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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wisconsin - Pitt 

Open thread for those who can.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Pitt 35-28. Krauser leading the scoring. Young started slow but finished the half strong.

Okay, before the game started Hillgrove and Groat waxed positively euphoric over the officiating crew. Then the game started and Pitt was whistled for a ton of fouls while nothing on Wisconsin. 3 on Kendall and Gray, 2 on Young, Graves and Biggs. Ultimately They were acting like Pitt was getting screwed. I am not seeing the game, what is reality?

FINAL UPDATE: Pitt 73-64. Pitt 11-0. Jamie Krauser led the scoring, but this was the freshmen breakout game. At least that will be the storyline tomorrow. Big night for Young. Fields was efficient (except at the FT line). Biggs stepped up and had a great night filling in when Gray could not stay in the line-up.

Unsung heroics to Ramon for his defense and running the point. 6 assists, 1 steal and 0 turnovers. DeGroat apparently got the message and played solid. 25 minutes with 5 points a rebound and an assist. This despite an apparent injury during the game.

I'm signing off for the night. Happy new year.

Everybody Gets Tested 

Can you guess today's theme? Not just Pitt, but the same for Wisconsin.

The Badgers are 10-1, the best start of Bo Ryan's five seasons. Considering just four of the team's 15 players are upperclassmen, it's possible that this team has grown more over the pre-conference season than any he has had at Wisconsin.

That doesn't mean there aren't concerns six days before they open the Big Ten season against Iowa at home. The team's free throw shooting has been shaky at times, especially Tucker's. Its defense has been, as Ryan likes to say, "a work in progress" although the team has made strides in that department in the past month.

The Badgers also have little experience playing on the road. They lost their lone road game, 91-88, at Wake Forest Nov. 29.

That's why this evening is so important.

At 5 p.m., the Badgers, ranked No. 24 by the Associated Press and No. 22 in the coaches' poll, play at Pittsburgh, a 10-0 team ranked 23rd by the coaches. The game should provide a much-needed test for both teams. Wisconsin gets to play at the Petersen Events Center where the Panthers have won 56 of 61 games. Pitt gets a ranked opponent after playing a schedule that, according to collegerpi.com, ranks 235th out of 334 teams.

(For those confused about the starting time, remember that Wisconsin is in the Central Time Zone. The game is still 6pm Eastern.)

The CollegeRPI SOS is accurate, but does not include the Wednesday game against South Carolina. With basketball regular season barely 1/3 of the way through, that is a big omission. It actually raised Pitt's SOS by around 40-45 spots. Smaller sample sizes create wider variances.

As I was saying, the theme is "testing":

Saturday, we should find out how physical the Badgers really are. They've only played one team anywhere near their skill level this season and that was Wake Forest, a team that doesn't mind a game of strength, but would rather deliver body blows with fluid combinations of three-pointers and fast breaks.

While strength was an asset for the Badgers last season, Pittsburgh has been among the most physical programs in recent seasons, especially on defense.

Saturday's game should be a good measuring stick for both teams. It is also an excellent scouting opportunity for Marquette coaches and fans. The Eagles will face the Panthers twice this season and should get an idea of how strong Jamie Dixon's undefeated group is on Saturday prior to New Years' eve gatherings.

And though Pittsburgh's calling card remains rough, tough and tumble play, the point guards could be the difference in the game.
Not to mention give Pitt a good idea of how it stacks up against Marquette and the rest of the Big East. Marquette lost to Wisconsin earlier in the season, but beat South Carolina at the Great Alaskan Shoot-out. Right now Marquette is probably right in the middle of the Big East, and this will help indicate whether Pitt is right within the orbit or slightly higher.

Draft Express also goes with the testing concept.
WISCONSIN AT PITTSBURGH. Pittsburgh is undefeated on the season, but was really only tested once and that was in their game at South Carolina. This game will teach us more about how good a team they really are. Wisconsin has played a much tougher out of conference schedule. They are 10-1 on the year with their only loss being a close one to Wake Forest. They have some pretty good wins against top tier teams from lower level conferences, which may not sound impressive because they don't have big names, but they are still good basketball teams that aren't easy to beat. This would be a huge win for the Badgers as well if they could pull this off. Perhaps their best win of the year so far.

How obvious is the theme? Even Dick Vitale picked up on it.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, we're going to find out a lot about Jamie Dixon's club when they go against Bo Ryan's Badgers. With Carl Krauser in the backcourt, an improved Aaron Gray up front, and the Zoo rooting on the Panthers, this should be a thriller. Diaper dandy Sam Young had 16 points in a big win at South Carolina earlier in the week. If Levon Kendall can play as well as he did against the United States over the summer in international play, Dixon has the potential to smile this season.
I know everyone is really tired of hearing Kendall's performance over the summer. So am I. Problem is, we haven't heard the last of it because Pitt has yet to start playing on ESPN. All of those announcing crews have to have their chance to talk about it.

There's something of an incongruity when it comes to Pitt -- and this applies to any team that has played a rather soft schedule -- everyone is arguing that they are overrated, yet if Wisconsin beats them it is a big win. This, despite the fact that Wisconsin is actually ranked slightly above Pitt -- and no one is claiming Wisconsin is overrated.

So as a service, here are the advanced spins from the national college basketball punditcracy.

If Pitt wins: A good win for Pitt, but it was at home; and they have played such a cupcake, home-laden schedule leading up to the game that they still should be punished and ridiculed for it. No real harm to Wisconsin who went on the road against a very good team.

If Wisconsin wins: A big win for Wisconsin on the road against a team that rarely loses at home. Shows how a good non-con can prepare a team (even if they barely left their home court all through the non-con). Pitt will have a tough loss that they had coming because they just weren't prepared for the step-up in competition because of their lousy non-con and not testing themselves.

Now I'm not saying there aren't some kernels of truth in there, but this is how you can expect to see the storylines.

Naturally one of the themes that will be heard on any broadcast of the game today will be the 2004 meeting of the teams in the NCAA. If you need a refresher you can find my recap here, along with the media recap. The great advantage of the blog is you can check responsespsonses and reactions at the time rather than memory-addled rewinds.

Wisconsin's Greg Stiemsma gets a puff piece in one of the Wisconsin papers. He had five blocks against Louisiana Tech, and is part of the troika of big men inside for the Badgers. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin's head coach, gets a puff piece in the context of looking at tonight's game -- aided in part by the fact that Ryan has a PA connection of being from Chester.

That's why Ryan believes tonight's game is crucial to both teams, and says playing the Panthers will help prepare the Badgers for Big Ten play.

"Pitt is a tough team, they are obviously playing very well right now," Ryan said. "They've had a lot of success over the years and they've made their building a tough place to play. I think both teams could use a big win to get them jump-started for the conference schedule. It will be a tough game, but we've just got to make sure we do the things that made us successful to this point."

Pitt of course, wants a win and end the year the right way.

"This is going to be my first experience playing against a team like this," Young said. "This is going to be the best team we've played thus far. But we've worked hard and practiced hard. We had a good practice (Friday), and I think we're ready."

The Pitt defense, which has been stingy all season, will be severely tested by a Wisconsin lineup that features three players that are at least 6-10. Alando Tucker, a 6-6 forward, leads three double-figure scorers for the Badgers with an average of 17.5 points per game.

After allowing 71 points in a season-opening victory over St. Peter's, Pitt has limited its past nine opponents to 60 points or less. The Panthers are yielding an average of only 54.6 points per game.

Both teams have the ability to play slow-down. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Wisconsin's style would be a continuation of what the Panthers saw in South Carolina, when Pitt scored the least amount of first-half points this year.

But, he said, while South Carolina presented a sizeable lineup inside in 6-11 Brandon Wallace and 6-8 Renaldo Balkman, Wisconsin possesses a "completely different" player in the middle.

"These guys don't put the ball down on the floor," Dixon said, referring to 6-11 Brian Butch, 6-10 Jason Chappell and 6-11 reserve Greg Stiemsma. "They're bigger, stronger, wider. But they're not as athletic."

Against Louisiana Tech, Butch registered game highs in points (18), rebounds (10) and assists (5) and a career high in blocks (3), while Stiemsa had a career-high five blocks to go with five points and four rebounds off the bench.

Wisconsin killed Louisiana Tech 78-52. This is a team that likes to score. They had one game where they didn't score at least 71 points or more (a 54-51 win over UNC-Wilmington). According to the numbers, this is one of the most efficient teams on offense. They don't commit a lot of turnovers, and they do a good job with each possession. The game should be something since Pitt is one of the most efficient defenses in the country.

Yeah, it's safe to say the wife is going to be pissed at me for wanting to listen to this game on New Year's Eve. But I don't see how I can not.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Only One Half Notices 

For a second game in a row, Pitt will be facing an opponent who's local media is completely focused on a college football bowl game. They have this Citrus Bowl or something on January 2, and that seems to be a big deal. I mean they are playing Auburn, and like, Pitt already crushed Auburn this year. Sure the crushing was in basketball, but then, that's what's important right now. No, I'm not in denial about the past football season. Why do you ask?

