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, February 28, 2006

Looks Like He Will Be Waiting Until Day 2 

Greg Lee did not impress at the NFL combine. He was listed among those "falling."
Greg Lee, wide receiver, Pittsburgh
Many scouts hinted that Lee should have gone back to Pitt for his junior season. After the combine, there's more than hints. Too bad this isn't the NBA, where Lee would have the ability to head back to school. His 4.67 40 time worried scouts. There were already many questions about this young receiver. Now there's even more murkiness. It will be tough for him.
First, it is never good when they can't even get his year correct (he would have been returning for his Senior season). Second, he was only projected as a 3rd or 4th round pick when he declared. Not so good.

Define: Hoopie 

A little amateur etymology time. The word Hoopie. Obviously, we use it as a casual slur/descriptor of West Virginians, specifically fans of WVU.

I was a little stunned by a Mountaineer's unfamiliarity with the term and its origin. As far as I always understood it, the term was derived from the time honored craft of whiskey barrell construction. Specifically, the area for which West Virginians excelled, the crafting of the metal hoops to hold the barrells together.

This definition is a little broader in range:
A generally dirty person from the country or the south.Also used to describe extremely stupid people. Used as "That girl needs to take a bath. What a freaking hoopie!".

Bill said he believes the term originated, when the bottom fell out of, the barrel making trade. The displaced barrel makers, of the Tennessee Valley area, went to other areas for work. In those places they were known as hoopies.

Anyone in the TVA to help on this?

I had no idea about this use of the term:
a tractor and trailer on the same frame that do not disconnect. Usually used for deliveries in downtown city spaces.
For some reason, I'm not surprised to learn that the people of Boston have their own definition. For them it means: nuts or crazy. I have no idea where or why.

Amazingly, the term is now being pushed to describe "a local resident living in a college town in central PA, often mullet clad and wearing flannel." Apparently, a subspecies of the creature known nationwide as, "townies."

Anyone else have some more information on the history and definitions.

What Happened? 

Keith challenges the assumptions that the offensive play of Krauser and Gray were the key reasons for the loss. His argument is that the defense didn't do the job it did last night, especially compared to the previous meeting. Specifically the 3-point defense. He makes a very good point about the way Pitt was extended out right away on the perimeter so there was little time to square-up to shoot. I'm not disputing this.

I do, however, dispute it can solely be blamed on the defense. That's as much as a WVU fan simplifying the last loss to, "if Pittsnogle or Gansey could have had a couple of those shots fall."

The counter argument is that WVU wasn't that good on the 3-point shot aside from Herber's initial streak of 3 straight (1-5 after that, and no 3s after 12:11 in the first half) when Kendall was continually late to him. Aside from Pittsnogle (5-12) and Herber, the rest of the team shot 3-16 on 3s (2 for Beilein and 1 for Collins). Ramon, once again, helped shut down Gansey.

Simply because WVU had better field goal percentage from the first game to the second is not enough to say it was the defense.

The other problem is the assumption that somehow WVU wouldn't learn anything from the first meeting. WVU made adjustments. They didn't commit fouls like they did in the first game, which completely disrupted their rhythm. Look at the difference in the number of fouls. In the first game, Pitt was able to draw and initiate contact with WVU. This time, Pitt was getting to the basket and WVU let them rather than take the late foul.

Is it that there weren't enough fouls? Is that the reason or something to do with the style played?

Pittsnogle wasn't going to be shut out again (and I still contend that he was still in the adjustment to lack of sleep with a newborn kid). He didn't have the foul trouble and really wore down Gray. It was senior night, and they had the home court advantage. Especially in the college game, the emotions can carry things.

WVU built a lead and was able to stay just enough in front the rest of the way. That was what Pitt did in the first meet-up.

Pitt-WVU: Numbers and Evaluations 

Time to take a little closer look at the numbers and what the players did. Here are the special stats.

Poss 62.3 Pace Moderate
O-Rating 99.5 D-Rating 107.5 (Eff. Margin -8.0)
eFG% 52.8 PPWS 1.10
A/TO 0.8 TO Rate 27.3% A/B 50.0%
Floor Pct 52.9% FT Prod 11.3


Poss 63.3 Pace Moderate
O-Rating 105.9 D-Rating 98.0 (Eff. Margin +7.9)
eFG% 50.0 PPWS 1.04
A/TO 2.8 TO Rate 9.5% A/B 70.8%
Floor Pct 47.0% FT Prod 11.7
All things being equal, and they were disturbingly close, the turnovers were the biggest difference in the game. WVU missed more, and took a boatload more 3s: 36 of their 60 shots were 3s. They only shot 12-36, but that is like shooting 50% from the field -- which is what they did from inside the arc.

Pitt with -11 in turnovers (17-6) took 7 less shots than WVU. While there is plenty to point to Pitt failing at the end, everything was sewn in the first half. The 11 turnovers in the first half, 8 less shots than WVU, not playing the perimeter tight enough, put Pitt in the hole from which they just could not emerge.

Pitt came out in the game looking to do the same thing as last time on defense, but spent most of the first half getting away from it. Players were not going out far enough to defend WVU's shots -- somehow forgetting that the 'Eers will shoot really deep without hesitation. It's not enough to just guard at the 3-point line. You have to extend.

The Pitt players also spent a lot of the first half, failing to adhere to strict man-to-man. Too many times, Pitt was playing the right defense, only to break-down on the drive. Someone couldn't resist trying to step over to help, and sure enough the ball would be kicked out to the open man who would shoot or even pass to another player with an even better look. Given the distribution of where WVU shoots, 40% shooting from the 3-point line is worse for Pitt than letting WVU go about 50% from inside. In the first half, WVU shot 40.9% (9-22) on 3s and 40% (4-10) everywhere else. The eFG% in the first half for WVU was 54.7%

The second half, saw Pitt defend the 3 much better, not giving them as many shots and open looks. Go figure, they shot less from outside and made fewer (3-14). Pittsnogle was responsible for 2 of the 3 made 3s -- when he took advantage of Gray being slow to come out on him.

Individual Player Thoughts

Carl Krauser: Ugh. 3-16 shooting (0-3 on 3s), 4 turnovers, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 31 minutes. A little more than a shot every 2 minutes. He played an absolutely horrible game. All the focus was on his offensive problems, but he was also part of the problem in the first half on defense.

He is the team leader, and sets the tone. He was guilty several times of trying to help on defense inside rather than staying with his man -- allowing open 3s. A couple times he didn't fight through screens, trying to instead anticipate where the player was running and WVU adjusted accordingly. Players took their cue from him on defense in the first half.

Aaron Gray: 7 points on 3-5 shooting, 7 rebounds (and only one offensive), 1 assist and 4 turnovers.

Let himself be pushed out of position under the basket too much, and hesitated when he did get the ball. It was probably the softest game he played this season. Pitt had 6 turnovers in the second half, Gray had 3 of them. One play that stood out, was late in the game with about 4 minutes left, Pitt down 61-55. The ball came in to Gray with Pittsnogle a little late. Gray hesitated as he saw the double-team coming. It gave Pittsnogle time to get position and Gray barrelled into him for the charge.

On defense, he hesitated on following Pittsnogle all the way outside. Part of it was fatigue. Unlike the first meeting where Pittsnogle had a horrible game and fouled out early, Pittsnogle played 39 minutes and Gray was tired.

Levon Kendall: He received a lot of praise by the ESPN crew, but they really ignored his critical errors on perimeter defense in the first half. He guarded the line, not the shooter too often. It burned Pitt. He also had a hard time resisting the urge to cheat and drift to the basket to try and help on defense or be in position for a rebound.

That takes away from an otherwise fine game. Kendall was Pitt's best offensive rebounder, and had 3 blocks in the game, not to mention 4 assists a steal and 0 turnovers.

Ronald Ramon: An excellent game. Played very good defense for the full 34 minutes (team high) he was on the court. He understood the defensive game plan and did not leave his man.

Not only hitting his perimeter shots, but showed aggressiveness going to the basket which caught WVU off-guard. He finished shots, when they were clearly expecting him to pass. 12 points (5-6 shooting), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers.

Levance Fields: In the first half, he provided an offensive spark to help Pitt get back in the game. 10 points in the game, but only 1-4 on 3s in the second half (2-6 in game). He handled WVU's defense very well and stayed with his defensive assignment.

Sam Young: Such a high ceiling. Hard to imagine when he goes 6-6 for 12 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes, but he also had 4 turnovers. He is still so raw and relying on his athleticism. He cost himself and Pitt several rebounds because he doesn't box out out. He is still too used to simply leaping above everyone else for the ball.

