).

The field goal percentage for the year was 47.1%, and average points per game was 67.9. Starting at the end of February, game #28, the loss to Syracuse -- Pitt had only 2 out of those 9 games where they shot at or above the season average and scored above it. In 5 of the last 9, Pitt shot below 40%. Sure, part of it has been better competition at the end of the season, but the drop off is quite dramatic. I just have to wonder if it all caught up with the players. I'm not using it as an excuse, I'm just trying to understand how this team had fallen so far in shooting.

I don't know what else to say at this point.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Oh, F**K! 

Pitt's out, and there goes my second bracket (my first had Kentucky beating Stanford, the second with Pitt beating Duke in the final).

Pitt seemed to be in good shape with about 10 minutes left, then they fell apart. Actually, OK ST took them apart - first with the inside game and a lot of lay ups, and lastly with some huge three pointers.

The Panther's shooting was abismal - again. The true testiment to Pitt's great defense is the fact that the offense has been so bad all year. In the NCAA tournament, it got even worse. I have no stats or citations, just my own observations.

The question is, how does Pitt recover next year? Page, Brown and Morris are gone, and we will miss Page and Brown (Toree Morris sucks ass, so good riddance). Brown is especially good, and there is no comparable player to replace him.

I'm disappointed, not just because of my brackets, but because Pitt should have gone further in the tournament in each of the past three seasons. Now, the new and improved Big East awaits. At least Krauser is coming back!

Counting Down 

Now there is a national buzz.

Andy Katz at ESPN seems to be salivating over the idea of a physical, brutal game. The Philly Inquirer is merely perfunctory in noting the similar physicality.

The match-up between the two point guards is already looking to be a battle. Hopefully, Krauser will keep his ego and game in check.

Sweet 16 Stories for Pitt
Pitt is 0-2 in the last 2 years in the Sweet 16. They are not ready to go 0-3.

This could be the most important game in the Pitt basketball program's history-- at least in the modern era. (Considering how the football team blew it's chance at such a gold ring this past year, that just fills me with dread.)

Both note that unlike the previous Sweet 16, this time Pitt is the underdog. The spread may not be much, but there are far more people who think OSU will win than Pitt will.

Coaching Stories
Greg Doyel at CBS SPortsline does a comparison on Dixon and Sutton -- how the road to becoming a head coach has changed over the years, and how that effects the style of coaching. Worth reading.

This piece comparing the two coaches is more superficial.

And of course a piece on Coach Sutton. Since the story is from Boston, and they apparently are still not sick of the phrase, the title includes 'Cowboy Up' in it. Stop it.

Pieces on Pitt players
The NY Post gives its hometown love to the Panthers -- specifically Krauser, Taft and McCarroll.

Long P-G feature on Krauser. My big worry, after the love in the NY papers for him earlier in the week, will have him come out trying to be the one-man team early and get Pitt in a deep hole. Krauser was also given honorable mention on the AP All-American team.

Pieces on OSU players.
John Lucas III stories can be found here, here, here and here.

Chicago has its hometown player and angle in Tony Allen.

Predictions and Evaluations
Pros and cons for all teams being able to win it all.

PITTSBURGH PANTHERS

Why they can win: The old saying is that defense wins championships, and the tough, physical Panthers hold opponents to 56.2 points a game. With Carl Krauser, Jaron Brown and Julius Page outside and Chevon Troutman and talented freshman center Chris Taft inside, Pitt has a balanced lineup that can match up well with most teams.

Why they can't: Points also win championships, and Pitt has failed to reach 60 points in either tournament victory.

OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Why they can win: They're a lot older than most of the other teams in this tournament, for one thing, with a lineup dotted with players who are 21, 22 and 24. They have a terrific point guard in Baylor transfer John Lucas, and they play good defense and score points.

Why they can't: The Cowboys have matchup problems because of their lack of size. Ivan McFarlin, at 6-8, is the tallest starter.

The Dallas paper goes with OSU because of their balance. The accompanied breakdown (PDF) is partially useful, but mostly inaccurate in stats. Check out the points per game numbers for the OSU players (hint, they list 3 players as averaging more than 30 PPG and 2 more with 20+).

In Atlanta, the paper won't say it, but hints at favoring OSU.

This could be the most physical game of the tournament. Pitt plays ferocious defense but, as its late collapse in the Big East final against UConn showed, can struggle to score. With transfer John Lucas at the point, Oklahoma State won the Big 12 regular-season title and then the conference tournament --- its first Big 12 tourney title since 1995, when it won the East Regional and went to the Final Four.

From The Oklahoman, surprise, surprise, a columnist picks OSU. It's worth reading, just to see how the OSU fans and people who have watched the team all year see them. Essentially -- athletic, great balance and smart. Maybe they are, but it seems OSU hasn't faced a team that has been able to dictate the pace of a game (even when Pitt loses) like Pitt.

Toughness of the two teams is this story. Comparing the stories both teams have up and down from the coaches to the players from the mean streets of Chicago to Brooklyn. Etcetera.

Actual Information
Dixon hasn't revealed who he will assign to guard individual OSU players. He also indicated that they won't be on the same guy the entire time. Not a big surprise. Dixon has had no problem shifting defensive assignments during the game. One of Dixon's strengths has been showing flexibility during the game on how to handle the defense on the court.

Rebounding for OSU is a huge factor. They are 23-1 this year when they outrebound a team. OSU players have mentioned Texas as being their most physical games. They won all three games against Texas and outrebounded them. Pitt will have to show the same aggressiveness on the glass that they showed against Wisconsin.

A little capsule piece on key players for both sides and why.

Notebooks
OSU Notebook column. Going all out to provide all the Texas and Oklahoma links the Pitt program has.

The P-G notebook column is not that interesting. More just tidbits of factoids and quotes.

The Trib notebook notes that both Troutman and Brown have minor ankle injuries that have limited their practice this week. I don't really think these will be much of a factor. Former Pitt coach Ben Howland is rooting for Pitt and thinks they'll win.

My thoughts
I don't know. I think my wife is thinking of taking our daughter and going to a hotel tonight. I wouldn't say that is an outrageous idea. It may just be the coffee, but I am already amped for this.

Pitt keys.

1. Defense first.

2. Get the ball inside early, and get some shots to drop right away. Against Wisconsin and UCF, they got good looks, but everything rolled around the rim or bounced off. You could see frustration on their faces after the first 5-10 minutes.

3. Don't look to run with OSU. Pitt has fallen behind early in games against ND and UConn when they let the emotion and importance of the game let their adrenaline take over. They started running down court looking for the quick score rather than set up the shot. Pitt has dictated the pace against any team that tries to speed things up.

4. Out rebound OSU. Fight like they did against Wisconsin for every ball. Not like they were against UCF, when they stood around more. Fighting for rebounds is the best way for Pitt to assert their physical presence. They won't intimidate OSU by just bumping them inside or contesting shots and such. It comes from not being moved when you have position and being able to move them.

