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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pitt-UConn: Open Thread 

Comment before, during and after as is the custom.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Pitt losing 34-43

Not sure why Dixon got the tech. Rudy Gay is unstoppable -- driving, pulling up, he's just on. UConn is tremendous on the mid-range to deep jumpers. Everything inside the arc, but shots that are not exactly easy.

Gray playing a great game. Krauser not necessarily scoring, but his penetration is a problem for UConn. Graves is just looking sloppy.

UConn has been able to dictate the pace. They can move the ball upcourt so fast. Their guys inside leap and block so well it is disturbing.

I still have hope, just because I don't see UConn shooting as well the entire game. Only thing that has me nervous. That bizarre score at the beginning where Gray and DeGroat somehow knocked the ball up and in for UConn on a rebound. Then later another strange tip just fell for UConn. When those happen, it isn't always that good.

FINAL UPDATE: UConn wins 80-76.

Pitt got their kind of game going in the second half, with one major exception. The inability to knock down 3s. 2-19 just will not get it done. I mean, Pitt hit the foul shots. Battled inside, against superior overall size. Really picked up the defense in the second half to not let Gay get the uncontested baskets. or mid-range jumper

Frustrated, because Pitt had chances to snatch this one away.

Still More Media Previews 

Well, its not like they have much of a stake in this Superbowl, so more stuff on tonight's game.

Josh Boone was the guy everyone seemed to have interviewed or made available to the media. That or he was doing the most talking about payback, redemption, whatever.

"This is just a battle throughout the game, from start to finish," UConn center Josh Boone said in anticipation of tonight's game (7:30, Ch. 20) at Gampel Pavilion against ninth-ranked Pitt. "There's going to be a whole lot of pushin' and a whole lot of shovin', but that's the type of games they like. And we do play well in those type of games. We're a running team, but I think we've proved this year we can be a physical team as well."

Being labeled as the toughest kids on the Big East block used to bother some at Pittsburgh, who thought their team's talent was getting overlooked. But coach Jamie Dixon and his players have begun to embrace such talk. "Teams often talk about us playing like the Steelers or a football team," Dixon said. "We look at it as a good thing. We're proud of it."

UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who was calling the Panthers tough guys long before it was fashionable, said he thought the program's toughness might run out.

"We thought when some of those kids left ... maybe it was just (Chevon) Troutman, maybe it was just (Jaron) Brown, maybe it was just (Julius) Page," Calhoun said. "But the system continues."

Said Dixon: "It is something we look for in recruiting. I also think that once you get to a program, you can become tougher by being around tough kids."

Of course, one of those kids with toughness opted for UConn instead and will be back after a one-game suspension by the NCAA.

[Marcus] Williams, one of several UConn guards expected to defend Krauser tonight, said he actually admires how Krauser plays.

"He never gives up on plays. He stays there. He defends. He's intense," Williams said. "He'll even talk to you. Not to say it's a bad thing, but he's so competitive.

"Everything about him is competitive," Williams added. "It seems like he wants the spotlight on him when they're down 15 with 10 minutes left. It seems like he likes that."

On the flip side, Williams said, the return of 6-6 freshman Jeff Adrien will enhance UConn's physical toughness against Pitt. Adrien sat out last Saturday's 76-62 victory at Providence, after he was ejected for fighting against St. John's on Jan. 25.

"I would hate for him to miss this game," Williams grinned, nodding toward the locker room. "He's in there drooling, right now. He can't wait, the way the coaches are telling him that (Pitt's) physical."

The refs are going to have a lot to say about how this game is played. I give the over/under on when Calhoun gets a technical at 5:00 left in the first half.

The coaches and players, though, seem to have a lot of focus directed towards Aaron Gray. That means Pitt may have some chances at open 3s early in the game if they collapse quickly. Pitt will need Ramon and Krauser to take an early advantage of that.

Seemingly Random B-Ball Notes 

Blame Canada

An article about how Canadians are taking over the Big East. Well, of course not, but there are more than a few in the conference like UConn's Denham Brown and Levon Kendall. To read one of the Canadian coaches tell it, you would think Coaches Calhoun and Dixon not only don't have a clue as coaches but are wasting some of the greatest talent ever.

No one is more surprised with how things have turned out than Leo Rautins, head coach of the Canadian national men's team.

"The tough part with college basketball in the States right now is that it's become very role specific," Rautins said.

"Very few guys are just players," Rautins said. "Every time I see Levon at Pitt I don't recognize the player we had this summer. He sets screens, he rebounds, he draws charges and every once in a while they throw him a bone. With us he was part of the offence, hitting [three-point shots]. I just don't think he's developing as a player."

Similarly, Brown hasn't blossomed into the scorer he was projected to be when he left Toronto after having scored 111 points in a high-school game. Instead, he's become more of a defender and distributor who is only occasionally relied on for his offence.

Leo Rautins' son is a freshman playing for Syracuse. The article tries really hard to get Kendall and Brown to complain and whine about their situation. Instead the article does it for them and is unfairly heavy on implication that the players agree.

One Man's Future

DraftExpress gives some love to Carl Krauser for his play in the previous week.
Krauser is a bruising combo guard, more likely to scrap for a rebound -- he averages almost 5 on the season -- or pick your pocket than he is to finesse dribble his way into the lane or dazzle with a crossover. Hard-nosed and energetic, the Pitt senior has thus far posted nearly identical numbers to last season, but without the upperclassmen as his supporting cast he enjoyed a year ago. He always seems to come up big in the biggest games, often in the clutch, most recently in a win at home over a ranked Syracuse squad.
Krauser is a second-round pick at best at this stage, if he's even drafted. But he's a winner with upside and a nose for the ball, something that can -- and often does -- transcend raw skill, athletic ability and size. Look for Krauser to try and prove his worth through summer league or training camp or go to Europe will he teams will love with his flaws and relish his ability to put the ball in the basket.
A Program's Future

As for long-future verbals to the Pitt b-ball program, cautious in the level of excitement seems to be the view.
I would venture to say that more stock should be put into Jeannette sophomore Terrelle Pryor's verbal commitment to Pitt than a similar one that Aliquippa junior Herb Pope made during his sophomore season.

While no one knows for sure what either one of the two local phenoms will do when it comes time to put ink to paper on future signing days, if you were going to Las Vegas and there was a line on whether they would ever wear a Pitt uniform, Pryor's line would be about 2 to 1 while I'd set Pope's at about 7 to 1.

Pope has his roaming history, not to mention what appears to be his AAU coach, J.O. Stright's hooks into him.

Countdown to NLI Day 

If you are scorecard keeping at home, there are a few possible Pitt commits who won't make a decision until tomorrow.

Tamarcus Porter apparently will decide between Pitt and Wake Forest.

Staying down in Florida, Audie Augustine is down to Pitt or NC State. This came out in an article on the number of players who have verballed early. That includes another Pitt verbal, Dexter Davidson. He's still getting some pressure:

This season, quarterback Dexter Davidson committed early to Pittsburgh.

"We don't want five hats out on the table," North Broward Prep coach Maurice Dixon said. "But I also think that it's probably a pressure thing. Dexter isn't the type of kid to string a person out."

In Davidson's case, committing early might have added a little extra stress to the process. Louisville and Michigan made a late push for Davidson despite being previously committed to Pittsburgh. Davidson, a Kentucky native, grew up a Louisville Cardinals fan.

"You could just see the pressure start to build," Dixon said. "In the matter of a week, I could see a ton of pressure on [Davison], and we went through everything. But he stayed true to his word, and he's real happy with Pitt."
Good to know.

Speaking of keeping up the pressure no matter what, the 'Cuse are still pushing Kevin Collier.

Kevin Collier, the All-Greater Rochester football Player of the Year, said that University of Pittsburgh coaches can expect him to accept their college's scholarship offer this week.

"It's been over for a while," Collier said Monday night. "I'm signing with Pitt."
While Collier again said he did not change his mind, Syracuse coaches called him through last week in hopes that he will.Collier plans to formally accept Pittsburgh's offer on Wednesday when the national signing period opens.

"(Pittsburgh coaches) are still worried about a lot of guys," Collier said. "They want the whole thing to be over with and get ready for next year.''

Syracuse still plans to send Collier a letter of intent and the remaining paperwork, according to Churchville-Chili football coach Paul Dick.

I guess Syracuse really doesn't want to see the local talent leave. Can't say I blame them, but it's getting creepy.

Back in the Pittsburgh area, Duquesne High is celebrating Elijah Fields going to Pitt as good news in the face of the reality that the high school may not exist next year.

Coach Wannstedt will be his media friendly self tomorrow, especially considering how good a class he has put together.

ESPN may have more platforms in which to distribute its signing day coverage, but College Sports Television has the most recognizable figure in recruiting news in its stable Wednesday.

Tom Lemming will head up a special three-hour edition of CSTV's "Generation NEXT: National Signing Day" at 4 p.m. CSTV will also stream live on CSTV.com's XXL subscription package. CSTV will use former Washington Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel as an analyst Wednesday, and live interviews are scheduled with Pitt's Dave Wannstedt, Mack Brown of Texas, LSU's Les Miles and Florida's Urban Meyer, whose Gators are generally recognized as owning this year's top national recruiting class.

