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.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Pitt-BC: A Whuppin' 

I don't know what you can say. Pitt played a great game. They made Craig Smith have to work for everything. Jared Dudley was completely taken out of his game on offense, and BC had no one else come even remotely close to stepping up.

Coach Dixon surprised me with the way he went on the defensive match-ups. Not having Troutman go after Smith was very effective -- that fell to Taft. Troutman on Doornekamp meant he could also help step out a bit to give McCarroll, Kendall and DeGroat a little extra help on Dudley. It allowed one of those forwards to play tighter on Dudley, because even if he started to make a move past Troutman was waiting.

In a way, BC was the best tonic for Pitt. They are a team that Pitt can match-up with quite well. They are an inside team. They -- like Pitt last year -- lack consistent, reliable perimeter threats. This allowed Pitt's D to stay at home and clog the passing lanes inside.

On the offense, Pitt kept getting the ball inside. Pitt only attempted 12 3-pointers for the game. Graves seemed to be finding his touch as he had all day to shoot open 3s. BC was more concerned about Krauser and Ramon shooting deep. Graves also showed a willingness to take it inside more. If he can learn to finish on his penetration...

The box score shows a Pitt basketball team we haven't seen for a few weeks. Five players scored in double digits, but no one had more than 13 points. Pitt completely controlled the glass. Outrebounding BC 49-27.

Let's just go to Player Evaluations:
Taft -- At first, I thought he was going to be invisible in this game. In the first few minutes he looked out of position on defense and seemed unaware of where he was in relation to the basket on offense. Dixon pulled him less than 5 minutes into the game. I don't know if he would have gotten back in 4 or 5 minutes later if Gray hadn't picked up 2 fouls quickly. Something worked though. Taft started playing a much tougher defense and looked like he wanted to get the ball on rebounds or to shoot. He ended up with 12 points (6-10), 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks.

Troutman -- Early in the game, it looked like it was going to be an ugly game in the 50s. At about the 9:30 mark, Troutman scored to make it 11-9. Troutman scored 8 of Pitt's first 16 points when no one else could score. As the rest of the team started scoring, Troutman let them and concentrated more on defense. He made the inside a miserable place for any BC player to be. Most of what he did in this game would not appear in a box score. His line was 11 points (5-9), 7 rebounds and a block.

Krauser -- He hounded guys on the perimeter tonight. He led the way in getting this team to play defense first. He wasn't shooting great, but he was getting to the line. Half his points came at the line. He got the whole team involved and played the full 40. If basketball had secondary assists (passes to the guy who passed to the guy for the score) Krauser would have had at least 6. Finished the game with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 turnovers.

Graves -- There were times, when he just couldn't seem to believe how open he was being left. BC was more worried about anyone but him shooting it appeared. He started slow in the game going only 1-4 shooting in the first half. But in the second half he was 4-9 including 2 straight wide open 3s late to put this game out of reach. Those were important because Pitt completely stomped on BC's throat where they had collapsed in the previous couple of games. 13 points, 5 rebounds and 1 steal.

DeGroat -- Here I was wondering about Benjamin getting some more playing time with the guards struggling. Instead, Coach Dixon went mostly with 2 guards this game and brought in DeGroat. DeGroat got a rebound/putback that he slammed home late in the first half that was his first points and rebound of the game. It seemed to give him some real confidence to go to the basket. And in the second half, good things kept happening when he did. He fielded 2 airballs and a shot that banked but missed the rim and put them all back for points. He showed some solid defense that was not there earlier. It just seems that he is finally grasping the defense, and now the offense can come. He was 4-5 shooting in the second half. 10 points (5-8), 7 rebounds (5 offensive) and 2 assists.

McCarroll -- I'm so happy he made some free throws. He was 3-4 on those. Prior to that he was 4-25 on the season. He made that first one less than 3 minutes into the game and it appeared to boost his overall confidence. He played with some energy and almost joy that hadn't been seen from him all year. 5 points, 2 assists and 2 blocks.
Ramon -- Definitely wary about taking a shot. Played great defense primarily. BC was very aware of his potential 3-point shooting, and drained his only attempt. He and Krauser helped neutralize the chance of perimeter shooting from the BC guards.

Kendall -- Got all his playing time in the first half. Not necessarily for doing anything wrong, but because DeGroat was playing better. Kendall did miss an easy lay-in but still got 4 points and 2 rebounds in 9 minutes.

Gray -- When Taft came out in the first half, Gray helped contain Smith and pulled down 3 rebounds in that stretch. Gray sank both his free throw attempts in the second half. For the game Gray had 4 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes.

More tomorrow. See how fast the BC bandwagon empties.

History Repeats 

Once more, Pitt owns BC.

Back later. Gloating in comments, please.

NCAA Academic Report Cards 

Well the Preliminary NCAA Academic Report has been released with the sounds of doom and gloom.

Here's the NCAA Academic Reform Info page.You're supposed to be able to access individual program's info here, but it was giving me "404" error pages when I tried to check Pitt and some other schools. Hopefully it will be working soon.

Don't know how Pitt will look in this early report -- especially football and basketball.

Figuring Out the Big East 

Now that Pitt has to be concerned about this, Ken Pomeroy does the work for me. He breaks down the 4 BE teams that still have work to do to make the NCAA. Quite logical and with only some math.

Pitt-BC: Inside Game 

The way the refs call this game will be a big issue. Both teams like to bang and bump inside. Both teams like to get the ball inside. If the refs call this tight, the game could be ugly from the perspective of flow as the fouls mount. If they let them play, it could be "ugly" from an aesthetic sense, but would be a good tough game.

The best match-up should be between Chevon Troutman and Craig Smith. Both like to bang and bump inside for position. Both are about the same size, but Smith actually has about 10 pounds on Troutman. Both get to the free throw line about the same amount and make at nearly the same rate. Troutman is a better shooter in terms of percentage, but Smith has a higher scoring average and shoots more than Troutman. Ultimately, these two could cancel each other out.

Chris Taft should have an advantage on Nate Doornekamp. Taft is 2 inches shorter, but the same weight. Doorenkamp is in there for defense, and is actually a good passer for a big man. He also shoots free throws at 66.7% rate. Taft should have an advantage on him on offense, so it is likely Doornekamp may get some help at times to force Taft to pass. Doornekamp is one of two seniors on this team. Jermaine Watson is a guard and their 6th man. The seniors at BC have never beaten Pitt. Did I mention this is Senior Night at the Conte Forum?

The biggest match-up headache for Pitt will be Forward, Jared Dudley. Dudley would be my pick for player of the year in the BE, but he likely won't because of Smith on his own team splitting off votes and a possible anti-BC bias by the coaches voting. Dudley is an inside-out player like Pittsnogle, Gay and Sumpter. (My hands just went clammy typing that, and I think 4 more hairs fell onto the keyboard --and like Pitt I can't afford those kind of losses.) Levon Kendall will have to play some very, very good defense and avoid the foul trouble he had against Gay. Graves and McCarroll will be torched by this guy. Dudley is a very emotional player, and if he doesn't get some calls going his way, he can be taken out of his game. The problem is, when he steps out for a 3 and if it goes he is right back into things.

As for Pitt, take your pick on which is the bigger problem right now -- bad perimeter defense or bad guard play/shooting. Today it seems the bad shooting by the guards is the topic.

Pitt, which led the Big East in 3-point shooting for most of the season, is seriously struggling from behind the arc.

During the three-game losing slide, Pitt is shooting 23.9 percent from 3-point range (11 for 46). The Panthers shot a season-low 18 percent (4 for 22) in Saturday's 73-64 loss to Connecticut.

The guards are just plain struggling. If it continues early, I don't see how or why Benjamin isn't at least given a bit of time out there.

The fact is, Pitt is getting desperate and needs to play with some urgency. Not panic, but with intensity and determination for 40 minutes. Coach Dixon may be trying to ease the mind of some of the players or the fans, but no one believes it right now.

Coach Jamie Dixon and senior forward Chevon Troutman offered diametrically opposing views in assessing the current state of the Pitt basketball team, which is riding a three-game losing streak for the first time in four years.

Dixon stopped short of downplaying the recent swoon, while Troutman clearly suggested that things are getting shaky for the 18th-ranked Panthers (18-7, 8-6 Big East), who face No. 3 Boston College (23-2, 11-2) tonight at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

"I don't like that word or phrase," Dixon said, when it was suggested that the Panthers are facing a sense of urgency. "We want to play better than we did (in Saturday's 73-64 home loss to Connecticut). Now, we have to come together in all areas against Boston College."

Troutman's spin was much different.

"There is a sense of urgency," he said, matter of factly. "We have to finish out the rest of these games. We have to do it any way possible."

I hate to call this a must win, but it is. Not necessarily for the sake of making the NCAA Tourney, but for the team's psyche. Even a top team like Kansas just had a 3 game slide, losing 2 of 3 at home, but they just pulled it back together and ended it against Oklahoma State -- one of the best teams out there.

Pitt needs to go out there tonight and show its mental fortitude as well as its ability.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Looking to History for Help or Parallels? 

BC has won 19 straight home games dating back to last year. The last home loss was on February 14, 2003 against Providence, 61-52. They are in the top-10 and look to be a #2 or possibly even a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is a hot team. In fact the last time they were this hot and a big deal, was in January 2002.