5. Krauser has to stay in check. (See #3) Krauser dictates the pace for Pitt as the point guard. He has to keep his emotions and drive in some check. We know he wants this game, and has a tendency to try to do it all. Especially if Page is not shooting. He forgets to get it inside.

6. Page, Troutman and Taft. Two of these three have to score at least 12 points each, or all three need to combine for at least 32. That means they are shooting well and making free throws.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Previews 

A few of the national websites give some breakdowns of the game.

At ESPN.com is this. Just the bare bones and a statistical comparison for the season.

There are a couple picks from SI.com. Mike Jarvis (the former head coach of St. John's) picks the Cowboys. I could respect his pick, except that his logic is flawed.

Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have enough athletes to get Krauser out of his game and force the pace Sutton wants.

BUZZZZZZ! Wrong answer. The one thing no team has been able to do with Pitt this year is dictate pace. Not even in Pitt's 4 losses. UConn came the closest in the first game they played, and even they were forced to go at Pitt's pace after 10 minutes. Syracuse and Seton Hall beat Pitt by slowing the game down more than Pitt wanted. No one has been able to sustain a fast pace against Pitt. And while OSU may win, it won't be because they dictated pace.

Seth Davis goes with OSU, and in his capsule makes the more compelling argument in favor of OSU. Essentially he compares the guards of OSU with the other OSU that went to the Final Four in 1999.

The CBS Sportsline breakdown gives a little more explanation for who has the edge and where. They see the game as very even, but ultimately give a slight edge to Pitt based on some intangibles. In a general breakdown of the Sweet 16, they put it this way:

Cowboys win if ...: They make Pittsburgh beat them from the perimeter. Julius Page, Carl Krauser and Jaron Brown are going to take their shots, and usually they are going to miss. Oklahoma State can't allow Pittsburgh post players Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman too many touches, because they will wreak havoc inside.

Panthers win if ...: They get the Cowboys' Ivan McFarlin in foul trouble and keep John Lucas III in check offensively. Those are common threads running through the Cowboys' two worst performances of the season, losses to BYU and Texas Tech.

7:27 pm Eastern. A little more than 24 hours. Wheee.

Media Notes 

Nothing earth-shattering in the coverage. Actually, rather muted. The general feeling is that OSU is favored, because their offense has been functioning. I can't predict this, I can only hope and root. In an article about how Brandin Knight almost got OSU point guard, John Lucas III to come to Pitt, Knight offers a small analysis

"First of all, this was a game I was hoping that was going to be played in the Final Four, not the Sweet 16," said Knight. "I think the teams are real similar. But right now, they're putting the ball in the hole more than we are. Some of our guys are going to have to pick it up. Julius has been more aggressive, and when his shots are falling, that's a good thing. He can't go into a shell, because they have guys who are going to score.

"I really think this game could come down to the big guys, I think if we match up inside with Chevy (Troutman) and Chris Taft, we'll win the game."

There's another piece in the Trib about Lucas. Lucas was the Big 12 player of the year and was named to the 3rd team AP All-American team. I just can't believe he's 5'11" but only 152 pounds. I have to think that with Page and/or Brown on him, he is going to get banged about a whole lot, but maybe he can take it more than I think.

The P-G also focuses on OSU, but on their coach. Eddie Sutton's quest for his first championship. How he built up programs, his battles with the bottle and corruption at Kentucky.

Of course, OSU and Sutton have a geographic history in this bracket to go with success in big games this year.

"When we went to the Final Four in 1995, we had to earn our way," associate head coach Sean Sutton said. "We were a 4 (seed) and had to beat No. 1 (seed) Wake and then two days later turn around and beat No. 2 UMass."

Oddly enough, that trip to the Final Four also went through East Rutherford. OSU must win twice against highly regarded opponents to duplicate that feat. But Sutton actually sees some benefits to playing a top-25 power.

"This team really gets excited to play other really good teams," Sutton said. "They have played really well in big games this year. Our biggest games every year are the two against Oklahoma, the two against Texas and the game with Kansas."

OSU went 6-0 against those three teams.

The Trib focuses on Dixon's calm demeanor as keeping Pitt on an even keel. Not to be too cynical, but that only sounds good when they win. If Pitt loses, there will be more talk about how he needed to show more emotional. Get his players fired up. And the such.

The Pitt players have stopped talking about getting to the Final Four for now. They are focusing on the "one game at a time" aspect -- getting to the Elite Eight -- getting further than ever before.

"We've been to the Sweet 16 twice," senior swingman Jaron Brown said. "We want to go farther this year. We know we've got four games left to the championship game, but we're just taking it one at a time."
...
"The last two years, we came up short in this game," Page said. "I don't think we're ready for our run to be over. When you lose, you go home and we're not ready to go home yet. As long as we keep winning, we're going to keep playing basketball. I love to play basketball, so I'm going to do whatever I can in my power for us to win the game."

Pitt's quick turnaround time was the subject of a notebook piece. They got back from Milwaukee on Sunday and left for Jersey last night. Students were able to get tickets for the game, and some even slept outside the Pete for them.

The NY Times is going to have the people in Stillwater pissed at them at this rate. Another story on Krauser-- focusing on his family -- the hometown boy.

A couple more pieces on OSU players. One on Joey and Stevie Graham, fraternal twins on the OSU team. The other, and more interesting article (especially for Pitt fans) is on OSU's top defender Tony Allen. Allen is a 6'4", 213 senior guard. Allen will likely be covering Krauser -- which means he has about 2 inches and 13 pounds on Krauser.

This suggests just how vital it may be for Troutman and Taft to get the ball, and for Page to actually take it to the basket. OSU's defense is based more on the perimeter. While they are a strong, physical team, Pitt has size and weight advantage inside. They need to press that. This also means that Morris should get some time, just to push them around a little more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Media Scour 

A NY Daily News puff piece on Chris Taft. Quotes from Page, Morris and his high school coach.

In San Antonio, a surprise prediction for the Final Four from the East (Rutherford) Bracket.

Oklahoma State won the Big 12 championship largely because of its tenacity at both ends of the floor. But in Pittsburgh, which loves to win ugly, the Cowboys may have found an opponent that likes to play defense as much as they do.

In the other semifinal, the nation's best player in the regular season (Saint Joseph's guard Jameer Nelson) will face off with the NCAA tournament's best player thus far (Wake Forest guard Chris Paul).

This is the one region where all four top seeds advanced, so it's no coincidence that it's also the one where all four teams are capable of coming to San Antonio.

Projected regional final: Pitt over Saint Joseph's.

The Oklahoman looks at Pitt and learns they are the winningest program for the last three years. The paper also expects a defensive struggle with the "First team to score 60 points wins, if somebody gets that high."

From the OSU athletic site, here is their press release on the game and game notes (PDF). Not exactly much of a history between the two teams.

