Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dominque Jones 1, Pitt 0

Real quick recap today, not much to point out. Pitt really didn't look good. I thought that Pitt could be in trouble if Jermaine Dixon didn't play, but really didn't expect them to allow one player to beat them. That's precisely what happened. That's not to say USF has only one good player - just saying that if Pitt can hold Jones to a reasonable game - even his average of around 20 ppg - they likely win. You can't give up 37 points to any one player and really expect to do that. I think we saw how valuable Jermaine Dixon really is on the defensive end for Pitt. On top of allowing him to run roughshod over them, they reverted back to their old selves on the free throw line shooting around 50%.

What was frustrating was the way they closed out the game. They really were getting USF on the ropes a bit and were unable to capitalize. In the last six minutes, they missed two layups, a dunk, five free throws, and had three turnovers, including a key one when Gary McGhee lost the ball after a stop when Pitt could have cut the lead to 2 or 3. You've simply got to take care of the ball and while Pitt had three TOs in the last six minutes, USF had three in the entire 2nd half.

This latest loss is enough to make you wonder where they'll end up. These are games that Pitt really need to, and should, win. Yet, they've looked bad lately and have struggled a bit. They're likely not a top ten team as they were in the polls recently, but I don't think they're a non-tournament team either. With several difficult games left, Pitt will really need to buckle down. Hopefully this gives them a reality check.

Congrats to USF for a statement win - I said before that they're really starting to make strides and this is turning out to be a good year for them.

Cignetti Staying Put and Other Football Notes

Pitt got good news in that Frank Cignetti thankfully seems to have no interest in the Bears job:
"My return to Pitt last year was the realization of a longtime personal and professional goal," Cignetti said in a statement to "It was made even more gratifying by the outstanding season we enjoyed. I couldn't be more fortunate to work for Dave Wannstedt and coach these great kids. Despite recent reports connecting my name with other jobs, I am wholeheartedly committed to being at Pitt and continuing to establish our program among the nation's very best."
The amount of relief for Pitt fans was probably only exceeded by Bears fans, many of who screamed on message boards they wanted no part of him. As I said before, that's good news for us.

A few other random football notes:

The Trib-Review takes a look at the recruting classes with Letter of Intent Day coming up. Pitt ranks 29th according to and as we've heard before, Pitt lost a couple of highly-regarded recruits, that had parents with Pitt ties, to Penn State.

About National Letter of Intent Day, here a small amount of media coverage for it.

Looks like Pitt players had quiet post-season bowl games. Only Dorin Dickerson showed up in either of the box scores, tallying one catch for seven yards.

Now that it's been four years, Scouts, Inc. looks back at the ESPNU top 150 players in the 2006 class and how they've fared. Pitt has three guys on the list - Lesean McCoy, Nate Byham, and Dorin Dickerson. Blogger Brian Bennett also weighs in with his hits and misses from that class.

Tickets for the 2010 season are also now on sale.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Q&A With Astro's Bulls Blog

Ken over at Astros Bulls Blog inquired about a Q&A for the game on Sunday and helped put this one together fairly quickly - thanks to him for the invite. His answers to my questions are below - be sure to check out his site for my take on his questions.

1. South Florida has already won more games this year (13) than they have in any of the past seven. They've not been able to beat the upper-tier teams yet, but they're now starting to win some conference games. The team has taken a step up and is starting to compete a little. What's the next step you'd like to see the team take?

Depth. It's been frustrating the last few years to see us play teams like Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Syracuse tough for 30 minutes, and then fall apart in the last 10 minutes due to us being tired. Coach Heath has had to go the JUCO and transfer route to try to help out, but every season it seems that one or two guys transfer out as well. This year it was Ron Anderson Jr. coming into the program from Kansas State, but we also had Jordan Dumars leave for Michigan, and Justin Leemow heading home.

2. I watched a bit of the USF / Seton Hall game and noticed there were a lot of empty lower-level seats. Having won those three out of their last four Big East games, what kind of buzz is around the area?

Unfortunately, there really hasn't been much of a buzz around Tampa about this team. You can see some of the football season ticket holders start to go to some games, but unfortunately a lot of the season tickets holders in the first level hardly go to any games. I really think the last decade of futility, along with football's meteoric rise, led to basketball being an afterthought in the area. As people say, winning cures all, but in a football mad state like Florida, it will take some time before the Sun Dome get to where it used to be in the early 90s.