CSTV's show, should be viewable here.

Media Previewing Pitt-UConn 

Okay, we get it. This Pitt team has the chance to do what has done the previous 12 opportunities: beat the number 1 ranked team in the country.

"It's a real big game," Pitt senior Carl Krauser said. "It means a lot to us to go out there and try to get a win on the road. We really have to stick together."

Connecticut (18-1, 6-1 Big East) retained the top spot in the national polls Monday and is braced for surprising Pitt (17-1, 6-1), which climbed back into the top 10, at No. 9, after a week on the outside.

"We have to compete as hard as we can," Krauser said. "It's going to definitely be a good test for us and it's going to be a great game."

These are the two winningest programs in the Big East over the last 5 years. It says so right in the Pitt game notes (PDF).

Pitt is a 9.5 point underdog.

Pitt is the only Big East team to regularly challenge UConn in the BE the last few years.
Connecticut has 19 losses against Big East foes since 2001, and Pitt is responsible for a fifth of those losses.
Krauser explained why the Panthers have been able to enjoy success against the Huskies. "I just think it's our different style of play and the way we do things," Krauser said. "We play physical. Not many other teams play as physical as we do. Our offense, our penetration and our shooting is different from a lot of people. We have a lot of athletes. Matching up with UConn won't be a problem. We'll just have to do a good job on the boards and cutting down on their fastbreak points."

While the Pittsburgh media focuses on whether Pitt can beat a number#1 team, rather than simply beating UConn. Up in Connecticut they are addressing -- wait, before I get to that, they wonder how much people in Pittsburgh are even paying attention to Pitt right now. The whole Super Bowl thing. Of course, the way they are looking at is mostly through media coverage.

"I think so," said Panthers radio voice Bill Hillgrove. "It's hard to get attention away from the Steelers this week, but people here know Pitt has a really good basketball team. There are people to whom this game matters. They know this team is doing very well. But, obviously, everybody's focused on the Steelers this week."

Hillgrove knows what he's talking about. He is the senior member of WTAE-TV's sports team and is in his 37th season as the radio voice of Pitt basketball. But it gets more interesting. Hillgrove is also in his 12th season as the voice of the Steelers. If he's managing to shift his focus for one night, certainly others in Pittsburgh can do the same.


"We'll have the game on, but if there's a Super Bowl preview show on, we'll have that, too," said an employee at the Sports Rock Cafe, in Pittsburgh's Strip District, who didn't want to give his name. "Everybody knows how well the Pitt basketball team is doing, but this is the Steelers and the Super Bowl. That trumps everything."

Interest may be limited to hard-core Pitt basketball fans, but that's a pretty strong group. Pitt routinely sells out the Petersen Events Center and has one of the most raucous crowds in the Big East.

Interest in the game is hurt by the lack of national television and the hype that comes along with it. The two Pittsburgh newspapers -- the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review -- have dominated their sections with coverage of the Steelers during the past week.

In fact, UConn has issued one credential to each of the Pittsburgh papers. It's a big game that could go virtually unnoticed.

On the bright side, the local coverage is still better than anything Boston College ever sees.

Okay, up in Storrs UConn Coach Jim Calhoun has done his best to downplay any talk of a rivalry between Pitt and UConn in recent years. Not this time.

Coach Jim Calhoun clutched the scouting report in his hand while addressing the media Monday. Scribbled in bright red letters were the words, "Out-tough them."

In no other regular-season game do those words carry more weight.

Ninth-ranked Pittsburgh, the top-ranked Huskies opponent tonight at Gampel Pavilion (7:30 p.m., Ch. 20), is the Big East Conference's bully on the street corner waiting to take your lunch money. The Panthers (17-1, 6-1) have made a nice living in recent years with their toughness.

A year ago, the Panthers fought back from a 17-point first half deficit to walk out with a 76-66 win at Gampel Pavilion. A month later the Huskies won at Pittsburgh.

That's the way it's been between these two rivals. Pitt knocks UConn down. The Huskies get back up and return the favor. They've split the last eight meetings.

"Pittsburgh has turned into a rivalry game for us," Calhoun said. "After five or six years of really having to fight Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh having to fight us to get some place, they have become a formidable opponent, obstacle, etc., for us to get to a (Big East) championship, seeding or get wins."
Year to year, Pitt's roster changes but its style remains the same. UConn killer Chevon Troutman is gone. Brash guard Carl Krauser, who attended St. Thomas More, remains, giving confidence to his teammates. Junior Aaron Gray, a mobile 7-foot, 270-pound center, is one of the most improved players in the league.

Yeah, I'd say they and the media up there are taking Pitt seriously. So are the players. They remember last year.
There are two games that stick out in Josh Boone's mind from last season. The first, not surprisingly, was UConn's season-ending loss to N.C. State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The second was the Huskies' 76-66 meltdown against Big East rival Pittsburgh, a game in which Connecticut squandered a 43-26 lead at Gampel Pavilion.

"As long as I've been here, we don’t lose in Gampel," said Boone, adding that he often reflected on Pitt's comeback during his off-season workouts. "There were times when you wanted to stop (working) or when you didn't think you could give any more and you’d just think about that Pittsburgh jersey and looking up at the scoreboard and seeing you're down 10 at the end of the game. That gives you a lot of motivation."
"It has become a healthy rivalry," Calhoun said. "The kids know who Pittsburgh is. Their style is physical. They run their stuff exceptionally well, they're deep, they're pragmatic, they will fast break you and they'll grind you away. They have a great belief they're going to win as much as any team in this league. They're tough."

Indeed. Pittsburgh has limited 15 of its 18 opponents to 70 points or less, employs 10 players who average over 10 minutes per game and is 4-1 on the road. The Panthers have trailed at the half in five of their last six games.

"They out-tough people," said Boone, a junior center. "From start to finish, there's going to be a whole lot of pushing and a whole lot of shoving. That's the kind of game they like. We do play well in those type of games. We're a running team, but I think we've proved throughout this year that we can be a physical team as well."

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon admits he used to cringe every time "they talked about us playing like the Steelers, or a football team."

"Now we embrace it, look at it as a good thing, and we're proud of it," said Dixon, whose Panthers returned just two starters and were picked seventh in the league's preseason poll.

One advantage both teams have had this year that will be a wash in this game -- depth. Using the deep bench to grind and wear down a team. UConn by running, Pitt by physical play. It won't matter. Pitt goes 10 deep, UConn 9. Calhoun also favorably compares Carl Krauser to a hated UConn player.
"He's not only a leader, he's an emotional leader," Calhoun said of Krauser, whom he likened to former UConn standout Khalid El-Amin. "He has some of what Khalid has, his strength and confidence level. ... He gets fans involved."

I don't suppose that could entail him standing on the scorer's table after the game at Gampel taunting the students this year, could it?

Defensively from UConn, you can expect man-to-man.
Denham Brown, who slowed Providence's Donnie McGrath Saturday, will draw the main defensive responsibility, though he will have help. Krauser averages 16.8 points and 4.2 rebounds.

"He's a confident player," Brown said. "He's real hard to guard. It's just a matter of putting the effort out there. I don't think he knows as much about me playing defense as I know about what he's going to do offensively. He might see three or four guys on him. He's going to play the same game. He's gotten a lot better, but he still has the same personality. That makes him the same player."

The Huskies have other concerns, such as Aaron Gray. He's 7 feet, 270 pounds and agile."He's a big dude," Josh Boone said. "He's talented. He's skilled. When you have a guy that big who can really play, it's always a tough guy to handle. But we're going to throw a couple of things at him. I'm going to try to big-to-big a little bit, just because he's so big. Hopefully, we're going to try to box him out a little bit and keep him off the boards."

Hilton Armstrong will also guard Gray. Armstrong turned his left ankle in practice Monday. He walked the sideline for the last few minutes of practice, then walked off and suggested he will be ready to play.

The player that Pitt has to worry about is Rudy Gay. With his range and talent, he is the kind of athletic forward that Pitt has struggled mightily to contain. Gay's talent remains unquestioned. It's always and still a question of his heart and willingness to be physical.
Rudy Gay's development into a more physical player continues with ups and downs. He took the ball to the basket with authority in a chippy game Wednesday against St. John's, but faded Saturday against Providence.

That might be what holds him down in the Pitt game.

Final story. Everyone has an agenda. Not everyone admits it. Especially when it comes to personality clashes in the print media. We've seen the sniping that will go on for years at a coach (think Smizik on Walt Harris), but it's rare to see an open declaration of opposition. Especially when it is an icon, a legend, a hall-of-famer. Jeff Jacobs at the Hartford Courant, has all but declared an open fight with Jim Calhoun. Interesting read.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Weekly Big East BlogPoll 

So, West Virginia loses to Marshall and nearly gives the game away against St. John's and they stay at #2 in the poll? Syracuse loses at home to Seton Hall (not to mention a road loss to Pitt) and falls only one spot; and stays ahead of Seton Hall who also crushed NC St.? Louisville absolutely crushes Cinci but is behind them in the poll? Yes, it's the weekly poll.