Boston College at the beginning of that January was ranked #11 in the country, led by Troy Bell. They had won 25 straight home games.

An unranked Pitt team came to town on January 5, 2002. The previous March, in the Big East Tournament, BC finished a depleted and exhausted Panther team in the championship game, 79-57.

Pitt won the game 77-74. A huge win for Pitt. The following week, Pitt was ranked (#23 in the AP, #25 in the Coaches) for the first time since December 28, 1998. Pitt hasn't been missing from the rankings too much since.

Tune in to ESPN Classic on Monday at 1pm to see this game with Brandin Knight, Ontario Lett, Danatas Zavackas, Jaron Brown and Julius Page. Will there be a similar story that night?

Pitt-BC: Game Notes 

Here's another reason to be saddened that BC is leaving the Big East. They are actually one of the few teams in the BE against whom Pitt has a historic winning record. Pitt has a 28-17 record in the series (23-12 since joining the BE). It is Pitt's best record overall versus any BE foe -- helped in large part by winning 9 of the last 10 meetings.

Anyways, Game Notes for the match-up are out from Pitt (PDF). The game is on ESPN at 7 pm. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be calling the game. The game is a sellout.

The main storylines are well known. BC is looking to wrap up the BE regular season championship in its final season in the BE, not to mention a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt is staggering to the end of the season. Losing 3 straight for the first time since 2001. Pitt may actually be out of the top-25 tomorrow for the first time in 60 polls. Pitt is in desperate need of a win.

UConn-Pitt: Media Recap 

First a word about the booing of Dixon during the honoring of McCarroll and Troutman after the game. I wasn't exactly thrilled with Dixon's coaching job in this game either, but there is no excuse to unload on Dixon at that point. That was about 2 Seniors who have represented Pitt very well. 2 players who have helped raise the basketball program to national respectability. Guys who have already earned their degrees. That was classless and tasteless and no amount of frustration and emotion excuses the booing.

Losing 3 in a row is bad. Losing 2 of those 3 on your home court is worse. Losing all 3 because Pitt couldn't score or make a stop at the end is what makes each so much more devastating than the last.

Pitt struggled in the closing minutes for the second consecutive game. After getting outscored, 28-10, over the final nine-plus minutes of Wednesday's loss to West Virginia, the Panthers watched Connecticut score 11 of the final 12 points yesterday.

The Panthers did not make a field goal in the final four minutes, missed their last four shots from the field, three of four free-throw attempts and committed a turnover.

"Down the stretch is what's killing us," Troutman said. "We have to find a way of correcting that. We know we can do it. It's just a matter of doing it."

Part of it might be remembering to get the ball inside and finishing on offense. This excuse from Krauser holds no water.

"I don't want to say that we don't have guys who know how to win," point guard Carl Krauser said. "But we have young guys who don't know how to close out games. Once you become a leader, you close out games. We have a young team. We have to keep talking to them about closing out big games."
That excuse holds no water in the last week of February. Not when Pitt has closed out the games. That just makes no sense.

Part of the problem is that in the closing minutes no one but Troutman or Krauser seems to be able to put the ball through the basket.

To be sure, the Panthers have ample opportunity to right their ship, but the UConn loss reinforced the fact that Pitt is struggling to finish off games. The Panthers failed to hold a one-point lead with 4:01 left in yesterday's game, which occurred one game after they squandered a 14-point second-half advantage against WVU. What's more, they are lacking in scoring options outside of Troutman and point guard Carl Krauser (21 points, seven assists, two turnovers).

No other Panthers player scored more than seven points. That fact prompted Dixon, who rarely puts a negative spin on things, to proclaim that Krauser and Troutman can't do it all.

"We need scoring from different guys," said Dixon, whose team went 4 of 22 from 3-point range and made just 9-of-31 shots (29 percent) in the second half.

The Panthers also need scoring at crunch time. Case-in-point: After Krauser's runner through the lane gave them a 63-62 lead at the 4:01 mark, they missed their final four field-goal attempts and allowed UConn to go on a game-clinching 8-0 run. Against WVU, they failed to convert a field goal in the final 7:27 and scored just four of the game's final 22 points.

Troutman did not help the cause by going 8 of 14 from the free-throw line, including 3 for 7 in the final 5:44. Pitt went 6 of 16 from the line in the second half.

Not that others won't take the shots, they are just not sinking them. And even Krauser and Troutman are struggling at the end as teams just key on them.

There were 47 fouls called in the game. It seems that Jim Calhoun showed why he is going to be a hall of fame coach (he should have been last year) when he got called for a technical.

"I wanted to establish the territory of how the game was going to be called," Calhoun said. "If we were going to allow shooters not to be protected and moving screens to continue to occur, the best way to do it is to get a technical many times. Let them know what the deal is, we're not going to accept that.

"I apologized to Tom. What I said to him, he should have given me a technical foul."

The technical gave UConn five teams fouls to Pitt's two. But seven of the next nine foul calls went against the Panthers. What proceeded was a whistle-fest during which the officials kept a close eye on everything, mitigating the way the Panthers normally play.

A total of 47 fouls were called in the game with Pitt getting 24 of them. UConn went to the free-throw line 30 times and Pitt 29 times. Six players wound up with four fouls.

Oddly, the most physical Pitt player, forward Chevon Troutman, made it through the game without a foul. Regardless, Calhoun's outburst had the desired effect. Neither team was allowed much leeway with its physical play.

"The calls helped tremendously," UConn point guard Marcus Williams said.
In know way is it an excuse or am I complaining about it. It is just an illustration as to why Jim Calhoun is such a good, smart, experienced coach. Calhoun may publicly question or rip his own players in the media at times, but on the court they know he has their back. He's the guy they will follow.

For the UConn perspective it was about a team that has just gotten better as the season continued and this game was a reflection of the steady improvement. Now the UConn team believes it can make a deep run in March. UConn got solid play from Gay who benefited from Kendall's foul problems leading to clear mismatches against him.
The freshman forward was a key part of the Huskies' second-half plan because Pittsburgh couldn't find anyone to guard him.

"Every time [Antonio] Graves played somebody, we wanted to go there," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "The same thing with [Mark] McCarroll."

Graves was too small to guard Gay; McCarroll was too slow.
And Kendall had 4 fouls in only 12 minutes.

This has become a rivalry. I'm not saying that to puff up Pitt's profile. I'm saying that based on what the UConn players said and did. The UConn players took great pleasure in the win.

Starting with pre-game warm-ups, the Pitt student section screamed vulgar comments at the Huskies, so UConn took extra satisfaction sending them home disappointed.

"I don't typical say this but we were just hearing from the crowd all night long," Boone said. "This is probably the worst crowd as far as being just plain old vicious. That's all I can use to describe it. They were just vicious and relentless.

"Every time you go near them they were yelling something at you, so it was a little bit of motivation. Then when you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and see you're on top, it's really satisfying.

"Also, when we walked off the court and through the tunnel we noticed that there really wasn't anybody saying anything then. That's a really good feeling."

There is nothing for the crowd to say. Scoreboard is the final arbiter. Huskie players freely admitted they enjoyed seeing the Oakland Zoo silenced.

Denham Brown scanned the emptying arena, which had resembled a blast furnace for two hours, and could not contain himself.

The man they call "Frown" smiled wide, which should tell you everything you need to know about how much this game meant to UConn.

"I saw the crowd leaving with about two minutes left," Brown said. "I've never seen that here before. I thought 'Wow, this is really over.'"

The Huskies lived with their collapse against Pittsburgh in Storrs for more than a month but exorcised it Saturday with a bone-crunching, second-half performance.

This game - like this rivalry - was an uneasy mix of admiration, animosity and great basketball, and the Huskies won it because they were the tougher team when it mattered most.
Heck some players were giving it back to the Pitt players as well.
Marcus Williams looked up at the scoreboard, looked down at the Connecticut scrawled across his chest and, geez, he couldn't resist.

He pulled a Krauser.

He pulled the national flag blue fabric from his chest, elevated the school name for Pittsburgh guard Carl Krauser to see. He kept it up for all the Panthers, heck for all 12,508 crazies at Petersen Events Center to examine, too.

That's Krauser's trademark. That's what Krauser pulled at Gampel Pavilion last month when the Huskies' knees buckled and they fell apart in the second half. When you get beat and beat up you don't easily forget, and that's why Josh Boone scribbled the date and score of the loss to Pitt on his Nikes before this game.
The winners get that right.

So where does that leave Pitt? In a difficult position of winning at least 1 of their next 2 games. Both road games. Both very good opponents. Both NCAA bound. I don't want to say Pitt is on the bubble yet, because they can win and get in. It's just that no one expected they'd be in a position of must wins. The NY Times sums it up.
Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon's hands locked behind his neck as he shook his head in disbelief.

Dixon's eyes wandered to the rafters of the Petersen Events Center, his body language saying what he would not allow himself to.

After losing to No. 17 Connecticut on Saturday, 73-64, the 18th-ranked Panthers have dropped three consecutive games for the first time since 2001. A daunting schedule remains, as the Panthers (18-7, 8-6 Big East) must travel to Boston College on Monday and Notre Dame next Saturday to close the regular season.

