Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh, What A Difference A Workout Can Make

Dorin Dickerson is learning this fact after his monster workout at the combine.

He had all kinds of praise heaped upon him by a writer for the Jacksonville Jaguars after an apparent monster workout:
The most dramatic thing so far has been the performance of tight end Dorin Dickerson, who ran a blazing 4.4 on Saturday, which highlighted a workout that included an eye-popping 42-inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump, 24 reps on the bench and solid pass-catching. Dickerson immediately became one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. He’s a guy with the size of a smallish tight end, the speed of a wide receiver and the athletic ability of a cornerback. The crazy part is he didn’t find a position he could play in college until his senior season. He has literally gone from a forgotten player to a second-round prospect in the NFL draft. Dickerson is this year’s workout wonder.
Here's another look at Dickerson's workout, which apparently was quite the spectacle:
Dorin had the best time of all tight ends in the 40 yard dash (4.40), in the 225 pound bench press (24 reps), 1st by far in the vertical jump (43"), second in the broad jump (10'5"), and 3rd in the 3-Cone Drill (9.6 seconds) and the 20-Yard Shuttle (30 seconds). calls him the 'Toast of the Tight Ends.'

In listing him as someone who's stock is rising, says something most Pitt fans who watched Dickerson this year saw with their own eyes:
Yet Dickerson has established himself as a receiving threat that's too fast for linebackers to cover yet big enough to outmatch defensive backs.
So, who's interested in him? Looks like the Chiefs for one. Possibly the Cardinals (subscription needed). And according to this article, potentially nine teams. Here, Dickerson also compares himself to a few NFL pros:
He's flexible: Pittsburgh tight end Dorin Dickerson started his collegiate career as a linebacker, but he switched to tight end before the start of his junior year. And now he has a couple of NFL tight ends that he admires--San Francisco's Vernon Davis and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark.

"Smaller-type tight ends. That’s what I classify myself as, a smaller receiving-type tight end," said the 6-foot-1, 224-pound player.
Kind of cool to see him possibly rising up the draft boards after struggling to find a position. The fairly ironic part is that it's not even set in stone that he would play tight end in the NFL.

More Football Talk

I found the conversation blogger, Brian Bennett, had with Dave Wannstedt mildly interesting, but nothing much more than that. There was one quote about QB Tino Sunseri in particular causing some buzz:
"He's ready to play now," Wannstedt said. "It's his time. He understands the offense, and we've got a good feel for his abilities and what he can do."
You could take that a number of ways - you could say it's Tino's job and it was a slip of the tongue by Wannstedt because there's an open competition. The other way you could read it (the way I read it) is it means that Tino as a backup wasn't really ready to compete. He's ready to compete for the job now. I don't think it in any way meant that it was Tino's job or even Tino's job to lose in camp.

Glad that Wannstedt plans to have it wrapped up by the Spring as whoever will be the starter will need a large amount of reps with the first team in the Fall. That opener at Utah will be staring us down before you know it.

Bennett also wrapped up his top 30 Big East players of the year and Pitt ended with eight on the list, including three in the top five and the #1 overall player (Dion Lewis). Seems like there were plenty of blockheads ready and waiting to rip apart a top 30 list that concluded nearly two months after the final college game of the year.

Sticking with the draft theme, former Center Robb Houser gets a local story and discusses playing at the next level. A few draft sites (not that I've heard of any of these) offer some ratings: Evaluators believe Houser has a decent chance to find work in the league. For instance, rates him as the 12th-best prospect at center. On, he is No. 18 and a site called lists him as 16th.

Apparently Nate Byham didn't look so hot (subscription needed).

And it looks like old Pitt recruit Anthony Morelli isn't giving up on his dream of playing in the NFL:
Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli is back, looking for a second chance after getting cut by the Arizona Cardinals two years ago. Morelli, who will be 25 in June, insists he's not just older.

"I've gotten bigger, faster, stronger, I'm jumping better," he said. "I think the chances are pretty good, I just need to get in front of some people."

Morelli will do that next Friday in Indy when he holds a personal workout on the same day this year's big-name quarterbacks, receivers and running backs are measured and take tests during the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He seems willing to also play in a lower-tier league, if need be:
Since getting cut by the Cardinals two years ago, Morelli bided his time by working out on his own, coaching quarterbacks at Pittsburgh's Plum High School and helping his uncle with construction jobs.

All the while, Morelli maintained the dream of playing football. Morelli's wife finally persuaded him to move back to Indy, where he's been getting help from former NFL quarterback Jack Trudeau.

"I'm only 24 years old, and I've played against a lot of these guys in college. So when it comes to age, I feel like I haven't hit my peak yet," Morelli said. "I'm going to keep going until I exhaust all my opportunities, and if I have to go play in a lower-level league, I'm going to do that until everyone tells me to give it up."
And this one's a little off the board, but for iPhone junkies, a special Pitt app, is now available for purchase on iTunes. One is due out soon for Crackberry addicts, such as myself.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good Win

Good win - It was one they needed to have and one they should have had. As I mentioned in my Q&A with Pico over at East Coast Bias, Pitt has had struggles in the Garden against St. John's (1-2 in their past three games leading up to this one).

To start, our handy game flow chart shows a steady Pitt lead for most of the game. Pitt never got out to a huge lead and they never let St. John's get any closer than five in the second half. The box score shows why Pitt was unable to win by a huge margin. For the second time this year, St. John's outrebounded them. SJU also took care of the ball (only five turnovers to Pitt's eleven) and got to the free throw line more often (+7). So what was the difference? Shooting. Pitt converted over 50% of their shots while St. John's made less than 37%.

And it wasn't just shooting, it was getting EASY shots. 15 of Pitt's 24 made field goals (63%) were layups or dunks while St. John's had 52% of that variety.

I don't really know what to make of the rebounding issues Pitt has against St. John's. Nasir Robinson (8), Gary McGhee (8), and Ashton Gibbs (6) did the job, but no one else had more than two rebounds. And in losing the rebounding battle each time this year, Pitt ends the season at -15 in rebounding against St. John's. Keep in mind that this second game, a -5 effort, was after an emphasis was placed on rebounding and the supposed boot camp that players endured after the beating laid on them by Notre Dame earlier this week. That stuff is all fine and good, but for the most part, I subscribe to theory that when the game starts, most of that stuff is forgotten.

Nasir Robinson is a beast and really poses somewhat of a dilemna for Pitt. His rebounding and toughness is at times (like today), very much needed while the clamoring for Gilbert Brown to start is still there. What's the answer? Do you put Nasir at SF and move Brad Wanamaker or Jermaine Dixon to the bench? I don't really know. At this point in the season, it's probably not worth worrying about and the rotation should just stay as is. Despite my previous pleas to move Dante Taylor to the 4, it's too late in the season to move people around and that type of stuff should just go on hold until next year.

Travon Woodall was also forced into action in a big way due to foul trouble by Dixon and Ashton Gibbs. His 27 minutes were by far the most he'd seen in a Big East game this year, other than that triple-OT win against WVU. He did have three turnovers, but also six points and four assists for a mild game.

Next up is Providence at home on Thursday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

St. John's Q&A With East Coast Bias

Pico over at the East Coast Bias/St. John's blog checked back in with me for another Q&A session. His answers to my questions are below and you can visit his site to see my answers to his:

1. As I alluded to in one of my questions and also in our last Q&A, St. John's still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament. They'll likely need to win their next three (Pitt, at Syracuse, and at DePaul) along with at least two in the Big East tournament, but it's still a possibility - one that will be increased with a win against Pitt. How much NCAA tournament talk is still going on at this point?

It’s interesting to me that other bloggers mention that St. John’s, holding steady at 12th or 13th in the conference, has a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Part of my surprise is that within the message boards, pretty much anyone who posts regularly is upset about the team, thinks they are simply destined to lose, and that the coach should be fired. I think it’s hard for that set of fans to see just how much parity the league has this year (does that mean the league is good? Or that it’s bad? I think I am going to ask some of the other league bloggers this question, too). It’s hard for me to see it.

That said, this team isn’t going to the NCAAs. They would have to beat Syracuse and make a run of at least 2 rounds in the NCAA Tournament, while other teams really have shocking losses, and all the mid-majors (and Pac-10) have no surprise tournament upsets. St. John’s has too many bad losses – Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall; they’re 2-8 against the RPI top 50, and 0-6 against the top 25, they’re under .500 in conference. It would take a Georgia-style act of God to get this team in.
The NIT is possible but unlikely, with the Big East teams ahead of St. John’s in the standings.

