Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010

With the 2009 season behind us, it's not too early to look to it? Of course it actually is, but the recaps of 2009 have been plentiful. Time to look ahead, even if it's only briefly.

The 2010 schedule will include home games against New Hampshire, Miami (FL), Florida International, Louisville, Rutgers, and West Virginia.

Road games will include Notre Dame, Utah, Cincinnati, UCONN, South Florida, and Syracuse.

Pitt loses key players Bill Stull, Dorin Dickerson, Adam Gunn, Aaron Berry, Joe Thomas, Robb Houser, Nate Byham, and Mick Williams to graduation. The team may also lose Greg Romeus to early entry into the NFL Draft.

But look at what returns:

Impact players Dion Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, and Jabaal Sheard. Guys who should play much bigger roles like Mike Shanahan, Dan Mason, Jarred Holley, and Henry Hynoski, plus a host of others. And not to mention the freshmen class with guys like Aaron Donald of Penn Hills who may get some playing time right away.

The kicking game should again be solid with Dan Hutchins and the weakest link in 2009, the secondary, can only get better.

Dion Lewis should have another good year, but could be in for a bit of a dropoff. First off, 1,800 yards is no easy feat. Second, the passing game may struggle a bit and that should lead to more men in the box to protect against the run. Lastly, the offensive line is losing a few players and could be in for a minor transition. On the flipside, he'll be a year wiser and should be even stronger. So it could be a wash.

And, yes, there's a big hole at QB to fill. But Tino Sunseri saw some very limited action this year and will have two camps under his belt. And Pat Bostick (in my opinion, he is the slight favorite heading into 2010) has now had three years in the system. The QB play might not match what Bill Stull did this year, but if one of those two can be somewhat of a game manager and keep the turnover bug away, the team should be solid. With a run-first approach, that should make the QB's job an easier one.

Schedule-wise, it's not all that bad. Yes, there are the Utah and Cincy games on the road, which could be tough. But neither appears to be utterly unwinnable. Notre Dame should be manageable as they're losing some big-time players to the draft and West Virginia and Miami are at home. Looking at the schedule, along with looking at what Pitt has coming back, and it's hard not to envision them as a Big East contender. I fully expect them to again be in every game once again.

I'll take a split of home games Miami and WVU as well as a split of road games Cincy and Utah. I'll throw in another loss of maybe ND or South Florida and go with an early prediction of 9-3. Hopefully if those losses happen, they'll come against the non-conference foes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Positive Big East Opener

Pitt looked fairly solid in a nice 13-point win over DePaul tonight in the Big East Opener. Plenty of good came out of it:

- The Panthers shot 46% from the field, while holding DePaul to 34%

- Pitt also shot 46% from three-point range to DePaul's 26%

- Pitt held their turnovers to 11

- Pitt won the rebounding battle with +8

The disconcerting part to me was that Pitt took control early, then seemed to struggle through the game until the final minutes. The play-by-play analysis backs this up as the Panthers led much of the first half by 10-15 points, but could never really expand on that lead. DePaul actually cut the lead to five with about 5:00 to play, but Pitt seemed to take over after that.

One big thing to note - it was widely accepted (including by me) that Brad Wanamaker's minutes would decrease with the return of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. He's actually seen a small INCREASE in minutes over the past three games. Nasir Robinson's minutes have been cut but Chase Adams appears to have really fallen out of favor with the coaches. He had a total of 21 minutes over that same span, including a season-low 3 tonight. Looks like the coaches are rewarding Wanamaker's solid play this year by finding him minutes despite the somewhat crowded rotation at SG/SF. I'm with the Dixon on this one as Chase has really done very little to warrant the number of minutes he's been getting - something I've alluded to in more than one post before.

If you didn't know it by now, Ashton Gibbs is really the go-to-guy on this team. He finished with 23 tonight, two shy of his career high. True, Pitt won't always look for him when they need a basket, but at this point, he's clearly their best player. And while the shots will come and go as he's a jump shooter, he is fairly consistent. He's struggled his way through some games, including a dreadful 9-41 stretch over three games, but for the most part has shot well.

Now for a huge disclaimer: I REALLY hate to say this, mostly because I hate when others do it and think it's somewhat of a way to twist stats to make them look better. The only reason I'm willing to make an exception in this instance is because he's a young player with more weight on his shoulders, he's bound to have streaks like that.

So here goes.

If you take out that stretch of poor shooting, he's shooting 47% from the field on the season. That's pretty incredible considering:

1. The amount of scoring Pitt has relied on him to provide (25% of the team's points)
2. Teams have to be somewhat keyed in him after he led the Big East in three-point percentage last year
3. He's mostly a jump shooter
4. He's a sophomore who played much less minutes last year

This isn't to say Pitt is going to rely this much on him all year. It's only to show that thus far, they have, and he's responded fairly well.

Other things to note - it was a game of 'seconds':

- Jamie Dixon moved into a tie for second-place in the all-time win column as a coach. Kind of a big deal.

- Ashton Gibbs hit six consecutive free throws to give him 33 straight - second all-time at Pitt

- And the home winning streak has now reached 30 games - good for second in the nation.

All in all, a good start to the Big East season leading into a big away game at Syracuse on Saturday.

Some O-Line Credit

Accolades for someone other than Dion Lewis for a change - Tony Wise was selected as the Offensive Line Coach of the Year by Maybe not the most prestigious award, but still...

Good to see the line getting a little bit of credit for Lewis' monster year and for keeping Bill Stull's jersey clean.

Who Needs Rankings?

Pitt is still finding it hard to even crack the 'Others Receiving Votes' categories in either of the polls. The team lost its lone vote in the AP poll and this week received zero votes in either poll. The polls are always somewhat of an anomaly, but really, Butler at 8-4 ranked 23rd? Does anyone even pay attention when filling one of those ballots out?

Looking ahead, Pitt will have a hard time breaking into the top 25 this year. After tonight's game vs. DePaul, they've got three tough road games and they could have trouble stringing together enough wins in a row. They'll likely need a win over a big opponent, like, say, at Syracuse on Saturday.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pitt Ends Successful (Yes, Successful) Season

That was the feeling after Pitt wrapped up a 19-17 Meineke Car Care Bowl win over North Carolina on Saturday. Regardless of what anyone may try to argue, this was a fairly big win for Pitt. To get to ten wins for the first time since 1981, and 19 wins over the past two years, was pretty significant. No, it's not a BCS bowl win. But it is a nice win to end the season.

Let's recap - Pitt goes 10-3 along with picking up some nice wins against teams like North Carolina, South Florida, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. The losses against WVU and Cincy were tough, especially considering Pitt had the talent to win both of those games. But 10-3 is Pitt taking the next step. It didn't happen in the late 80s, or even in the Walt Harris era where Pitt experienced somewhat of a resurgence. The way the season ended was disappointing, but if you look at everything, it wasn't a bad year.