3. USF has one of the top scoring duos in the country in Dominique Jones and Augustus Gilchrist (averaging a combined 40+ ppg) - at least before Gilchrist's injury. How highly rated were these guys as recruits? Any thought that either or both of these guys are NBA prospects?

Gus Gilchrist was the 8th rated center out of high school. He signed with Virginia Tech, but after the shootings he wanted out of his LOI. He then went to Maryland, but found out that he would have to sit out two years before he could play. After realizing this after the fact, he finally made his way to Tampa and did pretty well last season. His conditioning was called into question by some fans last year, but during the offseason the S&C staff found out he was anemic. An iron supplement later, and Gus is living up to his potential. I would consider him a pro prospect, but I think his game is better suited for Europe. Either way, he will be making a name for himself once he leaves.

Jones wasn't widely regarded as a prospect at all. He didn't have an AAU team, and Polk County, Florida isn't a hotbed for basketball. Once he did make it on campus, he has been an incredible steal for us. I really don't know where USF would be right now if Jones wasn't here. There are some draft sites that have Dominique going anywhere from the late first round to the early second round. There are some rumors that he might leave for the draft after this season, but I think he will be back for his senior year.

4. The road ahead for USF features a lot of tough opponents (Pitt, Georgetown, UCONN, and Nova, to name a few). An NCAA tournament bid isn't likely without some major upsets. But are there hopes for the NIT? Would that make for a successful season?

We haven't been to any type of tournament since the early 2000s when we had a couple of NIT bids, so ANYTHING would be a huge accomplishment to Heath and Co. All I have asked from this team is 16 wins, and barring a huge collapse, we should be able to reach that mark. You will see me doing backflips if for some reason we make it to the NCAAs, but I would love to see an NIT berth as well.

5. I'll sneak in one football question since the Jim Leavitt thing kind of took off and was a nationwide story. What are your thoughts? Were the majority of fans seemingly for him or against him?

I think most fans were for Jim Leavitt. The last couple of October collapses irked some people, but this was the father of USF Football, and most acknowledged that he would leave on his own terms. I really didn't think Leavitt did it until the report came out, and even then, it still leaves some doubt in your mind. The thing that killed Leavitt was the fact that tried to cover up the whole thing, asking players what they told the investigators and not cooperating at all. With everyone retaining lawyers, I don't think this is over with in the least. I know Leavitt will want to get paid for what he claims is wrongful termination, and if he does get a settlement from the university, the Miller family will most likely sue Coach Leavitt. Just a huge trainwreck on all accounts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back On Track

Pitt rebounded from a rare two-loss streak for a 63-53 home win against St. John's. No, they didn't play great. Heck, they didn't even play very well. But all in all, it's too hard to be upset with a ten-point conference win. Still, plenty to dislike in this game.

St. John's was looking for its first win on the road over a top 25 team under head coach Norm Roberts. This would have been a good win to improve that abysmal 6-40 Big East road record, but it was again a case of not being able to finish for the Red Storm.

This was really a story about one team playing not so great and the other playing slightly worse. Very ugly game to watch with a lot of easy close-range shots being missed. The Panthers really looked...well...awful in the first half. They started 0-5 from the field and shot under 30% for the half. They played better in the second half, but still only ended up shooting 40% for the game. Still, that was better than St. John's, who mustered only around 33%. They also only had 26 points (total) from their starters.

Pitt was also outhustled at times, lost the rebounding battle by ten and again shot horribly from three-point range (2-12).

The team also had some bad news with the loss of Jermaine Dixon to - you guessed it - another foot injury. I hope it's not serious, but one of the lone bright spots of tonight was the play of his replacement - Travon Woodall. I've been killing Woodall lately...and with good reason. But tonight, he played pretty well in 18 minutes (the most minutes he's seen since the Syracuse game nearly a month ago). He was far from spectacular according to the box score, but he didn't turn the ball over once and looked much more comfortable out there.