2. When looking at the points scored and points given up per game, Pitt and St. John's are very close. Pitt has only scored about 1.5 more ppg and given up about 3 ppg less, yet they have a decidedly better record. What has been the main thing(s) keeping St. John's from joining the ranks of the Big East elite this year?

Pittsburgh plays a slower pace, and that masks how much better their offense and defense is. Despite their inefficiency sometimes, Pitt does a better job executing on both ends, and gets to the free throw line. St. John’s doesn’t, and shoots poorly from the line, to boot. In conference, Pitt is scoring around 5 points more per game and both teams give up about the same number of points per game.
St. John’s offense has really held them back. They’ve gotten worked on defense, for sure, but the Storm hasn’t been much worse than league average, generally. But the offense – and lack of forcing turnovers – has slowed them down.

3. Pitt fans are familiar with D.J. Kennedy, of course, being from Pittsburgh. Some point to him as a missed prospect that Pitt passed on (for Brad Wanamaker), I believe. Is there any NBA talk surrounding him and if not, what does he need to work on to have a chance at getting into an NBA camp?

Earlier in the year a draft board (at, maybe?) had him as a second round pick next year. He might get there. He’s a hard worker. I don’t know that he has immense physical gifts, but sometimes, he’s a very smart player and knows how to make plays. I think he needs to work on a number of things – his shot has to be more steady (though he has gotten better at getting his shot off and his first step).

Kennedy could improve his handle a little. And I think his defense could get him to stick in the league as a Trenton Hassell, Bruce Bowen kind of defender – versatile, tough, tall. Maybe even at Matt Barnes type, who just makes plays everywhere – Barnes was a decent, not standout player on a good UCLA team, but he was also a great glue guy with a wealth of half-tapped gifts and athleticism to get by on. Kennedy’s athleticism isn’t quite there, and he’s a couple of inches shorter.

4. Justin Burrell, a relatively unknown to a lot of people came out and had arguably his best game of the year against Pitt in their first meeting (14 points on 5-7 shooting / 7 rebounds). Other than him and the usual suspects in Kennedy, Dwight Hardy, and Anthony Mason, Jr., who else is someone that Pitt should keep their eye on? Maybe not someone for a huge game, but someone who could provide a key spark when needed?

Malik Boothe has been crafty and fairly effective in the past 5 games. At the very least, he’s been aggressive, and he can make some plays on offense driving to the hoop. Both Paris Horne and Sean Evans can make some plays; Evans is the team’s best offensive rebounder. Those are the only other guys who might have the ball and be looked to for playmaking.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Um, Yeah, So That Didn't Go So Well

It really felt like Pitt was going to pull out a win tonight with Harangody being out. I have to say, I didn't see this coming. I expected a win (perhaps a close one), but certainly didn't expect to get blown out. Pitt doesn't get blown out to anyone - especially middle-of-the-road teams playing without their best player.

We usually laud Pitt for their effort and toughness. But if we do that, it's only fair to call a spade a spade and crush them when they put forth bad efforts.

Usually, if Pitt is behind, they shrink the lead and at least make the game competitive at some point. Not so tonight. If you take a look at the game flow chart, you see that it got much worse after halftime and Pitt never got close.

I have to say, I got a little nervous when I read the PG article today about Notre Dame shooting threes. Little did I know how correct that would be - ND shot 10-18 from 3-point land. They also dropped 50% of their shots. Tough to beat anyone that shoots like that, but if Pitt was able to connect on more threes (only made 4-18) and get to the line a bit more (only seven FTs), it might have at least been closer.

A few guys played fairly well, but Pitt got virtually nothing from its PFs Gil Brown and Nasir Robinson (a combined 3 points and 4 rebounds). Ouch.

Gil continued his famed Mount Everest/Death Valley routine. Over the past nine games, his point totals are 9, 25, 0, 23, 6, 16, 5, 16, 3. That's, honestly, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I'd settle for a solid 12 a game if only for the fact it'd be nice to know what you're going to get from him.

Best thing to remember is that this is only one game. But this proves as a painful reminder of how tournament time can become so cruel if you're off your game and run into a team that's shooting lights out. I understand that Notre Dame was desperate for a big win, but ultimately, you've got to be more competitive.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Debunking Myths

Okay, so I was passively browsing today and stumbled upon this gem by a guy I really like:
There can be no doubt who the most improved player in the Big East Conference is this season. I would go so far as to say Gary McGhee is (my emphasis, not his) the most improved player in the history of the Big East Conference.

If McGhee doesn’t win the award, there should be an investigation. In fact, if he doesn’t win it unanimously there should be an investigation.
Not may be, IS. *Sigh*

Now, I'm a Bob Smizik fan. He takes it on the chin when Pirates fans (yes, I am one) get their panties in a bunch when he criticizes their hopeless franchise and is accused of being pessimistic, well, all the time. But this is, in a word, preposterous. Gary McGhee has gone from being horrendous to serviceable. If you want to call him your Most Improved Player for this year, fine. But to say he should be a lock? Then to take it 8,358 steps further and say he's the Most Improved Player in the history of the Big East?

Look, I'm not going to give you the 101 reasons I'm sure I could find why Bob has this one wrong. I'll merely point to one easy fact: McGhee is in the same boat as Ashton Gibbs to a degree. His numbers have gone up due to a big increase in minutes. Gary McGhee is averaging about 3.6 times more minutes than he had last year (6.7 in 2009 to 24.1 in 2010). This is a type of projection often used in the NBA for a stat called ____ per 48 minutes (the ____ meaning, scoring, rebounding, etc or whatever the researcher is trying to project). It's a simple extrapolation to see how productive someone might be if they played more.

Using that formula, let's see how much he actually 'improved', at least numbers-wise:

His 2009 numbers were 1.2 ppg / 1.5 rpg. Taking the 3.6 times factor above, we see that last year, his numbers should come out to 4.3 ppg / 5.4 rpg. His current numbers? 7.4 ppg / 7 rpg. So he's scoring about three more points per year and grabbing an extra rebound and a half.

Now go to a guy like Brad Wanamaker. He is getting approximately 1.7 times as many minutes as last year (32.7 to 19.0). Taking his numbers, we see only slightly less improvement. With the extra minutes, his output this year should come out to about 9.8 ppg / 5.6 rpg / 3.57 apg. His actual numbers are 12.3 ppg / 6.1 rpg / 4.4 apg.

Look at Ashton Gibbs who is getting about 3.3 times more minutes (35.5 to 10.7). Taking 3.3 to last year's ppg total of 4.3, we come out to 14.2. His actual output is 16.4 - an improvement of about 2.2 ppg of what he should have.

So what we end up with for actual improvement over and above what each player should be getting based solely on the extra minutes they're getting is:

McGhee - 3.1 ppg / 1.6 rpg
Wanamaker - 2.5 ppg / .5 rpg / .83 apg
Gibbs - 2.2 ppg

Looking elsewhere, you CAN say that McGhee's shooting (65% to 52%) has greatly improved. I also believe he's a better player, less awkward, and his defense is better. Based solely on the numbers, you can reasonably say that McGhee is Pitt's most improved player. But I'm not sure I'd call it a slam dunk - let alone a slam dunk for an undisputed conference most improved player OF ALL TIME. Gibbs has had a similar spike, albeit slightly less that McGhee. But doesn't leading your team in scoring count for slightly more? In addition, factor in that Gibbs is playing out of position at the point and that he's had more of a load thrust on him that McGhee. And...well you get the point. In my eyes, it's really about a wash.

And as far as that nonsense about most improved player in the history of the Big East, all you have to do is look to last year to find a similar instance (again, at least numbers-wise). DeJuan Blair had a very minor bump in minutes from his freshman to sophomore year (1.05 times more), but managed to average much larger numbers. Based on the 1.05, his numbers last year should have been 12.2 ppg and 9.5 rpg. His actual numbers were 15.7 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Blair's shooting percentage also increased and he had a much larger responsibility than McGhee. Leaving us with these numbers above the extrapolated figures:

Blair - 3.5 ppg and 2.8 rpg

Those numbers beat McGhee's. And like I said, more weight has to be given to someone who was responsible for playing a lead role on their team (i.e. Gibbs and Blair). Now, I'm not saying it's a given that Blair was a more improved player, just pointing out how easy it is to quickly identify players who made similar strides. Most players improve at least marginally from year to year and to point to one and say something along the lines of 'There - he's the best of all time' is rather foolish.