Antonio Graves: Played aggressive and fouled out after 20 minutes. He also came up with 6 rebounds, 1 block, 1 assist and 2 turnovers. He didn't force shots, and focused on defense.

Keith Benjamin: Only 6 minutes but he grabbed 3 rebounds and threw down one shot. He is not as strong defensively, and that was what Pitt needed last night more than offense.

Tyrell Biggs: Got to be honest, never even noticed him out on the court for his 3 minutes in the first half.

John DeGroat: He's going to get the start in the final game against Seton Hall, but I don't see how Coach Dixon can risk starting him in the Big East or NCAA Tournaments. He managed to turn the ball over twice in the first 1:17, and Pitt didn't even start with the ball. He had potential, showed some flashes, has a fantastic story, but is just not that good.

Pitt-WVU: Media Recap 

Well, the obvious storyline was that Krauser had a very bad game, but nearly forgotten in the initial frustration was that Gray didn't exactly distinguish himself.

If nothing else, it debunked the popular theory that Pitt is so deep and so talented in so many areas that it doesn't need its best players to have big games to win.

That's not the issue. Actually, I think Pitt can win quite often including this past game if they just have average games. The problem in this game, is they had bad games.

Pitt won't beat anybody in the postseason if it doesn't get more from Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray.

It's easy to finger Krauser for this loss. All it takes is one look at the bottom line: He shot just 3 of 16 from the field. He played very much as he did late last season when Pitt crumbled down the stretch, losing five of its final seven games, including first-round losses in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. He fired up too many bad shots at the wrong times. His assessment afterward was right on: "I was terrible."

Gray was just as ineffective. He was outplayed on both ends by Kevin Pittsnogle, one of five West Virginia seniors who made sure their final night in the WVU Coliseuem was a glorious one. After outscoring Pittsnogle, 16-0, and outrebounding him, 8-2, in Pitt's 57-53 home win against West Virginia Feb. 9, Gray was outscored, 26-7, last night. He took just five shots.

Krauser and Gray combined for 17 points, almost 14 fewer than they had been averaging in Big East games. They also had seven of Pitt's 17 turnovers, a ridiculously high number that negated Pitt's 41-24 rebounding edge.

"It was a tough night for Aaron and me," Krauser said. "We were both off. That can't happen, not at this time of year. Your stars have to be stars. Aaron and I are definitely the stars on this team. This can't happen again. We have to step it up. I'm sure we will."

While Gray didn't get into foul trouble, at the offensive end he let himself be pushed away from the basket and out of position. As much as WVU's defense and quick double-teaming, this kept Gray from getting as many touches with the basketball.

"At Pitt, Gray got the ball too deep underneath," [WVU Coach John] Beilein said. "Tonight we did a great job at forcing him out away from the hoop and did some nice things on both sides of the ball."
If Gray is unable to get the position or get free, he needs to seal off a side to give the wings a chance to penetrate to the basket. Instead, way too often he let himself float and move from side to side trying to get open. That allowed WVU players to stay around the basket and defend drives.

Joe Starkey tries to be positive.

If Krauser is guilty of anything, it's wanting to win too badly. He stopped short of taking the blame for the loss but admitted to rushing a lot of shots.

Krauser shot 18.8 percent. His teammates shot 62.2 percent (23 of 37). Obviously, he wasn't reading the game like a good point guard should (and he still is, essentially, a point guard).

"I was just overanxious to get this win," Krauser said. "I can't say I should have used (his teammates) more, because in my mind, I'm a competitor and a leader, so the leader needs to step up and make big plays."

On the other hand ... "A leader has to make the right plays. So, on some of my shots, I can say, yes, I should have kicked it."

Pitt's game plan, Dixon said, was to pound the ball inside, but center Aaron Gray also had a bad night, with only seven points and a team-high four turnovers.

Still, if I'm Dixon, I'm actually encouraged. Pitt walked into an incredibly hostile environment and fell behind 19-6 against a team that often uses five seniors. The Panthers fought back behind the likes of sophomore Ronald Ramon (12 points) and freshmen Levance Fields (10 points, no turnovers) and Sam Young (6 for 6 from the field, 12 points). It was anyone's game when WVU led, 61-58, with a minute left. That's when Young was whistled for traveling. Soon after, Krauser missed a driving attempt, and Levon Kendall missed a tip. It was that close.

For Pitt, all things remain possible. Krauser just needs to remember what year it is.

If this was January or even the beginning of February I'd agree with the optimism. It isn't (-- despite the confusion from a lot of sportswriters who it would seem are still a month behind because of all the Steeler football).

It wasn't just Krauser and Gray, though, that put this team in a hole.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon harped on two principles last week when the Panthers had seven days between games. He wanted his team to defend better and cut down on its turnovers.

With a bye in the Big East Conference tournament on the line last night, the Panthers failed miserably in both areas and West Virginia secured a 67-62 victory before 14,805 at WVU Coliseum.

Pitt's inability to defend the 3-point line and take care of the ball were the two most glaring weaknesses in a loss that all but assures the Panthers will be playing on the first day of the conference tournament next week at Madison Square Garden in New York.

4 of Pitt's first 5 possessions ended with a turnover. That was only the first 2:30 of the game. Despite digging themselves a big hole, turning the ball over, not doing a particularly impressive job defending the 3, and Gray and Krauser having bad games Pitt kept getting close. But...

That happened throughout the game. Pitt would draw close, but West Virginia would make a big shot to stem the tide.

Pitt pulled within one point again a few minutes later after Ronald Ramon made a 3-pointer, but Patrick Beilein made two 3-pointers to end the half and send the Mountaineers to the locker room with a 37-30 advantage.

The Panthers pulled to within two points twice in the second half and three points five times after that, but West Virginia always had an answer. Pittsnogle scored the bucket or made two free throws on four of those seven occasions.

"They played like seniors," Pitt freshman Levance Fields said. "Pittsnogle hit some shots. He was ready for this game. [J.D.] Collins came in and made a long 3. Gansey made plays. They did what they had to do to win the game. We didn't."

This was Senior Night at the concrete toadstool, and WVU's senior-heavy team rose to the occasion. Credit has to be given to a very good WVU team that didn't panic when Pitt made runs at them. They kept playing their game and made things happen.

Beilein hitting those 2 3s at the end of the 1st half. One came on a broken play where Pitt had defended so well, and the ball got deflected to him for a shot as the shot clock buzzed. They seemed almost like luck at times, but it was simply taking advantage of that little open crack. Something Pitt just couldn't do in the game.

Pittsnogle came up huge against Pitt in this game.

Pittsnogle said he had thought about that game almost every day since then. He had the date of last night's rematch against Pitt circled on his calendar to remind him when he'd get a chance to make amends for that performance.

Pittsnogle made sure he let the Panthers know his off night the first time the two teams met was a fluke. He scored 26 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and made 2 steals in leading the Mountaineers to an important 67-62 Big East victory against Pitt on senior night at the WVU Coliseum, the final home game of his career.

He had help, often against Gray, but to his credit he stood his ground and didn't let Gray back him down under the basket. With the second defender coming to try and swipe or tie-up the ball, Gray never could get set, dribble with his back to Pittsnogle, to really back into him. It was smart strategy and executed very well.

"Everybody has bad nights -- probably not as bad as mine was (at Pitt) -- but I wanted to show I can play," Pittsnogle said. "I had to prove I could play against Aaron Gray. Everybody was saying I couldn't. I've been thinking about this game since our game with Louisville ended (Saturday)."
With the win over Pitt, the Hoopies clinch the 3rd spot in the Big East Tournament and the coveted first round bye, regardless of the outcome of their season finale at Cinci. Even if they lose and Marquette,Georgetown and Pitt all finish with the same record, WVU holds the 'mini-conference' tie-breaker over the other 3.

Pitt will almost assuredly be the 6th seed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Plan Accordingly 

Barring some miracles -- like Georgetown somehow losing to USF and Marquette dropping one of its final two games -- Pitt will not get a bye and will end up as the 6th seed in the Big East Tournament.

That means they will play the 9pm game next Wednesday versus the 11 seed. The 11 seed could be Rutgers, Louisville, Providence, St. John's or even Notre Dame.

If Pitt wins that, it will be a 9pm game on Thursday against the 3 seed. The 3 seed is, of course, WVU.

Pitt-WVU: Open Thread 

Before, during and after -- let it fly.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Pitt losing 30-37.