I'm not saying that my fellow voters are insane or idiots. I may just misunderstand the poll. I thought it was to a large degree reflect the teams that are getting it done from week-to-week as much as what they have and are expected to accomplish.

I will call out my fellow bloggers for not publishing their votes (noted exception is Keith at Pitt Panther Hoops). Come on guys, some transparency please. Besides, its an easy post, that's half-written beforehand.

Here's how I voted:
  1. UConn -- Looking really strong
  2. Villanova -- I'm starting to think the loss of Curtis Sumpter is really starting to take its toll on them.
  3. Pitt -- Two more important wins. Next 3 games are all top-25 opponents.
  4. Georgetown -- They avoided losing the letdown game after Duke, then crushed Cinci.
  5. WVU -- Marshall? I realize it's a "rivalry" game, but Marshall? Then that game against St. John's shouldn't be considered a real confidence booster considering the Red Storm was shorthanded and the 'Eers turtled in the final 8 minutes.
  6. Marquette -- A fine team, that needs something in the middle to grab rebounds.
  7. Seton Hall -- Louis Orr may not save his job, but he's making his case for the next team to hire him. The Pirates may be the only team not called the Huskies that no one in the BE wants to play right now.
  8. St. John's -- 2 losses, but they were almost as impressive as their wins the previous week. As tough as Pitt or UConn, just not as deep.
  9. Syracuse -- Can't blame the schedulemakers for losing at home to the Pirates, Mr. Boeheim.
  10. Providence -- Beat Rutgers at the RAC (really, is there really any claim of mystique left in that place?), and hung close with UConn for a while. Considering the lack of depth, this has been one of their better weeks.
  11. Rutgers -- That Louisville win would have looked nice two weeks ago, but it has more than been compensated by that loss to Providence.
  12. Louisville -- Beating Cinci was the only thing keeping them in the Field of 12.
  13. Cinci -- Sinking fast as the season seems to be grinding the entire team down.
  14. Notre Dame -- I almost want to watch their games to see how they will manage to lose again.
  15. DePaul -- Only 1 loss this week -- they only played once. Actually got a needed chance to rest and regroup.
  16. USF -- They can't go winless in the conference can they?
Numbers 1 and 16 were easy. Everything in between was up for debate.

Blaming Blogs 

Time to make fun of a sportswriter/media-hack pooh-poohing the number of possible teams from the Big East to make the NCAA. Well, not so much making fun of him for complaining about the possibility since I don't see more than 8 by the time things shake out, but who he blames for the talk:
First, the Big East conundrum: As you are undoubtedly aware (if you're still
with us) no league has ever had more than seven teams invited to "The Big
Dance." But now that the Big East has 47 members (well, it seems that way) there's plenty of speculation out in the "blogosphere" that it could
land eight, nine or even 10 bids.
If you look at the league from
top to bottom, the number of its teams in the top 25 etc., eight seems pretty
much a lock at this point, nine is certainly possible and even 10 isn't out of
the question.

[Emphasis added.]

Yes, like noted members of the blogosphere like the Hartford Courant today. Or perhaps he means that long-time blogger Dick Weiss from the NY Daily News? How about Seth Davis at Sports Illustrated almost 3 weeks ago? You get the idea.

The buzz is out there period. The legitimacy is debatable, but that is the point at the end of January and people are still in wild speculation mode. That speculation is everywhere -- including the mainstream media. Well, apparently not at the New Britain Herald, but he can have that little sliver.

More Fields  

There were, of course, a couple stories in the papers about Elijah Fields giving his verbal to Pitt.
Duquesne tried to set up a news conference for its star receiver to announce his college decision, but Fields eschewed the spotlight and simply let his choice be known.
"Pitt was a home away from home," said Fields. "I felt comfortable there. I've got a good relationship with all the people down there, the players and the coaches. I liked all the other schools, but Pitt was it."

Fields is the 10th WPIAL recruit (and 24th player overall) in Pitt's 2006 recruiting class, which can sign binding letters of intent starting Wednesday. He is Pitt's second Duquesne recruit in as many years. Running back Shane Brookos, a good friend, took a redshirt this past fall.

Fields might just be the gem of Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt's first full recruiting class. He earned Associated Press Class A Player of the Year honors after his dominant performances in leading the Dukes to the WPIAL championship and PIAA finals. He also has been named to the Big 33 Football Classic.

I wouldn't necessarily call him the "gem" of the class. That honor should go to someone like Dickerson or Byham who really made people around the country pay attention to the recruiting work being done by Coach Wannstedt and the entire Pitt staff. I would consider Woods the "cherry on top." That final (perhaps there are still a couple more players out there) verbal that gives Pitt fans a warm feeling.

Fields does need to bring up his SAT score to qualify academically.

Getting Up For the Huskies 

Every week, a new series of tests. Barely a week ago Pitt was completing its first challenge of playing a bunch of games in a short period. Now, Pitt is in the midst of its next challenge of playing the upper tier teams over a week and a half (Marquette, UConn, G-town and WVU).

Really, I want to know who the genius was that decided Pitt should play on Tuesday and then wait to play again until Super Bowl Sunday -- with a noon start? I mean some will barely have time to sober up before it starts all over again. That is just a fouled up process. I'm too old to drink all the way through. Given all the pre-game, preliminaries, extra commercial breaks and everything else, I'd be out cold by the end of the first quarter. Sorry, I digressed.

One of the goals right now for Pitt is to finish in the top 4 of the Big East Conference and earn a first round bye at the Big East Tournament.
"It definitely is important," Krauser said. "No one wants to play four nights in a row in the tough Big East. It's almost like playing in the NBA when you're playing against good teams night in and night out. It would be nice to have fresh legs for those games."

Pitt's victory against Marquette Saturday afternoon was important because it gave the Panthers some separation in the standings. Marquette (15-6, 5-3) is in sixth place, 1 1/2 games behind the Panthers. Georgetown (14-4, 5-2) is in fifth place, a half-game behind Pitt, Connecticut and Villanova.

The cushion could come in handy because things are about to get much tougher. After playing their first seven Big East games against teams with a combined 18-32 record in conference play, the Panthers are about to enter the most difficult stretch of the season the next 10 days.

After Connecticut, Pitt plays at Georgetown and then plays host to West Virginia. Those three teams are a combined 17-4 in the Big East.

"This is an important stretch for us," Krauser said. "All these games coming up are important. Our character will come out, how we play together. It will bring out the best in us."

Pitt's excellent season and continued consistent excellence over the last few years has some wondering how there could be such doubts about Pitt coming into the season. Also an Aaron Gray anectdote after his freshman season.

The morning after Pittsburgh lost to Oklahoma State in the Round of 16 of the 2004 N.C.A.A. tournament, the team took a bus back to the Petersen Events Center and the players scattered across campus.

But as Barry Rohrssen, an assistant at the time, returned to his office, he noticed the freshman Aaron Gray leaving the locker room and heading to the weight room in workout clothes.

Rohrssen, now Pittsburgh's associate head coach, said he asked Gray what he was doing and Gray told him, "Next season starts now."

It also helped that Gray spent that summer playing a lot of NBA and kids from Temple. It is a reminder that Gray was not an overnight change or that he suddenly had a light go off. He's been working and developing his entire time at Pitt. He's been maturing and developing in all aspects -- skill sets, competition, strength and conditioning and diet. He's a big center, and it takes time.

Against UConn, a big night will be needed by Gray and the other guys inside. Especially rebounding -- limiting theirs and giving Pitt more second chance opportunities.

"UConn prides itself on rebounding, too, so it should be a battle down low," Dixon said.

Pitt will be armed with the 7-foot Gray (10.9 rpg.), 6-9 Levon Kendall (6.0) and 6-6 Sam Young (4.2). Connecticut will counter with 6-10 Josh Boone (7.0), 6-11 Hilton Armstrong (6.5) and 6-9 Rudy Gay (6.2).

Though Pitt's Gray leads the Big East in rebounding, he's not a one-man team on the boards for the Panthers. Kendall and Young, a freshman, give the team a combined weapon at power forward.

The combined statistics of Gray, Kendall and Young compare favorably at this point in the season to those of last year's big men, Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman.

Taft, last year's starting center, was averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game through the period. Power forward Troutman was at 14.3 and 8.2, respectively.

This year, Gray is averaging 13.1 points to go with his rebounding average of 10.9. Kendall and Young are combining to average 15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds at the power forward spot.

Pitt is 0-12 against teams ranked #1, with 2 of them being to UConn.

Unsurprisingly, USA Today lists the Tuesday game as one to watch (think ESPN isn't wishing it was showing this game?).

That UConn is good is no shock. That they are ranked #1 right now is hardly a stunner. What makes them more dangerous this year, to me, is their increased depth. And I shudder to think what they'd have been like if Bynum hadn't gone straight to the NBA.

