Monday, February 23, 2009

The Road to the NFL Starts Here

Lesean McCoy had a bout with the flu, strong enough to knock him out of the combine. Also, Shady admits he made a mistake when he basically guaranteed he would return to Pitt for his Junior season.

"I honestly made a big mistake," said McCoy, who is here along with hundreds of other draft prospects for the NFL Scouting Combine. "That close loss just had me so frustrated."

Meanwhile, as Scott McKillop prepares himself, scouting services appear unsure of where he could go in the draft.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projects McKillop as a situational and special-teams player because of questions about his athleticism. McShay said he doesn't expect McKillop will get drafted until after the fourth round. has McKillop rated at the No. 4 prospect at inside linebacker and projects the Export resident as a third-round pick because of his instincts and his production at Pitt.

Both McCoy and McKillop were named as two of the top five players that will be the toughest to replace in the Big East by ESPN Blogger Brian Bennett.

Also, lineman C.J. Davis is hoping for a shot.

We're Number One (Again)

Pitt rose to the #1 spot in both polls again after defeating UConn last Monday and losses by Oklahoma and North Carolina over the weekend. I didn't expect Pitt to be the unanimous choice, but I have to say I was a bit shocked to see UConn garner #1 votes. I figured if anyone did, it would be Oklahoma.

Of course, the ranking at the end of the NCAA tournament is what matters more.

Pitt will be No. 1 again when the national polls are released today, but don't expect a Super Bowl-like celebration on the Oakland campus. It was a big deal when it happened in early January for the first time in school history. The first time in anything is always terrific. But it doesn't seem quite so important now even if it still is a tremendous accomplishment.

Pitt has bigger plans.

It wants to be No. 1 on April 6, the night the confetti falls from the Ford Field rafters in Detroit and "One Shining Moment" is played after the national championship game.

Even though the talk of just reaching the Final Four has seemingly been passed up by the "National Championship or Bust" mentality, you'd have to think a Final Four trip would make the season at least a small success.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Should He Stay or Should He Go

That's the question that's being asked more and more in the media regarding DeJuan Blair possibly jumping to the NBA after this season. Ron Cook of the PG was the latest to bring it up:

But now? After Blair took another step toward the Big East player of the year award with a 20-point, 18-rebound performance in No. 4 Pitt's 80-61 victory against DePaul last night at the Petersen Events Center? After he again showed why he belongs on the short list of national player of the year candidates?

The question is very thinkable.

Clearly, Blair will have a big decision to make after the season.

Blair is kind of stuck and Bob Smizik brings up a good point about his stock, possibly not rising much further:

That’s hard to ignore, and people who are suggesting Blair do that so he can improve his game and possibly climb to a lottery-pick level after his junior or senior season are missing a major point.

That is not going to happen.

Blair is a 6-foot-7 power player, and, as such, a tweener, even with his abnormal reach. He’s too small to dominate at center and not skilled or quick enough to handle small forward in the NBA. He’s likely a power forward, but an undersized one who would probably never be a great scorer.

Here's an early mock draft with him going at #23 should he declare. I think an extra year would probably help him, but if he's a guaranteed first-rounder, you can't fault him for leaving. Frankly, I disagree with Smizik on this one, however. Plenty of players with DeJuan's problem of being undersized have been lottery players (i.e. see Robert Tractor Traylor as the #6 overall pick in the 1998 draft).

To me, Blair's stock could definitely improve from a 20ish type pick to a lottery pick with another strong year. Should he come back, he'd have to be a favorite (if Blake Griffin leaves, possibly THE favorite) for National Player of the Year. And if Pitt is unable to win a championship this year, you'd have to think he'd relish the opportunity of being THE guy to do it.

I'm selfish as I'd like to see him stick around. Then again, if they win the national championship, I don't think people would care much if he left.

Women's Team Celebrates 20 Wins Again

Congrats to the women's team who notched another 20-win season with a 68-53 win over Cincinnati at the Pete on Saturday.

The home court has been good to them as it has been to the men as they have only one loss there this year. With wins against Cincy and Villanova this week, they should move up in the polls come tomorrow. Shavonte Zellous and Xenia Stewart led Pitt with 16 points each.