Pittsburgh owns a 3-2 mark against Oklahoma State all-time on the hardwood, including a 2-1 record on neutral courts. The two teams played the first game in the series on Feb. 8, 1950, with OSU taking a 43-34 victory in Stillwater. The next four games were all played within a three-year span. Pitt defeated the Cowboys, 93-75, on Nov.
26, 1988, in Pittsburgh. The teams played twice during the 1989-90 season, with the 18th-ranked Panthers taking a 102-90 win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 1, and again defeating the Cowboys, 92-81, on Dec. 27, in Atlanta, Ga. The last meeting between these two schools came on Nov. 27, 1991, when OSU defeated the Panthers, 74-63, in New York City in the Preseason NIT. OSU was ranked No. 11 at the time, while Pittsburgh was ranked 24th. It was the only time Coach Eddie Sutton has ever played Pittsburgh.

My palms are already sweating thinking about this game.

Which Way the Wind(bag) Blows 

Some of my friends dislike Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports columnist Bob Smizik because they perceive him to always be negative about Pitt. He isn't, but Smizik is a very inconsistent, flip-flopping, tired, lazy sportswriter. He has been mailing it in for some time.

It isn't like he even waits too long before ignoring his previous position. In the end of February, Smizik did a column about how irrelevant seeding was -- while arguing Pitt might be better off in the NCAA as a #2 seed. A few days later his column argued that Pitt shouldn't be concerned with the Big East Regular Season title. Just focus on the NCAA because

For a nationally elite team such as Pitt, the Big East regular season and tournament are relatively minor preludes to the NCAA tournament

I failed then and still fail to see how they were mutually exclusive. You get into the Tourney and get a good seeding position by winning. Winning the Big East Regular Season only helps the positioning in the Tourney (albeit not as much as we thought).

Two weeks ago, as the Big East Tournament (BET) was about to start. Smizik wrote about how Pitt shouldn't be trying to win the BET, again because the NCAA is more important. He basically suggested Pitt should tank early to get a few extra days of rest. It was something that probably sounded good in the abstract, but to apply it means you are telling players not to try. Not to care for these games and then turn it on later. It doesn't work that way.

They can't just throttle back, to prevent injury. Smizik seems to be casting about for something "controversial" to say without being negative (yet). Let's predict his storylines post NCAA if Pitt wins the BET or loses the BET.

Wins BET, Elite Eight or better -- These columns never existed. Clearly a successful season after all the turmoil for Pitt basketball and the Big East in the last year.

Wins BET loses in Sweet Sixteen -- Told you so. Maybe Pitt would have won if they had gotten a little more rest, for a game that took place in 2 weeks later.

Loses BET, Elite Eight or better -- Told you so. The BET was irrelevant. All that mattered was the NCAA, and perhaps not having to play as much in the BET helped.

Loses BET, loses in Sweet Sixteen -- Disappointing end to the season. Columns about seeding and how unimportant the BET was never happened.

Well, Pitt lost the BET Championship game, and last week Smizik said this about Pitt.

Can a seriously flawed team overcome its deficiencies and advance to the Final Four?

So, after losing by 3 to UConn in the BET Championship -- in something Smizik didn't want Pitt to try too hard -- Pitt went from elite to seriously flawed. Flawed. Perhaps. It's a fair argument in the parity of college basketball that every team has flaws, though. But "seriously flawed?"

Today, the Smizik column declares that Pitt just "knows how to win."

The NCAA tournament has provided the rest of the country an opportunity to learn something we already knew: The Pitt basketball team is special. Basketball fans and media members are discovering that these Panthers are an uncommon group. They're learning that Pitt is a throwback, a team that is fitting of all the cliches, a team where substance decisively triumphs over style.

Does anyone in the P-G sports department look at his columns from one week to the next? Smizik just seems to be trying to position himself so he can say "told you so" know matter what happens. Weak.

Thursday Coming Fast 

It almost seems too soon for the second round to seem so close. (Of course, not getting back to the computer since yesterday morning has an effect as well.) The Pitt-Oklahoma St. game is the match-up of the Sweet 16. The only one between two top-ten teams. OSU has been given the edge because they have been the better offensive team, while it's defense has been excellent all year long. In the Tourney, so far, OSU's offense has looked impressive, while Pitt's has barely registered a pulse. Being objective, it's hard to argue. The only contra argument is the opponents faced by OSU so far were not exactly defensive minded teams. Pitt, on the other hand, faced a very tough UCF team and the #4 defense in the country in Wisconsin. Pitt has been the #1 defensive team in the tournament (though near or at the bottom on the offense).

The similarity of teams and the way they play is a theme expected to beat into the ground. The fact that Pitt has started to win the close ones in the Tourney hopefully will be a plus in their favor against OSU. Who really knows.

A week ago, even while I was still pissed about the seeding, I did note the one good thing for Pitt in the East (Rutherford) Bracket.

This means that if it gets to the Sweet 16, the next two games will be in New Jersey. That's the closest regional to Pittsburgh and Pitt actually has large alumni bases in Philly, NY and NJ.

Someone else noticed.

Not only does Pitt expect to draw support from the New York-New Jersey types, but it is certain to see a greater number of its fans in East Rutherford than it did Milwaukee, where about 1,000 Panthers followers attended.
...
Those traveling to East Rutherford should have an easier time getting there than into Milwaukee, which offered very few direct flights. The airports in Newark and LaGaurdia accommodate a large number of direct flights from Pittsburgh daily and there is always the option of driving.

So, when you factor in better travel opportunities for Pitt fans, difficult travel for Cowboys fans, and a Big East Conference influence in the New York-New Jersey area, the Panthers should have an edge this go-round from a crowd standpoint, even though Oklahoma State reached its most recent Final Four (1995) through East Rutherford.

When even the NY Times decides to play up Pitt's NYC talent, you can expect the other dailies to do even more.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Media Recap -- National Scope 

There's plenty of Pittsburgh coverage, but I'm starting on the national level to keep perspective. Well, national can be relative. Especially when you go local like in the New York Times

On Carl Krauser's muscular left arm, the tattoo mural begins with an image of forearms crossed to form the letter X in the manner that Krauser celebrates successful jump shots. It is the last letter of Bronx, the borough Krauser calls home.

The article is all about how Pitt is Krauser's team, and he's a local NYC product. And Pittsburgh papers get accused of being ridiculous at pressing the local angle. To be fair, a sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times also saw the Krauser tattoo and control of the team. She did it more in the context of how Wisconsin's Devin Harris doesn't have the kind of edge or will Krauser does. I'm not sure that's totally fair or correct.

At the Chicago Tribune the game was an "instant classic." Wisconsin players learned just how physical Pitt is,

"It was a battle from the opening tip to the final buzzer," Badgers forward Zach Morley said. "There was never a play when they weren't going after the ball."

"People said going in, yeah, they're physical," said Dave Mader, the Badgers' 6-foot-11-inch, 265-pound center. "Those people weren't lying. They banged us good. They pushed and shoved us down low and we couldn't counter that."

That's the sort of thing Pitt will have to do against Oklahoma State on Thursday.

From the Chicago Sun-Times comes this rather interesting set of comparisons

A sea of red hasn't been this de-partied and dead since Charlton Heston went packing.

In front of a rabidly partisan University of Wisconsin throng at the Bradley Center, the Pittsburgh Panthers sustained poise, opportunism and brawn to the last millisecond Sunday, defeating the quasi-host Badgers 59-55 in a second-round game of the NCAA tournament.