You have Hilton Armstrong playing very well. Rudy Gay is a tremendous talent, and Jeff Adrien provides the real toughness. Josh Boone showing signs of coming out of his somewhat disappointing season. Denham Brown is now playing better. Marcus Williams seems to have picked-up from last year as the best pure PG in the Big East. Ed Nelson, Marcus Johnson and Craig Austrie are part of the bench.

The Huskies play tough defense but are a much faster tempo team than Pitt. Coach Jim Calhoun has continually stressed that he wants the team to have at least 75 shot attempts per game. Pitt is going to have to resist the urge to try and run with UConn.

UConn game notes are here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Future B-Ball Stars 

I guess it's exciting that one of the hottest young (emphasis on young) high school talents in the country is saying he is giving his verbal to Pitt after the Marquette-Pitt game. Just keep in mind that Terrelle Pryor is presently a Sophomore in high school.

Pryor made a verbal commitment to Pitt yesterday after the Panthers' victory against Marquette. He informed Pitt assistant coach Joe Lombardi of his decision and then head coach Jamie Dixon.

Pryor is a 6-foot-6 guard-forward who is ranked highly by scouting services. Scout.com ranks him the No. 8 sophomore in the country and the No. 1 small forward. Some coaches in the WPIAL believe he will be one of the best players to come out of Western Pennsylvania in a couple decades.

But the main question for Pryor is, why now? Why commit to a school when you're not even halfway through high school?

"I think it will just let me concentrate on other stuff," Pryor said. "Right now, I feel like I just want to go to Pitt. It's close to home. My father can come see me play. It's mostly about staying close to home. ... But I like their gym and I like their coaches."

Pitt has been showing plenty of interest in Pryor and offered him a scholarship yesterday. Colleges can offer a scholarship to a player at any time, and a player can commit at any time. Pryor can't sign a binding letter of intent until November of 2007.
Other Division I colleges were showing interest in Pryor as coaches from Pitt, North Carolina State, Xavier and Penn State already have been to Jeannette.

"The three schools he always talked about were Pitt, North Carolina State and North Carolina," Klimchock said. "North Carolina was just starting to get interested. One of their assistants called this week. But he's always really liked Pitt."

Now, from what I understand, his father is physically disabled -- so that's a very legit and noble reason to want to play close by. It speaks very well of Pryor as a person. I hope he does come to Pitt. I hope he develops the way everyone is already projecting him. I just am not going to hold a 15-year old kid to anything. There's a reason that in most states, no contract is legally binding for anyone under the age of 18.

And if he really believes the pressure will be off of him simply because he made a verbal now, well he does have a lot to learn.

Another article focuses on how the Pittsburgh area is having its first surge in basketball talent in ages.

Under NCAA rules, Pitino can't talk about individual players. But after the game, he was asked if the talent on the court for the Aliquippa-Beaver Falls game was comparable to talent in some other areas he has recruited.

"Most definitely," Pitino replied.

In addition to Louisville, Pitt would also like to get Pope. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon attended the same Aliquippa-Beaver Falls game as Pitino. But Pope is not the only one in Western Pennsylvania, attracting attention from major-college programs.

Dixon and Pitt assistant Orlando Antigua have been to some Schenley games. The Panthers are seriously interested in Schenley center DeJuan Blair and guard-forward D.J. Kennedy.

An improving talent base, gives Pitt increased opportunities to raise the profile of the basketball program locally, and the overall performance of the team if it can keep the blue-chip talent around.

Fields to Pitt 

So it looks like Elijah Fields has let the news slip early (hat tip to BurghGuy68). Both Rivals.com and Scout.com have the teaser headline behind their paid firewall, so it isn't actually confirmed (though both list him on his individual page). It does however jibe with earlier stories today.

Also, Pittsburgh Sports Report sent out an e-mail update saying the same with some quotes from Fields.
While Keystone Recruiting was interviewing his Duquesne teammate, wide receiver Fitzgerald Bobo, earlier this week, Fields let it slip that he planned to attend the University of Pittsburgh and wanted his friend to do the same next year.

While the 6'4 1/2" 190-pound Bobo has yet to receive an offer from Pittsburgh, the junior is regarded as one of the best wide receiver prospects in the east next season and it seems likely that he will receive an offer.

As for Fields, he does want to dispel some rumors. Many following his recruitment thought that Penn State would be his eventual choice because he was apparently waiting to receive a written offer from the Lions.

"That's not true," says Fields. "They offered me in writing months ago."

Another rumor is that Fields may not qualify academically. But he doesn't see it that way.

"I am fine with all of that," says Fields. "I will be eligible next season."
So much for the expected spin from the Lions.

Out in the Akron area, a guy, Nate Reed, Pitt was looking at for the future as a kicker decided to stay close to home and go to Kent State. Pitt hadn't actually offered a scholarship, so he finally decided to take the free ride.

Pitt verbal commit Jared Martin is featured in this story on the "feeding frenzy of recruiting information."
His high school coach had warned him that he would be heavily recruited, but Martin, was not prepared when the onslaught began.

"At the beginning of the year, I was buried with phone calls," said Martin, a 6-foot-1, 288-pound defensive tackle from Davie.

Then, as the time to make official visits came closer, Martin started getting calls from correspondents from Rivals.com and Scout.com, the two most popular Web sites devoted primarily to college recruiting.

"They were very persistent. I would get calls as soon as my plane landed, then at the hotel before I even had a chance to unpack," Martin said.

But Martin didn't tell them to stop. He was looking at the Web sites himself, and it was intriguing to follow his own saga, as the correspondents posted his comments within an hour of his conversations with them.

"I guess I'm too nice of a person to say no," Martin said.
Martin learned just how fast recruiting news travels when he made his verbal commitment to Pittsburgh.

Martin called Pitt at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 8, after getting home from the North-South All-Star Game, and then went to bed, planning on calling coaches from the other schools he had visited in the morning.

The calls started coming before 7 a.m. the next morning.

"I saw the numbers, and went back to sleep," he said.

The first calls were from Rivals.com and Scout.com. "Are the rumors true?" they asked.

Then came the calls from coaches at Arizona State, Colorado and Minnesota, saying they had read on the Web sites that he had committed.

"I felt bad about that, since I had met those coaches on my visits. I told them I was sorry, that I had no idea word would get out that quick," Martin said.
I suppose I should sympathize with the Maryland people over what has happened to them this past week. Still these thumbsucker articles get under my skin.

Today's prep stars crave attention, and we're only too willing to give it. So Logan-El flashed a Florida Gators cap and smiled as he dropped it to the ground. Then a Tennessee cap. Then a Maryland cap. Then a Penn State cap. The suspense built, and the fans, family members and cheerleaders could barely breathe.

The kid finally showed a picture of him standing next to Penn State coach Joe Paterno, and that stood as his decision. He'd be a Nittany Lion.

Terrapins fans were annoyed that Logan-El played bait-and-switch with their emotions. He asked Maryland coaches, to whom he had orally committed two years earlier, to set aside a scholarship. He showed up at a recent Terps basketball game wearing a Maryland jersey and singing the school fight song. He gave all indications that he was coming to College Park. And then he broke everyone's hearts.

Fans, boosters and even Friedgen's wife were on hand to witness the spectacle in person.

Most of us don't care if Logan-El attends Maryland, Penn State or Harvard's cosmetology school, but the scene was sickening because of the larger trend that it represented.
Friedgen can't talk specifically about Logan-El, and he probably wouldn't want to, anyway. With less than a week before signing day, no coach has time to chew on sour grapes. But Friedgen did note that when he returned to the college game in 1997 after spending a few years coaching in the NFL, something was different.

"In those five years I was away, the Internet became an integral part of recruiting," he said. "It's just amazing to me. There's a lot of people making a lot of money off of these kids. And look at what's happening to the kids' egos. They eat this stuff up. The people who are around the kid - relatives, parents and street agents - all help to inflate the balloon."

Coaches used to learn about their signees from a telephone call - not an ESPN announcer. By now, most big-time coaches have felt victimized by some kid's juvenile script.

[Emphasis added.]

Yeah. It used to be it was just the coaches who were making money off of the kids with their contracts, endorsements, radio and TV gigs. Now it's all those "others." Totally wrong.

Media Recapping Marquette-Pitt 

You know, I actually started writing this before noon, but a sick daughter and a visiting mother-in-law caused a major slow down in posting. On the bright side, we were treated to some good food and really good beers at the local brewpub last night, and I pulled off a spectacular grilled salmon with a cilantro pesto tonight.

There is no doubt this was a very physical game. Part of the reason was that was the way the game was (not) being called. The refs were just letting them play, letting the players get tangled up, and calling a held ball sooner than a foul. Marquette only got to the line 12 times and Pitt 18 (with 6 coming in the final minute).

So as we all know, Marquette came out hot and Pitt not:

Already playing without another freshman guard in Wesley Matthews (foot) and with hobbled senior forward Steve Novak (ankle), the Golden Eagles roared out of the gate against the Panthers (17-1, 6-1), who entered the day ranked 12th in the Associated Press' poll and 10th in the coaches'.