With only three more regular-season games left, they look like another lock for the tournament. Pitt was listed as a rising #6 seed in the latest Bracketology ratings on

No Chance of a Letdown

The men's team battled right from the tip, allowing virtually no chance for a letdown, winning 80-61 at home against DePaul. Pitt never trailed in the game and DeJuan Blair again played the role of star with 20 points and 18 rebounds. His two-game total of 41 rebounds set a new school record.

Buried in the ESPN article was this gem:

"We won the opportunity to play Pitt twice," Wainwright said. "It's like two straight meals that my wife cooks. It looks good at the beginning, but it's difficult swallowing."

It was also nice to see Larry Fitzgerald back on campus. Also, not lost on all of the media was the fact that Matija Poscic had Hasheem Thabeet on his mind at the beginning of the game.

Dar Tucker was Mr. Everything for DePaul, leading the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.

With losses by UNC, Oklahoma, and UCONN this week, Pitt should regain the #1 spot in the polls again. Coming up are two potentially-dangerous games on the road against Providence and Seton Hall. I don't expect them to lose both, but one wouldn't be out of the question.

A few under the radar items: Sam Young (16), Tyrell Biggs (13), and Jermaine Dixon (11) all reached double figures. Levance Fields continued his unbelievable play with six assists/zero turnovers. Freshman Ashton Gibbs has now gone scoreless in the past three games, playing 29 minutes over that stretch. Fortunately, they haven't missed him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another First

In news kind of under the radar, Dante Taylor was named as a McDonald's All-American - the first in the Jamie Dixon era.

Based on the scouting rankings of Taylor, it seemed like this was a possibility, if not likely. But tonight's announcement made it official.

Taylor could possibly be a 'one-and-done' player next year and while some programs steer clear of such players, it's pretty clear that you can't do that in today's least to me. To be honest, I'm surprised it's taken this long with the kind of success the team has had since the Howland-Dixon era.

Let's hope this will be the first of others. He is Pitt's first All-American since 1987 when Pitt had two.

On a side note, female basketball star Markel Walker of Schenley, sister of former Pitt player Marcedes Walker, has committed to UCLA and was also named to the women's All-American team.

Pitt Women Get Back on Track

The Pitt women came back after the beatdown that was the UConn game to beat Villanova 70-54 Wednesday night. With the win, Pitt moves to 19-5 on the year.

Shavonte Zellous scored 23 points to lead the Panthers. The Pitt women play again on Saturday, looking for a win against Cincinnati.

Welcome Aboard, Frank

It's official. Frank Cignetti, Jr. has been hired as the Offensive Coordinator for YOUR Pittsburgh Panthers.

We're going to have to wait and see what type of job he does, but he has the credentials (serving as an Offensive Coordinator at Cal and working in the NFL in varying offensive/QB capacities). It's likely that his offense will hardly be the passing offense many (including myself) would have liked to see.

He has two things which would seem to appeal to Wannstedt - leading a 'run-first' style offense at Cal and experience as a QB coach...something that will hopefully pay off going into this season where the QB position is an uncertainty.

I'm sure many Pitt fans think we can only go up from here after a 3-0 loss in the Sun Bowl last season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Adios, Sir Walt

Sure to further anger some Pitt fans while allowing others to breathe a sigh of relief, Pitt apparently has let Walt Harris go to Akron. It had been mentioned that Pitt and Harris had discussions regarding the Offensive Coordinator opening, but the long-shot never materialized.

I'm part of the camp that would have loved to see Harris come back. But in the end, I'm sure it was just too hard for him to do so. I can't imagine that he looks at the Akron job as a better job. Truthfully, I wasn't a big Harris fan when he was here. He always seemed like he would leave for another job in a heartbeat. But given the way the offense has struggled, I would have gladly welcomed him back because that's one thing he knows.

The new hot candidate according to the PG's Paul Zeise is Cal Offensive Coordinator Frank Cignetti. More on him shortly.