Dixon's frustrations had diverse roots. The Panthers scored 1 point in the game's final four minutes, missed 10 second-half free throws and endured an erratically officiated game in which 47 fouls were called.

With their hopes for participating in the N.C.A.A. tournament suddenly in peril, the Panthers find themselves in an unfamiliar position.

Frustration is the big thing right now.

Ron Cook turns his ire on Chris Taft. Much like his previous whack shot at Krauser, it is ostensibly about the team failure, but then he spends most of the column singling out one player. Don't hide it. Don't pretend you are not looking to single one player out in your little preamble. Just come out and say it. The criticisms are valid, even if I don't fully agree. I would criticize Taft more for taking himself out of the game with 2 dumb fouls. That was a major reason why he couldn't be aggressive underneath. And maybe I missed something, but I didn't see any Pitt player getting the ball inside much in the second half. Pitt took over half their shots outside the paint in the second half. That is definitely not where Taft should be or you want to see him.

Final column is an attempt at optimism from Joe Starkey to try and talk the bandwagon jumpers back from the ledge.

It's the varying inconsistency that drives me wild. Remember early in the BE season. The problem was that Pitt would come out playing poorly then have to mount a frenetic comeback. I mean that's what they had to do the first time against UConn and Syracuse. Now, Pitt plays a solid, even dominating first half and can't finish. No explanation for either. And that's what I would like -- an explanation.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

UConn-Pitt: Make it a Double 

My advice, drink heavily. I'm married with a small child. I have no life of my own. If you're reading this on a Saturday night without those excuses, just turn off the computer and do something else.

This comes directly from my notes during the game. I wrote this during the half:
40 minutes. Pitt has to keep it up. They can't collapse when UConn makes their run -- and they will. Both teams have made them at this point. They will in the second half. Pitt has to be ready to answer. No panic.
Unfortunately, Pitt didn't listen. Pitt let themselves be taken right out of their game, with barely a whimper. This was all about the second half.

I don't know, maybe it was the rim on one side. UConn shot under 40% at the one end and nearly 60% at the other. Pitt shot 50% at the "good" rim and 29% at the "bad" one. No, I don't buy it either.

Here's a question. In the first half, Pitt was 1-7 shooting 3s. What in the name of Sean Miller makes anyone think it is a good idea to then hoist 15 3-point attempts in the second half? Answer: No one was thinking. Pitt started settling for the deep shots when UConn made the halftime adjustment to really collapse inside -- to defend and block the inside pass. Pitt stopped trying to work it inside.

And where the hell was Coach Dixon? In the second half he seemed to forget he was the coach. Pitt only used 2 timeouts for the entire second half -- both 30 second ones. I mean, UConn goes on a 8-2 run to tie the game and nothing. Instead he waits for the media timeout after UConn scores another bucket. I like trusting your players, and I know he can call out the plays along the side; but the second half was like he wasn't even concerned with the fact that they stopped trying to get the ball inside. Was that the plan? Did he care?

Pitt was out-played and out-coached in this game. UConn outrebounded Pitt. Shot better, got the ball inside, and executed. Pitt seemed to disintegrate as the game wore on. Played more individual ball. Coach Dixon seemed to just be taking up space.

UConn got great balanced production. 4 players scored in double figures. They got the ball inside, and barely concerned themselves with 3s. They could take and make mid-range jumpers instead. Just a really good team that keeps improving.

Pitt actually had the lead 63-62 with 4:02 left. Pitt scored 1 point the rest of the way. 1 point. They only got 4 shot attempts -- all 3-point heaves -- in that final stretch. Troutman completely gakked at the line, hitting only 1-4 in that period.


Let's go to individual evaluations.

Troutman: Great first half, 6-8 shooting, 3-3 on free throws for 15 points and 5 rebounds. Second half, part of the collapse. He collected 7 more rebounds, but shot 1-5 and 5-11 at the free throw line. Picked a hell of a time to regress to last year's free throw shooting ability.

McCarroll: Think he didn't know it was his final home game? Got the start on Senior day. Despite not being a good defender, actually made some sparkplug plays including a couple good steals. Shot 3-4 for 7 points and even had a block. Of course he was 0-2 on free throws, I'm not sure you he shouldn't just close his eyes when at the line at this point.

Taft: Had trouble with fouls -- a dumb charge and a lazy, late grab against a baseline drive were most frustrating. Solid shooting 3-4, not so at the free throw line 1-4, for 7 points. Only 3 rebounds, but 2 blocks. The fouls kept him from doing more.

Krauser: Great assists to turnovers 7 - 2. Had 4 steals and 3 rebounds. Even scored 21 points. The problem was the scoring as Allen Iverson-like. He shot 7-18 which included a crushing 2-12 on 3s. Too many seemed to be rushed shots in an attempt to quickly answer. Krauser also gakked at the free throw line where he is usually near 80%. Today, 5-9 including 1-2 when shooting a technical.

Kendall: Extremely limited by foul trouble. He had the difficult job of trying to match up with Rudy Gay. A top freshman player capable of going inside and outside. Gay was the biggest match-up problem for Pitt. 4 fouls in only 12 minutes.

Graves: Bad game. 1-6 shooting. 1 assist, rebound, steal and turnover. A non-factor.

Ramon: Looked like a freshman on offense. 1-7 shooting 3s -- several being wide-open looks -- and 2-10 overall. For the most part he played good defense but one series near the end of the game showed his youth. Ramon missed a 3 with 1:17 left, Pitt down by 6. Pitt was unable to get a steal, and wasn't trying to foul. Ramon ended up defending Gay, deep in the backcourt with 7 on the shot clock. Gay started to make a move, and Ramon panicked that he would get past and grabbed him for a foul. A dumb mistake. Ramon just hasn't been the same since he hurt his shoulder in the beginning of February. In the six games he's played this month, he is shooting 13-44 (29.5%) overall and an even worse 7-27 (25.9%) on 3s.

Pitt's lack of productivity from its guards is a big problem at this point. It makes you wonder why Benjamin is suddenly buried on the bench again.

UConn-Pitt: Brainlock and Gak 

I'll come back with a real post later. There should be no shame in losing this game, if Pitt actually played well in the second half. 14-29 on free throws was a killer. Even if Pitt only shoots it's average of 65-66%, that's 5 more points. Then there is the second half shot selection. To go from 50% in the first half (despite 1-7 on 3s) to finishing at 39% overall (4-22 on the 3s is a pretty good hint of the problem). Plenty of blame, including the coaching -- which I have avoided real criticisms to this point.

I actually had no major complaints about the defense. UConn made some very tough shots, as should be expected with their talent, but Pitt began physically tightening up in the second half.


UConn-Pitt: Open Thread 

Feel free to leave your thoughts before, during and after.

UConn-Pitt: Game Day 

Okay, here are the game notes for Pitt (PDF). I think we know the storylines. Pitt is looking to stop a 2 game slide. It's Senior day for Troutman and McCarroll. A Pitt win pretty much locks in their NCAA Bid. A win gives the Seniors 107 wins in their 4 years, tying them with last years Seniors for most wins in a career. Coach Dixon is still trying to get win #50. Perimeter defense has been killing them.

The game is a national game on CBS at 3:45 called by Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel. Pitt's first of two games on CBS.

As for the game, the match-ups are more of the style Pitt likes. Inside, UConn has Villanueva -- who has played like everyone has been expecting the last couple weeks -- and Josh Boone -- a kid with plenty of talent to match Troutman on the boards and bang. The biggest match-up problem will be Freshman Forward Rudy Gay. He can go inside and out. Kendall will be given first crack at trying to contain him. UConn likes to run much more than Pitt, but for the last 2 years Pitt has been able to control the tempo of the games in the majority of the time.

UConn, while not a 3-point shooting team, especially with Rashard Anderson still out, has gotten stellar, mature play from Sophomore Point Guard Marcus Williams. In their last game against Notre Dame he had 17 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. He is part of the reason why UConn has been able to run the floor much more effectively. He is making the case as the best point guard in the Big East. Pitt will look to frustrate, bump and slow him down. Stopping the transition will be major.

This being Senior day, there is a lot of well-deserved attention being paid to Chevon Troutman. Joe Starkey looks at what happened to Troutman's more highly recruited cousin in relation to the character of Troutman, and the praise from Pitt radio broadcaster:

Dick Groat, the former basketball star at Duke who's been broadcasting Pitt games for 26 years, called Troutman the best all-around Panthers player he's seen. Those are big words, considering Groat had a bird's-eye view of Sam Clancy, Charles Smith, Jerome Lane, Brian Shorter, Vonteego Cummings, Brandin Knight and Jaron Brown.

"He does it all at both ends of the floor," Groat said. "He's an awesome rebounder, a real physical kid. He comes up with the big bucket and the big offensive rebound when you need it. The best way for me to describe him is as a winner. I still remember his freshman year, when we were playing at Georgetown, which was 16-0, and all the other big guys were in foul trouble. He came in and helped us win that game."

There's a puff piece focusing on Troutman's family life and history in the Hartford Courant. Troutman figures to draw a lot of the attention of the UConn players on both ends. They remember how he just exploded in the second half up in Storrs.

The better compliments of Troutman the player comes from UConn Coach Jim Calhoun, in this story, more about the rivalry between the two teams.