They harassed Pittsburgh into misses on 11 of its first 12 shots in jumping out to a 13-3 lead and responded each time the Panthers made a run at them. Three-pointers by Graves and Ronald Ramon sandwiched around a Dan Fitzgerald three sent MU into the locker room nursing a 40-33 lead built by 53.3% shooting and in spite of a 17-0 deficit in second-chance points.

For the game, Pitt held a 26-7 advantage in second chance points. Gray was the second BE player to get 20 boards in a game (Cedric McGowan of Cinci also did it). Marquette shot 46.0% against Pitt. The highest of any foe this season.

The hero of the game, was obviously, Antonio Graves. He hadn't disappeared from box scores, just from statistical relevance. Today, at least, he found his stroke. He took patient, unhurried shots and buried them.

The other big factor for Pitt was inside. The team just kept grabbing rebounds. And while Marquette hung with Pitt on defensive boards in the first half (14 D-rbds to 13 in favor of the Golden Eagles), they gave up the second chance points and Pitt wore them down inside in the sceond half (13-8 D-rbds). Off the offensive glass it was never close (19-9).

Mike DeCourcy summarized Pitt and the way the team is playing very well.
It's that element of Pitt's depth that has led to the 17-1 start. Often, the best players excel. When they do not, there's always someone else to try.
That's why Pitt has won games at South Carolina, at Louisville, at Rutgers and against Marquette (to name the first ones that popped into my head). Others have stepped up.

One of the things Graves was able to do was handle a hobbled Steve Novak.
Graves spent most of his minutes defending 6-foot-10 shooter Steve Novak, the reigning Big East Player of the Week. Novak was held to eight points, or half of his 16.3 average.

"I realized that I was quicker than him and he wasn't the type of guy that was going to stick inside," Graves said. "I tried to pressure him and limit his touches."
Aaron Gray showed his sense of humor after the game.
Gray got 20 of them, nine on the offensive end. The total looks great, but proves deceiving. Gray shot 6 of 14 from the floor - he made only one shot Monday against Syracuse - and collected many of his own misses.

"A lot of times my offense is so bad, I'm just glad even with my offensive struggles that I've been able to get offensive rebounds," Gray added.
Heading to a big match-up with UConn, Gray got a story in the Connecticut Post.

After playing behind Panther post heavyweights like Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft for his first two years, Gray is getting his first chance to start and play significant minutes this season for the 12th-ranked Panthers. He's making the most of it.

Gray, a junior from Emmaus, Pa., averaged 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds last season. This season, he's scoring 13.1 points per game and pulling down a league-best 10.4 rebounds each night through Friday's games.

"It hasn't been like an overnight thing or even an over-the-summer thing," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's been a continuous process really since we signed him. His improvement's been constant, yet dramatic when you look at it."

Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen got a puff piece in the NY Post.

DURING his playing days at St. Francis, Brooklyn's Barry Rohrssen was nicknamed "Slice," because he knifed through defenses like butter. Eventually, like many others, he swapped the uniform for a suit, embarking on a coaching career.

But the nickname -- unlike the butter -- stuck.

Now, as Pitt's top assistant, it's still quite appropriate. Instead of opponents, he now slices through the recruiting trail.

At least now we know how the nickname originated.

Krauser made the cut-down to the remaining 30 for the Wooden Award. He really doesn't have much of a chance of winning it, but it is impressive that he made the cut-down.

And finally a Pittsburgh sports columnist takes a break from writing up another Steeler story to give Pitt a backhanded compliment -- so, yes, it must be Smizik.

The Panthers had been ranked in the Top 10 until their loss last week against St. John's. With this win, they might move back into that elite group. But despite the record, despite the ranking, no one should be getting carried away with this success.

This is a good team that gets the most out of its ability, but it is not a championship-caliber team.

Not this season, at least.

There are so many ways to put this, but "screw you" feels like the most succinct and least vulgar possibility.

It is very rare that teams peak absolutely when they are supposed to. In pros or college. It takes some opportunities and things happening right. Not to mention just a team playing extremely well together.

Last year was supposed to be the big, big year for Pitt. How'd that work out?

Villanova was supposed to be unbeatable in the BE this year -- then Curtis Sumpter went out and things are a lot more open.

Should UConn be this good when Boone isn't stepping up, Gay is still inconsistent, and Marcus Williams spent half the season suspended. But then Jeff Adrien has been fantastic as a freshman; Hilton Armstrong has decided to step-up and Denham Brown is still doing his thing (and people make cracks about Krauser being around forever?). You have to take advantage of the chances when they come.

Football Recruiting Notes 

An encouraging story regarding Elijah Fields and who he will choose (probably) tomorrow.
Elijah Fields won't reveal his college choice until Monday, but the Duquesne star receiver has privately indicated to other Pitt recruits that he will be joining them in signing with the Panthers.

Fields sat with several future Panthers during Pitt's basketball games against Syracuse last Monday and Marquette on Saturday at Petersen Events Center.

During the Syracuse game, Fields talked to Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt's Aaron Berry by phone to convince him to choose Pitt. Berry picked the Panthers over Minnesota and West Virginia on Thursday.

Berry predicted then that Fields would join him.

"If I sign," Berry said, "he'll sign."

Apparently the head coaches and an assistant from Pitt, WVU, Ohio St. and Penn St. all paid visits to Duquesne this past week.

Out in Beaver Falls, Lance Jeter has yet to receive an offer from Pitt. And since next year's recruiting class begins before this year's has even signed:
Two local juniors have gained the attention of major college recruiters, including Notre Dame. The Irish have begun to show interest in both Center offensive lineman Evan Blankenship and Rochester athlete Derek Moye.

Ohio State and Pitt have made offers to Blankenship, while programs such as Virginia Tech, Iowa, Boston College and Purdue have shown interest.

The Pitt Panthers are also showing an interest in Moye. Penn State, West Virginia are also recruiting Moye and Iowa may soon get into the picture.
Honestly, how does this not grind down a coach after a while? (I know, I know. Six- or Seven-figure salaries are a hell of an incentive.)

Looks like Syracuse fans (and beat writers) might finally be getting the idea that Kevin Collier is going to Pitt.
Tailback Kevin Collier of Churchville-Chili High School has his own myspace.com site. Click here. Kevin writes:

"I'm signing to Pitt."

Some alert readers think it might be bogus, that someone set Kevin up. My son, who has a myspace account, sent Kevin an email. He wrote back, saying it was him. "What, did you think it was my brother?" Cool tune, Kev.
Collier already has a link up there for Pitt as his college and a short message to the Syracuse community that seems to have taken it a little personally. Probably best if the Pitt community gives him a little space -- don't want him to know think we're that insane.

Bump or Shove 

Looks like we could be heading to a Zapruder film kind of moment from the Marquette-Pitt game. The Dominic James injury seems to be generating some controversy. Not the foul by Levance Fields. The bump or shove from Antonio Graves followed by James stumbling down the rest of the court in pain over his shoulder and crashing off-court.

Now that is where there is some controversy.
But the issue after the game was the two-handed shove in the back Antonio Graves gave James as James was falling to the court in pain in front of MU's bench.

James remained down for several minutes while being attended to by medical personnel before getting up under his own power and making his way to the locker room.

After the game an angry Tom Crean gave Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon a piece of his mind before leaving the court, presumably about Graves' shove.

"I just watched the tape. (Graves) didn't bump into him," the MU coach said shortly thereafter, carefully measuring his words. "The foul wasn't the issue. The foul was just a foul. It's what happened after the foul that I have an issue with. But we're just going to leave that alone, watch the film and go from there."

Now maybe the film is being run, over and over in Milwaukee and being slowed down and dissected. I only saw the numerous replays during the game and on College Gameday last night.

To me, it looked like an accidental bump. Graves was running behind Fields and James on the baseline. When James got fouled and was in obvious pain, he started pulling up and stopped angling to the basket. That was when Graves ran into him. Yes, I would say Graves probably got his hands between the two, as they started to collide, but I definitely saw no extension like it was a shove.

I heard no mention of a controversy until I saw an early release of the aforementioned article late last night.

The Pittsburgh papers are rather vague on the incident. I would also note that the J-S article makes no mention of James hurting his shoulder running into Gray on a screen as the early AP story mentioned (and again no mention of a push).
James initially injured his shoulder running into a screen set by the 7-foot Gray in the first half, then aggravated it while being fouled by Fields with about 13 minutes remaining. James had a team-high 16 points in 30 minutes, but the Golden Eagles struggled for long stretches with James sitting down and leading scorer Steve Novak contained.
I don't want to be absolute in defending Graves. I didn't see a two-handed shove, the refs didn't see one, the commentators didn't see one, the national ESPN highlight show (never exactly a group to avoid controversy) didn't say anything and judging by the lack of reaction towards Graves by the Marquette bench at the time (since it happened right in front of them) they didn't seem to see one at the time.

Krauser was even shown on camera talking to Crean after the incident. Then of course the article has Crean going to Dixon to give him "a piece of his mind."

Now if Graves did give him a shove, then he should be suspended for a couple games. Pitt plays strong, physical basketball. Not thug-ball.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Reviewing Marquette-Pitt 

If the write-ups on the game use verbs like "survive" or "recover" or such, I won't be arguing. Pitt found itself in a fierce game with Marquette. I don't think Pitt took Marquette lightly. Only a fool would do that to the only team that has beaten UConn this season.