This will be the big game for Pitt. The Badgers can throw 3 big guys inside at teams. Forward-Center Brian Butch and Center Greg Stiemsma are both 6' 11", and Forward Center Jason Chappell is 6'10", and all 3 are around 240-245. The point was made leading up to the South Carolina game that Aaron Gray would finally play inside against someone who could look him in the eye. Wisconsin actually has an inside size advantage.

Anyhow, game notes from Wisconsin (PDF) have the stats and it suggests that this is a team that will go inside on offense, then kick it out to the guards for the outside shots. Despite all that size inside, they are not a particularly dominating team on the glass. Butch is their leading rebounder with 6.8 per game.

Pitt game notes are here (PDF). The game is on FSN-Pittsburgh, ESPN Gameplan and apparently MSG is carrying it in the NY/NJ area (hat tip, Steve). For the rest of us it is Radio or the internet.

The game caught the attention of Greg Doyel at CBS Sportline, who included it in his top-ten games of the weekend.
No. 24 Wisconsin at Pittsburgh: Its schedule has been weak, but 10-0 Pittsburgh's for real. Intermingled with all that tiptoeing through the daisies, the Panthers trashed Auburn and won at South Carolina. And this game is in Pittsburgh. So the pick here is obvious. Pick: Wisconsin.
I'm strangely happy to see Pitt not being picked, though it would appear some sports books have made Pitt a 4.5 point favorite. Many, however, have this one off.

Come Forth Young Man 

After what is hoped to be his break-out game, Sam Young is the topic of a couple articles today. Obviously after the South Carolina game the issue is not will his minutes increase, but by how much.
Dixon has brought Young along slowly, playing him less than 17 minutes a game the first 10 games of the season. But it is becoming evident that Young is a player who can help the Panthers reach unexpected heights this season, if he can perform on a consistent basis.

"I told him that's how I expect him to play every game," Pitt senior Carl Krauser said afterward.

Young could be forcing his way into a more prominent role. He is Pitt's most productive player when broken down into points per minute. Young has scored 74 points in 168 minutes. Center Aaron Gray is next with 123 points in 257 minutes.

Despite playing 66 fewer minutes than Levon Kendall, the starter at power forward, Young has scored just one fewer point. If Young can find consistency in his game, he will force Dixon to find more playing time for him.

As it is, Young is Pitt's fourth-leading scorer with 7.4 points per game while seven other players on the team get more minutes.

Part of Young's problem is that he has been maddeningly inconsistent. He failed to score against Vermont and scored three points or fewer on three other occasions. Yet there he was against South Carolina, playing like a seasoned veteran in his first college game outside Pittsburgh.

Based on the one game I have actually seen, I think Young has to rein in his showmanship. That seemed to be a problem. He was looking to create the big impact play to really bring the crowd to its feet, rather than just play and make things happen within the game. I'm a little uncomfortable saying that because it is extrapolation from too small a sample. It's all I have at the moment to offer as a theory.

In the South Carolina game, it was Young's offensive rebounding that made the difference in how much he scored and how Pitt came back and won the game.

"Sam Young had six offensive rebounds, four of which I know were put back by him," Odom said.

After Dixon decided to replace Pitt starting forward John DeGroat with Benjamin in the opening minutes, Young spelled Levon Kendall at the other forward. Young (22 minutes) and Kendall (21), though, rotated consistently and played nearly an identical amount.

"Sam can be a great offensive rebounder, but I don't think he's quite grasped that yet," Dixon said. "We've seen it at times, but we want it all the time. We want it every time."

With Gray continuing to control the rebounding -- he grabbed 13 to lead Pitt's 38-22 domination of South Carolina on the boards -- Dixon may want to find a way to keep Kendall and Young on the floor together with the 7-foot Gray.

"We had (Kendall and Young) in there at the same time, which is something we've done a little bit in the past," Dixon said. "We've practiced that way probably more than in the games. It's something that can happen."

And likely will. There has yet to be any report of an injury to DeGroat, so it might be safe to assume he got in Dixon's doghouse for now.

Ray Fittipaldo has his Q&A filed. He's worried about the lack of depth behind Aaron Gray. Go figure. How many schools have a good center in the first place? Let alone 2? He also provides some updates on former Pitt players. Seems Julius Page is close to getting his degree.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

So It's Official 

I kind of held off on posting about Greg Lee deciding to go pro, because it didn't seem that much more concrete than earlier reports. Now Frank passes word that he made it so on TV. Okay. I'm guessing it was money. His family needs it or something. He's a 4th-5th rounder at best. That or he got some seriously bad advice. He's got the talent and the size. He just has yet to show the focus and consistency. That's going to be a potential killer.

As noted, this opens the door for the incoming freshmen like Dickerson and Smith. Kinder suddenly becomes a number #1. DelSardo gets another chance to get back in the mix. Players like Pestano, Chandler, Moore and Turner have to take advantage of the time between now and spring drills to try and make their case.

Matt Cavanaugh needs to further work on figuring out how to use the extremely deep and talented pool at Tight End -- Buches, Strong, Pelusi are already here. Plus Byham's arrival.

Finally, it is up to Palko to make an effort to connect with the WRs already here and find out which ones are committed to becoming the "go-to guy."

Final note. Looks like Pitt will have a very respectable schedule.
Pitt has finalized its non-conference football schedule for 2006. The Panthers will play home games against Virginia, Michigan State, Toledo and The Citadel and play at Central Florida. They will play seven home games and five on the road. In addition to the four non-conference games, the Panthers will play host to Big East rivals Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers. They will play road conference games at Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida and Syracuse.
If ticket prices hold the line, that will be pretty good value for home game opponents.

Once More, Things Are Stirring Up 

So Harry Psaros has left Rivals.com/PantherLair for Scout.com/PantherReport. He takes over as publisher.
Bob Lichtenfels has done an admirable job maintaining this site for two years. He is well known and respected and I look forward to working with him. As your new publisher, I plan on making a tremendous amount of changes. Look for a new name, new logo, new "look" and dramatically improved message boards. This site has sat in a state of atrophy for several years. That is about to change. There will be a steady metamorphosis over the next six months. I can assure you this site will dramatically improve.

There are many of you asking why I chose to jump to Scout.com. Upper management from the network has been in close contact with me for several months. We have had multiple in-depth discussions. Their vision of the future is aggressive and exciting. Scout's affiliation with Fox Sports is bound to lead to bigger and better opportunities for this site (in addition to massive exposure). A myriad of Scout.com publishers took their time to contact me. I was highly impressed with family oriented atmosphere and sense of camaraderie between the publishers.
Things have quietly been getting interesting in the last six plus months for the recruiting sites. Scout.com and Rivals.com have had their sniping over time and various names, and people change sides all the time. It's been recent, though, that real changes have been brewing. A lot started when ESPN/Disney started making noises. First was a ESPN The Magazine article over the summer that seemed to some as a hit piece on recruiting sites. Then came the further news about how ESPN.com was creating its own recruiting database and info under the name of Scouts, Inc. -- and how a lawsuit over the names by Scout.com hasn't occurred is beyond me.

Scout.com responded by letting itself be acquired by Fox Interactive Media, a part of the Fox media conglomerate. This gave Scout.com more reach and deeper pockets.

At this time, Rivals.com is still operating as an independent. There are still sports/entertainment media groups that could become involved with them. CBS Sportsline.com, which is owned by Viacom and recently acquired College Sports TV would appear to be the most obvious. Comcast/OLN is another possibility, as is Time Warner, and possibly even the Tribune Company. At some point they are going to need to have somebody behind them, if the fight for subscribers becomes more pointed.

2006 looks to be a year of potential shakeout and consolidation.

Not Pretty 

One of the things that will have Pitt fans wondering for the next couple of days will be what DeGroat did to get put on the bench for the entire game after less than 3 minutes on the floor? He started, but was pulled quickly and never saw the court again. He shot 1-2 and committed a turnover. There was no explanation I could find, and no reported injury. Seems even more surprising given Kendall's 4 second-half turnovers.

The word used to describe the game was "ugly."
He did not plan on the Panthers shooting 38 percent from the field, committing 17 turnovers or having his starting front line combine for a measly 12 points.

A performance like that usually produces a loss. But the Panthers did what they seem to do better than almost anyone they play. They muddied the waters, made the Gamecocks play their type of game and stole a 58-51 victory on the road.

"When you go on the road, it's about being a family, sticking together and coming through adversity," senior guard Carl Krauser said. "We gutted it out and got a tough win."

The story, of course, was Sam Young.

Young did not make his first appearance until midway through the first half, but he quickly made his presence known by scoring off three offensive rebounds in a 3:30 span to get Pitt back in the game.