The Panthers (31-5) deveined Big Ten player of the year Devin Harris, who failed to score in the game's final 11:58 after repeatedly shooting Wisconsin into leads during the opening 28 minutes.

Someone got a thesaurus for Christmas. Why all the harshing on Harris? Pitt has been clamping down scorers all season. He got 21, it's not all on him.

By the way, the "sea of red," Moses and being "parted" theme is over done. Knock it off. Every paper looks to play up some local hook.

While far from a victory of biblical proportions, Pittsburgh proved its seeding and superiority by parting a red sea of Wisconsin fans.
...
"We recruit players who are winners and who are mentally tough," said Pitt first-year coach Jamie Dixon, a guard on two Southwest Conference champions at TCU. "We didn't waste time or energy on [where we were playing]. Our emphasis was on us."


In Wisconsin
For the short end of the stick, look first to Green Bay. Can you believe a columnist there would use NFL references?

The University of Pittsburgh was strong, tough and physical.

And that was the mascot.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon downplayed any edge his team might’ve enjoyed in the paint, but I suspect he was being kind. The last time I saw a Pittsburgh team this bullish in the trenches it was the Steelers in the mid-1970s.

The Badgers weren’t overwhelmed in a 59-55 loss to the Panthers in Sunday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament, but they were routinely overpowered.

His basic message was that Wisconsin needs to get bigger and stronger.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had lots of stories. They have to wonder if Devin Harris will go pro. The notebook column also observed that Pitt shot more free throws than Wisconsin, which is important because Wisconsin was 22-0 when it shot as many or more FT than the other side. Who knew?

Another article focused on the offensive rebounding and second chance points for Pitt being the key.

The game story sees it as almost, what if, and damn. Their columnist saw it as simply running into a team that does everything Wisconsin does, just better.

They'll have six months there to figure out what happened to them, but it shouldn't take that long, because it's exactly what they've been doing to everyone else. A 25-7 season built on defense, rebounding and rough handling ended because they ran into someone bigger, tougher and ruder than they were.

"We felt like we could bang. We felt like we could hang and do the things we normally tried to do," said Bo Ryan, poet and coach. "They just were much more physical than us."

Who saw that coming? On a day when the Bradley Center was decked in red, Pittsburgh's collars were bluer than Wisconsin's. It was steel mills over dairy farms, mind over mania, balance over star power.

We, the fans, get to bask in this for one more day. The Pitt players and coaches have to start work on getting set for Oklahoma St.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Reviewing Wisconsin versus Pitt 

As ugly as advertised. There was something oddly hypnotic in seeing balls rim out, bounce and roll all around the basket but not fall in the cylinder. I'm not sure if you can call this a game of runs or just where one side couldn't seem to buy a basket for long droughts.

It was a typical ugly start for Pitt. More than 5 minutes into the game and Pitt had a commanding 4-3 lead on 1-6 shooting -- misses by Krauser, Brown, Taft and Page (Troutman was fouled going up for a shot). Wisconsin was just as bad going 1-5.

Then the runs (or droughts started). Wisconsin went on a 6-0 run. The only good thing in that stretch was that Wisconsin was getting whistled for a lot of fouls. Pitt wasn't and that was because of the way each played. Pitt plays hard, but with the body pushing the other side. Wisconsin was trying to match, but with more grabbing and clawing at the ball. Much more obvious and easier to call. It was apparent early on, that the refs would let the teams bang, but not use elbows and hand checks.

Pitt then started hitting some of their shots and went on a 9-0 run over nearly 5 minutes -- the defense got turnovers and made Wisconsin force shots. Pitt was all over the offensive glass. Mark McCarroll was the offensive spark getting all 6 of his points for the game in this stretch.

Then it was Wisconsin's turn. They were helped by Taft having to go out after picking up his second foul with 7:30 left in the half. Wisconsin retook the lead 20-17 during this 9-4 run. Pitt answered with a 9-2 run with a minute left, to have a 26-21 lead. Pitt had the ball and called timeout.

Talk about backfiring. Pitt turned the ball over right after the time out, and the Badgers scored with half a minute left. Page, I guess trying to atone for the turnover, immediately launched a 3. It missed and gave Wisconsin plenty of time to get the ball back and nail a 3 of their own to end the half in a 26-26 tie.

The stats were ugly. Pitt shot 33.3 % and Wisconsin was only 34.8%. Pitt had more shots because of the dominance on offensive rebounds (8 to 2), but Wisconsin was 4-10 from 3-point to keep it close. Pitt was 1-6. Free throws were about even. You know what's sad? Page went 3-8 shooting, and that is a big positive for him. That's not completely fair. He was shooting a lot early. Grimly. Determined to make something fall. They all seemed to bounce off the front of the rim. Later in the half, he was starting to get them, especially when he drove a little bit.

The second half begins with another run. Pitt goes on a 9-2 run to start the first 3:30. Wisconsin responds with a potentially crushing 12-2 run over 5 minutes. They are helped because Brown picks up his third at the 15 minute mark and while he doesn't come out, he starts playing off.

Pitt then gets a little 4-0 run when Taft slams the ball twice to get a 1 point lead halfway through the second half. Then an ugly 2 minute stretch where nobody scores. Krauser picks up his 3rd foul and takes a seat. Wisconsin takes advantage with an 8-3 run and the lead 48-44 with under 5:30 in the game.

That changed in a hurry when Pitt scores 7 unanswered points in under a minute. Taft gets another dunk following an offensive board. Then Devin Harris turns the ball over on two straight trips leading to a Page dunk and Troutman gets a jumper under the glass and the foul.

Krauser commits his 4th foul, but doesn't come out. In this ugly couple minutes the game is tied 52 all on nothing but foul shots. Taft also picks up his 4th foul.

Krauser snaps the tie at the 2 minute mark with a drive to the basket and then a jumper. 54-52 Pitt.

Good defense, bad shots and nothing falling for either side until Jaron Brown snatches a big offensive rebound after a Krauser miss, and is fouled. It's a 1-and-1 foul. Brown makes them both. 56-52 Pitt.

Wisconsin is desperate on their own end. They hurry some shots that don't fall, but fight for the rebounds. Then it gets knocked out to Boo Wade who drops a 3 to make it a 1 point game with 22 seconds left.

Pitt inbounds to Krauser who is fouled with 20 seconds. He makes both shots and Pitt has a 58-55 lead.

This time, Pitt's defense is a wall. They can't get an open look, and the shot from Morely misses. Brown gets the board and is fouled with 3 seconds left. He hits 1-2. 59-55.

Wisconsin's deep inbound pass is defended perfectly by Pitt, and the game is over. Phew.

The game may have been ugly, but it was a big Pitt win. Pitt went 17-19 on free throws. That was a huge key, and it made up the difference on 2-10 3-point shooting, and an overall 35.6% shooting.