The Aftermath

The media has been in an all-day love fest with the Panthers - and for good reason. Even the ultimate Pitt pessimist Bob Smizik gets on the bandwagon, saying Pitt can reach the Final Four:

"This victory left no doubt that Pitt can play with the best and on any given night is as good as any team in the country.

The Final Four is a long way off, but this team can get there."

As I write this, Bill Plaschke claims on Around the Horn that barring injury Pitt will win the National Championship. Need more?

Ron Cook of the same newspaper calls DeJuan Blair's performance the best one he can remember at Pitt. And what WASN'T lost on the local and national media was that this was Pitt's first ever win against a #1 ranked team.

Some people are making a big deal out of this, and while it's nice to beat a top-ranked team, I think those types of things are more important for programs that haven't had the type of success that Pitt has the past several years. The other thing that I'm not buying is the 'upset' mentions I've heard today. This was far from an upset and I think that people are starting to buy into the fact that Pitt is likely the better team.

As always, Pitt seemed to use this game to show the national stage what they can do:

"It shows a lot of heart," Blair said. "A lot of people said Pitt wasn't this and Pitt wasn't that. I think we showed a lot of people what we can do."

Blair, Blair, and more Blair.

This was a huge win that will go a long way in helping Pitt grab that elusive #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. If they can somehow find a way to beat them again at home, it might not matter what they do in the Big East tourney.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Better Team Won

I'm not normally one for bragging, but it was clear right from the tip tonight that Pitt was the better team, besting UConn 76-68. Pitt was more physical and generally wanted it more tonight.

The story aside from Blair completely manhandling Thabeet (going for 22 and 23) for me was Calhoun's poor attitude in the press conference. Despite starting strong congratulating Pitt, he eventually turned to his sour-puss attitude later saying the game was "a different game" than UConn is accustomed to playing. He refused to elaborate, but it was clear he was talking about the physical nature.

The mind-boggling part was that Calhoun even acknowledged playing such a game in past years with UConn, but he somehow was opposed to the style of play when it worked against him. I really am starting to hate UConn and I really don't want to think that all of their fans are so shallow-minded. But if you saw any of the press conference, Calhoun played the part of the whining coach to a T.

Some years, UConn has been better. Heck, they may even be better this year. But Pitt was CLEARLY the better team tonight and to acknowledge otherwise is foolishness. To offer backhanded compliments to Pitt while clearly indirectly blaming the refs is nonsense.

Taking a Run at Number One

So I was a bit surprised to find out that Pitt has never beaten a #1 ranked team. Actually, I knew that, just forgot about it. They've had a few close ones (losing to UCONN in 1998 and 2006 by a total of five points), but have never closed the deal.

Call me a homer, but I think Pitt is actually a better team than UCONN this year. That doesn't mean they'll win (especially in Connecticut), but I think they've got a legit shot. Ray Fittipaldo of the PG did a nice job of breaking down the matchups by position, although I think Thabeet Vs. Blair is a draw for the simple fact that Blair always plays his best against top competition. People seem to forget that Blair pretty much outplayed Thabeet last year (13 points/13 rebounds/3 steals to Thabeet's (6 points/7 rebounds/5 blocks).

Should be a good one.

Let's Hope the Men's Game Ends Differently

The Pitt women faced a tough task in playing #1 ranked UCONN. But I don't think anyone was expecting a 53-point beatdown as Pitt was routed in Storrs.

I don't follow the women's team nearly as much as the men' fact, I've never even watched a complete game. But even for casual fans, this one was hard to miss. Even the PG's Ron Cook got in the act of wondering what went wrong:

"Now, Pitt must regroup. It will be interesting to see if it is up for the challenge against Villanova. Certainly, Berenato will be ready. Her enthusiasm is irrepressible. But what about her players? Where are their heads going to be? It isn't easy getting whacked by 53."

Other than maybe Pitt players and coaches, I don't think anyone was expecting a win. Still, it's a hard pill to swallow when you look at the strides the team has made and realize how much farther they still have to go be a top program.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two More Wins

Pitt won both its games this week, its 4th and 5th wins in a row, against West Virginia and Cincinnati. While Pitt was certainly considered the favorite in both, each game presented its own challenges. The games with WVU are always tough and they hung around for a while, but foul trouble was a huge issue for them as Pitt won 70-59.