In the first half there were a lot of things not going right. Pitt was simply missing some easy baskets. Their defense was confused, and not getting through the screens very well.

DeGroat came out and just seemed possessed -- but not in a good way. It was like he had gotten himself hyped up to the game and thinking this was going to be his break-out performance. Instead, he fumbled the ball away on the first touch, and missed an open lay-up on the second. I don't know why but I have the mental image of two Pitt players on the bench having the following conversation in the first few minutes of the game.
Bowman: John's playing like a wild man out there.

Small: Yeah, said before the game that he was "feelin' it" today.

Bowman: Really?

Small: Uh, huh.

Bowman: [Watches DeGroat fall down trying to get around a screen] ... Think it might be the flu?
Gray at least had the flu as an excuse for bouncing the ball off of his knee and missing a bunch of easy buckets in the game. The bright side, it allowed him to pad his rebounding stats.

Marquette, by contrast came out measured but quick. They moved the ball so crisply and found the open guy for the shot. They not only were playing the pace they wanted, they were getting Pitt to play their pace. Pitt's defense in the first half was late and overpursued. Marquette kept getting a shooter free.

In the second half, the Pitt defense finally settled and played much tougher. The open shots for Marquette were fewer and prevented a rythm from going. It also has to be made clear that Marquette's offense was severely crimped when Freshman PG Dominic James went out with the shoulder injury. He apparently hurt it in the first half, running into a Gray screen (nice catch, Keith), but really aggravated on a steal in the second half, when Fields bumped him. James went out at the 13:17 mark and didn't return until 4:34 was left in the game. Marquette had done okay for a while, but at that point Pitt had a 6 point lead. You could see James was in visible pain as he played. No doubt the kid is tough and had everyone's respect in the building to come back in and play.

The loss of James, though, completely disrupted the Marquette offense. In the first half their Assist to Basket made percentage (A/B%) was 64.7 (11 assists on 17 FGs). In the second half, it was 25% (3 assists on 12 FGs). While part of that is also a credit to Pitt's defense improving, you can't understate the loss of a team's starting point guard. Especially considering the way he was playing. Very creative and playing an impressive defense.

Pitt, even when it was struggling in the first half, was still making the passes. For the game, Pitt had a 71.4 A/B%. In the first half, Pitt was actually better at 75% A/B. Just a lot of missed shots.

Offensively for Pitt, it was Antonio Graves that kept Pitt in the game and then led the way in the second half. He scored 7 points in the first half off of 3-4 shooting and then had 12 more in the second half.

Ronald Ramon continues to look more confident in his shooting and on offense. It is like he is finally regaining that shooter mentality he had early last year as a Freshman before the injuries.
Sam Young didn't seem to do much on the stat sheet, but he was a presence. He seemed to be relishing the physical play and didn't mind battling.

Kendall was solid with his game grabbing 9 rebounds and shooting 50%. Fields and Benjamin weren't doing much on offense, but did provide some decent defense. Fields also had 4 assists.

Gray seemed to play better as the game continued. He had one for the highlight reel in the last minute when Pitt got the ball back to him alone at the other end for an open shot. He paused and ducked as Jamil Lott (I think that's who it was) dove right over his back trying to block the shot or foul. Lott cleared him. Gray paused, looked at the guy now lying in front of him, and slammed the basket home.

I hope they show that clip the rest of the season whenever Pitt plays.

Now a word about the announcers. Blech.

Donny Marshall, the color guy, apparently couldn't be bothered to read the injury report. If he had, he might have been aware that Marquette's Steve Novak is playing with a high ankle sprain. Right now, Novak can't create his own shot and needs the team to screen for him to shoot. Pitt was defending against that, so Marshall for some inexplicable reason spent most of the second half oblivious to the injury info and talked about how Novak wasn't being aggressive enough.

Don Criqui is an average football announcer. I really can't stand it when announcers refuse to give you the vital info like who fouled and how many they have. Not to mention assists and things like that.

Big props to Marquette for that game. The rematch in Milwaukee on February 18 is going to be something.

Marquette-Pitt: Open Thread 

As per the routine, comment freely before during and after.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Pitt down 40-33.

Cold doesn't even begin to describe the way Pitt started the game. Just plain missing good shots. Very frustrating.

They were unable to control the pace for the first 15 minutes. Finally showing a little more defensive transition.

Marquette is a very accurate team, and it is showing. They are getting great ball movement and penetration to have good shots. They are having open looks and really trying to free up the shooter.

Pitt's problem, disturbingly, is in the paint. They aren't getting their shots inside, and keep having break downs on defense because of the perimeter threat Marquette's shooters pose.

FINAL UPDATE: Pitt won 77-71.

Marquette scored 2 quick 3s at the end to totally screw anyone who bet on Pitt and had to give up the points.

Pitt was coming back and maybe they still would have won, but when Dominic James went out with the shoulder injury, that really did it. Weird how it happened. Didn't look like a hard hit, when Fields tried to recover the ball, just seemed that it was where he hit. I've had a few shoulder injuries, and there are times when I'm astounded that more don't happen in sports. It seems as much about the spot than the force.

Graves had a tremendous game. His shots were falling, and he seemed less tense when he was out there. Gray was cleaning up on the boards, but still couldn't hit nearly the number of easy baskets. Not to mention his troubles holding on to the ball (or bouncing it off of his knee).

Marquette, amazingly, had a horrible day at the line. Really struggling.

Ugh, Grunt, Tough 

The stories for today seem to be about Marquette Coach Tom Crean puffing Pitt's toughness or the shallow similarities of the teams -- mainly expectations and how they've performed with a lot of youth.

No doubt everyone is surprised that it is Marquette who is doing the best job of the C-USA newbies in adjusting to the Big East. Like Pitt they were placed somewhere in the mushy middle of the BE in preseason polls with all of their new players. So naturally, it is easy to say they are similar.

They have surpassed all preseason expectations. They have a talented senior with NCAA tournament experience and three talented freshmen who have elevated their play and the play of those around them.

They play in a football-mad state where the winter weather is biting.

Sound like the Pitt Panthers?

Yes, but those very words also describe Pitt's opponent today in the Petersen Events Center -- the Marquette Golden Eagles.

Yes and know. As I hope the Q&A showed, this is not a similar team except for youth. Marquette starts the freshmen, plays at a faster tempo, is a better shooting team (especially at the free throw line), turns the ball over a lot and is weaker on defense.

Crean did talk about Pitt's toughness in admiring terms.

A huge believer in hard-nosed basketball himself, Crean has been enamored of how hard the Panthers play ever since they took his team down to the wire in the Sweet 16 in 2003. MU won that matchup, 77-74, behind an incredible 20-point second half by Dwyane Wade.

Aside from the faces - only senior point guard Carl Krauser returns from that team - not much has changed at Pittsburgh in the nearly three seasons since.

"I don't know if they're the toughest team in the country - I don't know enough about the other teams - but I'd have a hard time believing they're not one of the toughest teams in the country," said Crean, who spent one season as an assistant at Pittsburgh in 1994-'95.

One of the big issues in this game is the health of Marquette. Their leading scorer, Senior Forward Scott Novak has a sprained left ankle. It limited him in the DePaul game (only 5 points). Add in the fact that one of the freshmen who had been starting Wes Matthews is out with injury. While Novak will play, he will be a little limited and Crean indicated that the team is going to have to create some screens to give him chances to shoot.

Sticking with the Pitt is tough theme, more from Coach Crean.

"The system is in place, (meaning) the toughness never changes," Crean said. "Pitt is not going to get beat in the defensive battle because they can guard and they cover for each other so well. What separates them so well right now is the pressure their guards can put on you.

"They've got the whole package. On offense, (center) Aaron Gray is such a great passer. He sees the cutters so well and he's on the same page as (forward) Levon Kendall with their interior passing. They're hard to prepare for. They have a lot of different ways to make plays."

Crean, who has averaged nearly 20 victories during a seven-year stay at Marquette (15-5, 5-2), served under former Pitt coach Ralph Willard during the 1994-95 season, which produced a forgettable 10-18 record. He moved on to Michigan State the following year, joining coach Tom Izzo, who presently heads the 11th-ranked Spartans.

Nonetheless, Crean, a native of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., "loved being in Pittsburgh. My wife is a Pitt graduate, so it's a chance for her to come home. Our daughter was born right there in Oakland. I never ate more Italian food in my life.

"I loved going to Pirates games and Steelers games. I regret that I never saw a Penguins game. I had a chance to go home to Michigan State, or I have been happy there. It was a really special time."

I'll give the local papers credit. They didn't beat into the ground Crean's Pitt connections -- his father-in-law, Jack Harbaugh was a Pitt assistant under Mike Gottfried. His brother-in-law is former Bear/Indianapoplis/Charger QB, and now head coach of the University of San Diego Toreros, Jim Harbaugh. That would also mean that Jim played for one season under Pitt Head Football Coach Dave Wannstedt (1993).