Very mixed feelings. Pitt could have been down so much more with 11 turnovers and WVU just hitting some really, really deep shots. At the same time, WVU should be shocked to be up this much considering the way Pitt came back on them.

Problem for Pitt was they cannot stop playing tight on the man. They came out hesitating on that, and then again late. Have to stay tight. Especially against Pittsnogle. He doesn't have a first step to take the drive from outside the arc.

Kendall's biggest defensive failing -- and he did do a lot right -- was that he kept playing off the Hoopies when they were outside. He stayed near the line, letting them take deep 3s, which they can make.

Less turnovers and tighter defense is the only way.

FINAL UPDATE: Pitt loses 62-67.

The moments when I felt the game just wasn't going to go Pitt's way were all -- tips. When Frank Young got the tip in to go over Sam Young, and then Gansey got a seemingly random tip up and in it felt bad. Then, at the end when Krauser's out-of-control drive missed but Kendall's tip-in somehow didn't.

I don't like blaming one player. Especially one of my favorites, but Krauser cost the team. Not because he had a bad shooting night. Because he forgot to trust his teammates in the end. When he stood there dribbling the crap out of the ball when Pitt was down 61-58. He was going to take it himself, and everyone knew it. He wasn't even looking to see if anyone would come open. It froze all the Pitt players in their tracks, because they knew the ball wasn't coming to them under any circumstance. It sucked everything out for those key moments. All of the sudden, all they could do is try to create the space for him to drive, but it took too long, and WVU wasn't biting.

It was selfish, egotistical and a critical mistake.

It was Krauser trying to atone for all of his misses, some ill-advised drives and bad decisions in the game all at once. He was going to drive get the hoop and the harm. Not going to happen. Not in this game, not against a team that just doesn't foul, in a game where the refs let players bump.

Krauser forgot everything, to try and do everything.

In The Polls 

Pitt moved up one spot in each poll. Pitt is #8 in the AP and #9 in the Coaches poll. After much trying to avoid it, the polls dropped all of the SEC teams out of the top-10 of the polls -- the AP sent Florida all the way down to #17 -- with Tennessee just outside at #11. The Coaches sprang Ohio State into the top-10, ahead of Pitt whiile the AP puts them just behind.

Marquette, which could finish the season 4th in the BE and will very likely be tied with Georgetown (still ranked) in the conference standings, still gets no love as they fall just outside of the top-25 in the AP and about #28 in the coaches.

Thoughts on How to Beat The Hoopies 

Pitt showed the best way for their team to beat the Mountaineers in the first meeting. The team has to play strict man-to-man defense and resist the urge to double-team or help when there is a drive to the basket. WVU is such a sound and excellent passing team that they won't hesitate to dish to the open player for the clean shot.

The other thing playing tight man does, is force the Mountaineers to continually move on offense. Their players move with out the ball better than any other team. It's how they get open. If Pitt stays with them, at all costs, they keep running to try and shake loose. While West Virginia is a well-conditioned team, they are still not a deep team. The more Pitt's defense forces them to move, the more it goes to Pitt's strength in its depth -- where fresh legs can be thrown at them in waves if need be.

I think this is extremely vital since I don't see how this isn't a very close game. The more they run, the less spring in the step near the end when they may need that jumper.

On offense, expect Pitt to move quickly in transition. Not to necessarily take quick shots, but, again to force WVU to get back on defense quickly. Not give them as much time to get set in the 1-3-1 zone. Getting the ball inside against that zone is very difficult, so it is important that Ramon, Krauser and other guards on the perimeter make the open jumpers.

If Pitt forces WVU to respect the perimeter game, this could be the kind of game where Keith Benjamin and Sam Young make things happen going to the net. Both are still raw, but have solid first steps that can get them to the basket. WVU doesn't foul much, so that would only be a bonus. The flip side of their taking it to the basket is the fact that in the 1-3-1, there is plenty of clogging inside and WVU is adept at taking the charge.

No One Wants The Responsibility 

A long, very interesting and of course troubling story about prep schools that are nothing more than roving basketball teams. The quickly becoming infamous, Lutheran Christian Academy in Philly, is mentioned.

Phil Jones attended Lutheran Christian Academy, an unaccredited private high school in Philadelphia where, he said, all of the students were basketball players. In his seven months there, he said, class consisted of the coach, Darryl Schofield, giving workbooks to the students to fill out. "I thought prep school was supposed to be hard," Jones said.

In the past two years, these young men attended unusual institutions -- some called prep schools, some called learning centers -- where all or most of the students were highly regarded basketball players. These athletes were trying to raise their grades to compensate for poor College Board scores or trying to gain attention from major-college coaches.

An investigation by The New York Times found more than a dozen of these institutions, some of which closed soon after opening. The Times found that at least 200 players had enrolled at such places in the past 10 years and that dozens had gone on to play at N.C.A.A. Division I universities like Mississippi State, George Washington, Georgetown and Texas-El Paso.

"I would say that in my 21 years, the number of those schools has quadrupled, and I would put schools in quotation marks," Phil Martelli, the men's basketball coach at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said. "They're not all academic institutions."

The NCAA takes hits since they set the minimum standards for schools to allow student-athlete eligibility.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association acknowledges that it has not acted as such places have proliferated. For years, its Clearinghouse has approved transcripts from these institutions without questioning them.

Until revelations last year about a diploma mill in Florida and concerns about other schools like it, the N.C.A.A. chose not to police high schools. Although the N.C.A.A. recently commissioned a task force charged with curbing academic abuse, it still faces the tricky task of separating the legitimate from the nonlegitimate schools.
The NCAA sets the standards, but doesn't certify whether the prep schools themselves are legit. I don't see how they can, they don't oversee prep schools. They are, apparently, taking some steps.
Mr. Lennon, the head of the N.C.A.A task force, said it would focus first on schools like Redemption that are not under state regulation. "We're committed to flushing out those high schools abusing the system and putting a stop to it," he said.

One question the task force must answer: What is the maximum course load? For now, there is no rule against taking the required 14 core courses in a year. It is essentially impossible for a student at Winchendon or South Kent to take more than five core courses in a school year, the coaches there said. (Intense summer school could add one or two more.)

"If they set the limit at five, I'd be in favor of that," Coach Chillious of South Kent said.

With the task force recommendations due June 1, Mr. Lennon issued a warning: "Any student contemplating leaving their high school right now to pick up additional courses needs to be aware the N.C.A.A. will be implementing policies. They need to make sure they are taking real courses, academic courses, and not simply trying to buy eligibility."

But after years of not policing secondary schools, the biggest challenge for the N.C.A.A. will be determining which of the nation's 5,000 private schools that do not fall under state regulation are exploiting the system.

Josh Centor seems to want to push the decisions, evaluations and responsibility onto the individual member organizations.

The NCAA, which is comprised of more than 1,200 member institutions, has minimum standards -- set by those member institutions -- that prospective student-athletes must achieve if they are going to be eligible for intercollegiate athletic competition. Just because there are minimum standards, however, doesn't mean schools need to admit student-athletes who barely gain their eligibility. The onus falls on the member institutions to make sure they're admitting qualified individuals each year.
That's taking the easy way out for the NCAA on two fronts -- hey, we're just the governing body setting the standards, it's up to the member schools to make sure the student-athletes are legit. If it is a monster task for the NCAA to look into the numerous private prep schools, how is it any easier to for individual schools to evaluate the legitimacy of each prep school?

Also, the argument that a school doesn't have to take a barely eligible kid is naive to the competitive and financial pressures facing schools, teams and coaches. It also reduces the opportunities for the kids. Someone like Carl Krauser would have been hard pressed to get an opportunity to play, considering all he needed to do ultimately to become eligible to play at Pitt. He's one of the success stories the NCAA and Pitt want to trumpet, but it doesn't happen that way unless Pitt was willing to accept a student-athlete who had lower academic credentials then generally accepted.

The other risk, in trying to push it on the schools to make sure the kids can/will actually perform on the academic side by the NCAA is it generates greater pressure that a Minnesota/Clem Haskins situation arises. Where the academic support and tutoring programs get subverted into doing the academic work for the kids. If the academic issues are ignored at lower levels

I'm not saying the individual schools don't bear a lot of responsibility as well. They do. They bear the ultimate and final responsibility -- and are at the greater risk. Coaches put their jobs and careers on the line when they recruit kids from prep schools that lack anaccreditationon from state education boards, and turn a blind-eye to schools that are nothing more than storefronts. They get a rep for recruiting only for basketball and ignoring the school part. Not to mention their job dependency on the court. It's hard to win when you lose too many recruits to academic issues.