Aaron Gray also made very similar strides from his sophomore to junior season. And those are just the Pitt guys - not to mention the entire Big East - a conference that, by the way, has been around for over 30 years.

Gary McGhee has made great strides to become a solid player, but in all actuality, likely has not even been the most improved player in Pitt's Big East history.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Giant Leaps

Pitt deservedly moved up seven spots in the AP poll this week, up to #12. Still a bit underrated, in my opinion, in the ESPN/USA Today poll, sitting only #16. Andy Katz seems to agree.

This is the time of year when I really start paying attention to the polls. Unlike football, college basketball actually determines its national championship by, you know, a playoff. Still, it's foolish to think that because of that, seeding doesn't matter. You only have to look back to 2004 when Pitt was a #3 seed and UCONN was a #2 seed. In its three games, Pitt had to play against the highest possible seed each time. UCONN played against a 7-seed DePaul team, and because of upsets, got to play a 6th-seeded Vanderbilt team and an 8-seed in Alabama. Their fairly easy path landed them a trip to the Final Four. UCONN went 27-6 in the regular season, while Pitt went 29-4. They split the regular season series 1-1, but UCONN won by three in the Big East Conference final. If Pitt pulls that game out, perhaps the seeds are reversed and they get to the Final Four that year.

Just goes to show you how much you need to break your way. You not only need the seeding, you need some breaks along the way.

The rankings play a part in this beacuse of perception. Pitt has a chance at winning each of their last four games before the tournament. If they can somehow find ways to win each of those, they might be able to enter the Big East Tournament as a top five team. Win a game in that tournament and Pitt would likely be looking at a #2 seed. If Pitt can slide in as a #2 or even #3 seed, I'd feel a lot better about their chances.

And for the record, Joe Lunardi has them as a #4 seed right now (though I'd love to be in that region).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons Learned

Well, I guess the first lesson (if you can call it that...since it wasn't a lesson for me per se) is to always make sure your DVR is running well past the estimated end time of a game. I know this lesson, I really do. Normally, I'm good for at least an extra hour of recording a game. Two, if I'm feeling particularly nervous. I thought I had done this, but realized I did not and ended up missing the final few minutes.

At least things turned out well.

Lesson #2 - Before I get into the game specifics, let me say how incredibly annoyed I am whenever Pitt beats a higher-ranked team at home and it's called an upset. Please. Jamie Dixon is STILL undefeated (6-0) against top five (not top 25, top five) teams at home. Pitt just doesn't lose at home and even playing the #1 team, the game should at least be a push. Announcers and writers still haven't learned this lesson, somehow.

Onto the game.

To start, it was a record crowd at the Pete. Plus, it probably didn't hurt that Pitt's Junior Day for recruits was today (subscription required).

Pitt pulled out a 70-65 win against fourth-ranked Villanova today - giving them their second straight loss for the first time in almost two years. Let's not get crazy, this game did nothing to wipe out even a little of the pain Pitt had in losing that game last year, but it was a nice win for them THIS year. One of the things that jumped out at me was Pitt's determination to hold off Villanova runs. The latest lead Villanova had was 9-8 with about 14 minutes left in the first half. Several times in the second half they got close, but never got over the hump.

Good games today by Ashton Gibbs, Gary McGhee, and Gil Brown. Otherwise, not many other good performances out there. Jermaine Dixon certainly got a very small bit of redemption in that Pitt won the game, but not personally as he went 3-15 from the field. Wanamaker also only scored four points, while Pitt shot a horrendous 35% from the field. You tell me all that before the game and I would tell you there's no chance they win. Offensive rebounding (+8) was a good reason they were able to pull it out. The other was timely shots. As I mentioned above, Pitt responded every time Nova got close:

- With ten minutes left, Scottie Reynolds hit a three to cut the lead to two. Pitt responded with a 6-0 run.

- When Antonio Pena got Nova to within two with about five minutes left, Pitt scored the next two baskets.

- When Nova then hit a three to cut it to three, Pitt made three free throws.

Pitt just had an answer every time.

Here are the quotes from the post-game press conference, though nothing extremely significant here. Jay Wright continues to be one of my favorite Big East coaches as he's just a classy guy. Not one mention of officiating though, truth be told, I think he had some legitimate gripes in that area.

One thing that's getting to be more than just an annoyance is Gibbs missing free throws late. He had made nine straight during the game, but missed three in the final :45. It's not as if the game was over at that point and Pitt really needs him to be able to make those at the ends of games.

With two games to make up and only four to play, I think a Big East title is incredibly remote, but when you look at what they've accomplished this year, it really is pretty amazing. Pitt needs to focus on getting a top 3-4 seed in my opinion. I'm going to hit on this in a later post.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quality Win

Pitt went on the road tonight and thanks in part to a hot shooting night, was able to beat Marquette 58-51. Hard to believe that this was Jamie Dixon's and Pitt's first win at the Bradley Center since Marquette joined the Big East.

Most games you can't point to one thing and say why a team won or lost. This game was pretty simple - boiled down to good ol' fashioned shooting. Pitt shot about 20% higher (54.8% to Marquette's 35%) and that was really the difference in the game. Rebounding was a wash (Pitt +2), 3 point shooting was a wash (Pitt +2.3%), and the turnovers were pretty even (Pitt -4).

But back to that shooting for a minute. Seems as if everyone had a good night putting the ball in the basket, right? Well, everyone except Ashton Gibbs, who went 0-6 from the field with only two points - easily his lowest output of the season and the first time he failed to make a field goal. With Gibbs out of the picture, Pitt had perhaps their most balanced effort of the year with four guys getting exactly ten points. Gary McGhee had a solid game with ten points, five rebounds, and six blocks, but that was somewhat expected against a team whose tallest player that gets any significant minutes is 6'6".

Gibbs wasn't the only leading scorer to strggle as Pitt held Lazar Haywood to only 11 points on 4-17 shooting:
"He's one of the best players in the league, and one of the toughest players," Jamie Dixon said. "We were fortunate. But we did make him take tough shots, I think that was key."

Hayward came into the game averaging 19.4 points and 10.4 rebounds during the Golden Eagles' five-game winning streak, including three double-doubles.

Hayward said he needed to do a better job of getting his teammates involved on a night when the Golden Eagles got away from their winning formula.

"We weren't playing together, we weren't creating for each other and we weren't playing team defense," Hayward said.
Enough with guys struggling - one guy that had not exactly been tearing it up played a key role during a crucial run during the game:
It was a sure sign that No. 19 Pittsburgh was about to take control: Dante Taylor throwing down his third uncontested dunk in the space of a little more than two minutes.

A freshman who has played sparingly in recent weeks, Taylor's brief scoring burst played a pivotal role in a 14-5 run that helped the Panthers take the lead early in the second half, then hold on for a 58-51 victory over Marquette on Thursday night.

"I think it was good for our guys," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. "They know how hard Dante is working. When guys make big plays and don't play as much as the other guys, it really, I think, brings energy to a team."
Travon Woodall was also rewarded with 17 minutes after his monster game against WVU. He played well: 2-3 for five points, a steal, and an assist. Not a great game by any stretch, but as long as he can play some key minutes without torching a can of gasoline, he allows the starters to get a breather.

Tonight's oddball stat was that Marquette actually had nearly 1/3 more shots than Pitt (60-42). Part of that was due to allowing so many offensive rebounds (11 to Pitt's 4) for the second straight game. This was bad against WVU, but with Marquette's size, tonight's effort keeping them off the offensive boards was downright embarrassing.

Tonight's win gives Pitt its ninth straight 20-win season. Man, that never gets old.

When you factor in everything (conference game against a solid team, road game, game against a bugbble team desperate for a win), this was really a great looking win. It also keeps Pitt in the top four of the conference and still in the running for one of those coveted double bye seeds in the Big East tournament.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quiet Offseason No More

Funny how things can change just like that. Just last month, all was quiet on the homestead:
"This has really been a quiet offseason in a lot of ways," Wannstedt said. "I think the guys are working hard and we are probably a lot healthier, too, than we've been. But from a standpoint of major changes, I don't think there are many, if any, and we're in very good shape to move forward."

The fact that there won't be any major shake-ups, either with the coaching staff or personnel, makes this a different offseason for Wannstedt, considering the coaching changes, transfers and major surgeries he has dealt with since he arrived at Pitt in 2005.
Now this isn't a catastrophic loss, but I think it certainly qualifies as a major one.