I'm normally with Bob Smizik, but I've got to respectfully disagree with him this time. I agree with much of what he says, but not this:
Pitt reached the 10-win plateau for the first time since 1981, which seems like a big deal to some. I’ll regard it as a big deal when they once gain reach the one-loss plateau, which was the case in 1981 when they were 11-1 in Jackie Sherrill’s final season as coach. Ten wins in a 12-game season isn't the same as 10 wins in an 11-game season.
The one-loss/undefeated seasons are another plateau. Pitt isn't there yet and rarely do teams go from several straight bowless seasons to those types of years. The progress Pitt has made over the past two years has been significant and they have taken the next step over the Walt Harris era in my opinion. Further, the talent Coach Wannstedt has been bringing in has also been upgraded. One step at a time and the next step Pitt needs to take is getting to those one-loss seasons.

I'm not sure I agree completely with Dion Lewis, though:
"It's back," Lewis said of Pitt football, moments after he was voted bowl MVP.
I think we need to see at least another strong 9-10 win season before we can declare Pitt back in the national spotlight. And even then, as I pointed out, Pitt is still another big step away from being considered among the best in college football. But, point taken - Pitt is definitely getting back on the map.

There were plenty of stars for Pitt in this one:

Dan Mason getting the start and a key interception.

Mike Shanahan pulling in five big catches for 83 yards.

Dan Hutchins kicking four field goals to push him ahead of Conor Lee's single-season record.

But none bigger than Lewis, who took home the game's MVP award. He was unquestionably the MVP for the team all season, and with 159 yards yesterday, kicked off his 2010 Heisman campaign a bit early. I'd like to say more about Lewis...I really would. But there's not much I can say to describe the type of season he had. 1,799 yards? Sick. I picked him back in the preseason blogger poll conducted by Bleed Scarlet in the beginning of the year as the Big East Rookie of the Year, but of course didn't predict this kind of season. It will be interesting to see what kind of season he has next year now that teams will likely key in on him a bit more.

Even though Lewis was the hero, he could have turned into somewhat of a goat had Pitt not been able to pull this one out. After the game, he acknowledged his fumble through the end zone was costly:
It changed the game. We would have been up, I don't know what the score would have been at the time but we would have been up. It would have been a touchdown but I fumbled. It was tough for me but I had to come back and respond. I just needed a little time to calm down and forget about it and go back out there and play.
I think the biggest play of the game may have been the offsides penalty on North Carolina prior to the long field goal attempt. I had doubts whether Dan Hutchins would have made that kick, but fortunately for Pitt, he didn't have to. That also allowed Pitt to run some more time of the clock and forced NC to burn two timeouts:
The drive stalled at the 30, forcing Wannstedt to make another tough decision with 1:56 remaining.

This time, he put his faith in Hutchins, who set a single-season school record with 22 field goals, including conversions from 31, 31 and 42 yards yesterday. Hutchins, whose career-high had been a 45-yarder, would be tested from 47.

But the Tar Heels flinched under pressure, and the offside penalty gave Pitt a first down at the UNC 25.

"We were trying to draw them offsides," Hutchins said, "but I had planned on kicking that ball."

Said North Carolina coach Butch Davis: "We shot ourselves in the foot, and that was my fault. I have to take responsibility for us losing composure."
All in all, a solid season for Pitt. Now it's time to take that next step.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Secondary Help

Pitt's secondary got some help for 2010 with the commitment from Penn Hills star Brandon Ifill.

Ifill is ready to come to Pitt and was a three-star Rivals recruit with reported interest from a dozen schools including Michigan, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue among others.

He was Penn Hills' leading receiver, but is expected to play cornerback at Pitt.

What Layoff?

You hate to use the expression, but Pitt looked like a whole different team tonight in the 25-point win over Ohio. Now, I didn't say they were perfect. The turnover issue was as bad as it's ever been (21). But Pitt shot much better from the field (55%), rebounded fairly well (+14), and played pretty good defense, holding Ohio to an abysmal 23.9% from the field with only six assists. They even connected on 75% of their FTs.

Ohio wasn't supposed to be this much of a pushover, coming in with a respectable 7-3 record and with five guys scoring in double figures (and a sixth at 9.9). Their record was good for first-place in the MAC. Pitt was favored coming in, but only 11.

Ashton Gibbs again led the team in scoring, but was hardly the story - that would be the strong play of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown.

I'd hate to try to attribute all of that to Gilbert Brown coming back, because that would be silly. Right? Truth be told, the offense flowed much better with him back and Dixon finally looked comfortable out there, scoring 14 points, and adding six rebounds and six assists. Gil didn't miss a shot and ended up with 11 points in just 18 minutes. Apparently, the talk about him being in shape wasn't just smoke. Coming into the game after Pitt built up a lead probably helped to ease the transition and he really seemed as if he hadn't missed a beat. Looking solely at this game, I could even see him starting in the Big East opener vs. Depaul.

The questions remain about where Gil will fit in, but at this point, it's pretty clear Pitt just needs to keep him on the court. His versatility is a huge plus and should make it easy for him to get 25-30 minutes a game.

I'm not ready to declare that Pitt is back or even guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament. But if you watched this game, you could see a markedly better team.

Yep, things are looking up.

And in the Bonus Section mold, Ray Fittipaldo of the PG holds his weekly chat and discusses Pitt's postseason outlook, the team's go to shooter at the end of games, and the chances of Isaiah Epps starting next season.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Retooled Panthers?

There was a bit of a 'rebirth' of the Panthers this week from the local articles that came out leading up to Pitt's 66-48 win today vs. Mount St. Mary's.

Practice seemed to be ratcheted up a notch:
The practices were harder and longer than usual. One player described the past three days as a "boot camp."

Another player said he wished Dixon would have done it sooner.

"The week was tough," junior guard Brad Wanamaker. "I felt as though it was something we needed. It helped us mature. It will help us make better decisions. Every little thing we did coach was on us in practice. Coach was constantly on us to see the fight in us. Maybe it was something he should have done constantly throughout all of the practices. We would be a better team now. But it was good for us."
And the Panthers are still figuring out their starting lineup more than 1/3 of the way into the regular season:
Dixon is in the unique situation of adding two important players in the middle of the season after playing the first six weeks with an inexperienced and undermanned lineup.

Jermaine Dixon, Pitt's only returning starter from last season, played Dec. 8 after missing the first eight games with a foot injury. Dixon played 12 minutes against Indiana and played 14 minutes last week against Kent State. He had his best week of practice this week and his coach was hoping he would have an increased role today against Mount Saint Mary's.

Tomorrow afternoon, Jamie Dixon will add his most experienced player to the mix when redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown returns to the team after serving an academic suspension for the first semester.
Onto the game today:

Mount St. Mary's tried to make a few runs and got to within 5 and 7 points in the second half, but Pitt eventually pulled away:
Trailing by 12 at the half, the Mount opened the second half with a 10-to-3 run to cut the deficit to 33-28 with 16:44 remaining. Beidler scored four points in the run while Goode capped it with a jumper.

Pitt (9-2) responded with a traditional three-point play from Ashton Gibbs for an eight-point lead. Goode countered with a pair of free throws, but Pitt scored consecutive baskets to stretch the lead to 10.