When Pitt seized control of the game early in the second half, Young played the key role. He scored 10 of Pitt's points in an 18-7 run to open the half, including a three-point play off an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer from behind the arc.

"Sam Young is the guy who turned the game with his offensive rebounding," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.

"We were struggling on offense," Young said. "I saw an opportunity to step up. I thought I'd take that opportunity."

That he did.

Coach Dixon was in his usual coachspeak, but was honest that the team needs a lot of improvement. Despite holding South Carolina to 51 points, Pitt allowed them to shoot better than 40%; Pitt turned the ball over too much and shot selection needs to be better.

For South Carolina, their leading rebounder was invisible in the first half then benched in the second.

"I'm terribly disappointed right now," Gamecocks coach Dave Odom said. "Our team is not playing as well as it needs to play. Our team is not playing winning basketball right now."

Balkman played two minutes in the second half after being benched because "I didn't think he was playing well, and I didn't think he was playing very hard," Odom said.

Without Balkman, the team's leading rebounder entering Wednesday, Pittsburgh finished with a 16-rebound advantage and erased a slow start that produced 10 points in the first 14 minutes.

Kelley's 18 points appeared to hit the spot. But because Balkman was MIA and no one picked up the slack, the result was another bad statistic for the Gamecocks: They are now 0-7 when Kelley scores at least 17 points.

Kelley said the increased pressure to score occasionally results in turnovers; he had three in the second half Wednesday.

But Kelley said there are other problems with the Gamecocks, who have lost two in a row for the first time this season and have lost three of their past five.

"We've got to listen. I don't think we listen much to the coaching staff," Kelley said. "We've got to get everybody on the same page. Some guys may or may not care much about losing, but there are some guys in this locker room who do. We have to want to win."

That's one of those unfortunate things, because Kelley wasn't the problem. He was the only one keeping USC in the game in the second half. He shot 6-10 while the rest of the team shot 12-32 (.375). He was 4-4 at the FT line, and the rest of the team was 8-17. He even grabbed 4 rebounds. This was not some sort of game where one player took an absurd number of shots to the exclusion of others. It's where no one else for the Gamecocks was doing much of value.

The loss spoiled the retirement of BJ McKie's jersey. Well, that's why they do those sort of things before the game.

Follow The Gameplan? 

In the stories before the game, the theme was to get the ball inside first. Get the inside baskets and the outside shots for the guards will come. So much for that gameplan.

In the first half Pitt took 26 shots, and 12 were from outside the arc (making only 3). It would appear to have been some impatient guard play -- led by Krauser. The guards took 12 shots, of which 10 were 3-pointers. Gray, Kendall, Biggs and DeGroat only took 9 shots, and 2 of them were 3-pointers. There wasn't a lot of penetration in the first half. Some of that should be attributed to the South Carolina defense which swarmed the ball very well, and created 9 turnovers in the half -- by 7 players.

What kept Pitt in the game was the offensive rebounding. Pitt held a 9-2 offensive rebounding advantage in the first half. This was keyed by Sam Young continually following shots to the basket (including his own once). He had 4 offensive boards and immediately followed with a lay-up or jumper to go 3-4 (3-5 in the half). Considering Pitt shot 8-26 in the first half, there is no way to underestimate the importance of Young's impact.

The only other positive to take from that horrible 1st half -- other than somehow being down by only 2 -- was that there was an assist on half of the baskets. A not so subtle hint that ball movement gets better looks.

The second half saw the adjustments and refocusing of getting the ball inside more often. Pitt only took 6 3-pointers. The concerted effort was clear in that Gray -- while shooting horribly in the game (3-10) -- had 7 shots in the second half and making 3. Kendall also saw the ball inside a lot more, but was very sloppy. He had 4 of his 5 turnovers in the second half -- never actually getting a shot off.

Pitt shot 10-21 in the second half while absolutely limiting South Carolina's opportunities. The Gamecocks only had 1 offensive rebound in the second half, 3 for the entire game.

Pitt's second half offense was keyed by 3 different players at different points. Keith Benjamin in the first couple of minutes with an offensive rebound and 2 baskets to give Pitt the lead. Sam Young was in the middle of everything from around the 17 minute point to about 9 minutes left in the game -- 10 points (5-5 on FTs), 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist. (He also was whistled for a couple fouls, bringing him to 4, which was why he came out of the game at that point.) Carl Krauser in the final 5:43 where he had 8 of Pitt's final 13 points.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

An Additional Voice 

Well, it's about time.

We finally have another Pitt blogger.

Keith Wehmeyer has gotten in the game. Keith has been writing for the Pitt News, and has been a commenter here for the last 3-4 months or so. He will be focusing on basketball, and has a nice clean looking home. His blog now linked in the Big East Blogs section, and is a welcome addition -- even if he is a Red Sox fan.

It's Deja Vu All Over Again 

Facing the Gamecocks, it was the first time Pitt trailed at half time this year. Guess what? Last year Pitt was trailing South Carolina at the half for the first time in the season. Hell, looking at last year's recap, I had afterwards there was a good amount of familiarity. -- a second half run to open it up, the Gamecocks getting back into it, icing the game with free throws, Krauser.

On the bright side, it was still a win. Pitt withstood its first challenge despite an absurd number of turnovers (17) because they outrebounded like crazy (38 to 23) creating more shot attempts and limiting the opposition.

Free Audio 

Go to this Yahoo! Page and click the gray "audio" link next to South Carolina for the free radio broadcast.

Halftime Update: Pitt down 22-20 despite absolutely pathetic shooting and 9 turnovers. Pitt is in this one because Sam Young is doing some great offensive rebounding and put-backs.

Final Update: 58-51 Pitt. Pitt turned it on, then nearly let it get away. Sam Young was huge. Gray rebounded but couldn't hit water falling out of a boat. Krauser had one of those nights where he just shot 3s -- badly. 2nd half free throw shooting helped bail Pitt out. More when I can better digest and view the full stats.

Free Beer 

Well, not quite but a nice start to the New Year. ESPN.com is plugging its mid-season college basketball full-court PPV package online (the mid-season package starts January 6). To that end it will be doing a free preview week January 3-8. That happens to include the January 4 ND-Pitt game.

A nice bonus for those, like me, who live outside of the Pittsburgh media market (the game will be on FoxSports Pittsburgh), and opted against getting the full package.

There actually look to be some other good games during the free period. Definitely able to check out other BE opponents.
January 3: Connecticut @ Marquette

January 4: Xavier @ Saint Joseph's and Yale @ Kansas

January 5: Iowa @ Wisconsin

January 7: Cincinnati @ Marquette; Notre Dame @ DePaul; Oklahoma State @ Missouri

January 8: West Virginia @ Villanova; Temple @ Saint Joseph's; Georgetown @ St. John's
You do need broadband, though. Also, I've found that ESPN.com is picky about the browser you use. You will probably have to use Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Begin Finding Out 

I'd say Pitt's reputation in basketball the last few years is the reason the team is getting ranked or close to ranked, as opposed to Clemson.
Pittsburgh is 9-0 and Clemson is 11-0. Are the Panthers or Tigers any good? Hard to tell. Pitt's best win is probably over Auburn, which would have mattered in football. Clemson can be proud of beating South Carolina but shouldn't shout too loud about wins over Puerto Rico Mayaguez or South Carolina State. Both teams walloped Coppin State and Penn State. Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon and Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell must attend the same school of easy scheduling.
Clemson is in the 30s when it comes to receiving votes in both polls. They have non-con games remaining at Georgia tonight and Elon. Still amusing to read Penn State listed as one of the cream-puffs on the schedule for unbeaten Pitt, Clemson and Texas A&M

In showing how little concern there is for Gamecock basketball, the only story in the paper focuses on the retirement of BJ McKie's number and the school's relationship with past players.

McKie, who was a McDonald's All-American at Irmo High, said one of his best decisions was to attend USC, but he added that today's high-school players are less likely to associate tradition with the school unless familiar faces are watching from the bleachers.

"I think they (USC officials) could improve upon a lot of things like that. That's why some players don't come back. I really think they could do a better job of organizing things to a certain degree," McKie said. "The university has a lot of things to work on as far as getting the former players to come back. Some bridges have been burned, and a lot of people know that because players don't come back.

"This is a good first step."

One that will include other former players and coaches. Several former Gamecocks, such as Melvin Watson and Larry Davis, are expected to attend tonight's game. Former coach Eddie Fogler, who recruited and coached McKie and led USC to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, said he will attend.

Hyman said the school plans to invite all former men's basketball players back for a game later this season.

McKie, who plays for Andrea Costa Imola in Italy, said he has maintained a healthy relationship with USC since graduating in 1999; he said he has worked at summer basketball camps at the school and occasionally stays up late in Italy to watch the Gamecocks on satellite television.