But despite all the troubles, Pitt was able to pull out a victory in part to, once again, something that's previously haunted them:
Pitt struggled from the floor for most of the game but used a 21-for-24 effort from the foul line to come away victorious.
The free throws thing has really been a pleasant surprise this year. Most Pitt fans would have gladly taken even a mediocre free throw shooting team. In the past five games, they're shooting over 80%. What was previously a major weakness has now turned into, seemingly, a major strength.

And forget about more touches for Taylor - at least it seems like we can. Gary McGhee, who played pretty well tonight (5-7 for 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks), seems to have all but assumed the role as the #1 center on the team and Dante Taylor's minutes seem to be coming harder to come by - he only had ten tonight.

We also got the good version of Brad Wanamaker tonight and while Gibbs was okay (5-13 from the field for 14 points), his three-point slump is getting a bit ridiculous. He was 0-4 tonight and is now 3-19 over the past three games.

With the #10, #11, #14, #15, and #16 teams in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 poll all losing so far this week, if Pitt can win at South Florida on Sunday, then they could move back up in the vicinity of the top ten again. I'm not one of those that think the polls are meaningless. I think perception plays a part in seeding and hovering around the top ten for a good chunk of the season can really help.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Now THIS One Could Hurt

Could Pitt be in line to lose another coach?
MOBILE, Ala.—After being spurned by three potential offensive coordinators with mostly NFL experience, the Bears may turn to candidates with more extensive college backgrounds.

Coach Lovie Smith plans to interview two more candidates for his vacant offensive coordinator position this week and one source close to the situation said he expects the process to be wrapped up soon.

The Bears have received permission to speak with Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, who is expected to interview at Halas Hall today. The team is awaiting permission to speak with a second candidate. That interview is tentatively scheduled for Friday.

Saints tight ends coach Terry Malone and University of Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti are also on the Bears’ radar, according to sources.
Frankly, I never gave this any thought, but as good a year as he had, it shouldn't come as any surprise that he could draw interest.

This would undoubtedly be a blow to Pitt. Cignetti had an incredible year and it would really, for lack of a better term, suck, if he left the Panthers after only one season. Another reason for the potential interest by an NFL team is that Frank also has experience in the NFL as a former Quarterbacks coach. And of course, it doesn't help that he had a great year in the college ranks.

The 'ol message boards aren't being kind to him. That's fine by me - I'll keep him.

I'm hoping the local ties might influence him a little, but in the eyes of most, the NFL is the ultimate goal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Q&A With Pico at The East Coast Bias

Pico over at the fantastic blog, The East Coast Bias, asked for my participation in a brief Q&A before the Pitt / St. John's game. Below are his answers to my questions - be sure to check out his site for my answers to his:

1. I saw a bit of that St. John's / Villanova game on Saturday and was surprised by the number of Nova fans at the game, even with the fairly close proximity of the two teams. We all know that St. John's has a strong basketball history, but being down for a while, just how strong of a brand is St. John's basketball in the NYC area? With all the professional teams nearby, I'm sure they take somewhat of a backseat, but just how much?

That's certainly not abnormal, the numbers of opposing fans in the Garden. Pitt draws well there, Duke draws well there, Kentucky draws well there, U Conn draws well there - a lot of fans move to the NYC area. Recently, Rick Pitino said in his pregame chat with reporters before the St. John's game that the Big East didn't need St. John's to be good for the league to be strong; he could have extended that statement to "Madison Square Garden doesn't need St. John's to be good to sell tickets." And the Garden has no real allegiance; they just need to make their projected gate receipts.

The question about the Red Storm (or Redmen, as some prefer) and the strength of the brand is hotly debated among some fans. Is it just the losing that causes problems in filling the arena? Or is it that NYC isn't a college basketball city? Or is it the competition for ticket money?

But U Conn fans can fill the Garden because they win. Duke can get a good crowd going. And basketball tickets for college are much more affordable than pro tickets or football tickets. The pro teams are nice, but they're also not that good - especially when talking about basketball. There are a generation of people in their 20's and even early 30's whose memory of a rocking Garden and a relevant St. John's is at the edges of their 10th year, or in little spurts. Losing and a lack of fan memory doesn't do much to build a brand. And while I think the Garden will always draw a bipartisan crowd, NY is filled with basketball fans; a game there doesn't have to feel like an away game for the Red Storm.