Pitt kept Wisconsin on the perimeter, making it hard for them to get points inside. Unfortunately for Pitt, Wisconsin had a great night shooting from outside, hitting 8-18 on 3s. In the second half they were 4-8. Their problem was from inside the arc, they were 5-17 in the second half. Take away their 3-point shooting and Wisconsin was 9 of 30 (30%) for the game inside. Pitt's inside game (offense and defense) and foul shooting carried them.

Page had 12 points on 5-15, but actually showed a willingness to drive to the basket. Not just look for the jump shot. A slight positive. Whether he can do that in 2 straight games remains to be seen. He seemed very determined to break out of his slump, but 33% shooting isn't really breaking out. Krauser also shot poorly but often. Krauser, however, drives to the basket far more than Page so Krauser got half of his 16 at the free throw line. Taft and Troutman combined for 7-15 shooting. Troutman also had 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. CBS named Krauser the player of the game, but it was Troutman who really did the job.

Thursday night, it's gonna be a brutal battle with Oklahoma State.

Round 2, Day 2 -- Recap 

Lots of upsets and some tight games.

Gutting It Out
Or maybe that was just my stomach after the game. I'll get further into this game in a later post. #3 Pitt survived against #6 Wisconsin by not having the last scoring drought. At times I wasn't sure if each team was just having runs or one side just couldn't get a basket. A big win for Pitt, who beat the #10 ranked team in the country in Milwaukee -- just 79 miles from Wisconsin's campus.

In the earlier 3/6 game, #3 Georgia Tech blew a big lead in the second half, then made a big defensive play to hold on against #6 Boston College. GT has let teams back into the game twice in the NCAA Tourney. I'd say it would come back to bite them soon, but looking at the bracket, I'm not sure when.

Big Upsets
All involved the SEC, as the heavy hitters flamed out and the nerdy one pulled it off.

The biggest was #1 Kentucky going down to #9 UAB. Kentucky found itself behind by double digits deep in the first half, and was down by 8 by halftime. They turned it on in the second half, but UAB withstood the comeback and started trading baskets in the final few minutes. UAB eked out the win in the final minute as Kentucky couldn't make the final shot of the game. Everyone thought Kentucky had such a clear shot to the Final Four the way their bracket was happening with the Gonzaga loss the night before. Unless you are a partisan of Georgia Tech or Kansas, I am guessing this bracket isn't just busted, it's unrecognizable.

Of course the road for Duke to the Final Four just became a lot easier. #2 Mississippi St. was steamrolled by #7 Xavier in the second half. It was like the halfcourt 3 from Xavier to give them a 1 point halftime lead sapped the fight right from MSU. Well, that would be the romantic notion. The reality was that Xavier was unconscious from behind the 3-point arc -- 13-19 -- and spectacular guard play from Chalmers, Sato and Finn off the bench was the key. The Texas-Xavier game on Friday could be something wild.

Finally Vanderbilt. That other elitist Southern school that sucks in football. With Vandy, though, they usually suck in basketball as well. They were given a generous #6 seed, and expected out in the first round. They won, and now advance to the Sweet 16 by knocking off #3 seed NC St. Vandy couldn't hold a slim halftime lead, and was behind by 11 when Julius Hodge fouled a Vandy player shooting a 3 with 2:44 left. It was Hodge's 5th foul. With probably their best defender out of the game, NC St. fell apart. Give Vandy credit for making their shots, but that was a collapse by NC St.

Worn Down
They gave a valiant effort but in the end faded away. #4 Kansas just slowly pulled away from #12 Pacific. They kept the folks in Kansas nervous for a while, but the talent of Kansas won out.

Not Even Close
Technically an upset, but when it's a 4/5 game not really. #5 Illinois savaged #4 Cinci. Huggins had a distinct homecourt advantage playing in Columbus, Ohio, but Illinois took the crowd out of it early. Out of respect for my wife (a Cinci grad) I will not say anything more.

#2 Oklahoma St. looked very good taking apart #7 Memphis. Pity, it took all the fun from Pittsburgh writers who could have gone on ad nauseum about the local roots of Memphis coach John Calipari, his days as an assistant at Pitt in the 80s, and his attempts to get interviewed for the Pitt coaching job last year. Instead, a very tough, strong and talented group of Cowboys will be the opponent.

Conference Review
Round 2, and overall in parenthesis, then comments

ACC -- 3-3 (9-3). Actually kind of embarrassing for the ACC. With all 6 of their teams seeded 6 or higher, to only have 3 in the Sweet 16 looks odd. That said, the 3 remaining (Duke, GT, Wake) all have excellent chances to be in the Final Four.

Big East -- 3-2 (7-3). About what was expected from the Big East, but putting Syracuse in the same bracket with UConn looks even odder. It means that at best the Big East could get 2 teams to the Final Four.

Big XII -- 3-1 (7-1). Not a big surprise that teams seeded 2,3 and 4 advanced. Potentially all three (Oklahoma St., Texas, Kansas) in the Final Four. Texas may be the shakiest since Duke is in their bracket.

SEC -- 2-2 (6-4). Probably the most disappointing conference showing in the second round. Their top 3 seeded teams are all out, including a 1 and 2. The two remaining are both in the West (Phoenix) Bracket. Technically one could make the Final Four, but Vandy has to face UConn and 'Bama has to deal with Syracuse. The odds are not in their favor.

Atlantic 10 -- 2-0 (4-2). Xavier has kept its momentum from the A-10 Tourney. Their guard play has been spectacular. St. Joe's is looking good again. They should have a home court advantage playing in New Jersey over Wake.

Conference USA -- 1-3 (5-5). UAB is the last representative of this conference? Didn't see that coming. They are fun to watch, though.

Big 11 -- 1-1 (3-2). The down season for the conference is almost over. Illinois is the only team left and has to face Duke.

Pac 10 -- 0-1 (1-3). The left coast has nothing. From Washington to Arizona, it looks like the Friends reruns will win the ratings wars on Thursday night.

Mountain West was already done.

Rest of the Field -- 1-3 (5-20). Nevada is now the team furthest west still in the NCAA Tourney.

Little things that may only interest me
The East (Rutherford) region is the only the only bracket where the top 4 seeds made it to the Sweet 16. There is a split of Atlantic and Big. The top half is the Atlantic battle (Coast and 10), the bottom is Big (East and XII).

Meanwhile in the South (Atlanta) bracket both halves are Big versus Atlantic -- Atlantic Coast v. Big 11 and Atlantic 10 v. Big XII.

In both halves of the West (Phoenix) bracket it is an SEC-Big East match-up.

Editor Note 

Due to time constraints, I won't be able to preview or give a media round-up on the Wisconsin-Pitt game.

Round 2, Day 1 -- Late Recap 

Family matters ruled, so I missed most of the action on Saturday.

No Surprise
#1 Duke decimated #8 Seton Hall. I heard some commentators mutter how Arizona would have been better against Duke. Right.

#2 UConn blows away a tired #7 DePaul in the first half, and then coasts. It was no contest, and expected.

Big Upsets
#1 Stanford blows it against #8 Alabama. A bracket buster if you had Stanford beyond the Sweet 16 (I didn't). Stanford has become what Indiana and Knight were in the late 90s. A good team that crumbles in the Tourney.