Previewing Marquette-Pitt 

Late doing this, I know. Wanted to do it yesterday, but everything seemed to be about 4-6 hours behind.

You can see the game notes for Pitt and Marquette (PDF). Obviously the 2003 Sweet 16 game is a subplot/storyline. Though, since Marquette won the game, they are playing it up a little more:
Unlike some of its BIG EAST matchups, Marquette's meeting with no. 12/10 Pittsburgh will not be the first between the two schools in recent history. The Golden Eagles and Panthers hooked up on Marquette's way to the Final Four in 2003 in a hotly contested round of 16 contest in Minneapolis.

Marquette head coach Tom Crean remembers Pittsburgh as an aggressive, tough-minded team, something he says carries over to the Panthers' team of today.

"That was one of the most fierce battles of basketball that I've ever been a part of," Crean said referring to the two team's NCAA meeting. "Their system is in place for them to be great defensively and to be highly efficient offensively. When I say the system is in place, its the toughness that never changes."

I'm really not able to talk about this.

Greg Doyel at Sportsline lists this in his top ten weekend games to watch.

Marquette at No. 12 Pittsburgh: Most surprising team in college basketball? It's one of these two. Marquette and Pittsburgh are a combined 31-6, and you couldn't combine their rosters and get a team that would beat Duke. (No way Marquette beat UConn. No possible way.) Pittsburgh's an NCAA Tournament lock. Marquette, even more shockingly, is moving in that direction. Crazy. Pittsburgh's winning with older guys like Carl Krauser, who turns 30 next month. Marquette's doing it with whippersnappers like Steve Novak, who looks 14, and Dominic James, who is 14. Pick: Geezers.
The paper in Syracuse picks today's game as the "must watch" in the Big East.

Watch this game: Marquette at Pittsburgh

Two of the Big East's biggest surprises face each other on Saturday as Marquette travels to Pittsburgh. The Golden Eagles are off to a 5-2 start in the conference, while Pitt is 5-1.

Marquette drew some attention with its upset of Connecticut in the conference opener. Since then, the Golden Eagles' victories have come against DePaul (twice), Seton Hall and Notre Dame - teams with a combined Big East record of 4-14.

After suffering its first loss of the season on Saturday at St. John's, Pittsburgh bounced back with a decisive victory over Syracuse on Monday. Because it's a home game, this is an important contest for the Panthers, who travel to Connecticut and Georgetown next week.

They also speculate as to what else this game could determine.

Early front-runners for conference coach of the year? Pitt's Jamie Dixon, Marquette's Tom Crean. Panthers (16-1, 5-1), Golden Eagles (15-5, 5-2) were picked by coaches to finish seventh, 12th, respectively. They'll meet Saturday at The Pete. They met in a dandy in the 2003 Elite 8, and Crean's team went to the Final Four with a three-point win in Ben Howland's last game as Pitt's coach (Dixon was associate head coach).
It was the Sweet 16. Don't they have editors for this stuff?

The Marquette Scout.com site has a pretty good preview of Pitt. They seemed to have done more than simply look at some preview guides and check the records.

The best match-up preview comes courtesy of Big East Basketball Blog.
One of the areas in which the Panthers tend to struggle is in allowing too much dribble penetration from opposing guards. One of Marquette's biggest strengths is their ability to breakdown defenses off the dribble led by freshmen guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. James is by far and away the leading candidate for freshmen of the year in the Big East conference is listed at only 5'9, but he is one of the quickest and most athletic point guards you will see...
Read all of it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chats and Q&A Round-up 

Ray Fittipaldo's weekly Q&A is up.
Q: What is the status of coach Dixon's contract and what are the administration's intentions regarding a long-term extension?

Fittipaldo: Dixon signed a five-year contract in April of 2003 for $550,000 per year. He was given a one-year extension and bumped up in salary after guiding Pitt to a 31-5 record and a Sweet 16 appearance in his first season. So he has three years remaining on his contract after this season.

However, contracts don't mean anything in this business and Pitt is going to have to ante up if it wants to keep Dixon as its head coach after the season. Dixon's 67-15 record as head coach and the surprising start to this season means he will have many suitors once the season ends. Pitt has made many strides over the past seven seasons with its basketball program, but it is still a football school and doesn't always understand the financial commitment is takes to maintain a top-level basketball program. While most other schools in the Big East fly charter from city to city, Pitt still flies commercially most of the time.

The other thing the scares coaches away from Pitt is the lack of a recruiting base. The talent is better now than it has been in some time, but coaches must go to New York City or other major cities to find players.

Pitt has a great arena and the fan support is getting better, but the financial commitment from the university and recruiting are two reasons Dixon might leave. Pitt must do two things if it wants to keep Dixon: It will have to raise his salary and fix the problems in the basketball budget.

I have a feeling there are several people asking WTF right now. It's the insane nature of the beast. Right now his contract runs until 2009, so you have to expect more years to be added.

I find the flying information very interesting. Especially considering the amount of traveling a basketball team has to do, along with classes.

It is likely that Dixon will get a nice bump in salary at this rate, and I have no doubt that there will be some interest. I also think that the Pitt administration would step up on the money. The tough thing is balancing how proactive to be.

They were willing to spend for Prosser, but seemed tardy in making the big offer to Howland ahead of UCLA's overtures -- which everyone knew was coming. And yes, he probably still would have gone to UCLA anyways, but I'm just saying they seemed to wait to make their offer until UCLA rather than try to really lock him up.

Now from this week's ESPN.com chats (all Insider subs.). Not as many Pitt questions on the chat this week.

Rece Davis:
Chris (Philly): How deep can Pitt go in the NCAA Touurney?

Rece Davis: Look, I'm not picking them to go to the final 4...probably past tournaments haunting me...but really...what's missing. They've got size inside. They play hard. They've got a great glue guy (Kendall)...they've got an explosive scorer (Krauser)...they've got guys to keep that scorer from dominating the ball (Fields/Ramon)...hard to find reasons to pick against them...yet, I'm not diving in just yet to the final 4 talk. Definite sweet 16/elite 8 type club.
Fran Fraschilla had a bunch of questions, though.
Kurt Gies Holland , PA: How far do you think the University of Pittsburgh will go in the NCAA tourney? and is Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray one of the top PG and C's in the league?

Kurty G Holland , PA: What is your projection on Pitt's record by the end of the year? do you think they have what it takes to beat Uconn @ Uconn?

Fran Fraschilla: Now, Pitt is definitely the real day, by that I mean, they are comfortably in the Top 10. Krauser's season has mirrored Daniel Gibson's in that, by not having the ball in his hands all the time, eh doesn't have to worry about splitting his duties between running the team and scoring. The emergence of the Panthers young PGs has taken heat off of him. Aaron Gray is certainly among the most improved players in the country and with his size, he has become a legitimate NBA prospect. I like Sam Young's athleticism and poise for a freshman, as well.

Fran Fraschilla: Kudos to Coach Dixon for maintaining Pittsburgh's level of play ... HOWEVER, I think that UConn is a timebomb waiting to explode in a positive way. They have the deepest team in the country with at least four first round draft picks, on it. Jim Calhoun -- like Bill Belichick -- always seems to have his team playing it's best at the end of the season. Can Pitt win? Yes. But 7/10 times this year, UConn is the better team.
Paul (Chicago): Fran, what do you see in Marquette's future? They have a home and home with Pitt, a road game with 'Nova, a road game with Louisville, AND the Big East tournament. Do you see them dancing with 6 or 7 other Big East teams, or will they be left to the Not Invited Tournament?

Fran Fraschilla: The DePaul game on Wednesday is critical, Paul. It's a home game that the Golden Eagles SHOULD win. The road in the Big East will always be difficult, so, home games with St J's, Pitt, GTown and Providence are must wins. Getting Wesley Matthews back in a couple of weeks should strengthen their backcourt depth. Dominique James is close to wrapping up Big East Rookie of the Year -- watch out for Cuse's Eric Devendorf -- and Novak continues to be unconscious. So far, this team has exceeded people expectations. It has been a great coaching job by Tom Crean.
And finally, Andy Katz didn't actually get a Pitt question.
IV (Morgantown): Hey Andy, first off thank you for giving us the recognition that a lot of media members don't want to give our team and our state. I'm sure you probably catch a lot of grief for it. Anyway, your thoughts on what might happen in the BE standings once conference play really gets rolling?

Andy Katz: If the Mountaineers can win at Pitt then they've got a great shot to win the Big East. They play, as you know, Connecticut only once -- at home.
And just when I was starting to think Pitt fans could be a little sensitive to perceived media slights -- along come the Hoopies to raise the bar.

The Ruling Beast 

Seems like sports writers as a collective have discovered the Big East is ruling. Actually, it just varies. It seems like a week or two ago that plenty of people were singing the praises of the Big 11 for its depth. Then the ACC had received its usual love. Now it's the Big East's turn. Obviously aided because of the G-town win over Duke and UConn now being #1.