2. St. John's is just now getting Anthony Mason, Jr. back in game shape after his injury and as expected, his minutes have been down a bit as the coaches are working him back in slowly. I've been kind of a fan of his during his career as he's a legitimate inside and outside player with the ability to hit the three (even though he's a bit streaky from out there). What kind of impact is he expected to make to the team once he gets back to full strength?

It's hard to say for certain what impact he'll make. There aren't strong expectations - he's been off of the grid for a year and a half, almost. And being out that long has to indicate a serious athletic issue. Certainly, he looks bigger, but Mase hasn't displayed the athleticism that the coaching staff wanted him to use more often to drive 2 years ago before he started having recurring hamstring injuries. But he's been more under control and rebounding very well in his time back. But the team could use another player who can score and create his shot when the droughts happen, when the team is out of rhythm. Can he be that? I'm not sure. Is he good enough to carry the team? Not sure on that, but I would think that's doubtful. But I'd love to see him try.

3. At 12-7, St. John's is off to one of its better starts since the 2001-02 season when they last made the NCAA Tournament. With a tough schedule still to come, while a tournament run is not likely this year, it's not impossible. The decent showing against Nova was probably slightly encouraging. What will St. John's need to do to make a run at the tournament or make a strong run in the NIT?

The showing against Nova looked like the showing against Georgetown, and the first half against U Conn. It doesn't feel strong, it feels like the same old thing - sloppy/ non-impact pay at the point, perimeter-focused play, midgame droughts... Some will say the team has a problem with second halves with respect to coaching, but I think slightly differently; the coaching and halftime adjustments are a factor, but so is the wearing down of talent. St. John's makes mistakes, and by the second half, the other team can exploit those mistakes and weaknesses.

To make a run at the tourney or the NIT... hmm. I think the team has to make a sudden turnaround in offense, scoring more regularly, drawing fouls. I think Dwight Hardy would have to start and put up 15 points per game; I think some player has to become an 8-10 point per game scorer in the paint and then the team has to get him the ball regularly; I think the team has to get something out of the point guards; I think the perimeter defense needs to improve. Perhaps Omari Lawrence will be as good as he was against Villanova; maybe Dele Coker would get more time. Maybe Justin Burrell will see the floor more and be a consistent scorer; maybe Justin Brownlee will do the same. There's a lot to overcome to get to either of those milestones

4. With only one winning season (16-15 in 2006-07) at St. John's in the five years he's served as coach, what are the thoughts on Norm Roberts around the area? If he doesn't get to above .500 this year, is he in any danger of losing his job? If so, or even if not, who are some coaching candidates that have been thrown around by media or even by fans?

The newspaper coverage - like in most places - won't go hard after Coach Norm Roberts, but even the local media know that the fans are frustrated, that it's been 6 years, and there's no real reason to believe this is going to turn around. I don't think a winning season is the firing threshold. After all, 1 overall winning season in 5 years (or 2 in 6 years) usually gets a coach fired, and 28-64 (30% winning percentage) in the Big East... one has to think that's some thin ice. This year the team's 2-5 in conference. It's going to be nearly impossible to get to .500 in the Big East this year, and what's the threshold for Norm in between .500 (the NCAAs) and a 2-win season? To be fair, the Athletic Director has said that he has confidence in Norm, and they (he and the President) like how he represents the University. But this was supposed to be the year the team starts winning games; I don't think the decision-makers realized how far St. John's has been from winning margins in the past.

The media hasn't run with the "if he's fired" ball yet, so no coaching candidates to date. The fans on the message boards have their favorites, ranging to most NYC-connected coaches, mostly with (positive) head coaching records. I won't give voice to those names (though admittedly, I will take a look at some coaches for the possible local openings on the East Coast Bias blog), but Tom Pecora will find a way to get his name in there. If it gets to "dead man walking" level - and no one quite knows at what level the coach would certainly be fired - there are multiple issues to consider, including how much the school will pay, the "cleanliness" of the coach, et cetera.

5. Dwight Hardy has been a key player for the Red Storm coming from Community College. As a junior, fans will still have another year to have him around. Has his production been a surprise for the team or was he expected to contribute this much?