Schools and athletic departments can see their reputation damaged for years by being represented in football and basketball by kids who are openly contemptuous of the academics.

I do have some sympathy for the spot the NCAA is in. They take some heat whenever there is any scandal for not being more proactive and not seeing the flags at a member institution sooner. They also get slammed for the micromanagement and thByzantinene rules system regulating seemingly little, minor matters.

What I suspect happens is that the NCAA ultimately goes with a rule requiring that all prep schools be state certified for a student-athletes coming from the prep school to be eligible. That pushes the onus onto the prep schools and makes it better insulates the member institutions against charges that it willfully recruited kids who were ineligible.

Sure, there will then be sad stories of kids who went to unaccredited prep schools and didn't know it or were lied to, but at least the NCAA and member schools will look clean.

Pitt-WVU: Plenty Of Pressure 

Just a ton in this game, that has WVU as a 3.5 point home favorite.

For Pitt, what rides on the game is this:
Third place or sixth place. That, in a nutshell, is what the game against West Virginia at 7 p.m. today means for Pitt.
(Hmmm. Someone's been cribbing my posts or I simply preempted the storyline.)
"That bye is really huge," senior guard Carl Krauser said. "No one wants to play four days in a row, playing against the top competition in the Big East. You want to have that chance to rest your legs and have your teammates watch a couple of games so they can get a feel for what the Big East tournament is like."
Boiled down, Pitt has to beat West Virginia to give itself a realistic chance at winning the Big East tournament.

"It's definitely important," junior center Aaron Gray said of the bye. "That's what the emphasis is now. We only want to have to play three games up there."
If there is one thing missing from Pitt's NCAA resume this season, it's a signature road win. The Panthers are 3-4 away from home in Big East play. In years past, the Panthers have recorded some impressive road wins, including wins at Connecticut, Boston College and Syracuse last season and at Providence and Syracuse the year before that. All of those teams were ranked.

Pitt is winless against top echelon teams on the road this season. The Panthers' most impressive road win? How about South Carolina?

And South Carolina has hit the skids. They lost to Vandy and their RPI is now much closer to 100 than 50.

Under normal circumstances, with both teams playing Saturday, Pitt's depth would be expected to be a good advantage.

There hasn't been much time for either team to prepare. The game comes two days after both teams posted victories and 18 days after Pitt handed West Virginia its first Big East loss, 57-53, on Feb. 9 at Petersen Events Center.

"We'll be ready to go," Dixon said. "Our guys will be anxious to go. We took care of business (Saturday). We played very well throughout."

Pitt and West Virginia earned conference victories Saturday on their home courts to keep pace in the race for a tournament bye. The Panthers defeated Providence, 81-68, and the Mountaineers held off Louisville, 68-64, to end a three-game losing streak.

But this is not a normal game. It's the Backyard Brawl in basketball. The sellout crowd in Morgantown will be in a hightened state of frenzy -- and not just from the booze. It's Senior Night, on a senior-laden team.

"I think that's what is amazing about this group of seniors," West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong said. "They came along at a time when there wasn't a lot to feel good about our basketball program and they have established a credibility with our fans, with people all over the country, with our alumni -- they've been role models for our other student-athletes as well as student-athletes of all ages.

"The class and effort with which they play with is something West Virginia will always appreciate and remember."

That's putting it mildly. The season before they arrived, WVU went 8-20 overall and 1-15 in the Big East.


And while illustrating just what those five have meant to West Virginia basketball is difficult to condense, perhaps just taking a look at the game that will mark their final appearance here is a good place to start.

West Virginia is 19-8 overall, 10-4 in the Big East and already has sewn up its second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The game is a sellout, the fifth straight at the Coliseum. The total attendance and average attendance this season is the highest in more than 20 years.

Oh, and the Mountaineers go into the week ranked No. 14 in the country and are actually a 3 1/2-point favorite over No. 9 Pitt (21-4, 10-4).

The game will be carried nationally by ESPN.

That, in a nutshell, is how far West Virginia has come in the four years since John Beilein inherited a team -- and even to some degree a program -- in complete shambles. It is a team playing for a spot near the top of the Big East conference standings and near the Top 10 in the country; a team that a year ago was a basket away from the Final Four.

So, while WVU could lose this game and would still be in a position to get 4th place and the bye in the BE Tournament (they hold tie-breakers over Marquette and Georgetown), they would need a win on the road in Cinci. A team that really needs another quality win to ensure their own berth in the NCAA.

Even WVU Coach John Beilein isn't trying to minimize this game and his players.

Five WVU seniors will be playing at home for the last time. Coach John Beilein is expecting a highly emotional occasion when they're introduced.

"It's hard for me to talk about seniors because you're so close to them," he said after Saturday's 68-64 victory over Louisville. "Then one is your son, and that makes it even tougher to talk about it.

"Those five seniors on the court, they went to the foul line and executed the game plan at the end. So that's going to be very difficult for everybody here.

"But you know what would be more difficult? If we can't come up with a 'W' (vs. Pitt). That would make it even more difficult."
It will be very interesting to see what kind of game Pittsnogle has. He was tearing up before and after playing Pitt. Was it an aberration or does Pitt have the goods to shut him and Gansey down once again?

Pittsnogle said he won't force the issue.

"That's something I'm not going to do this game," he said. "I think I did that the last game against Pitt, and I've got to let the game come to me like I've done in our games lately."
Mountaineers senior forward Mike Gansey called Pittsnogle's performance against Pitt "a fluke."

"He couldn't make a basket against Pitt the last time, but I think he's going to be ready for what they're going to throw at him this time," Gansey said. "He's going to make shots. That was a fluke game for him."

Pittsnogle, the Mountaineers' leading scorer, has shot 49 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the foul line this season. He's knocked down 71 3-point shots so far.

"For Kevin not to make shots in the first game against Pitt, that's kind of hard to believe," Gansey said. "He'll be fine."

Pittsnogle likely will face Pitt center Aaron Gray, who leads the Big East in double-doubles with 13. He also leads the league in roubounding with a 10.5 average.

"They're going to be anxious to come and play us," Gray said. "They didn't do so well offensively against us in the last game that they played us. It's going to be probably more motivation for them to come out and try to literally come at us."

In the past couple weeks while the 'Eers have been struggling, their 3s have been falling at a worse percentage. Hopefully, that continues.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Whine Is Fine 

Are Louisville fans the biggest whiners or is it just the top columnist at their paper? I have to be honest, I don't have enough history with either to form a solid opinion yet. Still, this column at least makes me suspect it's the columnist.

Sebastian Telfair finally made it to Louisville yesterday. He stars in "Through the Fire," which is playing at Showcase Stonybrook.

Talk about perfect casting. Telfair plays Sebastian Telfair, a high school basketball prodigy from New York City who has no intention of attending the University of Louisville but acts as if he does because filmmaker Jonathan Hock is building a documentary about Telfair's decision to attend college or turn pro.

Hmmm. The only way to create two seconds of drama is to have Telfair pretend he is interested in playing for Rick Pitino.

Two years ago many people were fooled. There is cinematic evidence of the Cardinal coaches and fan base embracing the Tel-fairy tale. Louisville Gardens was packed for a game Telfair and his Lincoln High teammates played against Pleasure Ridge Park. Telfair was cheered as if he were Darrell Griffith.

There has been real-life evidence of the Telfair folly all season as the Cardinals have staggered though Big East play with a gap at point guard that another Class of 2004 recruit could have filled.
But this isn't about just basketball. With Sebastian Telfair it never has been.

It's about image, celebrity and moving product. It's about The Con.

And Telfair has always been better at The Con than he has been with the 18-footer.

See, it's not the fault of the team or rebuilding that Louisville's had a horrible first season in the Big East. It's the fault of a high school kid, with enough potential to get drafted in the NBA lottery straight out of high school 2 years ago.

The same kid, who the Bozich declares has a lousy jumper would have been the key. I mean, it's not like he would have stayed in school for two years, or perhaps Louisville would have made it further than the final four last year.

Somehow UConn is managing despite Andrew Bynum being drafted in the top 10 by the Lakers rather than being a freshman.


Pitt-WVU: Barely Time To Catch Your Breath 

As if this match-up didn't have enough meaning with what's at stake in terms of Big East Tournament seedings, and NCAA seedings, and being a rivalry game, and being on National TV. It is also the final home game at the Concrete Toadstool for WVU Seniors. To call this Hoopie team, senior-laden is an understatement. Herber, Gansey, Pittsnogle and Collins are all senior starters. Plus their 6th man, Beilein, is also a senior. Naturally the game is a complete sell-out.