Pitt got off to a hot start before Cincinnati got to within five after a fairly sluggish beginning to the half for the Panthers. Eventually, their hot shooting never really stopped and the team tied a school-record shooing 67.4% from the field, winning comfortably 85-69. A late miss on a three-pointer by Brad Wanamaker stopped the team from breaking the record.

Not lost on the local scene was the outstanding play of Levance Fields. Coach Dixon obviously realizes that Fields is playing out of his mind:

"The numbers are mind-boggling," Dixon said. "It was an unbelievable performance. He's doing it game after game down the stretch. I don't know who is playing better than him as a point guard. You can't play any better than his numbers."

Fields has at least 7 assists in his last five games and double-digit assists in three of his past five. His assist to TO ratio over that span? 9.3 / 1. Um, that's pretty good. The play has now made him the NCAA leader in A/T ratio. He may not play in the NBA, but he's one of the best college point guards in a while. Is he better than Brandin Knight? I'm not sure. But Pitt has been fortunate to have so many good point guards over the past few years, including Carl Krauser.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rankings News

The men's basketball team moved up to #4 in both polls today after winning games against Robert Morris and DePaul. Meanwhile, the women's team moved up three spots to #19 in the AP Poll (ESPN/USA Today poll not yet out) after winning its lone game against Notre Dame last week.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Recruiting 2009

Without trying to overanalyze something that even the experts admit is hard to gauge, it appears the Pitt 2009 recruiting class is a bit down this year. This certainly looks like Wannstedt's 'worst' class, despite it following his best year - go figure.

Look, recruiting is important, but we won't likely know how good most of these players will be for 2-3 years. That said, there look to be very few standout type players based on the rankings. According to, Pitt has the fourth-best class in the Big East - certainly nothing to get excited about. They failed to land an ESPN 150 prospect and no player ranked in the top ten for his respective position.

We'll have to see, but at this point it looks like the class is a bit down from years past.

Blair Has A Career Day

DeJuan Blair had 32 points and 14 rebounds (9 offensive) as Pitt routed DePaul in Chicago 92-69.

Pitt had another sluggish start, but really left no doubt after going on a 13-0 run to close the half. What can you say - DePaul is just one of those not-so-good teams that has yet to win a game in conference. There didn't seem to be much in doubt for me...not even when Pitt got behind by 5 or 6 in the first half and really didn't seem to be playing very hard.

Fields got his assist/turnover ratio back on track with a career-high 16 assists and only one turnover. He also scored 13 and Young chipped in with 10.

Next up for Pitt are home dates this week with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Pitt should move up to #4 in both polls tomorrow and losses by UNC (who plays at Duke) and Oklahoma (not likely as they only play Baylor and Texas Tech) could set up a potential 1 Vs. 2 matchup.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Two for the Price of One

Here it is - two recaps in one post.

On Saturday, Pitt pulled away to beat a hot-shooting Notre Dame team. I expected ND to be angry having lost a few in a row, but they came out guns blazing hitting threes all over the place. Fortunately, their shooting cooled off and Pitt had a strong second half to win 93-80. Blair had a monster game with 23 points and a career-best 22 boards. This will upset some, but Harangody, to me, is still the best in the Big East. He ended up with 27 and 11 and seems to avoid the personal fouls that Blair sometimes gets. He's averaging an amazing 25 ppg and really is in the same boat with Blair as far as NBA prospects go due to his size. In any event, he's a tremendous player.

Onto the Robert Morris game. This was a great day for me and some friends who had upper level seats and because we were late (and the Zoo was not filled) were asked by an usher to move down to six rows from the court. Needless to say, we didn't have to think twice...even as 30-year olds. By the time we arrived halfway through the first half, Pitt started pulling away and won comfortably 92-72. On a side note, Ashton Gibbs is really coming into his own. I almost feel comfortable with him starting next year, which will likely do (along with Dixon, Brown, Dante Taylor, and Blair assuming he's back). He is probably our best three-point shooter and looks extremely comfortable out there as a freshman.