The Mount (3-7), which has lost five straight games, was trailing 42-35 with 12:41 remaining before the Panthers went on a 13-to-3 spurt for a 55-38 lead. The Mountaineers made a final surge, cutting Pitt's lead to 57-46 with 4:52 left, but could get no closer.
Jermaine Dixon started and did see an increase in minutes today, despite foul trouble. He still struggled to find his way offensively (4 points), but his defense will be needed in the Big East season.

The turnover battle has not been won, but was slightly better today.

And in what is becoming a recurring theme, it was again the Ashton Gibbs / Brad Wanamaker show as they combined for 39 of the 66 points and were Pitt's only two players in double figures. Wanamaker's 20 was a career high.

One of the two have led the Panthers in scoring every game except for one this year. That's not so bad as every team relies on certain players to a degree. But what's mildly disturbing is the growing trend of the team's ability to score outside of those two players, especially of late. In 6 of the past 7 games, Gibbs and Wanamaker have led the team in scoring. There are going to be off nights for both of them during the season especially because they rely to a good degree on outside shooting. Other players have shown flashes of stepping up a little offensively, but none has proved to be a truly steady influence offensively. Brown and Dixon should be able to help, but it take several more games before they're ready to do that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Ten Basketball Ramifications

Yesterday, I discussed my reasoning for Pitt to NOT join the Big Ten. My rambling focused mostly on the football side of things, so I'd like to weigh in on the basketball side.

Basketball coach Jamie Dixon let his thoughts be known:
"I can't see how any team would improve where they're at by movement," Dixon said.

"To me, every situation you have to look at why you're doing it — to improve yourself — and I can't see how moving from the best conference in college basketball history would be a good thing for anybody.
Of course Dixon didn't get it ALL right:
"I know football and all the other sports factor in, as well, but that has to be of utmost consideration. We've got bowl tie-ins greater than any other conference, as far as percentages. What do we have to change for, any team in our conference? This thing just keeps getting better.
Seriously, did you have to say THAT? Percentages maybe, but the league bowl tie-ins are 'ghastly' as Simon Cowell would put it. The Big Ten bowl lineup would be one of the better things to happen to Pitt if they joined the conference.

Anyway. Dixon had more than just a passing comment about it, too.

Basketball is another reason why I think Pitt should stay put. On top of the reasons I outlined yesterday, Dixon got part of it right. Pitt is in the best basketball league in college basketball. And no, this isn't a contradiction over what I said yesterday. It doesn't matter that Pitt is in a tough basketball conference because there's actually a playoff system in college basketball. Losing one or even a handful of games doesn't throw you out of the championship picture as it can in football. It is to their benefit to be in the Big East for basketball for recruiting, image, etc. Yes, you can say the same about football, but as I pointed out, Pitt would have a much harder time trying to compete for a championship in the Big Ten for football.

Another thing - I've seen/heard a lot of comments saying that Pitt has to go to the Big Ten because if they don't, Rutgers or Syracuse will. I'm sorry, but when exactly did Rutgers or Syracuse football ever become a national football power? Losing Rutgers or Syracuse would be a loss as they're in a major market, but really, how would that significantly affect the Big East? The conference would still have one or the other along with St. John's and Seton Hall basketball in that market. Yes, losing Syracuse basketball would be a significant loss from a competitive standpoint, but with UCONN, Pitt, Georgetown, Louisville, Nova, and others, the Big East would still be considered as one of the best, if not the best, basketball conference in the country.

Losing either of those two schools won't threaten the Big East's automatic BCS birth the way the ACC defections nearly did. Pitt will replace one of those teams with a school that might not fit quite as well, but will be adequate.

Let me be clear about one thing, however. If Pitt is invited to the Big Ten, I think they WILL go. Money speaks louder than even competing for championships and there would certainly be more money for Pitt in the Big Ten. All I'm saying is that from a COMPETITIVE standpoint, Pitt would be making a mistake in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Ten Expansion? I'll Pass.

So the Big Ten expansion issue has come up yet again, with Joe Pa leading the charge. Part of their reasoning is that it seems the league wants to remain in the public eye over the last few weeks of the season and be able to reap the profits from a championship game.

If all you're looking for as a league is increased revenue, then sure, I get this. And if you're in a smaller, non-BCS conference that needs another quality win to have more of a chance of being taken seriously, I got it. But why on earth would you want to have to beat a potential top ten team twice in a season? The only thing you'd accomplish as a league is make it that much harder to go undefeated and place a team in the national championship game.

But anyway, let's take a look from the standpoint of a team like Pitt to join the Big Ten.

This would be a mistake on every level in my opinion.

Pitt right now is in a pretty good spot. They're in a BCS conference, but one that is winnable. The schedule isn't so difficult that an undefeated season is out of the realm of possibility for even a non-elite team, as Cincinnati proved this year. And in most years, an undefeated Big East team could play for the title. This year that wasn't the case, but look around. An undefeated Big Ten team likely wouldn't have gotten the nod over Texas or Alabama, either. As short as two years ago, havoc was so badly wreaked that a one-loss team from the Big East, West Virginia, was a game away at the end of the season from playing for a National Championship. And it's not like their schedule was stacked, either. Prior to their bowl game against Oklahoma, West Virginia played exactly ONE team that finished the season in the top 25.

And by the way, let's talk about conference perceptions. WVU would have played for the title OVER the best that the Big 12 had to offer including a one-loss Kansas team, and two-loss Missouri and Oklahoma teams. Make no mistake, had WVU beaten Pitt, they, as a one-loss Big East team would have gotten the nod over a one-loss Big 12 team in KU or two-loss Oklahoma and Missouri teams. It's not always who you lose to, but WHEN you lose. And WVU proved that if you lose early enough, even a one-loss Big East team can make a national championship game.

Undefeated in a BCS conference is usually enough to get to a National Championship game. It's not like the Big East isn't capable of sending a team to the final game. Cincinnati was literally one second in the Texas game away from playing Alabama for the title. That's twice in the past three years that a Big East team has come tantalizingly close to playing for the national championship.

Yes, the league doesn't have the prestige of the Big Ten. But when you can play for championships, who really cares? Do you honestly think that Pitt wouldn't take a shot at a national championship over the 'glory of playing the ol' Maize and Blue?' Please. The Big Ten isn't that much stronger from top to bottom than the Big East is, if at all. But if Michigan ever gets back to being, well, Michigan, that league is considerably stronger and has potentially three top ten teams in it. Why would you, as Pitt, want to go through that labyrinth when you can be in the hunt for a league championship and BCS game every year in the Big East?

If you're talking about money and image, then sure, make the move. But if you're talking about a better shot at someday competing for a national championship, right now, the Big East provides that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Restocking The Line

Pitt added another offensive lineman recruit this week - Shane Johnson of DeMatha High School in Maryland. Johnson's experience is at guard, but he could play tackle at Pitt according to his coach:
Johnson played mostly at guard during the past three years. However, DeMatha coach Bill McGregor, a Pittsburgh native, said Monday that Johnson is among the most versatile offensive linemen he's had during his 28-year career at DeMatha.