"He plays the game unlike most basketball players today," Calhoun said. "It's not by jumping and leaping, it's really on the floor. He's smart and he's crafty and he's allowed to be so physical. He hits you on every play and I don't mean he cheap-shots you, because he doesn't ever do that, which may be one of the reasons they don't call fouls on him. But he'll give you that little hip to throw you off-balance or will rut you out of the post with his thigh.

"But he won't stay with it like a lot of guys do and he never fouls a guy when the ball is coming to him, which is when a lot of guys do. He's one of the craftiest kids who's ever come through this league."
I would say Troutman is the most popular Pitt basketball player -- ever. More popular than Lane, Miller, Smith or Clancy. He is respected and liked for the way he plays, his production, demeanor and effort. For most of us, I suspect he is what we want everyone else to see as the face of Pitt basketball.

Both teams have 3 games left and feel they are in a crucial stretch. UConn has an outside shot of still winning the BE, but needs to win out and get some help.

Pitt needs to shake everything off, and put it back together.
No. 17 Connecticut at No. 18 Pittsburgh: The Panthers (18-6, 8-5) are in the NCAA Tournament, so let's not go there despite Pitt's embarrassing non-conference schedule and two-game losing streak. But their NCAA (and Big East) Tournament seed is plummeting. Once upon a time Pitt was unbeatable at home. Then again, once upon a time center Chris Taft played in the final minutes of close games. He'd better show up against UConn (18-6, 10-3), which is seeking to avenge its 76-66 loss Jan 22.
The players, of course, believe in themselves and each other. They seem to be in the circle the wagons, us against the world mode. Which, of course, is standard. They have to back it up on the court. Some are making this game Pitt's last stand.
It's Pitt's Super Bowl.

It's UConn.

Normally, nothing more need be said when these two teams get together, whether it's a Saturday night at Madison Square Garden or a Saturday afternoon at Petersen Events Center.

Except this time, there are ramifications beyond bragging rights and rankings, and the Big East Conference Tournament championship.

This time, Pitt's season might be at stake.

A loss won't eliminate Pitt from NCAA consideration, but with games at BC and at Notre Dame up next, the Panthers would be in serious jeopardy of succumbing to the previously unthinkable should they protect their house as poorly as they did on Wednesday night against West Virginia.

So there's a lot to lose this afternoon.

But there's also much to gain.

There is truth to this view. This is about winning the last home game of the season. This about showing the fans and themselves that they are not going to just roll over on the season at this point.

And it's about next year. That the Pete is still a special place. That when a team comes there, they should be worried. This will be a very different team next year, regardless of whether Taft stays or goes. Troutman gone means the middle, the inside game will be much different. It may mean Pitt needs to become more of a perimeter, driving penetrating team, rather than simply getting it inside. The incoming class and guys like Gray and DeGroat will need to be better -- and maybe things won't have to change. Those are all questions for next year. But people are going to be nervous about the changes. About the loss of Troutman.

Keep in mind that UConn has never won at the Pete.

UConn considers this to be a "revenge" game.

The Payback Tour continues for the 17th-ranked Huskies (18-6, 10-3), who avenged an earlier defeat to Notre Dame with a 14-point win Monday. Game time is 3:45 today at the Petersen Events Center where they've lost in their only two previous appearances.

"That's been on my mind since we lost," sophomore Charlie Villanueva said of the earlier meeting. "We had a big lead and we just let up. We can't let that happen. Right now we're a much better team than before. We're on a roll right now, so it's going to be a good game. We just have to play the whole 40 minutes through and we should be fine.

"We've just all been on the same page. Before, there was a little bit inconsistency from us. Right now we're playing well as a team together."

A "Revenge" game at the Pete didn't work well for Pitt on Wednesday.

In Fittipaldo's weekly Q&A, he says that Ricardo Greer is playing overseas in England. A little more digging finds that Greer was in the British Basketball League, with the London Towers last year. This year, He is in France with a team called SIG Strasbourg. Playing with the same team as his brother.

Friday, February 25, 2005


I said it would be late before I got back.

Now everyone still feels very disappointed right now. I mean on Wednesday, before the WVU debacle, Grant Wahl on SI.com wrote this.
I'll give you five teams outside the top eight that wouldn't surprise me if they reached St. Louis:
Pittsburgh: The Panthers have won too many tough Big East games on the road (at Syracuse and UConn) to be discounted from the national-title chase.
Now, I'm sure he'd like to revise that after what happened. Having said that, this team is still NCAA bound. Will it do anything? Who knows. Will they be better than a 7 or 8 seed? Maybe.

Yet, the local media is ringing the bells of doom and gloom.
After being swept by West Virginia in the season series two nights ago, the following question was raised about the Pitt basketball team: Could the Panthers find themselves sitting at home in March while the likes of Vermont, Miami (Ohio) and Holy Cross are playing in the NCAA Tournament?

The answer could be yes.

The 18th-ranked Panthers not only dropped to 18-6 overall, 8-5 in the Big East, with Wednesday's 70-66 home loss to the Mountaineers, but they also plummeted in the Ratings Percentage Index, a formula used in helping the NCAA Tournament committee select its 34 at-large bids.

The RPI gauges a team's winning percentage (weighted 25 percent), an opponent's winning percentage (50 percent) and an opponent's opponent's winning percentage (25 percent). Road victories are weighed more heavily than home victories and home losses more heavily than road losses.

The Panthers are ranked No. 51 in the latest RPI, updated daily by ESPN.com.
In the event they finish 8-8 in the Big East and 18-9 overall, their profile will lose luster. They would have lost five in a row to close out the regular season. And, even if they finish 9-7, they would have lost four of five down the stretch, which would not sit well with the NCAA committee.

It should also be noted that teams that finish 8-8 in the league rarely make the NCAA Tournament. Of the 11 teams that went 8-8 the past five years in conference play, only Boston College in 2002 made it. Even a 10-6 mark is no guarantee. Two of seven teams that finished with that mark in the past five years have been left out of the tournament.

The bells are quite loud.

The top five teams in the Big East receive a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament. Pitt not only has a challenging final three games, but the Panthers also lose Big East tiebreakers to most of the teams around them in the standings. If the Big East tournament started today, the Panthers would be the No. 6 seed and would have to play the No. 11 seed in a first-round game because they lost games against Georgetown and Villanova, the two other fourth-place teams.

Big East tournament seeding, though, might be the least of Pitt's worries. The NCAA selection committee has several criteria for inviting teams to the NCAA tournament. Chief among them is how a team finishes the season, in addition to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Pitt's projected RPI dropped to No. 51 after the West Virginia loss. With Pitt's remaining schedule acting as a double-edged sword, the Panthers can build their RPI back up, or it could fall even more.
The game against Connecticut tomorrow is senior day, the final scheduled game of the season at the Petersen Events Center. If the Panthers don't start winning again soon, they could be back at home for another unscheduled game in mid-March.

An NIT game.

It's a bit much. Even to me. It's one thing to raise the possibility, but this is a little ridiculous. Turns out, I'm not the only one to think so (Feb. 25 entry)

It's not my job to police other members of the press -- besides, if anyone needs the occasional traffic cop, it's me -- but what's going on in Pittsburgh is ridiculous.

If your only source of news was the Pittsburgh-area media, you'd think the Pitt basketball team was in danger of falling into the NIT.

Stop it, Pittsburgh media, you're killing me.

By losing their last two games the Panthers (18-6, 8-5) are undermining their seeding, and they're crushing what appeared in December and January to be a potentially Final Four-type season. But they're not going to the NIT.

Stop it, Pitt-area media. You're embarrassing yourselves.

Pittsburgh's RPI is in the low 50s, and would drop (a little) more if the Panthers limp to the finish line in their final three regular-season games against Connecticut and at Boston College and Notre Dame.

But Pitt is an NCAA Tournament team, and it's not even a close call. Their non-conference schedule was mostly a joke, but the Panthers did beat Memphis, Richmond and South Carolina. That's not Duke, Arizona and Kentucky, but it's an OK place to start.

In the Big East, which is the best league in the country regardless of what the old RPI, current RPI or future RPI says, Pittsburgh has swept No. 15 Syracuse. Pittsburgh has won at No. 17 Connecticut. Pittsburgh has beaten Notre Dame.

Yes, the Panthers have lost their last two. But they've won six of their last nine, OK? A little perspective, please.
The game tomorrow is important. Pitt needs to put it together. Tough as UConn is, they could be just what Pitt needs. A team, with only one real outside threat, and mainly inside players. UConn is very good and putting things together, but they are still one of the teams that Pitt matches up well against.

And good news, Seth Davis at SI.com is picking UConn.
When these teams played in Storrs on Jan. 22, UConn was a talented, young team still finding its way. Well, guess what? The Huskies have found their way. This version never would let Pittsburgh erase a 17-point second-half deficit on its own home floor. The biggest difference is Charlie Villanueva, who has has shed his early-season diffidence to reel off four 20-plus-point games in his past five outings. Sophomore point guard Marcus Williams is also vastly improved and coming off the best game of his career, a sterling 17-point, 12-assist, two-turnover performance against Notre Dame. Yes, UConn is still without leading scorer Rashad Anderson (staph infection), but Pitt's problems are a little bigger right now. The Panthers have lost their past two games, have been getting inconsistent play from Carl Krauser and Chris Taft, and they have road dates with BC and Notre Dame ahead next week. I expect they'll be stumbling down the stretch.
Seth's Pick: UConn 79, Pittsburgh 71
Let's keep that streak going.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Real World Intrusions 

I will be going to a legal symposium all day tomorrow. No free icecream. I probably won't be on the blog until late in the evening. Maybe one of the other guys will fill in the gap.