Fields was a starter who was finally starting to show some of the promise that had been affixed to him after being a fairly highly-rated recruit. Had he not previously had any troubles, such as the 2007 suspension, he might have been able to skate by on this latest issue. This latest issue, officially forcing him out of the program, is obviously bringing up the talk about 'wasted talent.'

Now comes the part where I don't excuse his error (which apparently was posting videos of him partying and drinking on Twitter), but I will point out that had it not been for his prior offenses, barring absolute obscene or offensive content, this almost certainly wouldn't have led to his dismissal. Fields had no margin for error and had to be on his best behavior, which he apparently was not.

So Much For That Hybrid Linebacker Thing

So of course the day after I post random football notes - nothing of real significance - THIS happens:
Pitt senior safety/linebacker Elijah Fields has been dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.

Fields (6-2, 225) has had off-field issues throughout his career and had been disciplined several times -- including being suspended for the entire 2007 season -- but had seemed to pull it together enough to have his best season last year.

Still, he had several incidents of insubordination and other minor issues throughout the season, but the final straw came last week when he had a video posted on his Twitter page of himself partying with friends and apparently drinking alcohol.
No matter how you look at it, this will be at least a blow of some degree to Pitt. Fields seemed to really respond last year when he played a bit in that roving linebacker role - strong enough to rush the line but agile enough to cover men downfield a bit.

I haven't seen the video yet and don't even know if it's still there. So I'm unsure if he was booted for drinking while underage (not sure when the video was shot - he's 21 now) or if he was booted for merely drinking in the video along with other content. More on this later, but for now, not good.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Football News

A few football related notes:

Former 1980s Panther Teryl Austin was hired as the Defensive Coordinator of the Florida Gators. He's coached in a variety of positions in college and the NFL with the Cardinals and Seahawks. blogger Brian Bennett talks expansion - not just Big Ten, but the idea of Big East expansion comes up.

Looks like Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham are the only two Pitt players headed to the combine. South Florida leads the way with six combine reps.

Conspicuously absent is Aaron Berry, Pitt's First-Team Big East CB. This projection has him as a possible 5th-6th rounder at best. And here's another one that projects him as a 7th rounder. Okay, one more - this one projects him as a Free Agent pickup.

Meanwhile, another former Pitt corner, Darrelle Revis, came home recently.

Looking ahead to next year, Mark Schlabach has Pitt at I think the highest I've seen in any of the preseason polls - #14. Cincinnati checks in at #13. Pitt has some lofty expectations to live up to, despite not knowing who will play QB - Pat Bostick or Tino Sunseri.

Speaking of Sunseri, his younger brother Vinnie, has his first scholarship offer (subscription needed).

And Bill Hillgrove, voice of the Panthers, is lending his expertise to, and I'm not making this up, a camp for aspiring announcers.

Little Movement

In this week's rankings, Pitt did jump six spots in the AP poll up to #19, but moved up only two spots in the ESPN/USA Today poll to #23. I was actually expecting them to get up a bit higher.

West Virginia continued their trend of barely dropping in the polls. They lost both games last week (albeit to two good teams), but only dropped three spots in one poll and two in another.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Checking in with the NBA

With NBA All-Star weekend here (I know...the NBA borders on a dirty word - or in this case, acronym, here in Pittsburgh), thought I'd take a quick look around the league.

We can start with DeJuan Blair getting royally, well, screwed in the Rookie/Sophomore challenge on Friday. The Grizzly Blair went for a monster 22 points and rookie game record 23 rebounds leading the rookies to a rare win over the sophomores. His output was the first 20/20 performance in the game's history. Tyreke Evans ended up winning the MVP award with 26 points, but only a handful of rebounds and assists. Evans did end up making a classy gesture, asking Blair to join him to hold the MVP trophy after the game.

Apparently one of the things that kept him from getting the award was the voting had to wrap up before the game was completed. Blair ended up grabbing six of his rebounds and four points in the last 1 1/2 minutes. Not sure exactly why they had to rush to get the voting in. I know the MVP is announced fairly soon after the game, but they can't wait like five extra minutes? Blair seemed to take it at least a little hard:
“It hurts me, man,” said Blair, shaking his head. “It really does hurt me, but it is what it is.”
Sam Young wasn't selected for the game, but has averaged a respectable 7.5 points in about 16 minutes per game with Memphis. He's scored 15 points six times this year and has gone over 20 in three games. His shooting has been pretty accurate as he's hitting over 47% of his shots.

Looking over to Aaron Gray, I was pretty sure he would get more minutes in New Orleans as he's the backup center now as opposed to being behind several guys in Chicago. But the Hornets seem to be going with smaller lineups as Gray and he's appeared in only three of their ten games since the trade, averaging about five minutes in each.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What They're Saying

Loads of media recaps from the big game last night - I've already posted some, but here are a few more.

As was mentioned, Pitt was killed on the boards in regulation. But that all changed in the overtime sessions and that was key:
The Mountaineers outrebounded Pitt, 21-12, in the first half. But WVU switched to a 1-3-1 zone and Pitt took advantage by outrebounding the Mountaineers 12-4 in the overtimes.

"That changed the game," Wanamaker said. "Late in the game, we started rebounding, boxing out. Early on, they were in control of the game. Once we started rebounding, we started getting back in control of the game."
WVU coach Bob Huggins knew they would give up some rebounding by going to the 1-3-1, but in his mind, it was a necessary evil:
"They competed, and Jamie's teams do that. (But) they couldn't have won the game without a lot of help from us. (And) we couldn't stop their penetration, so we went to the 1-3-1 (zone). And it's hard to rebound out of the 1-3-1."
Ashton Gibbs had some more struggles at the free throw line, but came through in the very end:
Gibbs scored 24 points including four-for-six from the free throw line. He missed the second of two free throws with seven seconds left in the first overtime. Had he hit the second free throw, Pitt would have probably sealed the win but his miss allowed Bryant to hit a three with seven seconds left to tie the game and send it into a second overtime.

He redeemed himself when he stepped to the line in the third overtime with ten seconds left and hit both free throws to give Pitt a three-point lead.

"I have enough confidence in myself to treat every shot the same," Gibbs said. "I put every miss behind me."
Gibbs has actually struggled a bit recently from the line. He's shooting 90% on the season, but in the past four games, he's missed seven of them and has shot only 75%.

And it sounds as if this game was a confidence builder of sorts:
“We needed a win like this to make us believe we could do this again,” said Pitt’s Gilbert Brown, talking about a recently snapped stretch in which the Panthers lost four of five games.
Pitt had of course won the past two games, but the competition was a bit suspect. This is Pitt's second big win of the season over a top five ranked team. That hasn't happened since...well, last season, when Pitt beat #1 ranked UCONN twice.

One thing I'll say is that I think Huggy Bear was a bit critical of his team's defense on Gibbs' three-pointer in regulation:
After Travon Woodall nailed a jumper to close the deficit to 68-65 with 31 seconds left, Nasir Robinson stole the ball from West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant off the inbound and relayed it to an open Ashton Gibbs, who knocked down the game-tying shot.

“Everybody in the gym knew who they wanted to shoot it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “And we let him shoot it.”
That play was so crazy, it's hard to fault WVU for not finding Gibbs. They expected to have the ball out of bounds and Wannamaker found Gibbs pretty quickly. It's not like Pitt had been in a half-court offense for 30 seconds and WVU just managed to let Gibbs spring free.

Meanwhile, a West Virginia columnist complains about...traffic? Um, okay. You're exiting a major city after a sporting event AFTER said city recently had two feet of snow dumped on it and you didn't expect traffic?


Lost in all the talk by our beloved Mountaineer fans is that despite their complete breakdown at the end of regulation they had not one, not two, but THREE chances to win in each of the three overtimes. I won't dispute the fact that Pitt really had no business winning this game based on the way they played in regulation. But in overtime, the games start completely even. Even if you blow a lead and are forced to play overtime, you've got an equal chance to win. You can talk all you want about momentum and such, but the fact is that Pitt, by the third overtime, was missing Jermaine Dixon, Brad Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall. The Panthers could have easily folded without some of its best players and still found a way to win. WVU should not only be disgusted about how they allowed Pitt to tie the game in regulation, but also about how they went into the fetal position in the overtimes despite Pitt missing several key pieces.