Recently departed Pitt players have been spotted frequently at the games, and that is a credit to their relationship with Coach Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Athletic Department for making the effort -- as players from further back have been showing up at the games. Of course, winning really makes it a lot easier and desirable to attend the games.

The game will not be shown on TV in Pittsburgh, nor on ESPN Full Court. If you live where Comcast/Charter Sports South is shown(some places in the South), you can see the game. Otherwise you can listen for free on the internet via the South Carolina website, or on the local radio if you are in the Pittsburgh Radio Network range.

This will also be one of the first games where Aaron Gray will not have a huge advantage at Center.

South Carolina's Brandon Wallace, who stands 6-11, will be the first opponent Gray has faced who has the height and quickness to defend Gray in the post. A slender but long-armed junior, Wallace has the task of standing up to Gray in the lane.

"It'll be good to see Aaron go up against someone who isn't 6-7," junior power forward Levon Kendall said with a smile. "I'm looking forward to seeing that."

Pitt has dominated the middle in each of its first nine victories. Gray has registered six double-doubles and Kendall, after a slow start, has scored in double figures the past three contests. He is third on the team in scoring with 7.9 points per game and second in rebounding with 6.8.

Kendall will have his hands full with South Carolina sophomore Renaldo Balkman, the Gamecocks' second-leading scorer with 11.7 points per game and their top rebounder with 7.2 per game. Balkman, who is 6-8, also leads the Gamecocks with 20 blocked shots. Wallace has 18.

"It's a nice challenge," Kendall said. "He is putting up some nice numbers and is really active. He's doing lots of little things. We'll see if we can lock them down and show them how good we are inside."

Wallace is only 200 pounds and Balkman just 210, so Gray will have an advantage with his girth. But Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Wallace's and Balkman's athleticism will challenge Pitt's front line. Gray is going to have to show he's capable of defending Wallace on the perimeter. Wallace can step away from the basket and make outside shots. He is 7 for 17 from 3-point range and has a nice midrange game as well.

Reads to me as the kind of players who can get Pitt's inside guys in foul trouble. Part of it will depend on how the game is called. Kendall is going to have to be able to keep his guy in front of him.

On offense Pitt is stating their intent to go inside first to open up the perimeter

"We should always stay with what's working for us," Krauser said. "We shouldn't change the chemistry and flow of the team."

Said Kendall: "That's always the game plan. Once the big guys are established it opens up everything for the guards. I think our best games are when that happens. Guards start worrying about us and doubling down on us. It spreads everything out. That's been one of our strengths."

As noted yesterday, this is an important year for South Carolina and Coach Dave Odom. They have returning talent from a bubble team that won the NIT. The SEC is down a bit with a lot of players having turned pro last year.

Besides Temple this season, Marquette and Clemson are the other teams to beat the Gamecocks, whose only loss in the starting lineup was Carlos Powell, the MVP of the NIT.

"I think this is our deepest team since I came to Carolina," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "On most teams I've coached, you always have one or two guys that, for whatever reason, you don't have the confidence to put them in during prime time. I don't think there's anybody on our team that I would cringe if they had to go into the game when it's on the line."

Tarence Kinsey, a 6-6 guard, leads South Carolina in scoring (16.5 ppg.). Renaldo Balkman, a 6-8 forward, is the leading rebounder (7.2 rpg.) and is second in scoring (11.7 ppg.).

The oddsmakers, mostly, don't like this game. Some slight edge given to the Gamecocks for being at home, but it just looks like they aren't sure about Pitt. When even the gamblers aren't sure what to think, you are definitely an unknown quantity.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Welcome Back, Now Get To Work 

Hope everyone had a nice couple of days of peace and tolerance. Hopefully family didn't drive (and aren't driving -- for the students still on break) you too crazy. Don't know about the rest of you, but this has been a slightly off holiday. Nothing major, just a little edgier at moments. Still stuck on dial-up until I get home sometime this evening.

The Pitt players got back Sunday and received a tough workout Christmas night.

Dixon put his players through the paces Sunday night in an attempt to recondition them for the quick turnaround. The Panthers will leave this morning for Charlotte, N.C., and bus two hours to Columbia, S.C. They will practice there today.

"I was sort of caught off guard," Kendall said. "I was just expecting to get in the gym and get a sweat going. The coaching staff was pretty set on keeping us undefeated. It was one of the tougher practices we've had in a while. We were out there for two hours, and he put us through a lot of the tougher drills. It was really good to get guys going. It got the travel out of our legs. It shocked us a little bit, got us in gear."

Dixon called it "the best Christmas practice we've had in seven years here."

Krauser agreed.

"We went to work," he said. "It's what we're supposed to do. That's what we're here for. Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices with your friends and family and you have to go to work."

Krauser is looking to be the calming influence in the game, trying to make sure the freshmen don't get too fired up on the first road game. Yet he isn't too nervous.

Freshman Forward Sam Young returned from home with a fat lip and a missing tooth.

"I had two good workouts when I went back home. I got my tooth knocked out in a pickup game," Young said Monday at Petersen Events Center, following Pitt's second practice since players returned Sunday from an extended Christmas break.

The soft-spoken forward, who leads the Panthers in highlight-reel dunks through the first nine games, seemed more concerned about his next game than anything else.
"It's no big deal. There were a lot of people there that I knew," he said. "I plan on getting the tooth fixed this week."

The players seem ready. Most of the talking for interviews appears to have been from Krauser and Kendall.

Pitt has moved to #23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and is at #27 in the AP Writers.

Down in South Carolina, the basketball team is in relative obscurity as the football team plays in the Independence Bowl on Friday. This appears to be a make-or-break year for SC head coach Dave Odom.
For once almost all Carolina fans agree that if Odom's squad lands the school's first non-consolation NCAA Tournament win in 30-plus years he should be able to return for another season. However, a classic meltdown amongst the Gamecock Nation would occur if Odom's squad fell "just short" of that. It's hard to name another school that has frantic arguments over "expectations/demands/goals" like the ones at USC, and Odom's tenure has provided fertile ground indeed for these schisms to flourish. Like the "chicken or the egg" debate, it's unclear what should come first in Columbia: Success or increased expectations?

Shouldn't an SEC school pumping millions into a program including a multi-million dollar new arena have the right to demand more than plodding minor success and mediocrity from its coach? Shouldn't that coach be expected to be more than a positive enthusiastic caretaker who obeys the rules? Shouldn't that coach have to land one NCAA tournament win in five years?

Conversely, is it fair or realistic to demand more first considering the school's history? Shouldn't USC fans be happy with "not losing as bad as before?" Why should Odom be expected to do more than others have? Since hiring a young coach hasn't always worked and has "risk" attached to it, shouldn't USC just stay right in their current security blanket?
It's a good piece. And it might seem like a familiar discussion.

In a Big East Notebook story, there is notice that Pitt looks to be better than believed in pre-season, but has yet to be tested.
How Good Is Pitt?

Pittsburgh is 9-0 and hasn't beaten anybody, really.

Their first game away from home will be Wednesday at South Carolina, a team they beat by four at home last season.

The Panthers have a good point guard in Carl Krauser and a nice big man inside with Aaron Gray, who is averaging 10.4 rebounds.

Pitt is likely to be better than expected. It would have been nice to see how much better with some tougher games early on.
We'll start finding out tomorrow night.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Gearing Up For The Gamecocks 

Pitt has their gamenotes for the South Carolina game here (PDF). I can't tell you anything about them, as I am at the in-laws, they have an ancient version of Adobe Reader and it's dial-up so I don't feel like wasting an hour or so to download the latest version to read it.

Brief aside, to thank the Pitt Athletic Department for reverting to putting the gamenotes files with actual permanent names rather than the "auto-weekly-release" label and changing it later for the archives. I doubt it was my whining that made the change, but I appreciate it.

Unfortunately, the Gamecocks do the whole "weekly-release" thing (PDF).

As previously mentioned on this blog, before the game South Carolina will retire the jersey of BJ McKie, their all-time leading scorer. McKie was also on the 1997 Gamecocks team that went into the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed only to be upset in Pittsburgh by Coppin St. in the 1st round.

Who To Blame 

When the Big East-ACC challenge died, it was mainly because of coaches like Thompson and Boeheim who didn't like the early season battles. Now that the ACC-Big 11 challenge is a popular early season event, other conferences are getting in on the act (Insider subs.)
The Big 12 has countered with a plan to revive the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The Big 12's original proposal was for all 12 schools to go head-to-head in a challenge similar to that held by ACC and Big Ten. But the Big 12's John Underwood, who handles hoops for the conference, said ESPN balked at the idea. The first counter was for a 4-4-4 three-year rotation. But the Big 12 wanted more teams, so the latest proposal calls for a 6-6 split, with the games on campus sites over two seasons. This series would start in 2006 if it can be finalized.
So now the field is getting crowded -- and the space on ESPN is shrinking -- and the Big East has been absolutely mum on this matter.