"He can play multiple positions, and I'm sure he'll be big enough to play tackle at Pitt," McGregor said. "He's definitely excited about the challenge and having an opportunity to play for Coach Wannstedt.
Johnson is a 3-star recruit on and is rated the #45 Offensive Lineman (Need to be an insider to view) in the country. He's also a 3-star recruit according to

He chose Pitt over a bunch of schools including Wake Forest, UCONN, NC State, Virginia, and Boston College among others.

The Awards Keep Comin'

Dion Lewis and Dorin Dickerson added more accolades to their seasons as both were named AP All-Americans:
Pitt freshman running back Dion Lewis was named a second-team All-American Tuesday by the Associated Press.

Lewis, who ran for 1,641 yards and a team-high 16 touchdowns, was joined by teammate Dorin Dickerson, who was named as the third team tight end. Lewis was the only true freshman player named as an AP All-American.
I haven't done too much looking back after that nightmare of a Big East Championship game, but with these awards it's hard not to.

Dion Lewis was arguably the top freshman in all of college football, as evidenced not only by this honor, but the growing list of accolades he's received:
Freshman tailback Dion Lewis’ status as the top newcomer in college football continues to be solidified with his growing list of honors. Lewis (Albany, N.Y./Blair Academy [N.J.]) was the only true freshman named to The Associated Press All-America Team announced today. He was a second-team All-America selection by the AP as well as by Sporting News,,, and

Lewis has also been named the National Freshman of the Year by and the Offensive Freshman of the Year by
I don't think there's any way he doesn't end up being a Heisman favorite heading into next year. He finished this year third in rushing (1,640 yards), 2nd in attempts (297), and 10th in TDs (16). Mix in the fact that Pitt will be going with a new quarterback and they could rely on the running game even more than this year. There aren't any words to adequately describe his dominant year - and I'm sick of trying to string some together.

Dickerson, meanwhile, was only one of the top tight ends in all of college football, with over 500 yards receiving and 2nd in TDs with 10. His year should help him land a job in an NFL training camp next year.

Congrats to both.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Weekly Basketball Polls

The Pitt men's team obviously lost votes this week after the loss to Indiana. The team fell from 44th to 53rd in the AP poll and again did not receive any votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

The women's team also dropped from 15th to 21st in the AP poll after their road loss to Penn State. ESPN/USA Today poll results aren't out at the time of this post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dickerson Loses, Then Wins

Tight End Dorin Dickerson missed out on the Mackey Award as it went to Florida's Aaron Hernandez. Kind of difficult to argue despite the fact that Dickerson had six more TDs. Hernandez had 14 more catches and 200+ more yards.

I've also got to say I was a little surprised not to see Dickerson on Todd McShay's top five NFL prospects for TE, unless he's projecting him at another position or something (which I would find it hard to believe). NFL coaches have got to be excited about an athlete like Dickerson who really had one full year of playing TE after getting his feet wet last year, and almost being named named as the best in the nation. He's big, fast, and an athletic freak.

Even though he missed out on the Mackey Award, he rebounded to win All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America. He was the first Pitt Tight End to win the award since Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

The story's been overdone like a cheap steak at a buffet, but Dickerson's comeback after being grossly mishandled has been nothing short of remarkable. The fact that he wasn't even considered the best Tight End on his own team and that he wasn't even named to the Mackey Award watch list at the beginning of the season makes this year all the more improbable.

Like Day And Night

That was the way I would describe Pitt's 12-point win over Kent State Vs. the Indiana game.

Pitt didn't do everything right, as evidenced by the 19 turnovers, but Brad Wanamaker's strong game as well as nice bounceback games by Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson led Pitt to an expected win.

The turnovers issue may not ever get fixed this year and the frustrating thing is that it isn't just one guy. I get on Woodall a lot, but when you consider he's a freshman playing point guard, he actually isn't the worst offender. He has 27, but Wanamaker has 29, Robinson has 25, and McGhee has 18. For as much as he handles the ball, he's probably doing a better job than those three. I think eventually they'll do a better job of cleaning up the sloppy turnovers, but by then, the competition will be a lot more difficult.

Back to Wanamaker - his confidence is clearly up and I wasn't sure how he'd do confidence-wise having to essentially lead the team with Ashton Gibbs due to the absence of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. But his play has been strong and he doesn't hesitate to take the open shot, something desperately needed on this team.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Free To A Good Home

Pitt is making the wise move of offering free tickets to students willing to travel to the Meineke Car Care bowl game. A nice gesture, but I'd be surprised if more than a couple hundred took advantage of it. It's just a bad time of year.

Also, the Fighting Wannstaches have brought up something I haven't heard about this year. If I'm not mistaken, Pitt urged people to buy tickets to the Sun Bowl, even if they couldn't go. The tickets were then donated to people in the area who could make it. I haven't seen anything like that this year, but Pitt really should be encouraging it.

Taking That Next Step

I was a little surprised at the beginning of the season to not see Dante Taylor starting. While it's true that it is difficult for most freshmen to step in and contribute, All-Americans are expected to make that transition better than others. After the first few games, it became evident why exactly he wasn't starting - he wasn't ready.

But a small nugget buried in a story about guys playing out of position seemed to hint that at some point this season, Taylor will probably assume the starting center spot:
Taylor has outplayed starting center Gary McGhee the past two games, and Dixon hinted there could be some lineup changes. "I don't anticipate us having the same lineup the entire season," Dixon said. "There could be some changes. Gary was playing well. He didn't play as well last game. Dante played better the last game. That was evident. I think between the two of them we've gotten good production."
McGhee has shown vast improvement over last year, but I think he may be maxing himself out.

Pitt is going to go through growing pains, but I'd start Taylor at this point. My lineup probably would be:

Gary McGhee - C
Dante Taylor - PF
Nasir Robinson - SF (Gilbert Brown when he gets back)
Ashton Gibbs - SG
Travon Woodall - PG

Dixon seems adamant about keeping Taylor at center for some reason, even in spite of Taylor openly saying he's more comfortable there:
One thing is certain. Dixon said there are no plans to move Taylor to power forward, where undersized sophomore Nasir Robinson is struggling. Dixon said power forward is the most difficult position to learn in Pitt's system and he doesn't want to burden Taylor with learning two spots. Taylor, however, would welcome the switch.

"If he asked me, I would love to go play power forward," Taylor said. "That's where I'm comfortable at. But right now I'm focusing on being the center and rebounding."
I understand people would be up in arms about Jermaine Dixon not starting, but this lineup would have several benefits:

1. Pitt would have some more size with both MGhee and Taylor playing at the same time. Dwight Miller is capable of playing backup center and you could also move Taylor there periodically and go with Robinson, Lamar Patterson, or Miller at PF. I know Dixon has said he doesn't want to have Taylor learning two positions, but this would only be in emergency scenarios (i.e. if both McGhee and Miller are in foul trouble).