One key thing we should be talking about (other than the traffic, of course) is that Pitt has now won two games they really had no business winning. Pitt should have been beaten in regulation by both WVU and Louisville and could easily be 17-8 and only 6-6 in the conference. That would be enough to put Pitt squarely on the bubble and really could have forced them to win most of these remaining games left. As it is, Pitt really has little chance of missing the tournament and may even be in line for a fairly high seed.

It's a fine line, folks.

Digesting the Classic

So Pitt hung on in a triple-overtime thriller against WVU. This is, of course, the second time lightning has struck for Pitt. In the end, WVU, wasn't overly gracious:
Da'Sean Butler had 32 points and 11 rebounds, Darryl Bryant scored 20 and Devin Ebanks had 17 points and 10 rebounds, yet they couldn't prevent the Mountaineers (19-5, 8-4) from losing their second in a row after they led by double digits in each half.

"This is definitely one of the toughest losses I've had," Bryant said. "This game probably put Pitt in the NCAAs."
Well, it certainly didn't hurt, but I hope he wasn't referring to Pitt as a bubble team. That simply wasn't the case and with a good RPI and some solid wins, Pitt would have really had to collapse over their last few games to not make the tournament. Then of course, Huggy Bear weighed in:
"I've done this for 30 years, man," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, asked if he could remember a game with so many swings. "There isn't much I haven't seen. They didn't fold, they continue to compete, but they couldn't have won without a lot of help from us."
That may be true and I'm actually inclined to agree with him. WVU had a major collapse in the final minute. But after it getting past regulation, Pitt blew TWO chances to put game out of hand. Even if you ARE right, show a little class. Note to coaches: You refusing to simply credit the winning team and leaving it at that doesn't make you sound intelligent. It makes you sound like a buffoon.

As the road team found out, it's incredibly difficult to beat Pitt at home. A lot of talk has gone on all season about the identity of this Pitt team and just how good they are. I have to admit we still might not know. But I really feel like this team grew up a lot in this game. A lot of guys played key roles and it was good to see a guy like Travon Woodall have an outstanding game.

About the whole atmosphere thing, I quietly chuckled to myself about WVU bracing themselves for the worst in Oakland. Pitt may have creative chants, but I don't ever recall any physical items being thrown from the Zoo at coaches or players. That's not to say it can't happen. A few knuckleheads can ruin it for everyone. But there's no history (to my knowledge) of that happening.

And as I mentioned earlier, both sides did their best to lose the game at times.

There's so much to point out in this game other than the game-changing play, Ashton Gibbs' three-pointer, which I mentioned in the previous post. Here are a few of my usual notes:

- Pitt just got killed by offensive rebounding. Had they lost this game in regulation, that would have been the main culprit. The final rebounding numbers didn't look that lopsided as WVU had 16 offensive boards. Problem was, in regulation, they had 14. FOURTEEN. In the words of Martin, "Damn, Gina." Part of it was due to the size, but much of it had to do with good ol' fashioned effort. And Pitt just wasn't trying hard enough.

- With so much height on WVU's team, I really wish Jamie Dixon had considered playing two bigs at the same time - especially when it was becoming evident that Pitt was getting killed on the boards. I'm not going to bring up the whole Dante Taylor/PF issue again, but a mix of McGhee and JJ Richardson in the frontcourt might have been intriguing. Richardson really played well again in the limited minutes he had.

- Back to Woodall - he really played incredible. To anyone who might have disagreed with my sentiment a few games back that Woodall needed more PT, how did this line taste? In 31 minutes - 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and...wait for it...0 turnovers. This isn't to say that he's 'back' or that he should be starting or anything absurd like that. I'll probably be criticizing him at some point in the near to immediate future. I'm merely stating that his play has gotten better lately and that he's earned more time in my opinion. He played well within the flow of the game today and he had two huge FTs with about :25 left in the third OT which he nailed.

- Not sure if anyone else noticed, but Coach Dixon broke an unwritten rule that he really hates doing by playing Gilbert Brown in the 1st half with two fouls. I'm guessing that he felt, like I did, that without he or Jermaine Dixon in there, that the game could have gotten a little out of hand.

- In my opinion, Brad Wanamaker has reached another plateau in his career. He's now gone from being a dependable player to turning into a leader. He had several moments where he took charge, driving to the basket and not waiting for someone else to make a play. I'm not saying I'm ready to declare him the guy who has to take the final shot in a game, but I wouldn't be terribly uncomfortable with it. He still has the inexplicable turnovers at times, but his game has really improved.

- McGhee ended a pretty decent game (including a very good defensive effort) with an incredible play late in the 3rd OT, handing the ball off to Ashton Gibbs before he could be fouled himself. Smart, smart, play.

- I don't do this much, but focusing on the other team for a minute here. WVU really is going to need to correct the free throw problem if they want to be a serious threat in the postseason. They shot a reasonable 70% tonight, but missed a bunch of key ones and that isn't the first time that's happened. WVU could really be in for a big upset if they're in a close game. If you take WVU's five closest games, they've been decided by a total of nine points and the team is only 2-3. Contrast that with Pitt's five closest games, which have been decided by a total of 17 points, but Pitt is 4-1. Missing free throws in close games will KILL you.

It was nice to see the Pitt fans stay classy until the bitter end, not rushing the court. I've seen too much of that this year and even though it's a big win, Pitt certainly shouldn't be storming the court anymore. Upset? Please. A ranked Pitt team beating ANYONE at home is no upset.

Desperate to see it again? Check out (if you have the right cable provider).

Instant Classic

And you thought the Louisville game was ridiculous.

I've got to admit it's pretty nice being on the winning end of these types of games. I really don't have very many words for this other than I'm kicking myself for not being there. Lots to digest in this one.

I'll start with the biggest play of the game - the steal then subsequent pass by Wanamaker. At the first replay, it really looked as if he was out, but the second one seemed to be inconclusive as you couldn't tell if his hand was off the ball when his foot was on the line. It was obviously a huge play for Pitt and to be honest, I'd have to see it again frame by frame...and even then, I might not be sure.

One thing I AM sure about is that both teams did everything in their power to throw the game away. WVU gave the game away in OT by missing three free throws in the final minute then tossing the ball away, setting up Gibbs' dramatic three-pointer. Pitt, not to be outdone, did their best 'hot potato' act when trying to hold onto a key win. The normally reliable Gibbs then clunked one of the free throws and Pitt allowed WVU to run down the court for an NBA length three. In the second OT, Pitt really felt like they had not given WVU an equal chance and Gary McGhee fouled Dasean Butler in the act of shooting a three and he made all three to send it to a third OT. Only then did Pitt finally pull out the win.

More coming soon as I gather my notes...and catch my breath.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tourney Talk

Lots of talk about potential seeding in the NCAAs for Pitt in the Post-Gazette.

Despite my penchant for posting Joe Lunardi's weekly Bracketology ratings, truth be told, it's nothing short of foolishness to speculate where Pitt might be seeded. Heck, with several tough games left, they're not even guaranteed to be in. It would take a freefall of epic proportions, but there have been deserving teams left out before.

And are we still basing Pitt's non-con on name value? Wofford is 18-8, Eastern Kentucky is 17-8, Wichita State is 20-6, Kent State is 18-7, and Robert Morris is 16-9. Yes, Pitt should beat those teams (even though Wichita State at a 'neutral/home' site was no gimme), but that is far from a cupcake non-con schedule. They also had the Texas game (which was a loss, of course). Wake up people.

Then of course there's been the talk of NCAA tournament expansion. Not surprisingly, coaches in the rugged Big East are in favor of it:
"If you're in the middle of the pack in our conference, you deserve to be in the tournament," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said.
And this:
"I've been for expansion of the tournament for years," Boeheim told the Syracuse media earlier this season. "The NCAA Tournament has always been expanded when there's a need. It started out at eight teams and expanded to 12, 16 24, 32, 48 and 64.

"I mean, it's expanded seven or eight times. And we're in the longest period between expansions in history. The fact is, we have better teams. We have more good teams than ever before. And they should get a chance to play in the tournament."
And finally, this:
"I love it. I think its time has come," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "As you add Division I teams (the number is currently 347), look at college football, close to 50% of the teams go to bowl games. There are so many good teams that don't go to the tournament."
I don't know. Consider me unsold. Yes, if you're the #9 team in the Big East, you might not be all that bad. But how long will mediocrity be served? To me, 64 teams is enough. Every 18-8 or 19-10 team doesn't need to get in. If you want to make the argument that more Big East teams need to get in, I can listen to that.