A slight surprise, but the fans figured that if he could really shoot, he'd get time - the team has lacked a 3-point shooter for much of Norm Roberts' time at St. John's. So someone who could come up and just start shooting with just a simple screen was going to get some minutes. He's been a nice player for sure; and his ability to bring the ball up on occasion is also helpful.

Aaron Gray Traded

Minor note here to most, but I thought it was worth at least a mention. Former Pitt center, Aaron Gray, was traded from the Bulls to the New Orleans Hornets.

This move will only benefit Gray, who has been a solid player when he's had time on the court. He couldn't get off the bench behind the Bulls' Joakim Noah and Brad Miller. He won't start in New Orleans who has former UCONN center Emeka Okafor, but he should be the backup center as, well, he's the only other center there. No, Sean Marks doesn't count.

I don't think Gray will ever be a star in the league, but he could develop into a double-double type of guy and maybe average around 10/10 somewhere down the line if he ever got a look at starting. People sometimes forget he's only 25.

Happy for him because a move like this will only be a good thing.

Buddy Morris On His Way Out?

Looks like strength and conditioning icon Buddy Morris could become the third Pitt coach this offseason to move on:
Pitt strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris is a strong candidate for a similar position with the Washington Redskins. He is expected to interview for the position Wednesday.
You always hear that he's one of the best in the business. If he really wants back in the NFL, and who wouldn't, then I wish him the best of luck even though it would likely hurt Pitt at least a little.

Monday, January 25, 2010

So....Now What?

After a somewhat disappointing loss against Seton Hall, many Pitt fans (myself included) are asking a collective, 'Now what?' After a short fall in the rankings, Pitt also found itself sliding in Joe Lunardi's meaningless, but fun, Bracketology, to a four seed.

To start, many also are asking how Pitt could lose on Sunday. The answer is two-fold:

1. Seton Hall is not nearly as bad as some thought.

2. Turnovers:
"We had 20 turnovers, 14 in the first half," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That usually will lead to a loss. Most amazingly, [the turnovers] all came in the half-court, which is hard to comprehend. We're making bad decisions and not executing well enough offensively and defensively."
The question on a lot of minds is likely if it's panic alert time since Pitt could have easily lost three in a row. Ray Fittipaldo doesn't think so and I agree with that. I think Pitt really needs to regroup and win both of these next two, though, or some serious questions will start being asked. Games at home against St. John's and on the road at South Florida are games you MUST win if you're expected to be a top contender in the best conference on the planet.

What's the cause for the recent lapses? Jermaine Dixon has some thoughts:
"We need to mentally get back to where we were," Dixon said. "I'm not going to say it's the rankings -- and I don't know how people are taking it -- but ever since our rankings got higher, I think our defense got worse."
Can't just be the rankings - it's GOT to be something else - oh yeah, there's that shooting problem:
Opposing teams are playing more attention to Pitt sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, who is 11 for 43 from the field (6 for 19 from 3-point range) in the past three games.

Seton Hall's Keon Lawrence and Jordan Theodore were the latest guards to take turns chasing Pitt's leading scorer.

"It's definitely more difficult," Gibbs said. "Teams are definitely keying a lot more on me. I've got to keep working on it, and it will fall sooner or later."
Poor defense, turnovers, sloppy play, poor shooting - Pitt can handle one, even two of those. But when three or four happen, it's difficult for any team to win. And that's what we've seen in the past couple of games. I can't state how important these next two games are for Pitt. If they can't manage to win both, there should (and will) be serious questions about just how good they are. Personally, I think they'll be fine. I don't see any possible scenario that they don't get to 20+ regular season wins and I think once in the tournament, anything can happen.

Slight Drop in the Rankings

After Pitt lost twice in the same week, they fell to 17th in both polls today. Not bad considering they're still the 2nd highest ranked team with four losses (just behind Wisconsin). With games against St. John's at home and South Florida on the road, they'll have another chance to move up this week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Let's Hope It's Not Becoming A Trend

Let me start by saying I did not see Pitt's loss against Seton Hall - only a few plays and some highlights. So my analysis on this game is limited to strictly the box score and post-game interviews.