I'm not sure if I should be pissed at BE Commish Mike Tranghese for not pushing something sooner (yet, ever?) or the BE coaches who might be resisting such activity.

As it stands, I still think a East-West battle between Big East and PAC-10 would be intriguing. You would think that could be made to happen, despite the difference in conference sizes.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Positive Stories 

So, I'm told it's this Christmas thing and the stories should be positive wherever possible. Sure. Why not?

A fairly extensive story on John DeGroat's hard road. Read it all. As a personal aside, the wife is a Juvi. Court Magistrate and comes home far too often with stories that will never have a happy ending. It's nice to read one like this.

DeGroat also has an extended family at the Abbott House, a social service agency in New York that helps place children with foster families. After his problems at the group home in Yonkers, DeGroat had a short stay at the Abbott House, which placed him with the Macks.

The Abbott House brought about 30 of its children on a field trip to Pitt Dec. 10 to watch DeGroat play against Penn State. DeGroat tied his career-high with 11 points that day and visited with the children afterward. The Abbott House has decorated a wall with pictures and articles about DeGroat.

DeGroat, who is majoring in administration of justice, gives back by counseling the children when he is home.

"I've watched him grow into a fine young man," said Terry Barrio, an employee at the Abbott House, who has known DeGroat for eight years. "We always knew he was going someplace. He comes back and talks to our kids. He's a role model now. We're all very proud of him."

The other in-depth story is on Pitt Associate Head Coach, Barry Rohrssen.

Dick Weiss, the renowned college basketball writer for the New York Daily News, called Rohrssen "the coach with the biggest recruiting impact in the city of New York and on Long Island."

Ahead of Jim Calhoun. Ahead of Rick Pitino. Ahead of Jay Wright, Jim Boeheim and others.

"He opened doors for the Panthers to be a top 10 program," Weiss wrote.

Rohrssen also works closely with Pitt's post players, including junior center Aaron Gray, who is fast-developing into an NBA prospect.

"Barry has been an integral part of the success of this program," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He has a great coaching background, is a good recruiter with outstanding contacts and has an understanding of how we run our program."

As Pitt's associate head coach, Rohrssen headlines Dixon's staff of tireless assistants, who have managed to replenish the Panthers' roster annually with impact players. Joe Lombardi, Pat Sandle and former Pitt star Orlando Antigua round out the group.

Rohrssen, deservedly, gets much of the credit for developing Pitt's "NY Pipeline." He's been rumored for several coaching jobs, and other teams have tried to poach him for their staff.

On Being Unbeaten 

Not surprising, and it hasn't changed from last week. No one is exactly taking Pitt seriously yet.

ESPN.com decides to have their experts talk about each of the remaining unbeatens in college basketball and their "legitimacy" (all Insider subs.).

JayBilas is surprisingly friendly:
Go ahead, bag on the schedule, but Pitt is learning how to win and is gaining confidence with new parts. Freshman Levance Fields can run the point and can move Carl Krauser off the ball so Krauser can use his strength and ability to exploit defenses without having to run the team. Is Pitt top-10 material right now? Not yet, but the Panthers are good enough to be in the top 20 during conference play.
Doug Gottlieb continues playing the a-hole position of "telling it like it is."
A pathetic schedule that only now challenges them, Pitt does have Karl Krauser's experience and leadership to navigate the untested waters of upcoming road games. I expect Wisconsin to give them fits at home, and I also expect Pitt to become a bubble team late in the year because of its schedule.
I really don't disagree, but I do wish ESPN.com could spring for a copy editor. It's "Carl," not "Karl."

Fran Fraschilla defends a coach:
The worst thing about Pitt's nonconference schedule is that coach Jamie Dixon has accrued zero U.S. Air miles this season. Including a road date at Duquesne, he hasn't even crossed the Monongahela. As long as the formula works and Pitt continues to be relatively successful in Big East regular-season play, who can really argue? Carl Krauser has been playing more at the two this season, and Aaron Gray helps provide a solid inside-outside combo. If Levon Kendall could play every game against USA Basketball, Dixon would be really excited. If they get past games at South Carolina and against Wisconsin, then we'll talk.
Over at CollegeHoopsNet, there is a blast at Pitt's non-con.
Pittsburgh is now 9-0 and has played... ahem: St. Peter's, Robert Morris, Maine, St. Francis (but that's St. Francis of New York, not Pennsylvania…as if there's any blasted difference to a Big East team), Auburn, Duquesne, Penn State, Vermont, and now, Coppin State. John Thompson would be proud, though a tad disappointed that St. Leo and Hawaii-Loa didn't make the itinerary. The Panthers have played some wimpy non-con schedules in recent years, and this one certainly continues the tradition. Even the best spinster couldn’t count one of those wins as impressive. (Which is the best one? Auburn? Robert Morris?) No way the Panthers deserve their #25 ranking yet, not over teams like Northern Iowa, Bucknell or even West Virginia. Hate to keep piling on here, but if Pitt doesn't win a minimum of 21 games, they shouldn't get a single sniff of NCAA consideration. It's one thing for a program to schedule like this when it's trying to learn how to win; it's something totally different when you have a recent history of NCAA appearances. Late December games against South Carolina and Wisconsin don't make up for this putrid ledger. Pitt is better than this.
What can you say? I think he's over stating the number of wins by about 1. Assuming Pitt at least splits the next 2 non-cons and goes either 9-7 and picks up a win in the Big East Tournament or goes 10-6 in conference play, and Pitt is in. Let's face it, though, other than Auburn, I don't see any team Pitt has beaten so far that will be looked at later as a quality or even decent win.

It's the way it is, and the RPI will factor into the NCAA Tournament decision.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Just This 

Not much locally. I found this interesting:
ESPN Radio 1250's Tim Benz took callers voicing their biggest disappointments in local sports for 2005.In no particular order, here are the top four:
  1. 2004 Steelers
    After riding a 15-game win streak into January's AFC Championship, the Steelers lost their fourth home title game under Bill Cowher.
  2. Pitt. Panthers Basketball Team
    The nationally-ranked squad were knocked out of the first round of the Big East Championships and the NCAA tournament.
  3. Pitt. Football Team
    After being trounced in their opener, Dave Wannstedt's team never got it together en route to its first non-bowl season since 1999.
  4. Penguins
    After winning Sidney Crosby in the NHL draft, the team has spiraled down to the basement of the Eastern Conference.
I'm not at all disagreeing. I just take it as a small positive that Pitt's disappointments in 2005 remained that high in the local populace's thoughts. The continuing disappointment of the Pirates didn't even make it.

The P-G Pitt basketball beat reporter Ray Fittipaldo has a Q&A. I guess he didn't get a lot of questions, but a good one on what Coach Dixon will be doing with the rotation. Looks to keep using 10, but the amount will probably change. For the bad, it would appear that Mr. Fittipaldo doesn't pay much attention to the net, and especially this blog.
Question: Why did Trevor Ferguson leave? And what did the coaches think of him as a player?

Fittipaldo: Ferguson's AAU coach told me that he was homesick and that he wanted to play closer to home. I am not sure where Ferguson wound up. What likely happened was he saw how deep Pitt was at the guard position and saw the writing on the wall. These guys are realistic. He spent the summer here playing with the guys he was competing against and probably figured he'd have a better chance of playing somewhere else. It probably didn't help that Dixon signed another guard, Mike Cook, in July. Cook is expected to come in and be a contributor next season after sitting this season out under NCAA transfer rules.

This was posted on Tuesday, and their rival even mentioned it by the Trib. by Wednesday. Lazy work.

Now That Someone Else Has Done It... 

When Joe Paterno was named the AP Coach of the Year, I decided against saying anything. It would seem snide, petty and hardly that legit coming from a Pitt partisan. Lucky for me, Orson at EDSBS said everything I was thinking, and then some:

Instead, they go with sentiment and Joe, whose notable achievements in the past five years have been hanging referee dolls from his door and slowly watching his son turn quality quarterback recruits into scrambling, concussed pick machines. Because he's 79! And won a lot of games a few decades ago! And he’s good ol' Joe Pa! (Pass the scotch and tell me the one about Beano Cook and Doc Blanchard in a bar in Singapore again, Joe!)

Which are all true, of course: Joe Pa exemplifies both the Tao and De of how to be a college coach the right way, devoting the better half of his life's effort and a considerable amount of his money to the university he calls home. Was he the best coach this year, though, comrade? And do you reward someone for cleaning up their own mess? Do you dig rhetorical sentences at the end of mini-columns? The answer to all of these questions is no, comrade. Joe Pa got it for being cute and old and venerable, and that's lazy like falling asleep with half a burrito stuck in your mouth. (We're looking at you, Aaron Taylor. You know it happens all the time–otherwise, how would you explain the perpetually askew mouth?)