2. Taylor, Robinson, and Brown would all be able to play their natural positions.

3. You could keep Gibbs at SG rather than move him to PG, which I think has been discussed when Brown comes back.

Yes, Dixon would have to back up Gibbs at SG, but Gibbs has shown enough in my opinion for him to keep his starting spot. If they move him to PG, his scoring will in all likelihood take a hit.

You might ask where Wanamaker would fit in. I'd see him as a utility player that could be rotated at SG, SF, or even limited time at PG now that he seems much more comfortable with the ball.

Woodall hasn't done enough to really warrant keeping the starting PG job as of late, but Pitt has few options there with Chase Adams struggling as well.

I think you'd see a much more comfortable Pitt team with this lineup.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting the U in Ugly

Man did Pitt look ugly tonight. Sure the 74-64loss looked respectable in the end, but this was a team Pitt was capable of beating and if you watched the game, you know it really wasn't that close. Once again, it was the Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker show while everyone else basically stood around, took bad shots, and did their best impersonations of Division II players. Add up the percentages, boys and girls, and Gibbs/Wanamaker have combined for 77% (YES 77%) of the team's offense the past two games. Unfortunately I'm not making that one up. They've really been the only two consistent players Pitt has had so far this season and Pitt will not win many games unless a couple more scorers deide to step it up.

I can live with the growing pains and lack of talent, but this team looks unbelievably careless with the ball. Much of the time, I get the feeling I'm watching a pickup game up at Trees Hall between two fraternity teams filled with guys whose claim to fame was scoring 8 points in a high school game or something. There doesn't seem to be any real rhythm or flow to the offense, which practically consists of Wanamaker occasionally driving to the hoop or the other team mistakenly leaving Gibbs open for a shot. And how many times can you let someone cut to the basket uncovered? I had no idea Pete Carill was coaching Indiana now. Getting outhustled down the court, missed layups...the problems were all over the place. And the bad news is that they don't look easily fixable. Yes, Pitt will get better. Yes, the mistakes will slowly recede. But this team won't get fixed overnight and by the time they get some things figured out, they'll be in the thick of the Big East schedule.

Back to Gibbs, though. One bright spot I noticed tonight was that he was also hitting some shots when guys were on him. He's taking it upon himself to not only just take the open shot and if he can continue to score with a defender in his face, he could be a real weapon. I still think he's much more talented than Ronald Ramon, who he draws comparisons to because of his ability to shoot outside.

And while I'm on bright spots, Dante Taylor is putting up better numbers - slowly. He still looks incredibly stiff at times for someone who is a McDonald's All-American, but he's turning into a pretty good rebounder (11 tonight). Now if only the offense would come...patience.

Okay, enough glowing reviews. Back to reality.

Indiana didn't look all that great, either, shooting 45% from the field, but only 14% from three-point land. But it was still enough to trump Pitt's miserable 31% FG percentage.

This team looks to be much worse than I thought. I dismissed the Duquesne game as a semi-rivalry game against an opponent who had more to gain than Pitt did. I then dismissed the New Hampshire first half as, well, just a half of basketball. I dismissed the Wofford game as nerves and when Wofford beat Georgia shortly thereafter, even tried to convince myself that maybe Wofford wasn't all that bad.

But there should be no doubt after this one. If one game is a good barometer (which it's really not), then this should show that Pitt making the tournament is going to be a much rougher journey than originally thought. As the examples above show, this is not the first time Pitt has struggled mightily. So this game was no anomaly to be sure.

The sloppy play continued - only it looks much worse now. I'm really at a loss for words. I know all the talk about Pitt lacking talent has been out there the past few days, and I agree with it. I'm just not used to seeing Pitt struggle like this - playing sloppy, making unbelievably foolish plays, turning the ball over, taking bad shots, etc. Spoiled, aren't I? I wish I had one of those shot charts that showed made/missed baskets all around the court because it seemed like Pitt had somewhere in the neighborhood of 167 layups and made, say, 9 of them. Many of them were of the variety where a player would streak to the basket, wildly out of control, and throw something up to see if they could get fouled.

The turnover issue doesn't look to be going away with Pitt piling on another 15 tonight. I expected them from Woodall, but not the entire team. And Chase Adams. Man, does he look lost out there. It can't just be the competition level, which is sure to increase from his days at Centenary, because Pitt has only played one really good team so far. He's hesitant, weak offensively, and hasn't even been all that great defensively, which it seemed was his calling card.

Upon his return, Jermaine Dixon was also extremely rusty, but that was to be expected. And I've learned a valuable lesson tonight. Gary McGhee, while I never expected he could turn into an Aaron Gray type player, is going to be maddeningly frustrating during his final two seasons. The bright glimmers of hope he dispenses are squashed before you can enjoy them with games like tonight's. It's nights like these that I would be more than happy to settle for an average performance.

Yep, gonna be an uphill battle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Down Years

In what might be billed as a big game in other years, the Pitt / Indiana basketball game tomorrow in the Jimmy V Classic features two unranked teams. At least Pitt has been playing well and has a 7-1 record to show for it. Indiana is 3-4 and is likely to have another tough season.

Somehow, I don't think this is what the tournament organizers had in mind as the feature game of a doubleheader.

On the Indiana side of things, Hoosier Tom Pritchard talks about his trip to the big city. Inside the Hall also has a good preview of the game along with a link to a Tom Crean pre-game interview.

Indiana, like Pitt, is a young team. They only have two upperclassmen playing regular minutes and their two top scorers are freshmen. After that, the similarities start to end:

- Pitt is 7-1 with some solid wins over Wichita State and Duquesne and their only loss was to #2 Texas. Indiana is 3-4 with four losses to unranked teams and their best win is against 3-3 Northwestern State.

- Pitt's RPI is 20th. Indiana's is 276th.

- To my knowledge, none of Indiana's players have played in a college game at MSG, which is like a second home to Pitt.

- Last year, Pitt went to the Elite Eight while Indiana suffered a 6-24 season.

- This year, Pitt is a potential tournament team while Indiana will probably struggle to reach the NIT.

- Pitt ranks 8th in scoring defense. Indiana is 237th.

- Pitt's rebounding margin is 7.8 per game. Indiana's is -.1

I know Tom Crean has Indiana in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, and another subpar season isn't likely to get him canned. But what about another DISASTROUS season? And I hadn't heard of this minor violation, which likely wasn't the best thing after the Kelvin Sampson train wreck. I wonder how many people Crean has won over so far and can't help but enjoy this misery for a while as he's always been one of the most annoying coaches in the Big East. At least Jim Calhoun's won something.

Personally, I think Indiana should undoubtedly be at least a little better than last year and I can't see Crean being let go after only two seasons - especially after the mess he was given.

All in all, this is a game Pitt SHOULD win, but with a young team, anything is possible. And the Hoosiers found a way to hang with a solid Maryland team in their last game even after shooting under 33% from the field.