That said, I don't think this loss is that big of a deal. I don't know. Maybe it's the fact that I've seen good Pitt teams get bounced early from the NCAA Tournament and regular season games mean increasingly less to me. The hot start that Pitt has (or, had, depending on how you view it) gotten off to this year really got me excited because I wasn't really expecting that much out of this team. Yes, I predicted 20 wins for them going in, but after the Wofford and Indiana games, my expectations were lessened.

But back to the game.

This loss was to a rising team on the road after they had played an emotional one on Wednesday, so I'm not going to get too bent out of shape over it.

Looking over the box score, it looks like Ashton had another tough day (4-15 from the field), despite getting to the line quite a bit and ending up with 23 points. He also had the misses at the end to tie it. He's now had three off shooting nights in a row and is 11-43 from the field over that span (just over 25%). That's not going to cut it if Pitt is to be successful over the good teams. Yes, when others have shown their ability to step up, Pitt has shown they can still find ways to win. But Jermaine Dixon was the only other player in double figures (11) and the team shot an abysmal 35% from the field.

Other than Jeremy Hazell having a foul-plagued game, the other thing that stuck out to me was Dante Taylor only getting 7 minutes.

Pitt managed to outrebound Seton Hall by ten, but also reverted back to their old ways a bit with 20 turnovers - their most in eight games. Local kid and former Pitt recruit, Herb Pope, also appeared to have Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor for breakfast as he had 19/9 compared to McGhee/Taylor's combined 6/5. Ouch.

The Panthers' next two games are two that they should win - home against St. John's and on the road at South Florida. If Pitt loses either game, there should be cause for some concern - even with Pitt's history of playing down to its competition at times. Pitt really needs to come out strong and get two convincing wins this week.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Star Recruit Gonzalez Injured

Pitt got a bit of bad news with the report of star football recruit Anthony Gonzalez apparently out for the season in basketball due to another injury:
Although best known for football, Gonzalez was an all-league and all-area basketball player last year. averaging 12.9 points and 10 rebounds.

The injury is not expected to impede his football career.

Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt and assisant Brian Angelichio, who recruited Gonzalez, were in Bethlehem on Wednesday night to see him and are satifisfied that the injury will not jeopardize anything.

"He's going to be fine; they were not concerned at all," said Jim Tkach, a Liberty football assistant who is close to the Pitt coaches because his son, Tyler, is a member of the Panthers' program. "He should be able to recover in time to play in the Big 33 game in June. Anthony's a great kid. This is a tough thing for him, I'm sure, but he'll bounce back."
As the article points out, it's not the same knee he previously injured, but it's this is a fairly serious one.

It's a shame to see his basketball career likely end, but hopefully he can recover quickly and completely.

Football Notes

With the Georgetown game out of the way, time to get caught up on a bunch of miscellaneous stories floating around:

Dorin Dickerson, Aaron Berry, and Nate Byham will all be playing in senior games to showcase their skills before the draft.

Meanwhile, Mel Kiper has his 2011 (yes, 2011) draft board up already. In it, Greg Romeus ranks as the #3 DE and Jason Pinkston the #5 OT. I don't know if Romeus can repeat the kind of success he had this year. With the loss of Mick Williams, more attention will probably be paid to him. But if he can, he could be a first-rounder.

Focusing on the NFL, here's a fairly unique article/slideshow of the top Big East players currently in the NFL - Pitt has three of them including the top two.

Brian Bennett breaks down the top ten Big East games of the year and Pitt lands in three of them...including, unfortunately for Pitt fans, the #1 game against that Ohio team that shall remain nameless. The game also ranked 3rd in the Big East games of the decade and a certain upset from 2007 was #4.

Bennett also rates Pitt as the #4 Big East team in the decade. I would have probably bumped them ahead of Virginia Tech, but maybe that's just me. And sticking with Bennett and this whole decade theme, he ranks Dave Wannstedt as the #10 coach of the Big East.

Moving from Bennett, Bill Conley of Scouts, Inc. says Pitt's 2010 class is better than its 2009 one., the school's satellite site for football, has a nice video recapping 2009 season highlights.

Mark Schlabach at says Larry Fitzgerald was the top college wideout of the decade and the #9 overall player. Along those same lines, Paul Zeise throws out some options for Pitt player of the decade and also goes over yet more coaching changes including the departure of Joe Tumpkin and addition of former Pitt QB Luke Getsy.