Unless Pacific shocks everyone today, the only double digit seed in the Sweet 16 is #10 Nevada which blew through #2 Gonzaga. Pardon a little partisan glee at seeing this overrated #2 seed get whupped.

Not an Upset but People Act Like It Was
#3 Texas handled #6 UNC. Again, reputation and everyone liking Roy Williams, caused the pundits to completely ignore a far deeper Texas team. UNC has a sixth man and that's about it. Texas goes 11 deep. Everyone liked UNC, though, because (1) it's UNC; (2) it's an ACC team; and (3) Roy Williams is the coach.

Not on the scale as UNC-Texas, but #1 St. Joe's prevailing over #8 Texas Tech, was greeted with mild shock. It's a Bob Knight team! He hasn't done anything in the Tourney since his teams had to play Conference Tournaments.

Correlation does not equal causation, but has anyone else noticed that the coaches that have railed the most against the conference tournaments -- Knight, Olson (Arizona), and Montgomery (Stanford) -- have had some of the most underachieving teams in the NCAA? Meanwhile coaches that seem to embrace and try to win the conference tourneys -- Krzyzewski, Calhoun and Smith (Kentucky) -- actually make it deep in the NCAA? Just a little theory, but it might be that denigrating the conference tourney allows the players let up a little and then fail to get back to their previous intensity once the NCAA gets going.

All of their criticisms of the conference tourneys may be valid -- reduces the importance of the regular season, is totally for TV and more money, takes the players away from even more class time and wears them down a little more -- but it comes off as whining and excuse making in advance.


Keep Getting By
#4 Wake Forest survives another close one against #12 Manhattan. Given the game was in Raleigh and Wake won the first two games against a #13 and #12 seed by a combined 5 points, it seems logical to invoke the spirit of Jim Valvano who declared that the key to the NCAA was to "survive and advance." That is what Wake is doing.

Minor Surprise
I expected a close Syracuse-Maryland game, with Syracuse winning. Maryland, though was the darling pick the way they charged through the ACC Tourney and seemed red hot. Syracuse, until the bump in the Big East Tourney with BC, was as hot. Syracuse prevailed.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Round 1, Day 2 --To Review 

A day full of sound and fury, where in the end nothing really happened. Two lower seed "upsets," and one that was expected but didn't happen. Lots of worries, but ultimately nothing.

Upsets
#12 Pacific over #5 Providence. Providence never seemed to have recovered from being blown out at home by Pitt a few weeks ago. Since then, they've lost to BC, then Villanova in the first round of the BET, then this. You could make the argument that they were just as likely to go down as Florida, but Gomes had a good game (25 points, 13 boards). It was the rest of the team that did nothing.

Finally a #9 seed wins. UAB beats Washington 102-100 in a wild one.


Can't we just play the First Half?
#6 Vanderbilt was trailing #11 Western Michigan after the first half. Late in the game, though, Vandy pulled ahead and kept sinking their shots and free throws. Everyone expected this to be an upset, but it didn't happen.

In the opening round of a tournament, be it conference or the NCAA, as much as I root against the guy, I would expect a Rick Pitino team to win 9 times out of 10. This was the 10th time. Even whe they are the #10 seed against the #7. Lousiville blew an 11 point lead at halftime to lose by 10 to Xavier.

#11 Richmond playing #6 Wisconsin in Milwaukee. A 7 point halftime lead. Up by double digits in the second half. Then Wisconsin went unconscious and hit 12 of 14 shots to not only turn the game around and win by 12.

Though not actually ahead at halftime, the fact that #15 Eastern Washington was tied with #2 Oklahoma St. should count for something. Of course, OSU blew it open in the second half to win by 19.

Throwing A Scare
Plenty more of these.

#4 Cinci survived against #13 East Tennessee St. Cinci kept getting clutch 3s from Tony Bobbitt (the same guy who got punched in the privates by the DePaul player) to hold off ETSU and their insanely frenetic point guard Tim Smith. A wild one that Cinci won 80-77.

#3 Georgia Tech held on for dear life against #14 Northern Iowa. GT was up by 12 at the half, but fell asleep and let NIU back into the game.

#6 Boston College weathered a #11 Utah comeback to win.

#3 Pitt got past #14 University of Central Florida. Sadly, I was stuck watchign Xavier-Louisville most of the time. I saw the last 5 minutes or so of this game. On the bright side, I don't think Pitt could shoot much worse. I hope someone posts on this game, otherwise, I will have to rely on the box score and press recaps. I'm going to wait until tomorrow for what that tells me. My gut is conflicted since Pitt was hardly the only team to struggle but win the first couple of days.

Never Really In Doubt
#4 Illinois over #13 Murray St.

#1 Kentucky putting away #16 Florida A&M. Though, only winning by 20 seems surprising.

#2 Mississippi St. taking apart #15 Monmouth.

# 7 Memphis having its way with #10 South Carolina.

#4 Kansas pushing around #13 University of Illinois-Chicago.

Not quite at the same level as the rest, but #3 NC State was never truly threatened by #14 Louisiana-Lafayette

Conference Review
The ACC went 6-0.

The Big East was 5-1.

SEC 4-2.

Conference USA 4-2

Big XII 4-0.

Atlantic 10 2-2.

Big 11 2-1.

Pac 10 1-2.

Mountain West 0-3.

The rest of the field 4-17.

Personal Bracket Thoughts
None of my Sweet 16 was eliminated. Kicking myself for going with Providence. Let my Big East bias pick them despite how little heart they have shown in the last couple weeks.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Getting ready for UCF 

Lots and lots of articles in the locals the last couple days. I'm crunched on free time, so here's the rundown.

Scouting reports and info on the actual team and their style of play. UCF sold their allotment of tickets for the game.

UCF playing with house money, beware the upset articles are typical fare. They are true, but they are also predictable works.

Notebook piece leads with more comments about how the seeding is not important. Page has said his ankle feels fine and he will play. I just hope Dixon limits his minutes. Get Graves and Demetrius in there for him a little more in the first game. Brandin Knight gave him a call the other day. Knight also spoke to the team yesterday and watched them practice.

A look at the "pod" where Pitt is playing reveals that it's all about defense.

Guess what? Pitt's bench will be important. Whoa. Too much information.

Pitt great, Jerome Lane, likes this Pitt team better than the ones he played on in the 80s. It's interesting to read because of the harsh words he has for his former Pitt coach Paul Evans, " now a real estate salesman in Annapolis, Md., did not respond to requests to talk about his days at Pitt or this year's team."

Long column on Jamie Dixon and how he prepared to become a head coach -- his note taking is apparently the stuff of legends.

Mike Pirusta of the Trib is hedging on Pitt's chances, looking at all their potential opponents to get to the Final Four. Eh, really it's just one more game than expected that is going to be difficult. Even as a #2 seed, Pitt would have had someone like OSU to face. Now, it's just a matter of doing it.

Cook cribs my notes for his column today. From my game notes on the BET Championship game.