Use the side links to find some info. For more on UConn, go through HuskyBlog's links to the newspapers and UConn Athletic Department.

Shifting Gears 

For just a post. Lots of good stuff over at CollegeFootballNews.com. There is the spring preview of the Big East. Less than a month until the first spring football practice.
Pittsburgh Spring practice starts March 19, Spring Game April 16
What needs working on ... Pass defense. Dave Wannstedt had his faults as an NFL head coach, but there's no questioning what he was able to do as a defensive coordinator. Pittsburgh gave up 255 yards per game through the air last season and needs to stiffen up despite the loss of starting strong safety Tyrone Gilliard.
The most important position to watch is ... Receiver. Greg Lee isn't quite the next Larry Fitzgerald, but he can certainly be the next Antonio Bryant and become the Biletnikoff winner is he comes up with another huge season. As a sophomore, Lee caught 68 passes for 1,297 yards and ten touchdowns averaging 18.9 yards per grab. Joe DelSardo is a strong enough number two to burn defenses that don't take him seriously.
Spring attitude... Prove that this really is the best team in the Big East. No one was ecstatic about Pittsburgh being in the BCS, but it did what it had to do to get there and proved to be the Big East's most deserving team. Now is a chance to take a step up and really be the elite power worthy of being in the BCS with a good defensive head coach and a fantastic passing game.
Then there are the storylines of the Big East. The biggest will be the ongoing issue of whether the BE should have an automatic BCS bid. Worth reading, especially #7.

Final thing is a review of all the new coach hirings and thoughts on each.
Head Coach: Dave Wannstedt
Former Coach: Walt Harris -- Head coach at Stanford

Bio: After 16 up-and-down seasons with three of the most storied NFL organizations, Wannstedt, 52, heads back to college determined to lead his alma mater to the glory days of the 1970s. He’ll forever be linked to Jimmy Johnson, for whom he served as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Miami and the Dallas Cowboys. Together, the two won a national championship in 1987 and a pair of Super Bowls in the early 1990s. Wannstedt’s head coaching career with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins was a mixed bag of mediocrity and unfulfilled expectations.

The Skinny: If the transition to the college game is a smooth one, Wannstedt looks like an ideal fit for Pittsburgh. For years, the Panthers tried to lure him back home, but only after last year’s debacle in Miami did it come to fruition. He leads with passion and integrity, and has already created the kind of commotion around the Steel City that was foreign to Walt Harris. Like Pete Carroll, Wannstedt relates well to young people, and could be better suited for coaching at this level.

Putting Out the Welcome Mat: LB H.B. Blades. Already the Panthers’ top defender, Blades should become an even bigger factor in a defense that’s predicated on speed and attacking.
Seems like a cautious thumbs up for the hire. Plenty of qualifiers.

WVU-Pitt: Media Recap 

Strange and slightly worrying item (at least to me). Pitt hasn't won more than 3 straight game since blowing through the first 10 games of the season. It's slightly worrying because Pitt needs to win at least 3 straight to win the BE Tournament and 4 games in the NCAA to make the Final Four. That Pitt hasn't been able to get a good hot streak going at this late date is a bit bothersome. Okay, to what is being said.

In Pittsburgh, the Trib was all over this game, with articles from Bendel, Starkey and Prisuta (haven't they sent anyone down to Florida to cover the Pirates?). The recap:
A parade of Pitt players headed toward the locker room Wednesday night with looks of disbelief on their faces, with bubble-shaped question marks hovering overhead: How could this have happened? What in the name of tempered NCAA Tournament hopes is going on?

In a stunning late-game collapse, the Panthers watched a 14-point lead disintegrate into a 70-66 upset loss to backyard rival West Virginia in front of 12,508 spectators.

"Disheartening," coach Jamie Dixon said.

"It's been a long season for us," added sophomore guard Antonio Graves.

Team leaders Carl Krauser and Chevon Troutman turned down postgame interview requests, likely because they had no answers as to why the 18th-ranked Panthers (18-6, 8-5 Big East) failed to convert a field goal in the final 7:27 and failed to put the brakes on Pitt killer Kevin Pittsnogle (22 points) for the second time this season.

WVU (17-8, 7-7) scored 30 of the game's final 42 points, including an 18-4 run in the final five minutes, to sweep the season series against the reeling Panthers for the first time since 1997-98.
The way Pitt lost was demoralizing for fans, players and coaches.

The shocking scene at The Pete and Pitt's initial reaction to the WVU disaster weren't encouraging.

Even the Oakland Zoo gave up, filing silently toward the exit with 7.5 seconds remaining as the West Virginia bench gleefully waved "bye-bye."

Dixon walked briskly off when it finally ended, navigating the length of the floor with his head down.

The West Virginia players embraced.

"Those are the type of moments that build teams," head coach John Beilein said.

The ones the Panthers were dealing with can tear teams apart.

Freshman Ron Ramon and sophomore Antonio Graves faced the media music, while senior Chevon Troutman and junior point guard Carl Krauser, who opens every home game in the spotlight, literally, were nowhere to be seen.

And Dixon assessed the wreckage as a team effort, noting the Panthers had prepared for and worked on what ultimately led to their demise.

"It wasn't one guy," said Dixon, who also fielded repeated questions about why an especially active Chris Taft was watching from the bench at crunch time.

That sound you hear is the Panthers' bandwagon emptying.

Stunning that Krauser and Troutman didn't speak afterwards. This was a team effort to lose, make no mistake. At the same time, though, the main 3 have to shoulder a fair amount of the blame since they get a well-earned and deserved share of the credit.

Krauser had another bad game. Only 2 assists and 6 turnovers. He shot a dismal 4-13 (1-7 in the second half). Troutman had his 15 on 5-7 shooting but only went 5-8 at the free throw line -- including 3-6 in the second half -- could only gather 5 rebounds for the game, and had the horrible turnover at the end when Pitt still had a chance to at least tie the game. Taft couldn't score unless he was right under the basket. He was 5-12 with 3 baskets being dunks and the other 2 put-backs/lay-ins. He missed the only two short hooks he attempted and was 0-3 at the line. While he led Pitt with 13 rebounds, 10 came in the first half. He was benched for the last 4+ minutes of the game, which he wasn't happy about, but Coach Dixon insisted it wasn't for his effort this time.

For Pitt, it is further questions about their (lack of) perimeter defense. It cost Pitt, not just in terms of the number of 3s made by WVU in the second half, but also opening up inside drives and baskets in the paint. WVU shot 11-18 (61%) in non-3-point shots for the game. The moving and driving to the basket was also what got WVU to the line shooting free throws 14-16 in the second half.

And once more, Pitt let Pittsnogle just go off on them. He scored 20 of his 22 points in the last 9:09. There's getting hot and then there is just bad defense. I'm guessing both in this one.

The P-G just had one article recapping the game.

There was nothing appealing about this game for Pitt.

The Panthers, like so many other occasions this season, failed to pull a game out in the closing minutes. They missed their final nine shots from the field and did not make a field goal in the final 7:27. For the game, they shot 42 percent and were just 3 for 11 from 3-point range.

West Virginia was 13 for 18 from the field in the second half, 6 for 8 from 3-point range and finished shooting 50 percent. The Mountaineers also made their shots at the line, going 15 for 17.

"In the last 10 minutes, we didn't do what we needed to do," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's very disheartening for us. The 3-pointers are going to stick out, but they had some drives to the basket as well."

Make no mistake, the coverage was about Pitt blowing a lead once more. About not finishing a team when they had them down. Pitt melting down.

Well, in Morgantown, it was about a stirring comeback led by Pittsnogle. How the team played with heart. Though, even in WV, there is a happy admission that the Mountaineers were helped by Pitt starting to grip.

"I think Pitt got a little nervous when Kevin started making shots," West Virginia's Johannes Herber said with a sly grin.

Indeed, the Panthers did get nervous. Leading by that seemingly safe margin, Pitt actually didn't flinch when Pittsnogle started getting hot, trading two-point baskets for Pittsnogle's first two 3-pointers and losing just two points off the lead. Free throws also kept the Panthers up by as much as 10, 62-52, with 5 1/2 minutes to play.

"They could see we weren't going away from them," Patrick Beilein said. "They were making shots, but we were making ours, too. And then when Kevin made like his third in a row, they were starting to look around and wonder."

That's when it really got interesting. Pittsnogle sandwiched two 3-pointers around two free throws, and then point guard J.D. Collins took advantage of the Panthers overplaying the outside to drive for an uncontested layup that tied the score at 62 with 2:32 left.

This win also helps WVU's chances to get an at-large birth in the NCAA Tournament. They probably still need to win out and win their opening game in the Big East Tournament, but they look like they will finish strong.

Pittsnogle actually got yanked early in the second half for playing passively. He actually responded. The article points out, why Taft was pulled as he became a liability guarding Pittsnogle.