And definitely read the comments. There's some fantastic ND myopia. The piece mentions other candidates that were more worthy, but because it failed to mention Charlie Weis, the ND readers freaked a little. Missing the main point of the piece to complain that ND and Weis were dissed by the omission.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Opened Up For The Holiday 

In case you didn't catch it, Scout.com is doing an open-house for the weekend. So you get to see all that juicy recruiting stuff, you are too cheap to pay for (like myself). Some of the stories of note, include one on Aaron Berry, the cornerback from Bishop-McDevitt.
"Minnesota, Michigan State and Pittsburgh, "Berry said. "I've already visited Minnesota, back a whlie ago, and I've got two other visits to take. I got Pittsburgh on the 6th (of January) and I'm set to go to Michigan State, the following week (Jan. 13th)."
Another on Andy Miller, the OT/TE from Washington, PA. For amusement, compare that version to the version on the Indiana site. Nicely tailored.

Other Football Things 

All season long there have been stories about Pitt great, Bobby Grier, the 1955-56 Panthers and the '56 Sugar Bowl. Here's another story. This one from a paper in the town where Grier grew up and played his high school football -- Massillon, Ohio.

"Joe Smith, who was the team captain at Pitt and later played and coached in the NFL, was a strong supporter of Bob's when he first got there," Ed Grier said. "He was one of Bob's biggest allies. Smith stood up for him and confronted some of the guys who were opposed to Bob being on the team.

"Once they found out Bob was a regular guy who was there to play football and get an education, he was accepted."

Bobby Grier admits he may not have appreciated the historical significance of becoming the very first black athlete to play in the Sugar Bowl, until years after he graduated from Pittsburgh.

What touched him the most, he says, was his teammates' decision to stand by him and risk missing the biggest football game of their lives.

Grier, who bypassed the National Football League to join the Air Force and become a missile officer, gets back to Massillon several times a year to visit his sister, and says he kept close tabs on the Massillon Tigers' run to the 2005 state championship game.

For whatever this is worth, the Eastern College Athletic Conference announced its 2005 All-ECAC team for Div. 1-A (PDF), and 3 Pitt players made the list: H.B. Blades, Josh Lay and Greg Lee.

Hey, There's A Break 

As has already been documented Pitt has a week off, then face two difficult games to end the non-con before the start of Big East play. Can you guess what the story in the papers is today?

From the Trib.
If Pitt, off to a 9-0 start for the eighth time in its history, is concerned about facing a tougher schedule the rest of the way, the Panthers aren't showing any signs of it.

"I already know we're for real," senior guard Carl Krauser said.

There are no more games against teams such as St. Peter's, Vermont and Coppin State, whom the Panthers defeated, 77-51, on Wednesday night at Petersen Events Center.

Following a Christmas break, Pitt will begin preparations for only its second road contest of the season, at South Carolina on Wednesday. The Gamecocks (7-2) played at Temple on Thursday night.

Oh, and South Carolina lost to Temple 63-50.

And over at the P-G.

Of the 15 remaining teams the Panthers will face, only one does not have a winning record. Together, those teams are a combined 104-35 (74.8 percent).

The Panthers will find out a lot about themselves over the next 10 days. After a break for the Christmas holiday, they will travel Wednesday to South Carolina (7-2) for their first game outside the city limits this season. Three days later they'll face No. 23 Wisconsin (9-1), their first ranked opponent of the year.

"We're definitely excited," junior forward Levon Kendall said. "It's something you play for. We've done our best to stay up and motivated for these games. It's a matter of pride. We want to prove ourselves and show people what we can do. We're pretty confident about it. We get to go down to South Carolina, see what we can do, maybe surprise some people or show them what we're made of."

The team appears quite eager to play some tougher opponents. Not necessarily to "prove" themselves, but to just play better games.

The South Carolina game will be a night when the Gamecocks retire the jersey of their all-time leading scorer, B.J.McKie. Their players will have the winter break to stew over losing to Temple and only mustering 50 points.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some Football Notes 

Just a couple things to pass along.

Apparently the Sports Editor in the Mon Valley doesn't even read his own parent company paper.
What's going on with the Pitt football program?

Anyone else find it surprising that freshman tailback Rashad Jennings is considering transferring and junior wide receiver Greg Lee is leaning to the next NFL draft instead of return for his senior campaign.

Not really, and if you read anything other than wire reports, you might want to rethink that -- especially regarding Jennings.

At SI.com, Stewart Mandel lists the 10 best recruiters in college. Making the list:

Dave Wannstedt, head coach, Pittsburgh: Known as a relentless recruiter in the '80s at Pitt, Oklahoma State, USC and Miami, Wannstedt has picked up right where he left off, assembling what is currently considered a national top-five class. By reconnecting with Western Pennsylvania high schools, he had 17 commitments by the end of summer, including national top-100 prospects Dorin Dickerson, Nate Byham and Kevin Collier. Now, let's see if he can coach them.
When you have a bad season, and end up not in a bowl, the best you can do is look to the future. With all the various all-star high school teams being announced it's been nice to see each one contain a significant number of Pitt commits.

Needing The Break 

Keith Benjamin may be the player most in need of a few days off to clear his head. Right now he is shooting his way to less playing time. Not because he is missing so much -- and he is -- but because he is shooting so much. I've only seen one game, and it seemed he was shooting too much then, regardless of the quality of the opportunity, and not passing.

Through 9 games, Pitt has 10 players with more than 100 minutes:
TOTALS -------- MIN ---- FG-FGA ----- FG% --- Shot Freq.
Krauser, Carl....... 271 ----- 53-111 ------ .477 ----- 2.44
Gray, Aaron......... 224 ----- 41-76 ------- .539 ----- 2.95
Kendall, Levon...... 213 ----- 24-50 ------ .480 ----- 4.26
Ramon, Ronald.......184 ------ 18-45 ------ .400 ----- 4.09
Young, Sam.......... 146 ------ 21-36 ------ .583 ----- 4.06
Fields, Levance..... 178 ------ 18-36 ------ .500 ----- 4.94
Graves, Antonio..... 156 ------ 15-40 ------ .375 ----- 3.90
DeGroat, John....... 121 ------ 18-41 ------ .439 ----- 2.95
Benjamin, Keith...150 ----- 16-46 ------- .348 ------ 3.26
Biggs, Tyrell....... 116 ------ 12-24 ------ .500 ----- 4.83
Benjamin is 4th on the team in total shots taken, last in the group in shooting percentage and 7th in total minutes played.

That last number gives a rough outline of the frequency with which a player shoots when on the court (Minutes/Field Goal Attempts). The smaller the number, the more frequent the player shoots when on the court. No surprise that Krauser and Gray shoot the most frequently. Surprised that DeGroat is tied for 2nd, but he is at least making a decent percentage. Kendall may have taken the 3rd most shots on the team, but his frequency is only ahead of Biggs and Fields.

Benjamin is the worst shooter and also 4th in shot frequency per minutes played. I don't know what the coaches are telling him in practice, but the shot frequency has only increased in recent games -- not to mention his poor shooting.
Opponent ---- FG-FGA -- MIN
St. Peter ------ 1-3 ------ 16
RMU ---------- 1-3 ------ 18
Maine --------- 4-5 ------ 17
St. Francis ----- 2-4 ------- 24
Auburn -------- 3-9 ------- 16
Duquesne ------ 2-6 ------- 17
Penn St. -------- 2-7 ------- 17
Vermont -------- 1-5 ------- 12
Coppin St. ------- 0-4 ------- 13
His hoisting it would appear, is costing him minutes. Like I said, I've only seen him play once, but the numbers seem to suggest that what I saw has been the way he has played over the last 5 games. He is not looking to pass. He only has 13 assists. In the first 3 games he had 7. In the last 3 games: 2.

Keith Benjamin is going to have to get his game under control, or it looks like he will get buried on the bench come Big East play.

Never In Doubt 

Pitt had no real problem with Coppin State. Pitt let them hang around for a while in the second half, and that wasn't unexpected. In the end, though, Pitt put them away with a solid game and gave everyone a chance to play. Marcus Bowman hit his first basket of the year at the end of the game.
Pitt took advantage of the smallish and slender Eagles on the inside, with efficient performances from 7-foot center Aaron Gray and 6-10 power forward Levon Kendall.

Gray had 14 points and seven rebounds; Kendall 11 points and five rebounds. It was the third consecutive game Kendall has reached double figures after not doing so in the first six games.

Gray scored nine of Pitt's first 14 points to give the Panthers an early double-digit lead. Coach Jamie Dixon said it was important to establish the inside early because Coppin State predominantly played a zone and wanted Pitt to shoot 3-pointers.

"We really did talk about getting it inside," Dixon said. "Carl made two great passes to open the game to Aaron. Then John [DeGroat] got an open three off an inside touch."

Krauser did not have his typical scoring game but played one of his most complete and unselfish games this season. He finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals and 1 turnover. He was 4 for 9 from 3-point range.