But by expanding the tourney to 96 teams, you'd be adding 32. The NIT coincidentally takes 32 teams that don't make the NCAAs. Let's take a look at some of those teams last year:

- Washington State (17-15)
- Northwestern (17-13)
- Georgetown (16-14)
- Virginia Tech (18-14)
- Bowling Green (19-13)
- Kentucky (20-13)
- Notre Dame (18-14)
- Nebraska (18-12)
- Jacksonville (18-13)
- Providence (19-13)

Are these really the types of teams that need to get into the tournament? A few are barely over .500. Seriously, we're not going to be able to sleep unless a 16-14 Georgetown team doesn't get in because they're in a great conference?


I won't have a big problem if they expand. I just don't think it's really necessary. If the tournament would expand, no team like this is going to realistically win eight or so games to win the title. At best, if you really want to expand, add eight more teams and give the top eight overall seeds (#1 and #2 seeds in each region) a bye.

And let's not forget, expanding will only open up more cries for more expansion. Can't you hear Dickie V now?

'To leave an 18-14 Iowa State team out is highway robbery, baby. I can't believe it. This wouldn't have happened if only we had 128 teams in.'

Of course money, which rules everything else, will be the prime factor. And eventually, the tournament will expand. But I can live with 64.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Football Schedule Released

Pitt's 2010 football schedule is out and while it's not the toughest ever, it will certainly be a challenge.

Pitt will be tested right from the start as two of their first three opponents, Miami and Utah, have been showing up in more than one preseason Top 25 list.

Not exactly an ideal scenario for a team with a new quarterback. The opener on the road at Utah has me VERY concerned. The good news for Pitt is that those early games won't have any bearing on winning the conference.

After a winnable game against FIU, Pitt then goes on the road to face Notre Dame. Losing their QB and top WR to the draft should make them a little less potent, but they're still Notre Dame.

Pitt kind of eases into the Big East conference schedule, but things pick up at the end. They go on the road for a Thursday night game at UCONN then on the road the following week at USF. The worst part is that Pitt will then have WVU on only six days rest for the Friday game after Thanksgiving against WVU, then finishes up on the road against Cincinnati.

All in all, the schedule isn't a recipe for an undefeated season. Another 10-win season is not out of the realm of possibility, but I'd say it will be difficult.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Putting Dante Taylor Issue To Rest

So as much as I've tried to do this, I just can't. Just when it seems like I'm ready to move on, bombshell quotes like these from his high school coach come out:
"I can tell you for sure he's not a center, by any stretch of the imagination," said Trevor Brown, the coach at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md. "He was the biggest kid on my team, but if a center was checking him it was a mismatch. He can shoot 3s and his first step is quick enough he can go by people. I was led to believe he'd be playing the four, but they're playing small ball. The things he used to do at National Christian Academy, he's not doing any of that there."
Now this quote might not sound all that bad - he's kind of taking the high road and trying to politely suggest he doesn't agree with the current stance. But how about this?
"The way it's going right now, it would be really hard for me to send a McDonald's All-America up there again," Brown said. "People call me and say, 'Why isn't he playing? Why is he playing the center spot?'
Let me start with the first quote. People may laugh when they see quotes talking about an athletic PF out there, dropping 3s, and quick enough to go around defenders - that's simply not the Taylor we've seen. Heck, I don't even think we've seen glimpses of that kind of player. But that's what a comfort level can do when you play someone completely out of position. Don't forget that this kid won a skills competition - contests usually won by guards. Imagine taking Vince Carter and trying to force him to play the point. Imagine Jason Kidd trying to make the switch to the 2. Kind of laughable, isn't it? Now take that situation and extrapolate it because of Taylor being only a freshman and you get the mess that you have now.

Further, the line "I was led to believe he'd be playing the four" is, well, not good. Who led him to believe that? To me, seemingly, it means coach Jamie Dixon. If he was led to believe that and that isn't the case, then you've got to think there may be trust issues moving forward.

Going back to what I said earlier. Mess. That's an ugly word. I don't call it a mess because Taylor has failed to significantly produce. Lots of All-Americans come in and don't produce right away. I call it a mess because of the second quote. The last thing Pitt needs is to have coaches of blue chip prospects questioning whether they can trust Jamie Dixon's handling of players. You can look at this situation and say, 'well, it's only one coach - what's the big deal?' Well, Brown has also had his hand in other top players' development including NBA Star Kevin Durant and former Georgetown star, Jessie Sapp, so others are likely to follow. But, really, the big deal is that OTHER high school coaches of elite athletes will likely see what's going on in this situation and could have the same kinds of doubts.

And while other schools that regularly land these types of players such as Duke or UNC have track records of grooming such athletes, Pitt is in relatively new territory. Taylor is the school's first McDonald's All-American in over 20 years. While they can point to success stories such as DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, they can't provide examples of grooming those upper tier athletes. You might look at that and say it doesn't matter 'Look what he's done with the athletes he's gotten. He's proven he can develop talent.' That may be true. But you have to remember you're dealing with 18-year old kids. Many don't necessarily care that you've proven you can handle turning Aaron Gray from a project into an NBA player. They want to know what you're doing with the likes of a Carmelo Anthony, an O.J. Mayo, a Michael Beasley.

So far, in recent memory, Pitt is 0-1 in these types of situations. Do I think it will get better? Yes. I think Dixon will eventually relent and move Taylor to PF. But maybe not until next year. Or later. I think Taylor will eventually show the kind of game that's been talked about once he bulks up a bit and gains some more experience. But while we're waiting, this looks like something of a black eye for Pitt.

Adam Graessle Lands A Job

Minor note here, but former Pitt punter Adam Graessle was signed by the Steelers today to presumably backup current punter, Daniel Sepulveda.

Graessle was a good punter while at Pitt - he was selected to an All-Big East team and was a former Ray Guy Award candidate.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winning The Ones You Should

That's what Pitt did tonight in the 77-53 win over Robert Morris. With that win, Pitt moves to 66-0 all-time against NEC opponents.

To start, I was unaware that the series may be discontinued after this season:
This might have been the last game in the series for a while. Robert Morris coach Mike Rice said he won't play the game next season unless it can be scheduled in November or December. Pitt likes having the game in the middle of the Big East schedule.
I can understand why Pitt likes it in the middle of the Big East schedule. They may not say it, but it provides a respite from the tough conference schedule and can allow them to regroup if necessary. Not sure exactly why RMU NEEDS to have it earlier. I know that's the way these things are typically done, but I would think getting to play Pitt would be a big deal for them. They get to play a ranked team (usually) close to home and I'm guessing that's at least a small feather in their hat recruiting-wise.

Back to tonight's game.

Pitt really connected from downtown for the first time in a while, hitting 10 of 22 threes. They haven't made that many since their win over Syracuse back on January 2nd.

RMU played well in the first half but went a stone-cold 7-27 from the field in the 2nd half as Pitt's defense tightened up a bit. After leading scorer Karon Abraham went for 14 in the first half, the Panthers held him two only two in the second. After the half, he only had a limited number of looks and only registered three FG attempts. As RMU, you've got to get more shots for him - he was the main reason they were competitive in the first half.

Without Abraham, RMU started to go downhill:
The Colonials, an NCAA tournament team out of the Northeast Conference last season, took advantage of Abraham's fast start to go ahead 19-13. The 5-foot-9 freshman had 14 points as Pitt led only 30-29 late in the half, but he wasn't a factor offensively the rest of the game.

Once Abraham stopped scoring, the Colonials did, too. Pitt scored seven of the final eight points of the first half to take a 39-33 lead. Gilbert Brown's tip-in with 2:18 remaining _ his first basket of the game _ broke the 32-all tie and preceded Dixon's 3-pointer and Brown's own baseline drive.
RMU did go on a pretty amazing 22-2 run in the 2nd half, but Pitt seemed pretty complacent and once they snapped out of it, took control once again.

The thoughts that RMU could make this game competitive were, well, just silly. RMU is a good team in its own league. And sure, they've had their brushes of near minor upsets (Miami and a down Syracuse team in 2008 and Seton Hall in 2007. But it would really have taken a terrible effort of epic proportions by Pitt to lose this game. Pitt has beaten them by an AVERAGE of about 24 points per game in the past nine contests and even when RMU had an NCAA tournament team last year, Pitt took care of them pretty easily.

The Travon Woodall/Ashton Gibbs story I've been discussing again played out the same way it did in the previous game. Gibbs played 32 minutes and Travon Woodall got 14. Gibbs responded with 20 points (the most he's had in five games) and Woodall responded with unspectacular minutes, but took care of the ball, only turning it over once. There's no reason to kill Gibbs and it looks like he might be better off playing around 30 a night. Jermaine Dixon also showed up with a nice game and 18 points.