Pittsnogle hit 5-of-6 of his second-half shots, including all his four 3-point tries. He helped drive Taft, a rebounding demon, out of the game because he was not adequately guarding Pittsnogle.

His first successful 3-pointer, a left-side shot from in front of WVU's bench, ignited his surge.

"(Taft) was there, but he had his hands down," Pittsnogle said.

Taft was trying to stay too close to the basket -- not let Pittsnogle get around him, perhaps -- but it was giving him room to shoot jumpers. Not getting the hands up? How do you forget something so fundamental? It's not like Taft is going for a steal.

Somehow, the team has to forget about this and get ready for UConn.

WVU-Pitt: Still Stewing In It 

I'm not quite ready to offer the media round-up. A little more hectic this morning than expected. This week offers some disturbing parallels to a more extended 2 week period in January. In both cases it was leading up to a big meet-up with UConn. A team that suddenly can't play defense, and loses cohesion. The difference, now, is that the time for this kind of problem should be over at this point. The former excuses about new players, starters, still finding the right mix don't wash in late February.

This WVU game hurts, to me, because I just didn't see it coming. I was frustrated by the way Pitt lost to Villanova, but not completely surprised. The Wildcats have the talent, were at home, and were playing well. This loss to the Mountaineers was just stunning. Pitt was at home. Had every reason to be up for the game. Should have been focused and ready. Then to just plain implode in virtually all facets of the game in the last 9+ minutes.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

WVU-Pitt: Awed By The Collapse 

As you may have figured, I did not bother paying Pitt/Yahoo! for the streaming feed. Nor did I pay the $20 extortion fee from ESPN for the "Full Court" slate of the night.

[Bit of an aside. Aside from guys who are not married, or are not sports writers or involved in sports business and get reimbursed for the expenses, who else will pay the full season package for "full court." Further, what genius at ESPN figured they could make more money making people pay $20 for one night of all the games on the list rather than an option for just $10 for one game? Do they really make more money that way? I'm just asking, because I know I could have rationalized a couple of the games at $10 a pop on TV, but not $20. And don't even get me started on how ESPN.com charges you the same price to watch on your computer -- lower quality and smaller picture, all at the same price!]

Instead I did the live stats at the Pitt web site. Well, actually I just had the wife updating me, as I gave our daughter a bath. Not good. She's at the age where kids like to repeat your words. Especially the ones that have a lot of emotion behind them.

I'm waiting to see the box score splits and the full play-by-play from Pitt. But the general box score is astounding. Pitt got 13 more shots, 7 more FT attempts, 19 more rebounds (15 more just on offense), a 14 point lead with under 10 minutes left. I'm not sure I would have believed it if I saw it.

WVU-Pitt: Open Thread 

I see that Pitt is up by 10 at the half, 34-24.

Feel free to comment during and after the game.

WVU-Pitt: Some More Hoopie Perspective 

A few more articles regarding tonight's game.

Here's Blue and Gold News.com's breakdown of the game.

After getting gunned down from beyond the arc in the second half of WVU’s win at the Coliseum earlier this month, one of the most interesting points to watch for in the game is Pitt’s defensive tactics. Will the Panthers attempt to lock up against WVU in man to man, where Kevin Pittsnogle has an advantage from the perimeter over any defender the Panthers might deploy against him? Or will they go to a zone that spreads out to the line, and hope that the Mountaineers can’t take enough advantage of the mid-range gaps in such an alignment to get a win away from home? Either way, the magic 70-point mark will be WVU’s goal, as the Gold and Blue haven’t lost a game when reaching that point total this year.

Just as important, however, will be West Virginia’s defensive effort. Foes have shot the lights out against WVU’s shorter and lighter lineup for much of the Big East season, so much so that the Mountaineers 6-7 conference record is something of a surprise. Although WVU has managed to creep close to the .500 mark in the league with such a burden, it will be very difficult to get a win at the Petersen Events Center if the Panthers shoot close to the 50% mark that has been the norm for West Virginia opponents during the league season.

Pitt has only let 2 BE opponents break 70 points this season: WVU and 'Nova. Both losses.

Another WV columnist see the keys in 3s.

For instance, three is what WVU needs plenty of and what the host Panthers are surprisingly yielding at alarming rates. In other words, the Mountaineers might need another game with 13 3-pointers to beat Pittsburgh for the second time within three weeks.

Then there is the matter of how many times Pittsburgh has fallen in its three-seasons-old, on-campus, 12,500-seat Petersen Events Center.

I think we all know that the Mountaineers will be hoisting plenty of deep shots tonight. The question are, will Pitt be forcing them to take uncomfortable shots.

Another columnist thinks WVU has to make its run this year.

The grind toward spring has become about more than games for WVU, however.

The Mountaineers, eighth in the Big East Conference standings, need to go on the road to sustain -- and improve -- success in Coach John Beilein's third-year program.

The quandary there is about more than the 2005-06 Big East hoops arrival of Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, DePaul and South Florida.

If WVU doesn't land more talent, it's going to be an annual battle just to make the 12-team conference tournament after a season that will be no Garden party.

Boston College will be gone to the ACC, but programs like Connecticut, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Villanova, Pitt and Georgetown aren't going to perennially regress.
The Mountaineers need someone who can play a lot, immediately. WVU loses seniors Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer and Beilein has a junior-heavy team with his son, Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Joe Herber and Jarmon-Durisseau Collins.

Sitting out is 7-foot Robert Summers, a Penn State transfer. Bulky, 6-7 forward Brad Byerson, after two seasons of basic inactivity for WVU, may be thinking transfer.

You get the talent by winning. Winning makes the program more attractive and opens more doors to the better recruits. This is especially true for programs like Pitt and WVU. Schools that don't have a strong local recruiting base for basketball. That have to look for pipelines.

WVU-Pitt: About What Expected 

The stories for today are about what you would expect in this game. Pitt is looking for revenge.
"We feel like we owe them quite a bit," Pitt sophomore forward Levon Kendall. The Panthers lost to the Mountaineers on Feb. 5. "We want to really stick it to them."
WVU had been reeling at that point, and then with the win against Pitt was the start of them winning 4 of 5 games.

The other standard is Pitt not taking WVU lightly this time.

Immediately after the loss in Morgantown, Pitt players said they lost the game because they took the Mountaineers lightly. It was a lesson learned, and something the Panthers are guarding against in the sequel.

"It's not that we weren't ready," Kendall said. "We just made some mental mistakes. We feel like we should be able to beat them. It was a tough loss to take with it being a rivalry thing. We're looking for some revenge."

Pitt lost the game at West Virginia because Kevin Pittsnogle, a reserve forward, had the game of his life. Pittsnogle started because D'or Fischer was sick. He responded by scoring a career-high 27 points.

Pittsnogle, a 6-foot-11 junior, made 4 of 9 from 3-point range. As a team, West Virginia was 13 for 40 from behind the arc. Pitt forward Chevon Troutman said limiting Pittsnogle is the most important objective the Panthers have for this game.

"If he comes out and gets hot, it's going to be a problem," Troutman said. "If not, we probably should be able to pull this one out."

Either Kendall was the main guy available to the media this week, or he was the only one with good quotes.

As for Pittsnogle. That game also turned his season around. As is the standard when these two meet, is discussing how Pittsnogle was also recruited by Pitt.

Down in Hoopie Land, this game is part of the whole "bubble watching." For WVU, this game is vital. Of course it is their biggest rivalry game, but it is the toughest remaining game on their schedule. If they lose it would likely mean needing to win out the rest of the games and winning at least 2 games in the BE Tournament. The latter being very difficult as they would likely end up facing BC in the 2nd round. Winning tonight would at least give them an argument if they go out in the second round.

Like last time, it can be expected that WVU will be looking to bomb 3s early and often. For Pitt, the guards have to resist the urge to try and answer every 3 with one of their own. Pitt ended up taking 20 3-point shots in the loss last time. They need to be patient with the offense and control the pace.

I guess we'll find out how Pitt's perimeter defense plays tonight.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

WVU-Pitt: Game Notes 

Game notes for the WVU-Pitt game are out for both WVU and Pitt (PDF). Still no explanation for what game and why the discrepancy between the schools for the number of times they have played each other -- WVU has the series record at 90-77 in their favor; Pitt has it at 77-89.

At this point, there is nothing new in the storylines. Both teams need this game. WVU to keep it's fading NCAA Tourney hopes alive. Pitt to help get at least 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA and to keep in the top-5 of the BE to get a 1st round bye in the Big East Tournament.

The only story is one from WV about how the Mountaineer players tend to dive for balls among other things.

"I don't mind being on the floor taking charges or diving for the ball," Herber said. "Sometimes I'm trying to slam into someone and get them out of the zone and he releases contact. And you fall down."

Beilein does not want to rein in Gansey's enthusiasm. He did, however, have a talk with Herber.

"The coach told us when the Big East refs came in before the season to try and help us and tell us what to do and not do, they said about one-third of the refs thought Joe was the biggest flopper in the league," Gansey said.

"I think he's stopped that," Beilein said. "He realizes that in this league, if he's going to get a good call, he can't fake calls."

What do you expect. Herber is from Germany. Watched and played too much soccer is my guess.