Little Progress in the Polls

Pitt basketball's march into top 25 of the rankings could be a slow one. Pitt moved up only one spot in the AP poll into the #24 slot. And despite winning its only two games last week (Duquesne and New Hampshire), the team somehow didn't receive a single vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll. That might not be so astonishing if for the fact that they had eight points last week in that poll, good for #41. The only thing I can figure is that voters perhaps saw they struggled against Duquesne and had severe scoring issues in the first half of the New Hampshire game. Still, a little odd...even this early in the season.

If Pitt can get past a mediocre Indiana team tomorrow, they will have a shot at getting to 11-1 before they head into conference play. But that may still be a chore based on how far down they've started.

For bubble teams like Pitt, I'm fairly convinced that being ranked is a big deal to those deciding who gets into the big dance. The more national exposure and coverage, the better. This Pitt team may have a hard time getting in this year, and to me, that has to be the goal.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Will Anyone Go?

If a bowl game is played, but no one's there to watch it, does it really count?

Seriously, though. With the announcement that Pitt will be headed to Charlotte to play the Tarheels for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, does anyone really care? As bad as it sounds, it could get worse.

You see, playing against North Carolina will basically be a road game. Not to mention that with wins at Virginia Tech and against Miami, they're not bad, either. This is a game Pitt can win, but getting to ten wins will be no guarantee. Throw in the fact that Pitt is surely disappointed after dropping their final two games, and you wonder if they'll be ready to play.

According to Paul Zeise of the PG, apparently Pitt could have been beaten out by Rutgers for this bowl because they weren't sure the 12,000 allotment of tickets could be sold. It also sounded like Pitt might have been more interested in going to Birmingham to play South Carolina. Let's see:

Meineke Car Care Bowl - Cold weather, solid away game, vs. a non-interesting team, and the day after Christmas.

Versus Bowl - Warm weather, neutral field, vs. a Steve Spurrier-led SEC team, the day after New Years.

Hmmm....I'll take option B.

Either way Pitt will have a hard time convincing people to drop plans to spend Christmas with family to head to a cold-weather town with not much happening. Sure it's within driving distance for many, unlike Birmingham. But Pitt probably won't get a strong showing for this one.

If you don't mind traveling over Christmas, here's more info. Week 14 Blog Poll

1 Alabama 1
2 Texas 1
3 TCU 1
4 Cincinnati 2
5 Boise State
6 Florida 5
7 Oregon
8 Ohio State
9 Georgia Tech 1
10 Iowa 1
11 Penn State 1
12 Brigham Young 1
13 Virginia Tech 1
14 Miami (Florida) 1
15 LSU 2
16 West Virginia 3
17 Pittsburgh 6
18 Oregon State 2
19 Utah 5
20 Houston 4
21 Oklahoma State 1
22 Arizona
23 Central Michigan 2
24 Nebraska 1
25 Wisconsin
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Southern Cal (#18), California (#21).

A Hollow End

There will be no media recap on this one. No further posts solely about this game in the future. But I started this blog as a place to vent, so that's what I'll do.

I'm not sure how it came off on TV, but at the stadium, there were a lot of bad calls by the referees. Period. It seemed like it was the 2007 West Virginia game all over again where the Big East had a hidden agenda. Poor pass interference calls. A blatant chop block that went for a no call on a Cincinnati run. The unbelievable facemask no-call in the fourth quarter when Pitt was driving. You can go on and on and on. I'm normally on the side of referees when it comes to giving them the benefit of the doubt. They can't get every play right and you can call holding on every play. But the facemask thing was a disgrace. I was way up in the 500 section and everyone yelled facemask as soon as it happened. Why did they do that? Because Dion Lewis' head was spun around, halfway round his back so far that I thought it might be broken. The replay showed that. One ref even threw a flag as soon as he saw it, but after a brief "discussion", picked the flag up. I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. If you miss the call, you miss the call. But to MAKE the call and then reverse it, I'm not sure how that happens. If the Big East really cares about fair competition (like that dopey commercial says it does), there needs to be a review by the Big East and heads need to roll. Period. There's no excuse for some of those calls yesterday.


Referees don't kick extra points. They don't play defense allowing a team to go down the field in one minute. They don't play in the secondary allowing Mardy Gilyard to not only be open, but be open by 5-8 yards every time. Let me be perfectly clear - just because the referees in this game blew more calls than some probably do in their entire careers don't mean that they cost Pitt this game. Yes, they put Pitt in a bad spot. But at the end of the day, you've got to make an extra point. If you can't convert an extra point in that situation, quite honestly, you don't deserve to be a conference champion.

I'm not going to rehash every play, but the blame has to go to two parts of the team on this one.

1. The Defense - The offense scored 45 points and that should always be enough to win a game in Division I football. Yes, some of those points were the beneficiary of good field position due to a blocked kick and interceptions, but you cannot allow even a David Klingler-led Houston team to score 45 points. The defense got complacent, it seemed with a 21-point lead. We all thought the NC State game would provide some sort of warning about playing with a late lead. Apparently, it didn't. Even playing poorly in the 2nd half, they had one final time to make good. One stop and no one is talking about an extra point. One stop and no one is talking about how Cincy was able to get back into the game. One stop and my Caribbean vacation is being turned into an all week party in New Orleans or Florida...

And by the way, the secondary is in need of a lot of help. On TV, I'm sure it wasn't visible, but the secondary on SEVERAL occasions was CLEARLY out of position. Guys had their hands up on several plays practically showing they had no idea where they were supposed to be, guys changed positions late to cover receivers, all kinds of things. And Tony Pike took advantage. You could see his head look over to guys when they were clearly confused and he'd throw to that wideout nearly every time. Cincinnati did a good job of moving their receivers around and Pitt had no idea where to be. It was a joke...only not a funny one.

2. Special Teams - How, how, how, how, how, how, HOW do you kick to Mardy Gilyard? Ever? Haven't we seen enough highlight film? Especially after being burned by him for a TD once. And then the sky kick or whatever it was that Dave Wannstedt mentioned in the press conference that came down around the 40 yard line? Unbelievable. Squib kick, squib kick, squib kick. And I'm not even going to mention the extra point again.

It's also clear that Pitt needs a special teams coach other than Wannstedt, who I think still has the responsibilities. Please, please, please Pitt - shell out the money and get someone to focus only on kicking and covering kicks. It's 1/3 of the game and shouldn't be treated as if it doesn't warrant its own coach.

One final point I want to make. I don't think firing Wannstedt is the answer, much to the dismay of many in my section and probably many throughout Pitt Nation.

I caution to say this because I loathe when fans use this excuse for recruiting local players - he's a Pitt guy. Pitt needs someone who won't use this job as a steppingstone. Who knows the area and knows how to work it. He is one of the best fits for a program in all of college football, made a great hire in Frank Cignetti, is an unbelievable recruiter, and even more important when evaluating a coach, hasn't done enough in my opinion to lose his job.