Pitt had their second very good game in a row, but as everyone knows, the competition hasn't been the strongest. The game with WVU on Friday will be a good barometer of if Pitt is back after that losing spell.

Welcome to Bernard Clark

Bernard Clark officially replaced Joe Tumpkin as Pitt's linebackers coach. Clark played at Miami in the 1980s when Wannstedt was the DC there, so they're obviously familiar with each other. He was a standout there and an MVP award in the 1987 National Championship game helped him to a 3rd round draft pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. His pro career was short-lived, but I think when it comes to recruiting, it always helps when you have coaches on your staff that made it to the NFL.

Probably the best thing for Pitt is that he has lots of Florida ties and hopefully that will help with recruiting in the area. He grew up in Florida and while his last job was as DC at Hampton University in Virginia, he also coached the defensive lines at South Florida and Florida International.

He also looks like one mean dude, and that's got to count for something.

All in all, looks like a solid hire. Proven winner with previous coaching experience and should help Pitt go after the Florida recruits.

Hanging On

Pitt clung to a spot in the top 25 rankings in both polls this week, coming in at #23 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and #25 in the AP poll. Gary Parrish of also kept the Panthers in at #21.

Moving onto Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, Pitt holds steady with a #5 seed. It's also a bit interesting that as of now he only has six Big East teams in, but five more are on the bubble.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Former Panthers In The News

Pitt has a couple of former players, who will be in the Super Bowl - former safety Darnell Dinkins (now a TE with the Saints) and former standout LB Clint Session.

Both took decidedly different paths to get there.

While Session was a fourth-round draft pick, landed an NFL job right out of college, and is a big contributor as a starter for the Colts, Dinkins had a longer struggle breaking into the league:
So Dinkins married Shayla, his high school sweetheart, and they started a family. He didn't let pride keep him from providing for his wife and three children — Kayla, 10, Khalil, 7, and Kolin, 6 — so he worked odd jobs such as cleaning carpets and serving as a juvenile probation officer while lifting weights at midnight. Dinkins turned to his faith, leaning on advice from his big brother, Rob Thornton, and his pastors, the Rev. Neville and Connie Brooks, of Jubilee International Ministries in Plum.
Dinkins then got a break -
Finally, the semi-pro stint opened a door to the NFL for Dinkins, whose desire impressed a young offensive coordinator named Sean Payton at the New York Giants' training camp. Payton suggested Dinkins switch to tight end and play special teams, and the move earned him a roster spot.
He's since parlayed that opportunity into playing for the Giants, Ravens, and Browns before joining the Saints this year. I'd definitely recommend reading the entire article - he seems like an unbelievable guy.

On the career achievement level, Pitt also has two more inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the news that former Panthers Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson both got in. This brings Pitt's total of Hall of Famers to six - good for a tie for 7th all-time among colleges. Pretty impressive.

Jackson apparently got the news from the media even before the HOF. And Grimm was another one of those guys who hung around on the ballot and finally got in.

I always figured Jackson would get in, but wasn't sure about Grimm. Jackson's 128 sacks were good enough for 10th all-time and those are quantifiable numbers easier to meausre than 'stats' you can put together for an offensive lineman. Congrats to both.

Next up could be Curtis Martin, who will get a look next year in his first year eligible, or Chris Doleman (finalist this year).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Back To Business

Pitt got back to the business of taking Big East teams to the woodshed at home with a 25-point beatdown of Seton Hall on Saturday. The handy-dandy game flow chart shows a close game initially with Pitt pulling away for a big win. This was one that Pitt had to have and they responded as such.

Pretty much everything went the Panthers' way and they played about as well as possible. Shooting over 50% from the field, 45% from 3s, and 71% from the line. They outrebounded Seton Hall by nine, had 20 assists, and only turned the ball over nine times.

As I said - pretty perfect game.

Perhaps the biggest plus was the balance of scoring - 23 for Gilbert Brown, 15 for Jermaine Dixon, 13 for Brad Wanamaker, 12 for Gary McGhee, and 11 for Ashton Gibbs. Pitt will be at their best when they can get a bunch of guys into double figures and don't have to rely on 1-2 players. J.J. Richardson, who's been seeing increased minutes lately, had the same output as Dante Taylor (2 points/2 rebounds/1 block) in 2/3 less minutes.

Back to Gibbs - He took the second fewest shots of this season (7) and the 'share the load' mentality seemed to work. Pitt cannot rely on him to go out and score 20 points. He may do that once in a while, but as we've seen recently, Pitt needs other guys to step up if they're going to win games.

And going hand in hand with that is going to be Pitt's ability to get him a breather. Dixon followed the strategy that I laid out after the WVU game of playing Gibbs a bit less and Travon Woodall a bit more to allow Gibbs a breather from PG responsibilities. Gibbs played 31 minutes (his fewest of the Big East season) and Woodall played 19 minutes (his most of the Big East season). Woodall has been playing better of late and has been keeping the turnovers and wild play to a minimum. If Pitt can rely a bit more on Woodall, then Gibbs will be better for it. Woodall has not been getting a ton of assists or points, but in the past six games, has only six turnovers - not bad at all.

Former Pitt recruit Herb Pope had a mild 9/6, shooting 3-13 from the field and fouling out. Pitt also held scoring machine Jeremy Hazell to only two points, keeping him at 11 total in both meetings. Raise your hand if you thought THAT was possible. If your hand is up, please, just, go away. Anyway, Hazell was benched for the start of this game, picking up where he left off with head coach Bobby Gonzalez, who benched him at the end of their loss to Villanova for poor shot selection.

I expected Pitt to get tested a little more and really am surprised that nearly 7,000 people still made it out despite the snowstorm. Even if a lot of them were students, that's still pretty amazing. I was expecting a few thousand to get there and wondered what kind of home-court advantage that would really give Pitt. Not sure how much it helped that Pitt gave free tickets to students - I'm kind of under the mindset that whoever wanted to go already had tickets. But I'm sure it helped at least a little and was a good idea on the part of the university.

Pitt will certainly not play this well all the time, but it's nice to see them get back on track - hopefully this will instill some more confidence after the whooping they took from WVU.

And on a brief side note, I love Curtis Aiken but he was a train wreck tonight. Pitt went up by ten on an Ashton Gibbs 3-pointer with FIFTEEN minutes left in the 2nd half and he called it the final dagger or something, signifying the end of the game. He then followed that gem up by saying that Herb Pope at around the 11:00 mark had only 1 FG in the game (when he in fact had three). He was also completely in the dark on the technical foul rule, unsure of who had possession after the FT. Normally, this is stuff I can overlook. But it all literally happened within like five minutes. Come on, my man.

Next up is Robert Morris on Monday night.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Football Scheduling Update

Pitt released some times and more info on their non-conference schedule. It's changed a bit and Pitt now opens on the road at Utah. As if that game wasn't going to be hard enough, it's now the team's opener instead of New Hampshire.

Talk about being thrown into the fire - it's also a Thursday night game, so you know the home team will be pumped up.

Speaking of Thursday night games, Pitt's game against Miami is now a Thursday game. That will be good for Pitt, but bad for those of us who work and will need to make the trek into town for a weeknight game. Sounds like Friday might be a good day to take off.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Game, Another Loss

I won't be covering Pitt's loss to WVU in-depth as frankly, I don't have the energy. WVU fans were classy as always, forcing their coach to tell them to stop throwing things onto the court. Way to go there, morons - how did 2007 taste?

Anyway, back to civilization where people eat with utensils and don't drag the roadkill straight to the dinner table.

I'll say it again - it's certainly not time to jump off of that bandwagon just yet. Pitt wasn't really expected to win this game so it's not too big of a deal. What IS kind of a big deal is the way they lost.

Pitt rarely loses by 19 points to anyone, and when they do coupled with the way they've been playing of late, there should be at least some cause for concern. They've been getting outplayed offensively and defensively, and worse, outhustled. Plus, when Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown combine for as many points as I had, then you're not going to beat anybody. Pitt has shot under 38% over the past four games and that's something for which the players, not the coach, are generally more responsible.

So I preface these next few 'suggestions' with the disclaimer that Jamie Dixon is an unbelievable coach and don't think he could have done much more over these past few games. These are not 'sky is falling, somebody do something - fast' suggestions - just things to chew on.