Pitt's outside shots weren't there. Krauser, Page and Brown each had only 1 basket in the second half. In the first half Pitt dominated points in the paint with 22 of their 34. They got away from that in the second half, settling for jumpers and not getting it inside to Taft, Troutman, Morris or even McCarroll. In the second half, Troutman only had one basket (1-1 shooting, and 1-2 on free throws), and Taft only had 3 shots (2-3, but also 2-4 on free throws). I don't know if I should blame Krauser at point for not trying to get the ball inside more, or Coach Dixon for not instructing the players to do so. That's when Pitt loses. When they forget to get it inside.

Cook today:

The shot total was so astonishing for a point guard that it staggered even Carl Krauser.

"I shot it 18 times? I didn't know that," Krauser said after Pitt's semifinal win against Boston College in the Big East tournament last week.

Krauser took 42 shots in the three games at Madison Square Garden. That wasn't just the most on the Pitt team. It was more than Chris Taft's and Chevon Troutman's combined total of 38.

And you wonder why the Pitt offense is struggling?
...
Krauser has the ability to get the ball to Taft and Troutman down low. They're both good enough passers that they can find the other when the defense sags or hit Brown slashing to the basket or get the ball back outside to Krauser or Julius Page for an open shot. "A lot of things can work through your big guys," Krauser acknowledged. "When you've got a great interior passing team like we do, it makes the game a lot easier."

This isn't all on Krauser to share the ball more. Taft and Troutman need to do a better job demanding it.

I only pointed it out in a conclusory paragraph. He makes it a whole column.

In papers outside of Pittsburgh.

The idea of an upset win for UCF has people in Orlando dreaming of it making UCF a known team. Up there with other teams that have done it like Cleveland State. The columnist pulls a lot of stuff from the Pittsburgh papers to show how know one is respecting UCF. The respect issue is mentioned again in a notebook piece about the match-up in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There was also this.

Seconds after the Pittsburgh players took the court for practice Thursday, a Wisconsin fan clearly anticipating the second-round showdown began taunting the Panthers. "Wis-CON-sin!"

Wouldn't that guy feel really stupid if Richmond beat the Badgers.

UCF also plays a half-court, deliberate offense so that won't be much of an adjustment for them. A notebook column sounds a little bitter in one part about how UCF didn't get invited to join the Big East, while USF did; and t-shirt wars.

Both Pittsburgh and UCF showed up with new t-shirts to mark their NCAA appearances.

The Panthers went through Thursday's practice with the slogan "We all we got" on the backs of their shirts.

"It's one of a bunch of mottos they have," Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's the only one we could get on a shirt."

UCF shirts were suggested by assistant coach Craig Brown. They have a school logo on the front. On the back: "March Madness" and "Dancing in 2004!"

Oh, and in light of the whole seeding issue and late conference championship games that cost Wisconsin at least one spot in seedings, the Big Eleven wants to talk to CBS about the times for the conference championship game (no doubt, so does the Big XII).

Round 1, Day 1 -- Review 

There were a lot of close games, but not a lot of surprises in Day 1. Only two games were upsets, insofar, as the lower seed advanced. Neither was much of a "bracket buster" style upset.

Upsets
#10 Nevada beat #7 Michigan St. Michigan St. blew a 9 point halftime lead, and could only score 23 points in the second half.

#12 Manhattan beat #5 Florida. Every year a 12 beats a 5. This was the one, most expected. Manhattan is better than a #12, with its talent and experience. Florida has been on a downward spiral, but surged to the SEC Championship game to get such a high spot. The real surprise, was the way Florida quit in the game.

Piece of Cake
The #1 seeds had no problems. St. Joe's blew the game open against Liberty early and coasted from there. Duke mauled Alabama St. Same for Stanford against Texas-San Antonio.

#2 UConn started slow, but won with ease against #15 Vermont. The same thing for Gonzaga against Valpo.

Second Half Runs
#3 Texas found itself behind after the first half against #14 Princeton. To start the second half, led by Brandon Mouton, Texas went on a 24-8 run and held on from there. Texas could not miss at the 3-point line (11-15), with two guys combining to go 9-10.

#6 North Carolina had its own big second half run to beat #11 Air Force. Air Force held a 6 point lead with 13 minutes left in the game, but had two extended scoring droughts that allowed UNC to pull away.

Texas and UNC face each other on Saturday. Can we just skip the first half?

The 8/9 Surprise
You really can't go wrong picking the #9 seed over the #8 seed. The #9 seed had a 42-34 edge on #8 seeds in games heading into this year. I let my personal biases decide these games, because it's mostly harmless. The next opponent is the #1 seed, so it's not a bracket buster if wrong. Today, the #8 seed won both games played. Texas Tech held off Charlotte, to actually let Bobby Knight into the second round in a few years.

Seton Hall came back to beat Arizona. Arizona's disappointing season gets an exclamation point.

The #9 seed I was sure would win was Southern Illinois. They stormed back from a 10 point halftime deficit to take the lead with less than 20 seconds. Of course, they allow Alabama to run right down the court and retake the lead and win 65-64.

A stunning 3-0 day for the #8 seeds. It'll be up to UAB to prevent the sweep.

The "If Only" Games
Three teams not really expected to have trouble in the opening round, but did. They survived, but it wasn't pretty. The kind of game where the other side looks back at certain plays and says, "If only..."

#4 Wake Forest, playing in Raleigh, North Carolina needed a score in the last minute and defensive stops to beat #13 Virginia Commonwealth, 79-78.

The other ACC #4 team, Maryland, really looked liked they were getting gassed by the end of their match-up with University of Texas-El Paso. They surrendered the lead late, but got it back and held on to win 86-83. For the Terps, you have to wonder how much they have left after their ACC Tournament run.

#5 Syracuse was expected to take apart #12 BYU. Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and banging style was to be too much for BYU to handle. Syracuse had to abandon the zone for man-to-man after BYU kept shredding it, and the Mormons were able to bang around on the inside. Syracuse won because Gerry McNamara had a career game. He had 43 points, with 9 3-pointers. His only blemish was a subpar (for him freethrow shooting game of only 12-16).

Both Maryland and Syracuse survived similar 1st round scares in their runs to the national championship the previous 2 years. Maryland and Syracuse play each other on Saturday.

Last Man Standing
Last game of the night turned out to be a double overtime piece of ugly. This was no instant classic. This was brutal to watch. #7 DePaul against #10 Dayton. This game had it all in the negative.

Bad shooting. Poor freethrow shooting. Bad officiating. Bad decisions on the court.

The numbers are staggering. Dayton shot 34.2%, and was a pathetic 3-20 from 3-point land. Their free throw shooting was a stunning 52% (12-23). DePaul was only marginally better. They shot 40.7% and made 23-40 free throws. DePaul had one player go 10-10 at the line, and another who was 0-10. By the start of the second overtime, both teams were just shambling up and down the court.

I will be shocked if DePaul has anything left to throw at UConn on Saturday.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Lazy 

Okay, I accept that we haven't had any readers sign-up for the Bracket Challenge. But none of the other PSB contributors have signed up to play. WTF?

