Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Back....and Back in the Sweet 16

After an uncharacteristically long layoff, back just in time for Pitt's Sweet 16 appearance.

The first two games have no doubt given some fans some causes for heart attacks. I certainly understand the feelings of nervousness on the Xavier game based on losses to Pacific, OK St., etc.


Pitt is a team that usually plays down or up to its competition. I think they felt they could skate a little bit with the first two teams. With Xavier beating Memphis earlier, I think they'll be ready.

The biggest factor, though, is that I think they're sick of hearing about not being able to get past the Sweet 16. I think they'll come out hungry and the week to reflect on their two close games will be enough to wake them up a bit. I expect them to actually win this game easier than the first two.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they lost the game Vs. Nova or Duke. Pitt actually matches up well with Duke, but either team could certainly shock them.

We will see.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

All-Big East Selections

Congrats to DeJuan Blair and Sam Young for making the All-Big East First Team. Pitt was the only team to have more than one player on the first team.

Also, congrats to Levance Fields who made the third team. I can see how he didn't make the first team, which also included Terrence Williams (Louisville), Hasheem Thabeet (UCONN), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), and Jerel McNeal (Marquette). But looking at the names on the second team, you've got to think that he should have been there.

And as a side note, I was fairly surprised to see the current poll results on the Big East home page showing Terrence Williams of Louisville getting 50% of fans' votes for the Player of the Year (NOTE: You'll need to enter a pick to see the most current results).

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Twice As Nice

Pitt held off a fairly late run by #1 ranked UConn to win 70-60 on Senior Day. For the second time this year, Pitt really looked like the better team. Super Sam Young was really the player responsible for this win, scoring 31 - nearly half of Pitt's points.

I was there in person and two things really stood out to me:

1. Big East games are VERY difficult for referees to call. I knew this before, but it really seemed evident today. It seemed like the refs wanted to let them play, but they also had to call some 'touch' fouls - apparently to reign the players in to make sure it didn't get too far out of hand.

2. For some reason, it seemed like the players weren't getting the ball to Blair enough. I'd be curious to know how many touches in the paint he got. Part of it was Thabeet's more aggressive play on defense, but several times, he was just ignored.

The only slight downer was that Tyrell Biggs went scoreless in his final home game. That was only the second time this year where he was held without a point. Kind of a bummer when you realize how far he came during his time at Pitt. He's really turned into a solid player.

In other news, Levance Fields' injury may have been more serious than people knew. You almost start to wonder if that was the reason for his 4-14 shooting.

It was also nice to get a glimpse of the new Brandin Knight banner that was hoisted when his jersey number was retired.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Linebacker Help for 2009

As a small footnote to all of the basketball excitement, the school has announced that Adam Gunn has been granted a sixth year of eligibility. I think this is a bit of a surprise and now could provide some much-needed depth at linebacker next year.

It's not a lock that he would play as he still has to be cleared to play, but at least the NCAA has opened the door.

Locking Up A Number One Seed?

After the big win against Marquette last night, it seems everyone's talking about a #1 seed being locked up.

With last night's 90-75 victory against Marquette, the Panthers are all but assured of being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd say it's a bit of a reach to say it's locked up. Does Pitt deserve one regardless of what it does against UCONN and in the Big East Tournament? I think so. But with the history of seeding, I wouldn't call it a guarantee. If Pitt would happen to get blown out on Saturday then lose badly in their first Big East game, strong performances by UNC, Memphis, UCONN, and Oklahoma could be enough to knock Pitt out.

Not to mention teams could all end up with fewer losses than Pitt. Again, it's going to be hard for Pitt not to get a #1 seed. But I don't know if it's the lock everyone seems to think it is.

On the injury front, Levance is listed as questionable for the big game Saturday. Personally, I think he'll have to be practically dead not to play. But I'd be all for him sitting this one out. It's a big game, but not that important in the grand scheme of things. I'd rather see him sit out, then come back for the Big East Tournament in a tune up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tidbits Before the Big Game

Links from the two local fishwraps...

As noted in Ray Fittipaldo's blog on the PG website, Joe Lunardi for some strange reason apparently holds press conferences. Don't get me started on this guy. At any rate, he feels that Pitt will really need to tank to lose its #1 seed.

Along the same lines, the PG's daily article talks about how Pitt is where it wants to be. The team has also been extremely fortunate to avoid big injuries...especially compared to teams that lost key pieces such as UCONN and Marquette.

The Q&A in the PG today gets an interesting question about the placement of the Zoo . Frankly, I never thought about it, but Ray apparently gets the question a lot.

Pitt readies for the big game against Marquette. Also, an interesting note about how the team ends with two (albeit difficult) home games.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Shooting for Sellouts

The goal set by Steve Pederson is clear - sell out every game every year.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but without a Heisman candidate in Shady, it's tough to place a finger on what is the selling point for next year. Baldwin? Maybe, but he wasn't utilized enough due to a shaky passing game. A bowl win to make a 10-win season would have been huge, but...never mind.

Pederson, to me, seems a bit delusional

"There's 'real' momentum and, obviously, an excellent team," Pederson said. "I kind of view this as an opportunity to see a bunch of new, young stars step up. In some ways, it's even more intriguing to see who the new stars are going to be. ... That's what's exciting."