But getting back to the original thought about player of the decade. Using his list, I'd rank the top five as follows:

1. Larry Fitzgerald
2. Lesean McCoy
3. Darrelle Revis
4. Rod Rutherford
5. (tie) H.B. Blades
5. (tie) Antonio Bryant
5. (tie) Scott McKillop

The last three were too close to call in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Pitt's winning streak finally came to an end tonight, as they lost to Georgetown 74-66, breaking their eight-game win streak..

Pitt played alright, but Georgetown simply played better. There were ultimately a few key reasons why the Panthers couldn't win:

- The biggest reason Pitt lost was of course the way they played over the last ten minutes. It felt like the Texas game all over again. Over that span they shot 3-15 (with the exception of two meaningless baskets in the final seconds) from the field and had four turnovers (they only had seven in the entire game).

- Pitt did a fairly good job of keeping tabs on Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe, not allowing either to go crazy. But somehow, they missed the memo on Chris Wright, who went off for 27 points.

- A lot of people wondered what would happen when Pitt played a good team and Ashton Gibbs didn't play well. Well, we were reminded tonight. Gibbs has had off nights before, but most of the time, they've come against inferior teams. The other lone time it did was in the Texas game, and we remember what happened there. This team is pretty good, but will struggle against good teams when it's best player has time scoring. Even though I'm not sure I'd significantly cut his minutes, you have to wonder if Dixon will change his philosophy about keeping him on the floor so much.

- Pitt can get by when one player is struggling, but when three of their best are off, they're going to have bad games. Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker both combined to shoot 8-23 from the field - under 33%. Not even a career high 20 points by Gilbert Brown could balance out that debacle.

If you've watched Pitt the past couple of weeks, it doesn't seem like a reach to see them winning a few games in the tournament. But tonight was a perfect example of why Pitt could get bounced early. They managed to keep the turnovers to seven, but the shots just weren't falling and really only got good, efficient production from one player in Gilbert Brown...two if you count Gary McGhee...which leads me to my periodic rant about why he is so difficult to watch sometimes...

- Tonight he went 3-3 from the field for seven points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. Not terrible for what Pitt needs from him. But as I said before, it seems for every good play he makes, he makes an equally bad one. He was painful to watch over the last four minutes of the game. He had a bad foul on a dunk, threw the ball away after a steal, and refused to box out. The lack of boxing out/giving up offensive rebounds is what really bothers me because it seems to happen quite a bit. His defense is actually pretty good if you ask me, but many times, the rebounding needs to be a little better.

- Three-pointers also didn't help the Panthers as Georgetown shot 70% to Pitt's 22%. I don't mind so much that they only made's taking 18 that wasn't the best idea.

Also, the inbounds layup with one second to go on the shot clock wasn't a reason they lost. But that can't happen. It seemed to sum up the game - Pitt seemed a step behind much of the night, even though score-wise, it was a very back and forth game.

I'm definitely not going to preach doom and gloom after one loss. Pitt can't beat every good team they play. They're a very good team, but even good teams lose some games. The good news for Pitt, as I've stated over and over, is that they still have several very winnable games left on their schedule. They will win their share of games and should easily get over 20, but they'll lose some more along the way.

Ironically, would the game have turned out different if Ashton Gibbs and Chris Wright switched places?:
Even with his close ties to Knight, Gibbs wasn't a sure thing to come to Pitt. Ironically, he also was considering the school the Panthers host tonight, Georgetown. But when Chris Wright, a five-star guard from Washington D.C., picked the Hoyas over Pitt, Gibbs looked elsewhere.

"(Wright) going there was his choice and I just had to make another move," Gibbs said. "I could have ended up there, but it's something that didn't happen and I'm just happy to be here."
Eh, I'd still rather have Ashton. Call me a homer.

And by the way, the next game is no cupcake as Pitt gets Seton Hall on the road this Sunday. The Hall is only 10-6, but five of their losses have come against ranked teams. How Pitt bounces back could be a good barometer of what kind of team Pitt will be the rest of the way.

Monday, January 18, 2010

WR Coaching Vacancy Filled Within

Dave Wannstedt looked within the program to fill the WR coaching vacancy left open with the departure of Bryan Bossard. Scott Turner (son of Norv Turner), former Offensive Assistant and UNLV Quarterback, will replace Bossard. Before coming to Pitt, Turner worked at a prep school - South County Secondary School - and was a graduate assistant at Oregon State.