Since the 'Eers joined the Big East (95-96), Pitt is 4-5 down in Morgantown.

No pressure.

Game notes for Pitt and WVU (PDF).

The game is the 7:30 7:00 marquee game on ESPN's "Big Monday," with Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas on the call.

UPDATE: As if there wasn't enough pressure, Morgantown's favorite son is dead.

Providence-Pitt: Media Recap, Part 2 

This is the looking ahead portion.

And then there were two games left in the season.
In the race for the all-important byes at the Big East Tournament, Pitt controls its fate.

After Saturday's win, the Panthers are in third place in the conference at 10-4. West Virginia is also 10-4 in the conference after its win Saturday over Louisville. The Panthers, by virtue of their 57-53 victory earlier this month, hold the tiebreaker over West Virginia.
If Pitt wins out, it clinches 3rd in the BE. Just one loss, and Pitt could tumble all the way to 6th in seeding for the Big East Tournament. A loss to WVU and a win over Seton Hall would give Pitt an 11-5 record. If WVU wins it's remaining game, it would have 3rd place all to itself at 12-4. If Marquette and Georgetown win out they will finish with Pitt at 11-5.

The way the tie-breaking procedure works is that a mini-conference of the 3 teams determines the outcome, i.e., their records against each other. Marquette would claim 4th in the BE because it went 2-1 against the other 2. Georgetown would be 5th with a 1-1 record and Pitt 6th at 1-2.

The best thing for Pitt is to just win.

Providence, on the other hand, has different issues when it comes to the Big East Tournament. Like simply making it.

One down and two more to go for the Providence Friars in their quest for a spot in the Big East Tournament.

Last night's The Friars, Louisville, St. John's and Rutgers are tied for 10th place at 5-9. Notre Dame and DePaul are a game back at 4-10. Three of those teams will join South Florida on the sidelines when the conference tournament begins next month.

Yesterday's five Big East games did little to shine much light on what will be a hectic final week of action. The key news for the Friars was Notre Dame's 80-72 loss to Marquette at the Joyce Center. PC would like to stay ahead of the Irish for multiple reasons. That's why Wednesday's regular-season home finale against Notre Dame looms as the critical game for PC. While the Friars won't lock up a spot in the tournament with a win in that game, they would take a giant step in that direction.

I think I want ND to make the BE Tournament. As much fun as it would be to see the Irish tumble like that, it might actually lead to a coaching change and that would spoil a lot of fun. Mike Brey's ND teams are 5-7 against Pitt (and most of the wins came with players he didn't recruit -- 4-1 the first 2 years, 1-6 the last 4).

Pitt, it seemed, couldn't help but cast an eye ahead to Monday night's game at the concrete toadstool in Morgantown. Or at least they couldn't wait to talk about it after the game.
"We can definitely think about West Virginia now. It's going to be a good game," said Pitt senior Carl Krauser, who was honored last night as a member of the Pitt Basketball All-Centennial third team.
Surprisingly, the game didn't set a new attendance record. There were 12,719 officially. The record is 12,817 on Feb. 15, 2004 versus UConn.

Even Coach Dixon seems ready to travel.
But they could help but itch about Monday's game.

A rematch with No. 14 West Virginia could help determine a bye in the Big East Tournament for these teams, one Pitt would certainly like. Even though the Panthers can't wait to play in New York, they'd also like to hang around a while; no team has ever won the Big East title without a first-round bye.

"We'll be anxious to go," to West Virginia, said Dixon.
WVU can still lose to Pitt and get that 4th bye, because they beat both Marquette and Georgetown in the tie-breaker.

Providence-Pitt: Media Recap, Part 1 

Pitt took control of the game early. While Providence battled back at times, it was never truly in doubt. Providence scribes are already tired of the familiar story.

If the Pittsburgh Panthers are one of the two teams left off his schedule next season, it's not likely that the Big East office will hear any complaints from Providence College coach Tim Welsh.

The ninth ranked Panthers continued their mastery of the Friars here at the Petersen Events Center last night with an 81-68 victory. Pitt, now 21-4, mauled the Friars in an ugly first half before letting its guard down for long stretches of the final 20 minutes. However, the Panthers own too much size, quickness and depth for the Friars and held on for the victory.

The win was Pitt's second this season over PC and sixth in a row between the two teams. PC hasn't beaten Pitt since 2001 and hasn't won in the Steel City since 1998.

"They're a bad matchup for everyone," said Welsh. "Any top 10 team in the country isn't a good matchup for us. We're not at that level right now."

This is also the 4th straight game against Providence where Pitt has scored 80 or more points. I realize Pitt's offense has been leading the way late in the season, but this is not a new trend against Providence. They have never been able to answer down-low to Pitt's size and strength.

"The other teams I played on were more keyed in on defense," senior guard Carl Krauser said. "The defense was going to bring our offense and that was it. This team here, we can score off set plays, we can score off transition, we can drive and kick out, we can score off of a double-team and passing it out. We have a lot of weapons to play with. We're just using them out there and it's helping us score points."
Four players scored in double figures for Pitt, which was led by Antonio Graves' 18 points and Aaron Gray's 17 points and nine rebounds. Gray picked up where he left off against Providence and dominated the Friars for the second time in less than two weeks. In two games against Providence this season, Gray is 16 for 19 from the field and has 39 points with 18 rebounds.

"My teammates did a great job of finding me," Gray said. "A lot of times it wasn't even me making a move, it was just me finishing. Carl [Krauser] made some great passes. Antonio [Graves] definitely made great passes. Levance [Fields] made great passes. They were finding me and I was converting."

Graves was 6 for 10 from the field and 2 for 3 from 3-point range. It was the second time in the past eight games that Graves has led the team in scoring.

"Antonio's been playing great in practice and it's been carrying over into games," coach Jamie Dixon said.

Graves was not the only reserve to come through with a big game for Pitt. Pitt's reserves scored 35 points. Fields had 9 points, 4 assists, no turnovers and 2 steals in 18 minutes.

"They can't double-team all of us," Graves said. "We're pretty deep this year. That's been a big key to our success."

Levon Kendall was the other Pitt player to get to double digits.

Friars Coach Tim Welsh knew the game was over early, and there was no question later as Pitt pulled a shut-down on McGrath -- who is 0-career versus Pitt.
"The game really got out of hand early," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "When you are digging like that against them early, you put yourself in a tough situation. It stunned us early."

The Friars got within 55-49 midway through the second half off Sharaud Curry's soft jumper off the glass.

But Krauser hit a 3-pointer and baseline layup to keep the lead at double digits. Graves hit an open 3 with a little more than 3 minutes left to extend the lead to 75-59, raising his right arm in the air as he ran back on defense.

Curry finished with 24 points while Geoff McDermott grabbed 14 rebounds for the Friars (12-13, 5-9). Leading scorer Donnie McGrath was held to seven points, eight below his season average, on 3-of-9 shooting.

Five Panthers, including Graves, took turns guarding McGrath.

"I don't remember him getting a lot of good looks," Panthers coach Jaime Dixon said.
Pitt rotated bodies on McGrath to keep things fresh.
"About five," guard Carl Krauser said, referring to the number of Panthers covering McGrath.

"We kept different guys on him," said Antonio Graves, one of the Panthers charged with shadowing McGrath. "The last game, we let him get started early. He had nothing open today."

Providence coach Tim Welsh had a different idea on why McGrath wasn't finding open looks.

"They were holding him," he said, half-serious, half joking.

Welsh pointed out that McGrath turned into a playmaker in the second half, registering six assists and running the offense through point guard Sharaud Curry, who had a game-high 24 points.

Still, the Panthers were willing to part with a few career games from lesser players in order to keep McGrath from duplicating his.
Antonio Graves had another productive game, and was the leading scorer.
"I'm always awaiting my opportunity to do whatever my team is lacking, whether it be defense or offense, that's what I take pride in," Graves said. "A lot of teams clamp down on Carl (Krauser]) and Levance (Fields) but they can't double-team everyone, so that gives me a chance to step up and carry the team."

With the win, the Panthers preserved their perfect record at home this year. They also scored 80-plus points for the fourth game in a row.

Coach Jamie Dixon lauded Graves' performance on both sides of the ball.