Misc. Basketball Stuff 

Last week, I did a couple posts about the non-con and RPI calculations. I got some e-mails questioning my obsessiveness. I wouldn't say they questioned my sanity, but they wondered why I was still so bothered by it. Part of it has to do with my biases. My first love in sports is baseball. I've always loved the game and I love the numbers. I don't run my own figures, but I know and understand derivatives, regression charts so that I can get into some of the crazy figures.

Sports like basketball and football are much harder to simply quantify the same way. The RPI, though is an interesting tool that can help provide insight into the quality of a team. And of course, it is a major tool in figuring out the who gets in and the seedings of the NCAA Tourney. It is also one of the few mathematical formulas available in basketball, hence my interest.

It has its flaws, though, and the tweaking done to the formula this year may have been a bit much. Even Joe Lunardi, who has gotten a nice gig at ESPN for RPI and "Bracketology" points out the problems (Insider Subs.)
The NCAA turned the RPI on its ear by weighting road wins (and home losses) at 1.4 while devaluing home wins (and road losses) to 0.6. In other words, winning on the road is now worth more than twice as much as winning at home and losing at home hurts more than twice as much as losing on the road. These values were apparently based on the rather crude arithmetic that, across all levels of Division I men's basketball, home teams win a little more than two-thirds of the time.
This is part of why Pitt's overall RPI was hurt so badly. The home losses to Bucknell and Georgetown -- providing huge boosts to those team's RPI really hurt Pitt. Lunardi also fails to mention the other reason for the change -- to encourage teams to go out and play some games on the road.
My macro-thinking followed these lines: Every year there are a handful of teams for which the RPI just doesn't jive with a commonsense appraisal of their respective records.

This is probably to be expected when you're dealing with more than 300 teams in more than 30 different conferences. If we were to look back at each season, we'd be able to identity these few teams fairly easily and also see that the selection committee did the same in its evaluations. No harm, no foul in other words, provided any new formula didn't worsen this condition substantially.

All of which brings us to 2005. And, while the new RPI is rewarding most teams that perform well on the road, it is failing miserably in the commonsense department.

Instead of three or four teams each year for which the numbers must be discounted, we have at least triple that (and probably more). Instead of becoming a more reliable tool, I believe the RPI is now much less so.

If you think there will be no outcry, just wait until Selection Sunday. I'm guessing there will be a whole lot of head-scratching as committee members try to figure out how Vermont could lose two out of three and keep an RPI in the high teens.

Lunardi lists a half dozen teams who have RPIs that are just out of whack with common sense. Pitt isn't one of them, but it helps explain the rankings for Holy Cross and Old Dominion. Teams that are high in the RPI despite a relatively unimpressive record of wins, but lots of "good" road losses.

Next year the Big East schedule will be a mess with 16 teams. TV will drive the schedule, so teams won't even know who they will play and how many times for at least 4 more months according to Andy Katz.
The Big East expects to let the 16 teams for the 2005-06 season know who they will be playing in June after CBS and ESPN make their selections.

Dates and times wouldn't be set until over the summer, but the matchups will be dictated by television. So if CBS requests Louisville-Connecticut, you can expect ESPN will want the same game. That means those two teams would be matched up in a home-and-home series.

A number of these scenarios will occur. If both television partners want certain games, then those would likely be the home-and-home matchups. The Big East won't lock in primary-rival partners like the 12-team ACC does.

The Big East will play 16 games in 2005-06 and go through a two-year cycle with the schedule. Teams will play 10 teams once, three teams twice and two teams not at all.

Expect some games to happen naturally, like Louisville-Cincinnati and Marquette-DePaul.

The ACC sent out its schedule for the next three seasons but then abruptly withdrew it after it was released. The league needs to address equity issues before agreeing to the schedule.

I repeat: the BE will be splitting apart in a bout 5 years.

Add Seth Davis of SI.com to the list of those who have been unimpressed with Chris Taft this year.

Chris Taft can't possibly still be thinking about the NBA. Can he?
Of further note with Davis. At the end of his column, is a list of weekend games he will be picking on Friday. Davis is now 0-4 in picks involving Pitt. He picked against Pitt, 3 straight times and then went with them against Villanova. He has the UConn game listed. I've already sent him a request not to pick Pitt for the rest of the year. If anyone else wants to do so, it can't hurt. Just be sure to mention your favorite tune from the Radiators.

Sad Story Almost Closed 

In the early summer of 2003, Billy Gaines, a Pitt receiver, went to a church cookout along with his best friend and roommate, Kicker David Abdul. Gaines and Abdul got drunk at the cookout, and decided to explore the church and found themselves up in the crawlspace above the ceiling. Gaines slipped and fell head first to his death.

The alcohol was supplied to them by the only adult of legal drinking age at the cookout -- Rev. Henry Krawczyk. Today the priest was given 7 years probation. This was agreed in a plea bargain with the *ahem* blessing of Gaines' parents, "who didn't want the priest to go to jail."

The parents, by the way still have their $75 million dollar lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, in part because they failed to properly supervise and discipline Krawczyk for past incidents of supplying alcohol to minors.


No, those are not the measurements for some anime chick. That's 36 points off of 3-pointers, 17 points from free throws, and 27 points inside the arc from the Villanova game.

The issue of perimeter defense has once more reared its ugly head.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon talked about how his team needed to do a "better job defending," how it had "some breakdowns" and how it "came up short in a few areas" after an 80-72 loss at Villanova two days ago.

It was revealing stuff for a guy who rarely criticizes his team in public. But it might have also been necessary for a coach who is trying to keep his 17th-ranked Panthers (18-5, 8-4 Big East) in check as they get closer to tournament play.

The Big East tourney tips off at Madison Square Garden in 15 days; the NCAAs open in 23.

That means Dixon has precious little time to shore up his areas of concern, most notably a perimeter defense that has yielded far too many 3-point baskets in recent weeks.

Villanova was the latest opponent to victimize the Panthers from the outside, going 12 of 23 from 3-point range for a 52.2-percent success rate. It should be noted that the Wildcats rank third in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage (37.4) and have won six of seven games when they've produced 10 3-pointers or more, but that doesn't mean Dixon let his team off the hook easily.

"We have to be better," he said.

In the past five games, three Pitt opponents have hit for double-digit 3-pointers. West Virginia, which plays at Pitt on Wednesday night, went 13 of 40 in an 83-78 overtime upset of the Panthers on Feb. 5, and Notre Dame went 14 of 29 from long range in a down-to-the-wire 68-66 loss at Pitt on Feb. 12.

What's more, in three of the Panthers' four Big East losses, they've yielded at least 11 3-pointers. Georgetown went 11 of 21 in a 67-64 win at Petersen Events Center on Jan. 5.

Pitt with its defense, forces teams to take a lot of outside shots. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as Ken Pomeroy points out with yet more stats, Pitt's opponents to get over 30% of their points from 3-point shots. Out of 330 teams, Pitt is 279th in amount of % of points scored from 3s (and the stats don't reflect on the Villanova game).

As far as what that means for the last 4 games, BC and UConn are teams more like Pitt, in that they like to get the ball inside. UConn, especially as Rashard Anderson is out, is definitely going to be going inside more than they did last time. ND and WVU, as we all know are teams that will and can make 3s. Those two games will be the ones to watch with regards to what Pitt does to shore up the perimeter defense.

A notebook piece, observes that Levon Kendall hasn't been shooting much, or particularly well in recent games.

Aaron Gray comes in for another puff piece (I think this is his 3rd or 4th this season). This one focuses on his improvement during the season. The biggest thing I've seen on offense, is he is getting much better about catching the ball and going right up for the basket. Earlier he would either re-grip the ball or put it on the floor before jumping. This allowed a defender an extra second to either try and block, foul or get in position where Gray had to give up what should have been an easy 2. It really showed against 'Nova when they focused much of their interior defense on Troutman. Gray was left alone for most of his baskets.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Football Notes 

Joe Bendel, writing for ESPN.com (Insider subs.) about how recruiting went in the Big East leads with Pitt.

New Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt hit the recruiting trail running -- and he looked like an old pro doing it.

The former boss of the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears had been out of the college game for 16 years, but you wouldn't have known it by the way he hustled to retain the lion's share of Walt Harris' recruits.

He also brought in a few of his own, most notably running back Conredge Collins of Coconut Creek, Fla., the plum of this year's 24-member class.

"Whenever there is a coaching change, it is very difficult to hold onto recruits," said Wannstedt, a Pittsburgh alum who stepped into the job on Dec. 23 after Harris departed for Stanford. "That's what other schools look for; they're always looking for a crack in the armor. ... We were able to hold onto the majority of the ones we wanted, and, in the [late going], we found a way to add three or four more players."

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming rated the Panthers' class second in the Big East behind West Virginia's. In addition to Collins, record-setting quarterback Bill Stull of Pittsburgh's Seton-LaSalle High and defensive lineman Craig Bokor of Pittsburgh (an original member of the 2004 class who went to military school) were considered keys to the group.

Collins, the son of Tony Collins, former New England Patriots 1,000-yard running back, and Stull, who was set to go to Kentucky, committed under Wannstedt's watch. Collins said there was a buzz in Florida when word spread that Wannstedt had taken over at Pittsburgh. The same occurred in western Pennsylvania.