Now, I'm going to do something even I don't want to do. And that's to point out the good news. For the most part, Wannstedt's led Pitt to two pretty good seasons. They've now had two, and this is the key word, CONSECUTIVE seasons winning nine games (which hasn't happened since 1981-1982) and this year, they'll have a good look at getting to 10 (which could give them a top 15 ranking to end the season - something that's also not happened since 1982). They're not yet in the upper eschelon of teams, but nationally, they're getting more respect. And with Jonathan Baldwin and Dion Lewis coming back, the team has a good chance to come into next season with a top 15 ranking. I know it's tough to look at this after a painful loss, but that's progress. Just as I say when voting in the blog polls, a loss late in the season counts the same as a loss in the beginning. Of course it's more painful and the late games are more important, but Pitt still finished with only three losses. Pitt's had two big losses now and even though both were winnable games, they weren't to bad teams. This game has denied them of taking that next step, but they're closer.

And even more important than the number of wins is that Pitt is clearly better on the field (well, other than those pesky secondary and special teams problems). You can visibly see a pretty good team - a better team than the Walt Harris years. A better team that the blue and white smurfs in central PA. This team can play with nearly anybody in the country and it's been a long time since you could reasonably say that. I think Wannstedt's on the right track and I'd caution anyone that wants to bring someone else in to take a look at Michigan, Notre Dame, or other places that hired big names that weren't successful.

In the best of times, in the worst of times - Hail to Pitt.

Friday, December 4, 2009

So We Were Tired...What's Your Excuse?

Pitt, fresh off of a double overtime game only two nights ago, struggled to beat New Hampshire 47-32 tonight. It wasn't too much of a struggle, I guess since Pitt never really looked in doubt of losing the game. But when you only score 47 points, it's a struggle.

Jamie Dixon didn't want to play the fatigue card:
"But I don't think we were tired. I thought we had a lot of energy at the start," Dixon said. "And I don't know of many teams have played eight games already."
I'm going to go WAY in the other direction and say it had to have an effect. Not only was the Duquesne game a double-overtime one, it was intense right from the start. I have a hard time believing the players weren't at least a little tired. After all, even the official story on the Panthers' own website alluded to it:
The tired Panthers (7-1), playing two nights after a two-overtime victory over city rival Duquesne, led only 15-7 at halftime.
I was able to watch the game on CBS Sportsline All Access and it wasn't pretty. If you have the paid subscription, but didn't get to watch the game live. Stay away. Far away.

There are so many statistical anomalies from this game:

- The halftime score was 15-7. Seriously.

- Pitt had two, yes TWO players (Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker) who made field goals in the entire game until Dante Taylor scored a layup late. That's not in one half, that's the entire game boys and girls.

- Both of those players had career highs (Gibbs with 23 / Wanamaker with 19).

- Both of those players also accounted for 42 of Pitt's 47 points

- New Hampshire shot an abysmal 23.5% from the field. Pitt was just as bad in the first half, but rebounded to get up to 40%.

- After holding Duquesne's guards to a terrible shooting night, Pitt held New Hamshire's guards to 3-27 shooting. Is that even legal?

- Despite the terrible shooting, Pitt actually hit their free throws making 10 of 13.

- The 22 first-half combined points were the fewest ever in the shot clock era.

But my favorite might be this one:
New Hampshire was 3 for 25 with as many air-balls (three) as field goals.
You can't make this stuff up. No one would believe it.

Also, I have to comment on Dante Taylor. His offensive game is going to take a while to develop. He doesn't have anything even slightly resembling a go-to move, isn't strong enough to overpower people in the paint, and looks to have extremely limited range. That said, he rebounds pretty well. He averages about 6 in only about 16 minutes of action each night. True, the competition hasn't been the greatest so far, but playing even a few more minutes, I could see him getting up to 10 a game next year.

Pitt is now at 7-1 and where they need to be going into the Indiana game at MSG. Indiana was downright horrible last year, winning only six games. This year, they're off to a 3-4 start and should be marginally better, but this is still a game Pitt needs to win. Indiana's three wins haven't come against any good teams and their losses include Mississippi, George Mason, Boston, and Maryland. They don't have much of an inside presence and quite simply, this is a game Pitt must have.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gearing Up for the Big Game

Since it's Thursday, the game is getting harder to ignore. I've been trying not to think about it too much, but less than two days away, that's nearly impossible. It seems like the Big East knew what they were doing scheduling this as the last game of the year.

And at least the game finally sold out. A little surprised that standing room only tickets are only being offered to students, but maybe Pitt didn't want those tickets ending up in the hands of Cincinnati fans.

Second consecutive sellout? I wonder when that happened last. Eh, it probably wasn't that long ago, just seems like something that doesn't happen too often.

Much of the talk this week is focusing on Tony Pike and how to stop him. Even with a great defense, I don't expect to fully stop Tony Pike. Pitt is going to allow yardage, but the key will be stopping Cincinnati on 3rd downs and getting off the field.

Everywhere you look, the stories seem to focus on the Bearcats' offense. But Cincinnati isn't the only potent offense on the field. They realize that Pitt's offense is capable of putting up points as well.

I could really be wrong on this, but I'm not expecting the kind of offensive show many are predicting. I think both teams may come out a little stiff (at least in the beginning) just because there's so much at stake. I do expect both teams to come out and take some shots downfield early, though, trying to make an early statement. So if one of them can connect, it could be the beginning of a shootout.

And the fortunes of Pitt won't rest entirely on Dion Lewis, but he could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

Meanwhile, Dave Wannstedt has other concerns:
The Cincinnati offense has gotten most of the attention this season, but Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt seems just as concerned about the Bearcats' defense, which lost 10 players from a year ago. "I've been just as impressed with their defense, considering all the players they graduated off of a last year's defense," Wannstedt said. Cincinnati leads the Big East in tackles for loss.
I guess coaches can find all kinds of things to worry about, but really. 45 points to UCONN? 36 to Illinois? Their defense clearly isn't terrible, but the offense is much more frightening. You've got to figure that Pitt's offense will be out to play much better after the WVU debacle, making the job of Cincy's defense that much harder.

Some quick hitters:

Former Pitt QB Tyler Palko may be around his hometown team for a while.

Paul Zeise fields a variety of questions including possible bowl scenarios, an Aaron Berry update, and a game prediction.

Greg Romeus also joins Dorin Dickerson as a finalist for a national award.'s Big East blogger Brian Bennett also weighs in with a prediction.

Farewell to Foge

Pitt said goodbye to one of its former coaches in Foge Fazio on Wednesday after a battle with leukemia. Foge's greatest legacy may unfortunately be leading a potentially great 1982 team with nine NFL Draft picks to a disappointing 9-3 record.

He followed that up with another decent season, going 8-3, but it went all downhill after that. At least he was able to joke about his demise:
"Foge used to joke about (being fired)," Hillgrove said. "It didn't bother him. He'd say that he got three degrees from Pitt. He got his undergraduate degree. He got his graduate degree. And, when they fired him, they gave him the third degree. The guy had a great sense of humor."
But perhaps he should, and will, be remembered as a Pitt man through and through:
Fazio, who grew up in Coraopolis, Pa., in suburban Pittsburgh, was a former Pitt linebacker and center and was chosen as the team MVP in 1959. He was drafted by the AFL's Boston Patriots in 1960 but soon after moved into coaching. He spent nine seasons as a Pitt assistant, the final three as defensive coordinator, before being promoted to head coach in 1982, following three successive 11-1 seasons under Sherrill.
After several stints elsewhere, Foge stayed busy doing some consultant work and this year, he returned to join the Pitt radio broadcast for a brief time this year. Farewell, Foge.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Festive Atmosphere

I have to say I got this one more fronts than one.