Ronald Ramon also added 10 points to give Pitt 4 players with double-digit scoring. Sam Young added 9 and Levance Fields had 8 points.

Coppin State's Coach Fang Mitchell was once again asked to talk about the 1997 NCAA Tournament game in Pittsburgh where his team upset #2 seeded South Carolina in the first round. Probably an easier topic then discussing how his team is now off to an 0-9 start.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Coppin St. - Pitt 

Open thread time.

I'm actually not going to listen to the game. I am heading out to drink discuss issues and politics with other bloggers in my area.

Looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts later.

Balance and Notes 

An article today about balanced scoring on Pitt, sort of.

That's not the way it is this season. Coach Jamie Dixon has two dependable scorers in senior guard Carl Krauser and junior center Aaron Gray. The third scoring option? Well, Dixon really doesn't have one. And truth be told, it doesn't concern him much.

Dixon contends he still has a balanced scoring team. It's just that it's hard to recognize at first glance.

"I felt it was going to be different this season," he said. "Usually you have three or four or five guys in double figures. That's what you think about when you think about balanced scoring. We'll have a different type of balanced scoring. We have nine guys with five points or more. I don't know if a lot of teams have that. That puts balanced scoring in a whole different light."

After Krauser and Gray, seven players average between 5.0 points and 7.5 points per game. Junior forward Levon Kendall averages 7.5; sophomore guard Ronald Ramon 6.3; freshman forward Sam Young 6.1; freshman guard Levance Fields 5.9; junior guard Antonio Graves 5.9; senior forward John DeGroat 5.1; and sophomore guard/forward Keith Benjamin 5.0.

None of those seven have scored in double figures more than twice this season. Graves scored the most in one game, a modest 15 in the opener against St. Peter's.

"It's still balanced scoring when you look at the whole thing," Dixon said. "The minutes are very balanced. We know who our two scorers are going to be. People are going to talk about who that third scorer is going to be. I don't think we're going to have that same guy every game. Our third guy will be the third different guy every night."

The argument is that there is balanced scoring by position. Not by individuals, because there is so much sharing of time at most spots. It's a fair point, and at this point is good.

Still, I think most would like to see one of the players start asserting more consistently. Obviously, part of it is having more playing time, but any player will have to first establish that he is the best option on defense.

In the Trib's notebook they point out that former Panther, Chris Taft is still fighting back spasms and has been inactive for the last 3 weeks for the Warriors. He suffered the back injury during summer league, and hasn't been whole since.

The notebook also picks up on Trevor Ferguson planning to attend NC State. Hmm. Wonder where they picked up on that?

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, notes that the move to shooting guard for Carl Krauser is working well.
Pittsburgh has removed some of the pressure on senior Carl Krauser by starting him at shooting guard and using sophomore Ronald Ramon and freshman Levance Fields for a lot of the point guard minutes. The change appears to be elevating Krauser's game. Entering the week, he was averaging a career-best 17.6 points and shooting 48.0 percent. He shot 41.1 percent last year.
Admittedly he isn't facing the good defenses yet, but it is still a great start. I also want to point out this from DeCourcy:
When a team carries an unbeaten record this deep into the season, there are two common reactions to that achievement. Teams that were ranked in preseason polls and magazines are acclaimed as legitimate national contenders. Teams that were unranked are dismissed as frauds. It's not often that we're all patient enough to see whether there might be a little magic in some of the latter group -- or a few frauds in the former.
He was talking about Tennessee, but it seems applicable to Pitt. Jibes pretty well with what I said earlier, though he probably said it better. Keep winning and eventually they will give the love.

Finally, a strangely late story on Vermont in a rebuilding year and the first time in a couple decades with a new coach. Funny how Pitt managed to get Vermont on the schedule this year.

Last year, Vermont couldn't find many teams that wanted to schedule it for a non-conference game. Heading into this year, teams couldn't get the Catamounts scheduled quick enough.

The Catamounts (3-5) visited Pitt Saturday and they gave the Panthers all they could handle before running out of gas and dropping a 63-52 decision. Pitt was one of two Big East schools who won the "sweepstakes" to get a game with the Catamounts, but the Panthers had help. Gabe Rodriguez, the Catamounts' director of basketball operations, is the cousin of Orlando Antigua, Pitt's director of basketball operations.

Yeah, that would help.

The End Of Coasting 

That seems to be the suggestion of tonight's game versus Coppin State. The last easy game for Pitt.
Pitt's cup cake marathon continues. A win will get them to 9-0. They do have a win over Auburn who is playing well, but none of the rest will really mean much. This is the end of the cup cakes for them though. They travel to South Carolina next and are at home against Wisconsin after that. Then it's on to Big East play.
I'm not going to pull a Lou Holtz and say that I fear an upset. I think Pitt can probably win this game with only a good 20 minutes. Having said that, I'd be very upset if they mailed it in. An argument could be made that there is more of a test for Coach Dixon. The team just got ranked, they are playing a team that is 0-8, and after this game they can head home for a few days break. It's up to the coach to make sure the team is still ready to play and mentally isn't already on the plane home.

Of course they are saying the right things:

Unbeaten Pitt (8-0) plays host to winless Coppin State (0-8) tonight at Petersen Events Center for the second consecutive season, but the Panthers aren't even thinking of chalking up an automatic victory against the Eagles, who are in the midst of perhaps the nation's most difficult non-conference schedule.

"That's a team that definitely wants to go out there and show people they can play. We can't underestimate them," Pitt guard Ronald Ramon said.

Coppin State has yet to play a home game and is playing probably the most difficult non-con. This has included: Charlotte, Xavier, Illinois, Clemson, UCLA and Oklahoma. Then, after Pitt, they have Michigan and Michigan State. Give Fang Mitchell credit for scheduling like this, and pretty much covering the costs and then some for the basketball program with all of these guaranteed games.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Oh Yeah, We're Ranked." That's Nice 

I love the response from Ronald Ramon regarding being ranked #25 in the Coaches Poll:

"It feels good to get ranked in the top 25," sophomore point guard Ronald Ramon said. "We want to go out there and show people we can play. But it's nothing new. It's like, 'Oh yeah, we're ranked, but we're just going to go out and play.' "

Pitt has not played a demanding non-conference schedule, but the Panthers have beaten Penn State and Auburn by 37 points apiece, which grabbed the attention of the voters. Ramon said he and his teammates had been out to prove they were worthy of being ranked.

"We're a school that everyone has their doubts about," he said. "Is Pitt as good as everyone thinks? We take that personal, and we go out there and try to play as hard as we can."

Coach Jamie Dixon said he did not promote the polls with his players and did not expect it to be a distraction for his team.

All they can do is to keep on winning.

The ND-Pitt game scheduled for January 4 at the Pete has been moved from an 8pm to 7pm start. Apparently to avoid too much conflict. Seems there's this thing called the Rose Bowl between Texas and USC that night. It's possible some people might be interested in watching that.

Tomorrow night, Coppin State. Pitt game notes here (PDF). Seems one of the notes is that Coach Dixon has yet to lose in December (I would prefer March and/or April).

Just One More Education Note 

I forgot the other thing that should be considered. What is the overall graduation rate for each university? It is more of a perspective thing, and gives a better idea of how far off from the "common" student a particular program is doing.

I had written in my other blog back in August about graduation rates at Ohio's public universities -- and finding myself in the uncomfortable position of defending tOSU. The numbers aren't going to be perfect since they are different studies and slightly different time scales, but they do base on a 6-year period to graduate. Overall, at Pitt, the graduation rate is around 65%.

Obviously, the football and basketball are still lagging, but perspective helps.

Bad Numbers 

So the latest NCAA Graduation figures came out, and Pitt didn't do too well in key sports.
Football, 48 percent; basketball, 29 percent
This should not shock anyone. The seasons covered were Freshmen from the 1995-96 season to 1998-99. This is taking into account the changed standards which now includes JUCOs and transfers.

Honestly, I'm kind of surprised the basketball was that high. Those classes were at the height of the Ralph Willard error. I mean, think about the players that included: Kelli Taylor, Isaac Hawkins, Blount, and others who let's just say were never serious about their studies for whatever reasons. There were just a lot of questionable characters at the time.

As for football, well, what can you say. Half Majors and half Harris recruits.

Dennis Dodd makes the argument that while it may be a less than positive thing -- publicity-wise -- for schools, it's hard to blame many of the coaches unless they have been on the same job for an extensive period.

Meanwhile, the most accurate way to apply these grad rates is to the coaches who have been around since 1995, when the NCAA started counting. There are only 13 in I-A if you include just-retired Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Syracuse's Paul Pasqualoni, who was responsible for the players in the last year of measurement (2003-04).
Oddly enough, BYU football only has a 40% graduation rate (it may have something to do with the Mormon missionary work, but still kind of amusing to note).

I will be more curious about the numbers in a few more years -- when it reflects all of the Harris time and the Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon era.