"We'd like to recruit in a 300-mile radius from here ... and, of course, we'll continue to go into Florida," Wannstedt said.

Eleven of the Pittsburgh signees hail from western Pennsylvania, which is significant, because Harris was criticized for his inability to lure enough players from his back yard. Six other states send at least one player to Pittsburgh, including Florida (6), New Jersey (2), New York (2), Ohio (1), Virginia (1) and Maryland (1).

"We have to reestablish ourselves at home," Wannstedt said. "It is a priority, I can guarantee you that. We can't let these guys leave and go someplace else. There's too much talent here."

Pittsburgh returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense from last year's Fiesta Bowl team. A couple of the newcomers could make an immediate impact, notably Bokor and Collins (who could improve a running game that managed just 2.6 yards per carry). A good portion of the class likely will redshirt, though Wannstedt made it clear that every position is open.

Wonder who ESPN.com will tap next fall for the Big East Notebook? They tend to rotate with a different beat writer every year.

Pitt definitely isn't the only one scheduling the Div. I-AA football programs. Auburn just added Western Kentucky.

At this point, I'll introduce Pat Hill. You know him as Fresno State's brash and bold coach, a guy who has built a program from the scrap heap and will play anyone, any time, any place to gain respect.

So I placed a call to Hill last week and told him Auburn just added a home game against Division I-AA Western Kentucky to complete its 2005 schedule. And before I could ask the question, he gave the answer.

"We called them," Hill interrupted. "We wanted to play them. I guess their schedule was already filled."

No, it wasn't. Fresno officials called before Auburn added Western Kentucky, and Hill is speaking with a politically correct tone because, well, he'd love a shot at Auburn somewhere down the road. Yeah, good luck with that. Auburn has bigger fish to flop.

Like The Citadel. Or Western Kentucky. Or big, bad Ball State.

This is why Auburn wasn't one of two teams playing in the Orange Bowl national title game last season, why the Tigers were stuck in the Sugar Bowl politicking for respect. Respect? Play someone with a pulse outside your conference, then we'll talk.

Wait, I take that back. Aubie played USC in the 2002 and '03 seasons and lost by a combined 47-17. The Tigers also played Georgia Tech in 2003 and lost 17-3. Hence, the reason for last year's brutal nonconference slate of Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech. And the reason the Tigers weren't playing USC in the Orange Bowl.

Look, Auburn shouldn't have to apologize for its schedule; it plays in the SEC, the toughest conference in college football. But like it or not, teams must prove themselves outside of their conferences to earn style points. It's as much a beauty pageant as it is a demolition derby.

Auburn was put in this predicament after Southern Miss bailed out of a game because of conflicts with the new Conference USA schedule. But here's the hitch: Southern Miss informed Auburn last September. University officials knew for five months -- through a magical unbeaten season, through the controversy of not being able to play for the national title because of a pathetic nonconference schedule -- that they needed a nonconference game for 2005, yet they chose to continue down the same path.

This season and next season, it likely won't be that type of issue for Pitt. But if Pitt continues to improve and seeks to get on the national stage, then the non-con will be vital for Pitt. Unlike Auburn for example (or the Pitt basketball team), the Pitt football team does not get to fall back on the argument of a brutal conference schedule. Not with Rutgers and Cinci every year.

At the very least, Pitt needs to start looking into scheduling some non-cons with teams like Fresno and Boise St. There is plenty of risk, but Pitt is going to have to start taking some chances in that area.

Bubble Dreams 

West Virginia has convinced themselves that they are somewhere on the NCAA Tournament bubble. So coming off a home win against 3-9 Seton Hall yesterday, they see that game against Pitt on Wednesday as their big opportunity.

Against the hapless Pirates, they generated 15 turnovers that they turned into 26 points.
"Playing Pitt is a huge game for us," Herber said. "It's as hard as it gets. Pitt is one of the best home teams in the country. They're going to be fired up because we beat them. It's going to be a hostile crowd. I hope we're going to be ready."

"Sometimes you're trying to get on the bubble, so to speak, and can't play anybody to get noticed," Beilein said. "Pitt's a great team. To beat them on the road will be very difficult to do. But it would be a great win for us, to help us finish strong here in February.

"I know there will be extra focus in practice getting ready for this game."

Focus is fine. The question is, does this team have the confidence and desire to win in the Steel City. We know the talent is there for the upset by the result of the Feb. 5 game.

"We definitely have the desire," Herber said. "We know every game makes or breaks our season right now. We approach every game as the last one. This one gives us a lot of confidence."

So maybe, just maybe, they can steal one in the Peterson Center.
Of course Pitt needs this game, this is not the time for consecutive losses. Especially not to lose at home to the Hoopies.

This is the only game down the stretch for Pitt that won't be on national TV. This creates a quandary for me. Do I waste the $5 or so to get Pitt's internet broadcast? I've resisted all season, and now it would essentially be for just one game. Yes, it's only $5, but I totally disagree with Pitt's policy of making you pay to get the streaming broadcast. They should do it free, to reach a broader base.

So what I need is Logic 2.0" (anyone who read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency should know what I'm talking about). That is, I need to have a reasoned, logical method of reaching the conclusion that I should pay for the broadcast.

Pitt-Villanova: Media Recap 

In the 'Burgh, the game is being chalked up to just one of those games where 'Nova was hitting 3s. Carl Krauser, though, had some issues about the way the refs were calling the game.
"My mouth has been quiet for quite a while -- and I haven't disrespected any refs," the Pitt junior said. "That's not the reason we lost the game, but it helps. Today, I got really aggravated."
"I kind of felt like Shaq out there -- you know, when Shaq gets hacked all the time," said Krauser, who helped the Panthers whittle a 13-point deficit with 5:37 remaining into a three-point deficit on two free throws with 1:38 to go. Pitt would never get any closer. "I've kind of felt like that for a while now. This is the first time I said anything. I'm out there working as hard as anyone else."

Krauser believes his physical, all-out nature is working against him.

"I guess they think I'm tough, so they think I'm looking for contact every time," he said. "That's not the case. More than 90 percent of the time, I get hacked and hit and blood (on me). They look at you like you're tough and you're supposed to keep playing. It's frustrating."

Whether Krauser is correct in his assessment of the officiating is debatable, but this much is certain: Villanova exploited Pitt's perimeter defense, which has been an area of concern much of the season.
Mixed feelings. There were times when it looked like Pitt was being mugged out there, and even the ABC crew seemed to point out more missed calls going against Pitt, but how much right does Pitt have to complain about physical play -- especially in the Big East? Add in the fact that 'Nova had 2 players foul out, had one more PF called on them than Pitt, and that includes 5 fouls Pitt committed in the last minute; and it's hard for me to fairly judge the officials as being a top-5 factor for the loss.

Barring a complete collapse by BC, Pitt will not win a share of a 3rd regular season Big East title.

Interesting note from NY Daily News writer Dick Weiss about Jay Wright and the Villanova team.
This is Wright's fourth year in the Mainline, the same year things started to click in when he was at Hofstra and began producing perennial NCAA caliber teams at that America East school.
No this is not the America East conference, but with their talent returning and a year older next year, they should be considered the primary dark horse team in the BE in 05-06 in early handicapping.

In Philly, where they ignored the game until it was over, they are jumping back on the bandwagon. In fact, they are now thinking that 'Nova is peaking at the right time this year and next.

TIMING CAN BE everything, and quite frankly, fourth-year Villanova coach Jay Wright has picked the perfect time to get his Wildcats back on the national scene.

It's not fair to say that this season would have been 'Nova's last chance to re-establish itself as a perennial NCAA Tournament program, the kind that top recruits would again put on their consideration list. But considering what's coming next in the Big East Conference, this was probably going to be its best.
Syracuse and UConn are established national powers. Louisville, Cincinnati, Pitt and De Paul are big time players on the national scene.

Georgetown, Notre Dame and St. John's are name brands that can easily become household names again.

In a conference like that, Villanova can't afford to be out of the spotlight any longer because it's just going to get harder and harder to find.
As for the 'Nova fans, well you stay classy:

A mob was preparing to storm the court yesterday at the Pavilion, where Villanova was putting the finishing touches on an 80-72 Big East Conference victory over No. 17 Pittsburgh.

Then there appeared to be some wavering. Was such a celebration appropriate for the occasion?

The Wildcats' student section began chanting over and over: "Pitt's not worth it," and "Not an upset."

But when the final horn sounded, a sea of blue T-shirts flooded the floor anyway, and No. 25 Villanova had won for the fifth time in its last six outings to the delight of a sellout crowd of 6,500.

Right. The last time they beat Pitt was the BE Tournament in 2000. Still, look at this way, has beating Villanova ever caused any student section anywhere to come running out on the court? Didn't think so. It mattered to the 'Nova players:

"It was great to get a win against them," Ray said. "I hadn't beaten them since I've been here. The first half, [Pittsburgh] was playing me and trying not to let me get any shots off. In the second half, I found ways to find my shots."
Their point guard, Mike Nardi, gets a puff piece to the extent that he is touted as the "one of the finest point guards in college basketball." He had 13 points, but only had 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Not exactly the game that demonstrated this.

West Virginia at home, Wednesday night.

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