In the Boston Globe there was a story (sure to piss-off the BC fans) on the BE:
Suddenly, the Big East is getting and feeling the love, with the No. 1 team in the country in the latest polls, for the first time seven teams ranked in the Top 25, and speculation the conference will get a record seven and perhaps eight NCAA Tournament bids. The feeling of warmth has even spread to football, where a league that had to defend its right to get an automatic BCS bid suddenly is hearing that one of its teams could be ranked No. 1 in the major preseason polls.

What's going on, Mike Tranghese? ''I'm just going to take a deep breath and enjoy it," Tranghese said with a laugh. ''But it's all so cyclical. Things change so quickly."

As commissioner of the Big East, Tranghese knows cheers can turn to boos in a heartbeat. Football is a prime example. Through the early part of the fall, Tranghese had to endure complaints that the Big East did not deserve one of the six automatic berths to BCS bowls.

Then West Virginia won, and won, and won again, and defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl for an 11-1 season. Now the Mountaineers have received a No. 1 preseason ranking by ESPN.com and the Austin-American Statesmen of Texas, of all places, considering the Longhorns are the defending national champions.

Ray Glier at MSNBC talks a little about the Big East versus the Big 11.

Second, no, the Big Ten is not just as good.

The Big East will not get 10 teams because of -- the Big East. You are starting to see it now. Louisville, over-rated by everyone including me, is not in the tournament if it starts today. Rutgers is a good team, but plays too many tough games.

Syracuse has lost three straight to Top 10 teams, but the 'Cuse better get itself together now because they have a tough finish. Syracuse is 3-3 in the league and could end up 7-9. It plays two of its last three on the road and finishes at home with No. 6 Villanova.

Georgetown beat Duke, but the Hoyas still have a gauntlet of teams to run through in the Big East. The Big East is too good for its own good, and too greedy we might add. It will be fitting payback for stuffing itself with so many Conference USA teams.

I wonder how Notre Dame and Rutgers feel about this expansion now?

I think it is more likely the Big East will get eight teams, but it could also slide to seven. If there is a conference that can get a team in the dance with a losing record, 7-9, it is the Big East. Syracuse still has a high RPI (24) so it can manage its way into the tournament with a 7-9 mark.

As for the Big Ten vs. Big East. I'll take UConn, Villanova, Pitt, and West Virginia over Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The Big East Basketball Blog has a round-up of several other stories on the Big East.

A few other things.

Isaiah Rider arrested, and shockingly it wasn't for marijuana. He's been out of the NBA for several years now. His previous 3 teams were the Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets. The picture used in the story, though, in a Jailblazer uni. Of course.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com writes his POV of what happened at the Baltimore ESPNZone restaurant when Antonio Logan-El announced he was going to Penn State.
His announcement was to be carried on ESPNews and held at the Baltimore ESPN Zone, a public restaurant where anyone could attend. Logan-El and his family invited a bunch of people and they had to have known that numerous Maryland fans would be in attendance. Heck, they even invited the Maryland coaches to attend, surely a sign that he was sticking to his original commitment. No one in their right mind would make an announcement in a public place in Baltimore and invite the Maryland coaching staff if they were choosing another school, right? Wrong.
Lovely. Of course, Penn State fans will never forget Kevin Jones' little game when he announced he was headed to VT. That's their defense, and they are sticking to it.

Finally, a Doug Gottlieb update. Gottlieb has stayed purposefully vague on what record Pitt needs to have over the present 5 game stretch for him to accept that they are "for real" finally gives the answer.
I am giving it up to Pitt for bouncing back well from a road conference loss. If the Panthers can win three of their next four, they may prove to be a real player in the top-two seed mix.
There you have it. 4-1 while playing Syracuse, Marquette, UConn, G-town and WVU and then they may be real. Or maybe he might change his mind again.

Enough Whining 

As first mentioned last week, you had the Jim Boeheim whine over scheduling and TV. What's been funny has been the intolerance of it this year. It started almost immediately. It just keeps coming. It's as if sportswriters have collectively announced that they have had enough of coaches whining about how hard their schedule is.

Paul Zeise sort of cuts Boeheim some slack, but then lays into BE coaches collectively:

The Big East may be the best conference in the country, but it also seems to have become a cradle of whiners.

In recent weeks, at least 10 of the league's coaches have been quoted in various media outlets complaining about the conference's schedule and how difficult it is. The other six probably have as well. We just missed it.

Most of the complaints have been centered around the fact that because there are so many teams in the league there are only a few opportunities for home-and-homes (two to be exact), and that makes it more difficult to prepare for opponents because teams only get one shot at them.


That's the price of being a part of a 16-team league, and it is a major reason why many observers have said it is too big for scheduling purposes.

Seth Davis at SI.com is also sick of the various coach whining,

3. The we-shouldn't-do-everything-TV-says-we-should whine. Boeheim is certainly not the first one to make this complaint. Bob Knight has been doing so for centuries. We can all pretend that these decisions should be made "for the players," but the reality is, college basketball is a big business. And like any business, it must constantly look for ways to grow revenue. Otherwise, it might go out of business.

Boeheim should be proud of what the Big East has done to his schedule. The league did it because Boeheim has built a marquee program that people want to watch. That has also made Boeheim a very rich man. If he and his coaching brethren would like to reduce the influence of television on their sport, perhaps they could volunteer to cut their salaries in an effort to hold down expenses. Because it's all about what's good for the players, right?

Uh, yeah.

Warm Fuzzies All Around 

Not sure why, but both papers ran a story on Brandin Knight and Carl Krauser's relationship.

"Carl truly is almost like a brother to me. My daughter calls him uncle. His son is my godson. Our relationship is a lot more extensive than the basketball stuff. There are a lot of times that we deal with things personally."

Dixon marvels at the similarity between the two, even though Krauser's emotion is felt more than it was with Knight.

"You always wondered how the relationship was going to work out with two guys that are so competitive," Dixon said. "But both guys wanted to win so bad that they knew it was the right thing."

Dixon laughed recalling the time Knight argued with him when Dixon decided to redshirt Krauser in his freshman season.

"That's how much he wanted Carl to play and it showed how much he wanted to win," Dixon said.

Tomorrow, with Knight possibly looking on, Krauser may play with increased passion.

"Brandin and I have spent quite a bit of time together since we've gotten to know each other," Krauser said. "We both came from the same kind of background. We understand what it's like to be the only ones out there."

Asked to tell what he really thinks of Knight, Krauser wasted no time spilling his answer.

"I think he's the best point guard ever to play here at Pitt," Krauser said. "That's my man."

That might make for a fun debate in the off-season: over best point guard in Pitt history -- Krauser, Knight or Miller.

I found this interesting as well,

"I can remember when we were recruiting Carl and people would say Brandin is there and you don't want to go there," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "People wondered how it would work. You wondered how their relationship was going to work out.

"Their relationship has meant so much to our program. They've learned from each other. With Brandin, I don't know if I've ever been around a smarter player. And with Carl, I don't know if I've ever been around a tougher player."

Knight credits Krauser with making him a complete player. When Knight was named Big East Player of the Year in 2002, Krauser, a pugnacious freshman at the time, was one of the biggest reasons. It was Krauser who guarded Knight every day in practice, pushing him to be a better player.

"Competing against him every day in practice meant a lot to me," said Knight, who is Pitt's all-time leader in assists. "There was nobody in the league who was better than Carl even then. Carl is a competitor. For me to face other guys in games ... it was just like practice."

See, I had really questioned past assertions by Krauser about that. I was wrong.

Mostly unrelated, except as another "human interest" type story is a semi-retired college professor who loves college basketball.
Dr. Chris Shinkman is serious about his hobby. What many people do for a living, Shinkman does for sheer passion for the game.

Shinkman sees more than 100 games a year, culminating in the Final Four for the past 28 years.

"I've been following basketball my whole career," said Shinkman, who calls himself a semi-retired adjunct professor at Virginia. "I've been a lot of places and I've met a lot of great people. It's just something I love to do."

He was in Beckley Thursday to see Mountain State University in the Mountain State Coal Classic at the Raleigh County Armory.

He saw American vs. Navy Wednesday night and will be in Philadelphia for Temple-Maryland Saturday.
Shinkman, who lives in Bethesda, Md., said he has been a basketball fan his entire life and will travel to see teams play. But living near the nation's capital affords him the opportunity to see teams from the Big East (Georgetown), ACC (Maryland), Colonial (George Mason) and the Patriot League (American) right on his doorstep.

He keeps a notebook when he sees a game.

"Just some notes to remind me what I liked and who I saw," Shinkman said.

He's seen John Beilein's WVU squad play a couple times and came away impressed.

"I've seen them at the (WVU) Coliseum and I've seen them in Pittsburgh," said Shinkman, who holds a Ph.D. from Pitt. "I've admired John Beilein ever since he was at Richmond. Everybody knows he's a great coach. His players have individual talent, but he has created a team. For him to blend (Jo) Herber, (Mike) Gansey, (Kevin) Pittsnogle and his son (Pat Beilein), all of whom are very different, into a cohesive team is impressive."
[Emphasis added.]

The story doesn't indicate in what, but it would appear his doctorate is in Philosophy. Which just makes it that much more interesting to me, for whatever reason.

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