Notes 

Still not a lot of spare time. Okay, I've been doing a lot of brackets tonight. Here are the articles of note, a little late but worth a glance.

The P-G beat writer worries about Pitt's offense. Historically in the NCAA Tournament, if a team averages under 70 points per game they don't make it to the final four. Hard to be that concerned when Pitt is at 69.2 points per game.

Page has been sitting out practices. Seems his ankle has been acting up again. Please tell me he has at least been practicing his stroke.

Joe Starkey of the Trib thinks Taft should and can be the go-to scorer the Panthers need to go deep in the Tourney. I'm all for it, even if it means Taft would leave after this season.

ESPN puff-piece on Coach Jamie Dixon. Nothing we haven't read before.

Jay Bilas of ESPN is still sticking up for Pitt.

That said, there is no way Pittsburgh is a No. 3 seed. Further, there is no way Pitt should be playing against Wisconsin in Milwaukee. This is a bad seed and a bad matchup.

The Panthers did play Alabama, Florida State and Georgia, but overall scheduled a relatively weak nonconference slate. Pitt won five games against the top 25 (only Duke won more such games) and won nine against the top 50 (only Duke, Kentucky and UConn won more). And, as much as I respect Gonzaga, I would have put Pitt ahead of the Zags in seeding.

And where does it fit that Pitt has to play Wisconsin in Milwaukee? That strikes me as a bit unfair. Did it occur to anyone that Wisconsin has the highest RPI of any No. 6 seed, should have been seeded higher, and can bump and grind very nicely against Pitt. To have to play Wisconsin in its own backyard is hardly a reward. In fact, it's just another chip on the shoulders of the Panthers.

Pitt has more to be concerned about than just seeding and location. The Panthers are a really physical team that stands you up on a team's cuts, bumps its foe off its path, and denies every spot on the floor. All this throws a team off its rhythm, as well as equilibrium, and makes Pitt one of the best defensive teams in the country.

However, NCAA Tournament games -- especially in early rounds -- will be called closer than Big East games and will have mixed crews. The Panthers need to adjust early to the way the game is being called, or foul trouble could follow. Remember, basketball is the only game in which you can be disqualified for making simple mistakes. Nobody fouls out in football or gets sent to the bench by the umpires for errors. Officiating can be a big factor in winning and losing in the NCAA Tournament.

It's that last paragraph that has me worried. The BET last week had the refs letting a lot go uncalled. Hopefully Pitt will be able to adjust during their first game on Friday night. 9:50pm. I'll be watching flash ins because I know they'll be showing the Xavier-Lousiville matchup in Cleveland.

Pitt press release and game notes for Friday's game.

Very useful. Pitt's post-season media guide


You can download the entire thing in PDF.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Why You Gotta be Hating? 

Guess the P-G columnist who wrote the following.

For a nationally elite team such as Pitt, the Big East regular season and tournament are relatively minor preludes to the NCAA tournament.

Answer. The same guy who wrote this today.

Can a seriously flawed team overcome its deficiencies and advance to the Final Four?

Yes, it's Bob Smizik. So, now a Pitt team that went 4-1 since the former column was written is now "seriously flawed." If Pitt is seriously flawed, then so is every team in the NCAA. Reading Smizik's column, you would think that Wisconsin would be the toughest foe awaiting Pitt. He devalues Oklahoma St., a team that is just as tough as Pitt, but has gotten better perimeter shooting; and was arguably the highest #2 seed after winning both the Big XII regular and conference championship -- but was penalized for not finishing the conference championship before the seeding committee had decided.

I mean, I like it when there are legitimate criticisms from the local paper of the team. What I don't like are knee-jerk contrarian positions just for the sake of being controversial or not like the rest. That is all this piece seems to be.

We Interrupt 

Our NCAA Basketball coverage to announce Pitt's football schedule (good timing for the athletic department to release the info a couple days before the NCAA Basketball Tournament). The big story, Pitt plays WVU on Thanksgiving night. Thanks. You know what the likelihood is that I'll make that one? It's inversely related to my marriage.

Sept. 4 at South Florida
Sept. 11 Ohio
Sept. 18 Nebraska
Sept. 25 Furman
Sept. 30 (Thurs.) at Connecticut* (ESPN or ESPN 2)
Oct. 9 at Temple*
Oct. 16 Boston College*
Oct. 23 Rutgers*
Nov. 6 at Syracuse*
Nov. 13 at Notre Dame (NBC)
Nov. 25 (Thurs.) West Virginia* (ESPN)

West Virginia Coach, Rich Rodriguez isn't thrilled with the game though

If Rodriguez had his way, however, the Mountaineers wouldn't play at all that week.

"The only bad thing about those games on Thanksgiving is that it is during hunting season," Rodriguez said. "Thanksgiving week, I'd rather not play, especially if it's a home game, because many of the fans will be in the woods and in tree stands."

Insert your own joke here.

Cliched Stories 

I hate them, and a scan of the archives at PSB will back that up. They are the stock and trade of sports writers, and tv commentators who are lazy or just dull. Greg Doyel runs down the list of cliches and where they are in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, depressingly accurate. Also, a summary of storylines and other notes in the East (Rutherford) region.

Not Shocking, But A Little Surprising 

Craig Esherick has been a disaster as head coach at Georgetown. Yet he had survived, and looked like he made it through another year. Not only survived, but was arrogant about it. As Gregg Doyel at his CBS blog put it on March 11 (no permalinks):

Georgetown was right to give Esherick the chance to succeed John Thompson in 1998-99, and now Georgetown would be right to give someone else the chance to succeed Esherick, who has taken the Hoyas to 30-year lows.
...
Esherick remains defiant, crazily demanding kudos for Georgetown's 30-year postseason run instead of apologizing that it ended under his watch.

"That's a pretty incredible streak that I don't think our school got credit for -- that I don't think I got any credit for," he said Wednesday.

Kind of like Duke football after Steve Spurrier left in 1989, Georgetown basketball has become relevant only for its irrelevance. The difference is, from an athletics point of view, Duke doesn't need football to matter. It has basketball.

Georgetown has nothing but basketball, which means that, under Esherick, Georgetown has nothing.

Well, it looks like the situation has changed. Georgetown fired him -- in a released statement. If you're counting at home, that makes two storied Big East programs looking for new head basketball coaches.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Notes 

Not a lot of time today (kind of obvious since this post isn't happening until now). Some articles of interest to link.

Donatas Zavackas lives. He is back in Poland and still follows the Panthers. I don't know if I'll ever understand what happened last year with him against Marquette.

Pitt is ready to play and prove people wrong.

Pitt AD Long now claims he wasn't upset on Sunday upon learning Pitt was a #3 seed when he "stormed out of the selection show party shortly at the Petersen Events Center after Pitt's draw was unveiled." He was merely trying to "understand" the decision." He wanted to find an objective outlook. He still hasn't gotten an explanation from the NCAA.

Sports Illustrated had one writer praise Pitt as the best team in the Big East and with the best shot to do well in the NCAA Tourney. Of course another covering the East picked Oklahoma State.

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