With that said -

The stuff that Dixon does sometimes makes no sense at all. It's easy to look past the nonsensical stuff like starting John DeGroat (even though DeGroat was barely suitable for the bench) when Pitt is winning. Heck, it's even kind of amusing. But now that the team is struggling miserably, as has been the case for a while, it's time for a few legitimate questions to be asked. The questions that have been whispered all season and discounted as fans merely looking to stir the pot, should now be at least considered. It was easy, even fashionable, to lay low off the criticism because this team had been overachieving so much. But it's time to throw out the things everyone, except Dixon, seems to know:

- Ashton Gibbs has been downright bad as of late and Dixon keeps trotting him out there for his 35+ minutes per game. This one's tough because shooters need to be given the benefit of the doubt and most of the time, need to keep on shooting. But the defense has keyed on him more as of late and if Pitt can't spring him open, there's no sense in keeping him out there so much. Travon Woodall and Chase Adams have struggled, but it might be time to give them a little more playing time. I'm not saying to split the minutes or anything foolish like that - maybe just throw another five their way to give Gibbs more of a breather. Woodall has actually been better of late with only four turnovers in the past five games. And who knows - with even a few more minutes, Woodall might be able to provide a very small spark at times when Gibbs can't find his shot.

- Bob Smizik pointed out recently that Gilbert Brown should be starting. Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with him coming off the bench and I have a hard time saying he NEEDS to start. Nasir Robinson is a better rebounder and I like the offense Gil brings off the bench. But in effect, he may be your best 'go to' scoring option and he probably should be starting - especially with the Panthers needing more offense of late. I can live without this one, but Dixon should at least be thinking about it.

- Pleeeease get Dante Taylor at his natural spot at PF. He wants to play there and he's struggled miserably at center. Taylor has not been great and many times, he's not even been good, but it's time to see what he can do at the position he's used to. The defense has been fading a bit and Pitt really needed more size and rebounding tonight. Taylor may be able to provide that playing alongside McGhee. JJ Richardson can play backup center and you can still play Taylor there at times when needed. I know of Dixon's desire to keep him at one position this year, but having played a half season at center already, he should be able to serve as a third center if necessary. Taylor will need to develop some low post moves if he ever is going to play in the NBA (should he make it that far), but he can do that as a PF as well - not just at center.

I really hate throwing stuff like this out there because it makes it seem like I'm causing concern for panic when that's not the case at all. A large part of the team struggling is due to poor shooting, and that's something Dixon can't do much about. I think Pitt still makes it to the tournament and don't think there should be real concern unless they lose to Seton Hall at home. That will make getting to 10 conference wins a bit tougher. But it's clear that changes should at the very least, be considered.

So What's The Word?

Pitt's recruiting class, as I mentioned before according to Paul Zeise, is fully in. Seems like it was a pretty stress-free day since Pitt had most of their signees in fairly early.

Pitt also made a late run at Taj Alexander of Rutgers, but he has apparently stuck with them.

Coach Jeff Hafley talks a bit about the recruiting trail and specifically, going after Dion Lewis:
"Our biggest need was to find a running back because there was the potential of (Philadelphia Eagles running back) LeSean McCoy leaving," said Hafley, a second-year secondary coach. "I didn't care if the kid was listed as the No. 25 or No. 1 running back in the state, I was going to try to get film on him and evaluate him.

"I wanted to be thorough and not limit my search on what (recruiting) services call the best back in the area. Dion was not ranked as one of the best players in New Jersey, but when we got the film, we loved him."
And of course everyone knows that signing day is not a mere formality - all you have to do is look at the disaster that was 2004. Anthony Morelli and Andrew Johnson look back briefly at their recruiting experiences.

Anyway, Pitt appears to have landed a fairly strong recruiting class - not one of the best in the country, but certainly nothing to hang your head about. seems to love Pitt the most, ranking them 15th in the nation and 1st in the Big East.

Rivals checks Pitt in at #32 overall and 2nd in the Big East behind West Virginia. and MaxPreps/ only have a top 25 ranking from what I can tell, and the Panthers do not appear on either. Here's's rankings on each player.

These rankings could all be subject to change, obviously, as the day continues.

There seems to be some disagreement on who is the 'gem' of this Pitt class - QB Anthony Gonzales is's pick, while and MaxPreps/ both go with DE T.J. Clemmings. Zeise also basically says its Clemmings as well.

Really, most of us know that these rankings, while not completely meaningless, account for very little. So many invariables - coaching, academics, attitude, etc. go into making a highly-ranked player even a good one in college. Still, it's nice to see Pitt hang onto all of their players as plenty of schools suffer 'defections' every year.

2010 Football Class Complete

After covering it all morning, Paul Zeise of the PG has the official word that the signing class has been completed. I'll have more on this later, but it looks like another fairly good class for Pitt.

No one has been lost and Pitt has signed their full expected class of 24 recruits.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Movin' On Down

Pitt took a >slight tumble in the latest basketball polls released yesterday following their loss to South Florida on Sunday. They dropped from #17 in both polls to #21 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll and #22 in the AP Poll.

A loss at WVU this week could drop them out of both polls.

With the latest loss, the whole 'Sky Is Falling' talk has officially begun with talk of Pitt not making the tournament. I think Pitt has too many winnable games left not to get in and I expect them to pull off at least one more 'upset' along the way.

Updating the Big Ten Stuff Without...You Know...Much Of An Update

Lots of stuff out there, but not much substance on the whole Pitt to Big Ten thing.

Apparently, USA Today (which cites the oft-quoted E.J. Borghetti Twitter thing)thinks this all got started with a post by Ben Maller, radio host for Fox Sports. His post, though, didn't come until after the recent message board explosion and of course, no sources are quoted.

Chicago Trib says nothing to the rumors, according to 'a conference source.'

Third parties are chiming in, too, mentioning a Big Ten expansion could open the door for a non-BCS school like Memphis.

Apparently, The Big Ten, when asked about it, has offered the obligatory 'No comment.'

I'm assuming that Pitt isn't coming out and definitively saying it's not happening this week in order to keep the obvious follow-up questions (i.e. if not now, when) from being asked as they anticipate they could be one of the schools in the running. But if the athlete meeting, which appears to have taken place (though no one is sure of the susbstance) really WASN'T about the Big Ten, why wouldn't athletes say what it was about?

Anyway, there's also the talk out there that Pitt will be leaving later, just not now. Although, no sources on that, either.

ADD ON: Missed this earlier, but Bob Smizik of the PG also says the Big Ten was not mentioned at the recent athlete meeting.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Revisiting Big Ten Expansion

Looks like there's been quite a bit of activity on talk about Big Ten expansion. I realllly wanted to avoid bringing this one back since the original talk of expansion hit the street a while back - at least until something substantive came out. If I made a post every time something was discussed on a message board, this would be a 24-7 job.

The only reason I am making a post is because an actual journalist (someone who actually is in direct contact with the school) had a pretty definitive statement on the issue - that would be Paul Zeise of the PG.

Now, this isn't to say the message board stuff or other 'rumors' aren't true. I have no idea. But this is the first actual journalist - someone who does this for a living - I've seen come out and say what they've heard.

Personally, like I said before, it would likely mean more money for Pitt and even more prestige in the football area. But competing would be that much harder in the Big Ten and instead of having the chance do what Cincinnati did this year - go undefeated and compete for a national title - Pitt would have a much harder time winning the Big Ten. Ohio State and Penn State have been national powers for many years, Iowa looks like they could be on the right track, and you've still got Wisconisn, Michigan (who won't be down forever), MSU, and others to deal with.

Get this clear - I'm in no way saying Pitt could never contend with any of those teams. I'm merely stating the obvious - to beat all of those teams in one year to get to a National Championship would be infinitely more difficult than trying to run the table in the Big East.

I've done my homework out there as far as gathering opinions and I'm sure I'm in the minority on this one. But I would see it as a bad move.

The only thing is that Pitt may be FORCED to make this move if the Big Ten is going to raid more than one team. The conference can survive losing a Rutgers or Syracuse. But losing three teams would force everyone else in scramble mode and who knows where that would end up. So if the Big Ten is taking more than one, Pitt may have to make that move.

The other side of this as well is it's going to hurt basketball. The Big Ten is not terrible, but they're certainly not the drawing card of the Big East. Pitt has a fairly established connection in the NY/NJ/DC area. That's not to say we won't be able to get any of those kids, but the allure of the Big East will certainly help.

In a nutshell, I'm against this unless Pitt's hand is forced.