"I thought we came out and executed very well early, passed well, and got the ball to the right places, so to win by 13 points in a conference game against a good team shows we got down to business tonight," Dixon said. "Antonio continues to do a great job, and a number of guys played well, so this was an overall team effort."
Now that the Steelers are really done playing -- not even Pro-Bowl to worry about -- more local columnists are ready to write about Pitt (at least until they travel down to Florida to cover the Pirates). Mike Prisuta lauds the deep rotation.

All 11 of them, as even seldom-used forward Doyle Hudson got into the game and onto the scoreboard during the first half of what ended up as an 81-68 pummeling of Providence.

You can dress 'em up however you like; these guys just keep coming.

It's that profound bench strength that has Pitt poised to avenge last season's disappointing first-round NCAA Tournament check-out and take a serious run at finally getting over that Sweet 16 hump.

These Panthers will still have to prove themselves away from home, and against much stiffer competition. But at least coach Jamie Dixon will have plenty of options upon which to rely as Pitt endeavors to remain as successful as it's been surprising.

The Panthers are sporting unanticipated records of 21-4 (overall) and 10-4 (Big East) this morning because their bench has blossomed.

And it's during tournament time that Pitt's bench strength will pay its biggest dividends.

We can hope.

Smizik went with his curmudgeon persona in praising the Pitt team and the honoring of Pitt's past.

Pitt had announced that the Panthers would wear throw-back uniforms. You knew that wouldn't happen. These members of the hip-hop generation wouldn't been seen in public with basketball pants that didn't at least graze the knee, if not cover it. To ask them to wear shorts that might have dropped 10 inches from the waist was asking too much. They wore a different uniform, blue, which is unusual for a home game, but they were not throwbacks.

No doubt, many of the lettermen were dazzled by the new facility and dazzled, too, by the athleticism of the Pitt team. The game has changed greatly since many of them played.

"They're an elite team," Providence coach Tim Welsh said.

An elite team, for sure, but more importantly an elite program. For most of its first 100 years, that's something Pitt couldn't say.

He's actually right about Pitt's first 100 years. There were plenty more downs than ups. Still, complaining about the length of the shorts? Grife.

He complained about some of the omissions like Ricardo Greer and Jason Matthews. I've made my feelings about Greer clear -- one of my absolute all-time favorites. Jason Matthews was a shooter, but little else. He was an excellent shooter, and that was what he was supposed to do. That doesn't make him one of the all-time great players.

Kevin Gorman has the round-up on the High School Football Juniors attending the game.

It was a who's who list of the state's top football players, including Manheim Township quarterback Pat Bostick, considered the state's top prospect and the Panthers' No. 1 target in the Class of 2007.

Pitt used the occasion to make a formal scholarship offer to Greensburg Central Catholic receiver-safety Nick Sukay, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the WPIAL's most coveted recruits. Sukay has seven offers after Akron and Georgia Tech extended theirs earlier in the week to follow Marshall, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia.

Also attending were several top high school basketball players who could be targets of Pitt in the summer.

Also seen at the Pitt-Providence game were three top juniors: Schenley power forward DeJuan Blair and point guard Jamaal "Onion" Bryant, who will play for their third consecutive City League championship Thursday at Mellon Arena, and Elizabeth Forward center Steve Swiech, who is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday for a season-ending hairline fracture in his right foot.
I don't expect any other immediate declarations of choosing Pitt.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

All-Centennial Team 

So here's how the final voting put things.

First Team

Sam Clancy, F, 1977-81

Don Hennon, G, 1956-59

Billy Knight, F, 1971-74

Jerome Lane, F, 1985-88

Charles Smith, C, 1984-88

Second Team

Curtis Aiken, G, 1983-87

Vonteego Cummings, G, 1995-99

Sean Miller, G, 1987-92

Julius Page, G, 2000-04

Clyde Vaughan, F, 1980-84

Third Team

Larry Harris, F, 1974-78

Brandin Knight, G, 1999-03

Carl Krauser, G, 2002-06

Brian Shorter, F, 1988-91

Chevon Troutman, F, 2001-05

Here's how I put it. I had 80% (12-15). I'm okay with Curtis Aiken over Demetreus Gore, and I suspect my own bias led to me picking Ricardo Greer over Vonteego Cummings. I'm glad Vaughan was included despite the incident up in Connecticut leading to his resignation as an assistant at UConn.

The only omission that causes me to have a serious objection to is Charles Hyatt. I realize Hyatt was way in the past, but seriously: He was the star on the teams that won national championships in 1927-28 and 1929-30 -- he also led the nation in scoring in those years. A 3-time All-American and National Player of the Year in 1929-30. Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.

That's when there is an overrule and you make sure Hyatt is included. You bump Troutman off the list. As much as I favored Troutman when he was at Pitt, from a historical sense there is no way or excuse to exclude Hyatt.

State of Rhode Island Suffers Before Pitt 

Not only did Pitt beat Providence but Xavier, as coached by Sean Miller, beat the University of Rhode Island in one of those offbeat moments of coincidence.

Providence-Pitt: Open Thread 

A couple hours or so to game time, and I'm disappointed to say that no one offered their own version of the All-Centennial team. Ah, well, I take the silence to mean grudging acceptance that my picks were actually the best. Not that everyone was too lazy to bother to make the argument.

As usual, comment before, during and after the game.

HALFTIME UPDATE: Pitt leading 41-27.

Worst. Game calling duo. Ever.

Don Criqui is adequate in football, but he just can't do basketball. He needs those 30 seconds between plays to talk. Doesn't seem to grasp that doesn't exist in basketball.

Love the Pitt throwbacks, but thought the blue would be lighter.

Pitt is playing great defense, not letting Providence set screens or get free. All shots are contested.

FINAL UPDATE: Pitt wins 81-68

I now have a deep hatred for Don Criqui where before he never merited a thought. He is just pathetic as a play-by-play guy.

Pitt completely shut down McGrath, which is fitting in the final meeting, since Pitt is the one team McGrath never could get a win versus in his career.

A few too many easy baskets given up in transition by Pitt, but a decent defensive effort. Curry had something like half of Providence's points from that 3 he nailed at the buzzer of the first half to the end.

Providence-Pitt: They Still Have To Play 

I don't want to go Lou Holtz here, and start saying things like, "this Akron game scares the hell out of me," but the local media seems to have forgotten about the actual game tonight.

This very interesting story about Pitt's 1941 Final Four team talks about how they were essentially forgotten for many years -- a banner wasn't put up for the team until 1997.

Coached by Doc Carlson, the '41 Panthers were 13-6 and played a schedule against mostly teams from the Big Ten Conference. Pitt accepted an invitation to play in the upstart tournament and beat North Carolina, 26-20, in an opening-round game in Madison, Wis. The Panthers then played Wisconsin in one of two Final Four games, also in Madison. Pitt had beaten Wisconsin, 36-34, in the first game of the season on the Badgers' home court, but the Badgers won the rematch, 36-30.

Wisconsin beat Washington State to win the third NCAA title.

"It was a very close game," Raymond recalled. "I was on the floor and we were winning. Then, they tied the game, and the Wisconsin fans went wild. They started playing the Wisconsin victory 1941 song. Unfortunately, they went on to win the game."

Raymond remembers sitting in the stands before the start of the game and watching a young boy from Madison sell programs.

"He was saying, 'Get your program here. Get the name of every Pitt player, his position and his salary.' In those days, the Pitt football players had the reputation of being paid. We got a big kick out of that."

Well worth reading, but there is nothing in the P-G about the actual game tonight. This story in the Trib. actually mentions that Pitt is playing Providence but it is about Pitt raising the bar in what it expects for itself in terms of success for a season.

This game should set a record for attendance.

Seating capacity at Petersen Events Center will expand, temporarily, to near 13,000 in order to accommodate the former players as well as a group of football recruits and their families. The extra seats will be installed throughout concourse areas on the upper level.
With three games to go, Providence needs every game if it wants to make it to Madison Square Garden.

"We've had a bye week and a couple days now to prepare for Providence," said Dixon. "I think the timing is good for us, and now the guys are anxious to play against Providence. We're playing well and we're anxious to play again."

PC coach Tim Welsh shrugs off the idea that the Panthers are rested and ready to take on his team tonight. "If you're in the top 10 in the country, it doesn't matter how much time you have off. They're good at any time. And their numbers at home are pretty staggering," he said.