Momentum? Of all words to use - that's certainly not one of them after the 3-0 debacle.

Not sure about this, but I'm thinking people may have to purchase tickets to additional games to land the Notre Dame game - the lone strong non-conference game. With no WVU game, they're fortunate they have that one to fall back on. Other than the Notre Dame contest, it's hard to imagine any other sellouts (barring something crazy like an 8-0 start).

And despite the fact that Cincinnati won the Big East title last year, that may still be a tough sell...and that's likely the strongest conference game.

Still, you've got to like the fact that Pederson shoots so high. Even better is the fact that tickets per game are actually cheaper than last year.

Movin' On

Congrats to seniors Shavonte Zellous and Xenia Stewart for closing out their last home game with a 79-60 win over St. John's on Monday. You can't say enough about the two, especially Zellous who is an All-American candidate, and what they did for Pitt women's basketball.

Their four-year record was 92-37 - pretty good for a program that really struggled.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Non-Conference Football Schedule Released

Pitt has released its non-conference football schedule for 2009. The schedule includes home games against Youngstown State, Notre Dame, and Navy. Road games include Buffalo and North Carolina State. The Big East schedule will be released later this year.

Pitt also announced a decrease in the per game price for season ticket holders.

Slight Fall in the Rankings

Pitt fell to #3 (AP) and #4 (ESPN/USA Today) in the polls today. They still managed to get a #1 vote in the AP poll.

Even with the loss to Providence, the team is still projected as a #1 seed in the latest Bracketology rankings. Things have gotten a bit interesting with Memphis' play and there are now five legitimate teams fighting for a #1 seed in Memphis, Pitt, UNC, Oklahoma, and UCONN. The committee really may be hesitant to give one conference two #1 seeds and the Pitt/UCONN game coupled with the Big East tournament may determine who gets one.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Providence Loss Even More Costly

This little gem almost slipped by me this week...

A planned story was scrapped after Tuesday's 81-73 upset loss at Providence. The magazine planned to do a lengthy story on the Panthers for early March and, according to Pitt media relations director Greg Hotchkiss, there was a "95 percent" chance it was going on the cover.

This is really a shame. I know some may not think it would have been a big deal, but according to Hotchkiss, Pitt basketball has never been on the cover (nationally...it has been regionally). As somewhat of a collector of Sports Illustrated magazines, I'm pretty sure this is the case.

Maybe we'll get another shot down the road...

Levance's Legacy

Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette had a solid article about Levance Fields and the PG position as a whole for Pitt basketball over the last few years. He also says something I firmly believe in - Brandin Knight jump-started this latest Pitt basketball era and should have his number retired:

They should hang Brandin Knight's No. 20 jersey in the Petersen Events Center rafters. This Golden Era of Pitt basketball? It started with him. He was the first to buy what new coach Ben Howland was selling. A team-first philosophy. Hard-nosed man-to-man defense. A mental and physical toughness. Knight bought all of it. The rest is ...

Well, you know.

Does he have the numbers that many players who have their jerseys retired do? Probably not. But he was the reason Pitt turned into a national contender virtually overnight. Now that the run has continued for nearly ten years, it's time to recognize him - in my humble opinion.

I think Pitt will really miss him next year. The starting PG will in all likelihood be one of (or a combination of) the following:

- Travon Woodall: Redshirt freshman who got very little experience this year.
- Ashton Gibbs: More of a shooting guard than a point guard - if he assumes the duties, his scoring opportunities will probably take a hit.
- Brad Wanamaker: More comfortable with the ball and the 'veteran' of the three. However, like Gibbs, more of a shooting guard.

Whoever gets the nod for 2009-10 is likely warming the spot for PG of the future, Isiah Epps, who after verbally committing to Pitt, said that he was told he would start as a freshman.

Pitt has been fortunate with great point guards, but the spot will probably take a minor hit next year.

And The Women...

The Pitt women split a pair of games this week, winning at West Virginia 72-60, and losing at #8 Louisville 75-51. Shavonte Zellous led Pitt in scoring in both games.

The team is now 21-6 and the latest version of Bracketology has the women as a rising 4-seed.

Even with her slight drop in production recently, Zellous, the 7th leading scorer in the NCAA, should still be an All-American selection.

Men's Hoops Team Likely to Fall

After a somewhat disturbing 8-point loss to Providence on Tuesday, the men's team is likely to fall from its #1 perch, even after winning 89-78 last night at Seton Hall.Sam Young came up in a big way scoring 29 points in a game where Pitt fans held their breaths as DeJuan Blair injured his knee.

While I didn't EXPECT a loss, I thought that with two tough games coming up that a loss to EITHER Providence or Seton Hall was certainly possible due to looking ahead. In Bob Smizik's PG blog, Ashton Gibbs pretty much said as much.

Pitt will now have to rebound a bit to maintain its #1 Tournament seed. Should Pitt win both home games against Marquette and UCONN, I think a #1 seed is likely - regardless of how they win in the tournament. If they happen to drop one of those, anything is possible...especially with Memphis now looming as a possibility.

Regarding the polls, I don't think Pitt will fall any further than 4th this week. Heck, with a loss by #3 Oklahoma last Monday, they might only fall to 2nd and flip-flop with UCONN - potentially setting up a #1 Vs. #2 matchup next weekend at the Pete. Fortunately, I'll be there for that one.