A couple more articles about the results. I'm sorry, it is important, but considering I find most of the off-the-field stuff regarding big collegiate athtletics (football and basketball) to be a lousy process of indentured servitude, hypocrisy and lies that this tends to be a self-serving argument.

Schools and their fans at Boston College, Penn State and ND will point to their graduation rates as indicitive of how great their school and coaches follow the mission while then saying that it is an isolated incident when the players fire arrows through dorm walls, fights and their players are shoving counterfiet bills up their rectum to try and avoid being caught, uh, passing them.

It cuts both ways, and I just can't work up the outrage.

You can view any school's graduation rate, here. Pitt's is here (PDF).

Not So Homesick... Now 

Remember Trevor Ferguson? A late, sleeper signee with Pitt. 6'6" player who had good range inside and out. He was released from his NLI with Pitt after showing up for some summer school and workouts, because he was homesick and had family issues -- his mother had passed away in the last year or so -- so he wanted to stay closer to home in Florida.

Well, not so much (via Section Six):

N.C. State's newest basketball commitment won't have to wait long to join the program.

Trevor Ferguson, who was briefly a member of the Pittsburgh program and committed Monday morning, plans to enroll at N.C. State the day after Christmas.

He won't be able to play or travel until after the 2006-07 exhibition games, but can practice immediately as a member of the scout team, his prep school coach said.

Tony Cole, Ferguson's coach at New Creations Christian School in Richmond, Ind., said Ferguson chose Pittsburgh without ever visiting there because he was impressed with coach Joe Lombardi.

Cole said Ferguson didn't realize he didn't fit into Pittsburgh's rugged, half-court style until he got there. Ferguson, a 6-6 wing player, left Pitt and enrolled at New Creations instead.

Well, isn't that interesting. Based on that, one might think the kid pulled a punk move and used a dead mother as an excuse to get out of Pitt without losing eligibility or having to pay his own way for a year because he found out he wasn't tough enough. This article notes the discrepancy between what was said back in August and now.

Didn't realize or know about Pitt's style of play? It isn't exactly a new shift in philosophy from the last 5 years.

Of course that's just a knee-jerk reaction. Nothing from the actual kid himself. Love to hear his explanation. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to want to talk. Letting his coaches do the flakking for him.

Call it a hunch, but I don't think Coach Jamie Dixon will be letting a kid out of his NLI quite so easily next time.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Polls and Numbers 

For those of you who think Aaron Gray isn't doing enough on the boards, Ken Pomeroy has an interesting bit of information:
Best Defensive Rebounder: Aaron Gray of Pitt is hauling in 31.9% of his opponents missed shots while he is on the court. He's averaging double-digit rebounds in only 24.9 mpg. Granted, against weak competition.
Now, Pitt has crashed the Coaches' Poll at #25 and sits (unofficially) at #28 in the AP. With Pitt officially in the top #25 of a poll, expect the cries regarding Pitt's non-con to intensify.

The Big East Power Poll is out and Pitt is #3. Here is how my ballot looked.
  1. UConn -- Undefeated and unbowed
  2. Villanova -- Ditto
  3. Louisville -- I just don't like to slam a team for losing a rivalry game. Especially on the rival's home court. Besides, I couldn't justify moving anyone ahead of them.
  4. Pitt -- that includes my team, when the only victory for the week came against Vermont
  5. Syracuse -- McNamara getting hisrhythmm and the schedule is soft
  6. Georgetown -- Easy game time for them
  7. WVU -- DNP
  8. Marquette -- This is a bit of a gut thing, but Marquette is going to be a tough team in the BE this season
  9. ND -- And I'm seeing the NIT for ND for a 3rd straight year.
  10. Cinci -- Probably a little low, but I cannot get a feel for this team from game-to-game, week-to-week
  11. RU -- I almost wanted to ding them for playing a Div. II team this past week
  12. Providence -- Best thing for them was not playing all week.
  13. DePaul -- So, they go on the road and beat Wake Forest, then lose at Old Dominion?
  14. St. John's -- Marist? Lose to Marist at home? There are two reasons they are not at the bottom of the list:
  15. Seton Hall -- Someone do the merciful thing and pull the plug on Louis Orr now.
  16. USF -- Had to comeback to beat FAU. No depth and injuries killing.
Early surprises: Cinci and Marquette
Early disappointments: St. John's and Georgetown


Show your prognostication superiority. The bowl games kick-off tomorrow night. Still time to enter the bowl challenge, and join the "Pitt Sports Blather" group.

Climbing the Charts 

A puff piece today on Krauser continuing his ascent on several of Pitt's all-time lists.
In unbeaten Pitt's 63-52 victory over Vermont on Saturday, Krauser scored 21 points to increase his career total to 1,289 and move past Chevon Troutman, Sean Miller and Bobby Martin.

Earlier, Krauser had passed John Riser, Bob Lazor, Curtis Aiken, Jerome Lane and Jaron Brown after starting the year at 1,148.

Next up is Jerry McCullough, who finished his college career in 1996 with 1,342 points, and Brandin Knight, whose 1,440 points ranks 13th.

Krauser played behind Knight to start his college career before Knight used up his eligibility in 2003.

With the schedule roughly one-fourth elapsed, Krauser appears to have time to finish among the top 10 scorers at Pitt. He needs 292 points -- an average of 15.4 points per game -- during the Panthers' final 19 regular-season games to tie Vonteego Cummings (1,581) at No. 10.

You have to figure on passing Cummings, with at least 2 additional games. Assuming Pitt manages to finish #12 or higher in the Big East so Pitt will play at least one game in the Big East Tournament. And while the NCAA isn't assured, I am willing to bet that at a minimum Pitt makes the NIT.

Krauser also looks to break 500 assists this season to be only the 5th Pitt player to have more than 1000 points and 500 assists (Brandin Knight, Sean Miller, Darrelle Porter and Jerry McCullough)

Worth Keeping An Eye On 

Concern over perimeter defense is the topic.
In the first 3 minutes and 25 seconds of the second half of Vermont's game against Pitt Saturday, the Catamounts scored 12 points on four 3-point baskets, and that was eight more points than they scored in the final 11:22 in the first half.

The instant offense was an instant reminder of one of the biggest problems that plagued Pitt last season: perimeter defense.

Defense has been one of Pitt's strengths through the first eight games of the season. Seven teams have failed to score more than 60 points against the undefeated Panthers. But defending the 3-point shot continues to be a headache for coach Jamie Dixon and his staff.

Pitt ranks 13th out of 16 Big East Conference teams in defending the 3-point shot. Opponents are shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range. That has to be disconcerting given the level of competition to date. With better shooting teams due soon, it will be imperative for the Panthers to improve.

If Vermont can convert eight 3-pointers, what will a more accomplished 3-point shooting team such as West Virginia do against the Panthers? ...

Sounds dire, except for one little fact. Vermont made 27 attempts to just have 8 3s fall. That's a .296 average. Pitt actually held Vermont below their season average of .314 (including Saturday's game).

It should be something of a concern, but not the way this article sets it out to be. It's hard to be that upset about a team throwing up tons of 3s when they are under 30% shooting. Unfortunately, the piece was a little lazy.

There's reason to worry about perimeter defense considering how much trouble Pitt had with it last season. This isn't the way to make the case.
3-point shooting versus Pitt: 58 - 154, .377
Opps. avg. 3-point shooting: 428-1230, .348
Teams are shooting better against Pitt right now, but the difference is not that vast. Take out the games against Pitt and the teams are shooting .344 (370-1076). To take the opponent 3-point shooting average down to .344, is 5 made shots.

5 made 3s in 8 games is the difference. Should the defense be tighter? Yes. Yes it should. But then, we always want better. We want to see Pitt keeping teams shooting below the average. Not just average or just above average.

In 3 games, Pitt held teams below their 3-point shooting average: Vermont, Duquesne and Maine. In all 3 examples the difference was exactly one less 3-ball. If the team makes a 3 they are right around or perhaps slightly above the season average.

In 3 games, Pitt allowed teams to shoot just above their average: Penn State, St. Francis (NY) and St. Peter's. Once again, the difference was one more 3 going down.

The difference really came in 2 games: Robert Morris (10-19, .526) and Auburn (6-12, .500).

The Auburn game can be somewhat excused because they got most of the 3s (5-8) in the second half when Pitt gave the bench a lot more time.

As for Robert Morris, well, simply put, Pitt was lazy on defense that game. RMU came out and hit 7-11 on 3s in the first half. It was a game where Pitt came out without giving much of an effort to begin the game. In fact, Pitt didn't start turning the game on, until about 2 minutes into the second half.

What I would like to see in basketball, is much like hockey, the +/- ratings of players. That would be a better indicator of the kind of defense they play. I'm betting teams keep some sort of stat like that, but it isn't a number available for general discussion. It's a shame, because I think that would be a greater indication of a player's defensive and offensive value.

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