After rolling up a 108-25 record over the last four seasons, the Panthers were expected to take at least a little step backward this season, but Dixon's group actually may be better than some of his previous clubs. The emergence of Gray gives Pitt a legitimate low-post force who could savage a smaller team like Providence. Krauser is a 24-year-old veteran who has done a lot of winning over the last three years, and this season he's led a relatively young team back to the top 10.
Welsh said playing a team twice in a span of 10 days is both good and bad. It helps in game preparation because neither team has changed at all, but it's also difficult to surprise such a familiar opponent.

"We'll make some adjustments, and once we get out there we'll certainly be ready to play," said Welsh. "Our big concern is Gray because he hurt us so much. But you have to pick your poison with them. They'll adjust, too. They have a lot of depth and don't have any real weaknesses. That's the big concern."

Yeah, I'd say Gray would be a concern with a 9-9 shooting night. I wouldn't be surprised if they do something like What Marquette did -- rotate bodies on Gray just to keep any one player from accumulating too many fouls. The Friars may not go as deep or as talented, but they might see if they can wear Gray down a bit and goad him into some dumb fouls.

At least that's what I'd think about doing against a big man who has already shown how much bigger and better he is than anyone on your team down low.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Providence-Pitt: Junior Day 

Tomorrow is Junior Day at Pitt for the football program. As part of it, the high schoolers in attendance will get to see Pitt take on Providence.

This is the rough list of expected participants with a little more detail on some of the kids.

It should be interesting for the kids as Pitt will be in retro unis and honoring the basketball greats during the game.

Game notes for Providence and Pitt (PDF).

I'm not sure if Pitt has any more openings for the class of 2006, but there is one kid who is still hoping for an offer. Tyrone Lewis who plays football and basketball out in the Philly suburbs. He prefers basketball, but...

While his first love is basketball, the willowy Lewis is garnering attention from several major-college football programs.

The main suitors currently are Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Minnesota.

Lewis made a dearth of breathtaking plays as a cornerback and wide receiver. A few weeks ago, Lewis talked to Truman football coach Van Smith, who had recently been in contact with an independent college scout.

After watching film, the scout called Lewis "the best-kept secret."

Lewis prefers basketball But if BCS schools are waving a scholarship in his face, he would jump at the opportunity. His dream is to play in either a BCS bowl or the NCAA tournament.

"In my four years here, I've never focused on just one sport," Lewis said. "If a school like Pitt offered me a football scholarship, I wouldn't play basketball, and I wouldn't regret it."

[Brief editing critique: "Lewis made a dearth of breathtaking plays..."??? Huh? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."]

In basketball, the 5' 11" Lewis has offers from Drexel, Duquesne, Central Conn. St., Rider and Niagara. The article does claim that there is some mild interest from Ohio St. and Texas Tech.

Neither recruiting site has any football info on Lewis. There isn't much regarding basketball either. I'm not sure how real Pitt's interest in him is. Strange.

Power Numbers 

For whatever they are worth. Luke Winn doesn't seem to know what to do or where to put Pitt from week to week. This week, they are down to #13.

The ESPN.com power 16 puts Pitt at the top of the 3 seeds. And apparently enough people have harassed the people at ESPN.com regarding the Pitt logo.
Can't ding the Panthers too hard as everyone loses at Marquette these days. To all the e-mailers -- I have good (non-Geico) news: Check out the spiffy "new" Pitt logo on your clubhouse page.
Nicely done.

Naturally in ESPN individual experts picks, as I've seen others note in the comments, Pitt is in or about the top-10 for most, except for Doug Gottlieb who completely excludes Pitt. I'm willing to believe he goofed and meant to put them at #11. He somehow put Oklahoma there, and that just makes no sense, and no one else even has them listed. An Oklahoma team that could barely eke past Iowa St. and Texas Tech.

Bob Snyder in a Big East column lists his all-conference team and other awards in advance.

Player of the year:Rudy Gay, Connecticut. Rutgers' Quincy Douby will win the scoring crown, is seventh nationally, but the graceful Gay at times too unselfish is the league's best athlete and most impressive physical talent.

All-conference:Hilton Armstrong, Connecticut; Josh Boone, Connecticut; Douby, Rutgers; Randy Foye, Villanova; Mike Gansey, West Virginia; Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh; Gerry McNamara, Syracuse; Steve Novak, Marquette; Kevin Pittsnogle, West Virginia; Chris Quinn, Notre Dame; Allan Ray, Villanova; Marcus Williams, Connecticut. Too many? You cut a guy or two.

Rookie of the year:Dominic James, Marquette. There's no shortage of yearling talent in the Big East barn, our town's Eric Devendorf among them. But James makes the Golden Eagles go.

Most improved player: Gray, Pittsburgh.

Coach of the year:To be decided in these few remaining games. Marquette's Tom Crean? His Golden Eagles, among five newcomers from Conference USA, were picked 12th. They debuted beating UConn, should take 20 regular-season victories and a winning league mark to Madison Square Garden, then hear their name Selection Sunday. Veteran Big East coaches might not vote for a new guy on their block. Seton Hall's Louie Orr? Pirates picked next to last. Need to avoid sliding off the bubble. Jay Wright? Sure, 'Nova was picked first, but the 'Cats never played a minute with preseason all-leaguer Curtis Sumpter.

You know, if Marquette gets 4th or 5th in the conference, I think Crean would be fine as Coach of the Year. If Orr wins, then it is a move by the other BE coaches to close ranks and try and protect one of their own -- practically daring Seton Hall to fire Orr.

Defense and Taking Care of the Ball 

Major themes in the stories today.

The turnovers in the past month have picked up a bit.

The turnovers Dixon cannot live with -- the ones he is trying to eliminate -- are the unforced errors. Pitt players have been called for an inordinate number of traveling calls in recent games, and it has caused the Panthers' turnovers to climb.

"Turnovers are a big thing to me," Dixon said yesterday after practice. "We're pretty good. Our goal is always less than 12. That's a tough number to shoot for, but it's a hard number to achieve."

Turnovers have been a persistent problem for the Panthers in Big East Conference play, especially in the past five games. Pitt is averaging 14 turnovers per game in Big East play, 16 in the past six games.
"It's very important," freshman point guard Levance Fields said. "Every possession counts. We try to keep the turnovers to around 12 per game. Lately, we've been around 18 or 19. We've been getting away from it. We definitely have to keep every possession. We have to take care of the ball. We're working at that."

Fields said many of the turnovers can be eliminated by making smarter decisions.

"Sometimes it's trying to make the difficult pass, trying to be fancy instead of doing the basic pass," he said. "And sometimes it's not being focused. Sometimes guys aren't concentrating. It can be a good pass and the guy doesn't catch it. We have to do a better job at it."

Fields splits the point-guard duties with sophomore Ronald Ramon. Ramon is of the belief that the turnovers are because of free-lancing outside the confines of the offense.

"When we get away from our offense and things don't go our way, we give away some turnovers," he said.

The other thing the team has spent the week working on (aside from classwork) has been the defense.

Levance Fields, though, has only defense on his mind, a product of having it drilled into his head by the Pitt coaching staff. Fields realizes the importance of defense during this critical time, and that he and his teammates have been less than acceptable lately.

He insists the latter will change.

"It's mental breakdowns. I'm letting guys get in front of me. I'm not following the rules as far as trailing shooters," said Fields, who has often been Pitt's first guard off the bench this season. "It's the basics, and right now we're trying to reinforce them."

The defensive attitude that has garnered so much success for the Panthers in recent years is still the team's calling card, said coach Jamie Dixon. Maybe, though, the Panthers need a quick refresher course, particularly for its guards.

And still more work with the defense.

The Panthers failed in their first attempt at win No. 21, losing Saturday at Marquette, 84-82. They have not played since then, but there has been a spirited effort this week in practices to re-establish a type of sturdy defense the team possessed earlier in the season.

"I say it every week. I'll be the same next week and it'll be the same the week after that," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I try to make it a new idea, but it's not changing. I'll never be satisfied with (the defense)."

In preparing for Providence, I have to assume they were working at not being caught in the screens that can be expected. With Donny McGrath the primary scoring threat, you can bet Providence will be throwing lots of screens at Pitt to free him.

With this week off, the whole team is ready to play. And of course, the team wants to make a deep run this year.
"We came into this year thinking we could get 20 wins, even though a lot of people really didn't think we could," sophomore Keith Benjamin said. "But that's not important to us right now. We know we could be in the NCAA tournament now, but we want a lot more wins.

"We want as many wins as we can get out of this season for this team. We're totally coming together right now to make something special for the rest of this year. We're a very close team and very confident in our abilities. We believe there's a lot more for us to accomplish."