The atmosphere for the game, while not as electric as the small-gym feel at the Palumbo was pretty good - even though the venue was probably only about 60% full. The fans on both sides were into it and it very much had the feel of a big game, which it really wasn't.

Onto game thoughts.

Pitt played horrific in the first half, but shook it off to win 67-58 in two overtimes. Scratch that. Beyond horrific in the first half. In this latest run of the past eight years Pitt has been on, this may be the worst they've played. Sure, the 2004-05 season which ended in a Bradley loss tried my patience. But I can't remember it being this bad. Sloppy turnovers, missed shots, not rebounding, wasn't even the worst of it. It was literally as if players from a Division III school (and not even a good one) inhabited their bodies and showed up in Pitt unis. Not helping out on D, leaving guys open and free to get into the paint seemingly at will, was. Pitt got down by 13 at the half and while I knew Pitt would make a run, I didn't think they would have enough to actually win the game.

The 2nd half was much better, but a few individual performances stuck out to me:

I've got to say I think I got it wrong on Ashton Gibbs. I believed him to be an upgraded Ronald Ramon, capable of not only jump shooting, but able to penetrate for closer-range shots and even drive to the basket on occasion. While he did that early in the year, he's been not much more than a spot shooter over the past few games. And what's worse is he's struggled in that role. Yes, he's only a sophomore. Yes, teams are not allowing him a lot of open looks. But he's got to be better. Period. The big shots in the 2nd overtime are a nice start. But 3-15 shooting won't cut it.

Travon Woodall was abysmal. Somewhere along the line, he thought he could actually hit the short running shot in the lane ala Levance Fields. Someone should tell him he's wrong. Bad shots, poor turnovers, and he never really looked all that comfortable. 33% on free throws for a guard? That's even worse than the poor Pitt free throw shooting we're used to seeing.

Gary McGhee, Brad Wannamaker, and Nasir Robinson are the glue holding this team together in the absence of Jermaine Dixon and Gil Brown. All three play with poise and while they (especially McGhee) still make mistakes, they all came ready to play tonight. Wannamaker didn't shoot well, but 10 rebounds? That's huge.

I continue to be amazed that Dwight Miller is trotted out there for a few minutes each game. I know he's already redshirted, but man does he look uncomfortable when he gets in. If anyone is a candidate to go after this season to make room for another recruit, it's got to be him.

And Chase Adams. I don't even know where to begin. He gets plenty of minutes and doesn't do much with them. Another poor shooting night and a few lazy passes. 3 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds doesn't cut it for 28 minutes of play. His minutes are in all likelihood going to seriously get slashed with the return of Dixon - assuming Travon can simply manage games as a PG and not throw them away with poor decisions.

Free throws, free throws, free throws. That may have been the biggest game-changer. Pitt shot a whopping 42 while Duquesne only got 14. Both teams shot poorly, right around 50%. You can't get that many free throws and miss that many. Here are a few gems - Woodall=2/6, Robinson=1/6, Taylor=4/8. Inexcusable, but then again, what else is new.

Lastly, Duquesne clearly got rattled when Pitt started their comeback. To lose the ball like the Dukes PG did with absolutely no pressure at the end of regulation was unbelievable. It seemed to spiral out of control after that. With no inside presence after Damian Saunders fouled out, they just couldn't get anything going. Bill Clark was a warrior and the only one who seemingly really wanted the ball. He even took one long range shot where you could just feel that he felt no one else was capable of making a shot at that point in the game. And as bad as Pitt's guard play might have been, Duquesne felt the need to outdo them. Their two starting guards, Eric Evans and Jason Duty shot an astounding 4-25. If you're scoring at home, that's under 20%. That included a 1-13 clip from three-point range. If Duquesne gets even a serviceable game from either, they win.

All in all, an exciting game and one definitely worth attending - traffic, mid-week game, and all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The City Game

Duquesne who played the first college game at Mellon Arena will also fittingly play the last.

A while back, I wrote that I wished the City Game was played at Duquesne's campus this year instead of Mellon Arena because it provided a great small gym atmosphere similar to the old Field House. While I still partially wish that were the case, it's much better for Pitt to be playing downtown this year. I would have serious concerns about their ability to win in front of a hyped up crowd in a dangerous game. Heck, I'm still concerned about their chances tomorrow night.

I was a little surprised when I saw that Pitt only holds a 20-14 advantage against Duquesne at Mellon Arena.

Anyone who remembers the last time the city game was played at Mellon Arena knows it didn't go all that well for the Panthers:
Coach Jamie Dixon vividly recalls the last time Pitt played a regular-season game at Mellon Arena.

The Panthers fell to crosstown rival Duquesne, 71-70, eight years ago on a last-second shot in perhaps the strangest ending in the 77-year history of the City Game.

"That was unique," said Dixon, who was an assistant under Ben Howland for the Dec. 21, 2000, game. "It was awhile ago, but I still remember it.

"I remember it clearly."

The game remains one of only three Pitt losses to Duquesne in the past 30 years, the others coming in 1988 at Palumbo Center and 1998 at Mellon Arena.
One thing Pitt isn't used to is dealing with turning the ball over. That's not a huge surprise since they're playing so many underclassmen and a redshirt freshman is running the point.

Oh, and that pesky rebounding problem may again rear its ugly head if Pitt can't contain Damian Saunders, who is the NCAA Division I rebounding leader with 15.5 per game. By the way, he can score, too, averaging nearly 17 a game.


I'm not convinced that he's the best player in town. But even if he's not, it looks like the new and improved Gary McGhee will have his hands full.

And speaking of McGhee, I don't think anyone will confuse him with Shaq, Kareem, or even Jack Sikma. But he's turned into a reliable center with good hands and those occasional alley-oops leave me a bit surprised when I see them. He can really be a serviceable player for Pitt and play a nice role while Dante Taylor is still learning and has looked uncomfortable at times.

The game will be on the CBS College Sports channel and tickets appear to remain.

Not going to the game and need some pre-game action? Check out the one-hour special that aired tonight and will also re-air on FSN tomorrow at 6pm before the game.

Ray Fittipaldo of the PG expects a close game and I'm there with him, though I expect Pitt has a little too much talent to lose a game like this. But I guess they were saying the same thing eight years ago...

A Ways to Go

Pitt men's basketball team has a ways to go to get in position for a top 25 run. After the loss to Texas last week, Pitt fell four spots to 41st overall in the ESPN USA/Today Poll. They stayed at 45th in the AP poll, losing no ground.

The 5-0 women's team moved up to 19th and 20th in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls respectively.