And Coach Dixon gets a puff piece lauding the job he's done.

Dixon deserves the credit for molding these Panthers, including mostly young and inexperienced players, into a winning unit. Along with the two seniors, Pitt uses juniors Gray, Antonio Graves and Levon Kendall, sophomores Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, and freshmen Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs and Levance Fields in its 10-man rotation.
"We've got great kids," Dixon said, deflecting the credit. "It's unique, I know, to play 10 guys in the rotation. But I said from the beginning that this would be the best thing for this team, and I think it certainly has come to fruition."

Dixon deserves credit for recognizing this. And he likely has finally stepped out of the shadow of predecessor and mentor Ben Howland. The former coach guided Pitt to consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearances in his final seasons, but Dixon was 31-5, earned Big East coach of the year honors and a third straight Sweet 16 advancement as a rookie head coach.
In Ray Fittipaldo's Q&A there is the question of the kind of teams that would be a problem for Pitt.

Q: What teams would be the toughest matchups for Pitt in the Big East and NCAA tournaments? I have to think Villanova would be a nightmare for Pitt. They seem to have trouble against teams with quick guards.

Fittipaldo: Based on what I have seen this season I would say Villanova, Marquette and St. John's would be teams Pitt would like to avoid at the Big East tournament. Pitt matches up well with just about any other team in the Big East. You're right, Jason, Pitt does have trouble against teams with athletic guards. Dominic James of Marquette could not be handled by any of Pitt's guards in two games this season. Villanova's guards are just as good and more experienced, so they would be big-time trouble for the Panthers. Villanova, with most of the same players on this year's team, handled Pitt easily in the first round of the Big East tournament last season. I haven't seen a lot of other teams outside the Big East, but any team with a guard who can break defenders down off the dribble will be difficult for the Panthers.

It's not the "athletic" guards. It's the kind of guards that can take a guy off the dribble. Who can penetrate and create their own shot. Those are the players who are a challenge for Pitt. Always has been.

Coaching Paranoia 

Ron Cook has a must read today.

Much more interesting was a question Dixon had.

"Why is it Pittsburgh people always seem to worry about people leaving Pittsburgh?"

It was the best question of the interview.

"I guess it's our paranoia complex, our inferiority complex, whatever you want to call it," I explained to Dixon.

We don't always think we're good enough. The first time someone has success here, we look for him to leave. For some reason, we don't think we have enough to offer to keep the really good people.

In Pitt's case, it didn't help that a few high-profile coaches left over the years. Ben Howland left after the 2002-03 basketball season because there's only one UCLA in the college game. Jackie Sherrill left after the 1981 football season because Texas A&M threw gobs of money at him. Johnny Majors left after the 1976 national championship football season because Tennessee was home.

I've commented on the Pitt paranoia with coaches from time-to-time. It has manifested in the coaching searches and the desire to find coaches with ties to the program (Wannstedt) or the city (Prosser). As if that would be the additional hook needed to keep a coach at Pitt.

I'm not terribly bothered by sniffing from other programs and teams. It happens. It is a natural part of the food chain. Whether it is a bigger school trying to grab another school's coach or whether it is the pros making an inquiry. You have to expect it when you have success.
This paranoia thing is getting pretty sickening, especially when it comes to Pitt athletics. Maybe the place was a black hole before former athletic director Steve Pederson came to town in 1996 and changed the culture, before Heinz Field and the Petersen Events Center were built, before Howland and Dixon and Harris and Wannstedt were hired. But it's certainly not a black hole now.

Where would Dixon go to get a better job?

Unless the Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky or Kansas jobs open, I mean?

Arizona State, to which Dixon has been linked?


At Pitt, Dixon is coaching in college basketball's best conference. He has the strong support of chancellor Mark Nordenberg, as athletic department-friendly as any college administrator. He has wonderful fan support; Pitt has sold out its season tickets since the Petersen Events Center opened four years ago. He has a terrific home-court advantage; Pitt is 61-5 in the new building.

Nordenberg still needs to make sure he's paying the going rate. He should bump Dixon to the same $1 million-plus salary that he offered Howland to stay. He also should pour even more of that Petersen Center revenue back into the basketball program. It would be nice, for example, if Pitt chartered flights to its away games -- the way other top programs do -- instead of flying commercial.

But those things are doable.
The main attraction for the Arizona State job would be the money. It's a rebuilding job, and the recruiting area would be no better or worse. ASU is sinking a lot of money into trying to get its athletic operations near the top. Lute Olson won't be around much longer at Arizona (he's in his 70s isn't he?), and that could help them in the state. What if they come at Dixon with $1.5 million or something absurd?

I can see Pitt getting something done with Dixon, and they might consider taking a page from what WVU did with Beilein and make sure the buyout isn't cheap in the first few years.

I'll also pose a different question. How long a contract? Dixon's fan support seems kind of shallow. It seems more about not wanting to lose him than wanting to keep him at times. What happens if Pitt stumbles in the NCAA? Or gets off to a less than stellar start next season?

I'm very happy with Dixon. He answered a lot of questions I had about him going into the season, and based on last year. Handling/controlling Krauser; playing and integrating the new kids; using the bench; in-game adjustments and game strategy; and the development of players.

As for Coach Dixon, he might want to read this piece from Seth Davis about how Bruce Pearl turning around the Volunteers in one season just raised the expectations and pressure on every coach going to a new rebuilding job.

People forget that it doesn't usually work like this. Most of the time it takes years to turn a program around. It's hard enough to preach patience in today's world, but now Pearl has justified the inflated sense of urgency. After all, if he can work this kind of magic for Tennessee, why can't someone else do it for your favorite school?

So here's my advice to any coach who is thinking about taking a new job: Make sure your new contract has a lucrative buyout clause. If the school wants to fire you for not turning things around fast enough (like yesterday), they'll have to pay. If they're not willing to give you the buyout, don't take the job. Because for all his bluster, Pearl will be the first to tell you that there's some luck involved in all of this, too.

But nobody wants to hear about bad luck. Nobody wants to wait 'til next year. All they have to do is make it to next month, when a new flavor comes along, bringing with it the promise of sweet success that can be devoured in an instant.

One area of luck Pitt has had has been the lack of big injuries for players. That has made a huge difference.

A Day At The Combines 

Three Pitt players received invitations to attend the NFL Combines (hat tip, Keith W.): Josh Lay, Charles Spencer and Greg Lee.

That means the other senior players: TE Eric Gill, K Josh Cummings, DT Thomas Smith, RB Ray Kirkley, S Tez Morris and OLB J.J. Horne, likely will be hoping for free agent signings after the second day of the draft.

Zeise, in his Q&A last week said that Spencer was doing real well in workouts. That seems to be confirmed by his mention among 20 players who can really see their stock soar at the combines (hat tip, Adam).
8. Charles Spencer, G, Pittsburgh: He played left tackle as a senior, but Spencer looked more natural and dominant at guard during the Senior Bowl. A top 3 player at his position, he will head into Round 2 with good results.
ESPN.com list (Insider subs.) him as about the 7th best at the Guard spot. Regarding Spencer, they say he has "upside" but question his durability.
Spencer is a former defensive tackle who thrived in his late transition to the offensive line. Spencer has great size, quick feet and impressive overall power. He still has room to improve in terms of his overall technique and awareness, but Spencer has all the physical tools necessary to eventually develop into an NFL starter either at OG or ROT.
On Josh Lay, who they list as 22nd amongst corners, they question his physical play and not being very helpful in run support. They see him going in the middle rounds.
Lay is a tall cover corner with surprisingly fluid hips and smooth athleticism. He has the size, instincts, athleticism and just enough speed to develop into a sub-package contributor at the cornerback position in the NFL. He also could emerge as a good fit in a cover-2 type scheme, but he must get stronger and develop his overall tackling skills. Lay is not the toughest of cornerbacks, he lacks elite speed and he has some durability issues, which will cause him to slip on draft weekend.
Eric Gill, is listed as about the 20th best TE, and expected to be a free agent signee.
Gill is a blue-collar prospect that is reliable as a safety valve in the passing game and works to stay in position as a blocker, but he doesn't have much upside. He lacks ideal top-end speed, he doesn't have great quickness and he needs to improve his overall strength and power. As a result, Gill does not classify as a draftable prospect but is worth considering as a priority free agent.
Josh Cummings is considered as the 12th best place kicker out there. They don't even bother with an evaluation. Definitely a free agent signee.

No evaluations for the rest of the Pitt players.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on BlogShares Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com