He is also expected to be involved with recruiting in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area.

Turner wasn't able to provide Pitt with much inside info before that 3-0 bowl debacle, but best of luck to him.

More Respect

Pitt got some much deserved respect when the polls came out this afternoon as they were moved up to #9 in the AP Poll and #11 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. They're in a spot that no one could have really predicted after the Wofford game and Indiana loss. And how on earth does North Carolina or UCONN with six losses stay in the top 25? Please.

More rankings as Gary Parrish over at bumps Pitt up to eighth. Gary also had time to mention Nasir Robinson's career day.

The players, of course, are doing their best to not buy into the hype.

Joe Lunardi also did right by Pitt as he moved the team up to a rising #2 seed. As much as North Carolina and UCONN have underachieved, I'd still hate to face either as a #6 seed in the first round.

And just as it's a surprise to many to see the team ranked so high, it's also been surprising to see Ashton Gibbs develop the way he has - at least so quickly. Obviously with the depature of a huge chunk of the offense there are more opportunities, but I didn't expect this kind of leap in production. I figured as a three-point shooter with more shots, he could get up to maybe around 10 per game. But he's exceeded those expectations - and then some. For Gibbs, its all about confidence.

Anyway, reverting back to Saturday one final time, Jermaine Dixon has a theory on why Pitt didn't see the press as much as it typically does from Louisville:
"I can see why (Pitino) didn't press and decided to stay in the matchup zone. But I was surprised they didn't press us because they had a lot of success with it last year. I think they felt they could press Levance because they wanted to wear him down because we ran a lot of our sets through him."
I don't know how much sense that makes. I would think there are more sets for Gibbs to get open as he's a more potent scorer than Levance was. But for whatever reason, there was certainly less pressing going on than normal.

Meanwhile, Ron Cook of the PG is probably correct in this assertion about Gary McGhee:
McGhee is hardly a star, but Pitt would not be 15-2 and knocking on the door of the top 10 without him. He had the difficult challenge this season of taking over in the post for All-American DeJuan Blair, who, you might have heard, is showing off his game quite nicely in the NBA. He hasn't backed down from it, giving Pitt a big body and a better-than-expected physical presence inside as a defender and rebounder.
Also, Jermaine Dixon is also still working out his game after the injury.

In other news, Pitt missed out on Andy Katz's team of the week and lost to...Virginia? Virginia beats Georgia Tech and Miami at home while Pitt beats UCONN on the road and Louisville at home. He also dissed Pitt a bit by not even declaring Pitt/Georgetown as a 'place to be', instead opting for games the same day such as Temple/Xavier and *gag* Utep/Memphis. Seriously? I think I just threw up in my mouth.

Georgetown up next.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Recapping Louisville

Pitt's overtime win yesterday was yet another step towards gaining respect in the Big East. It's probably time that this team be recognized as one of the best in the Big East, if not the country.

Both teams have dealt with significant personnel losses, but only Pitt has been able to really adjust.

This was a game Louisville likely had won if not for something that has typically haunted Pitt in the past:
But as Pitino pointed out afterward, Pitt's comeback could not have happened without a series of critical errors by his team late in the contest:

• Jared Swopshire missed the front end of a one-and-one with 40 seconds on the clock.

• Edgar Sosa missed two free throws with 25 seconds left.

• Then Sosa missed another with 11 seconds left.

Sosa's two misses with 25 seconds left turned out to be the turning point. Out of a timeout, Wanamaker, who was left wide open, made a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 68-67 with 16 seconds remaining.
Things looked bleak with Pitt down by five with about 30 seconds to play, but Jermaine Dixon kept believing:
Jermaine Dixon knows exactly how much can happen in the final minute of a basketball game.

His older brother, pro guard Juan Dixon, played for Maryland in an '01 classic when Duke erased a 10-point deficit in the final 54 seconds and won in overtime.

"Personally," Jermaine Dixon said, "I knew the game wasn't over."

It wasn't quite the "Miracle Minute," but it will be remembered as one of the most amazing comebacks in Pitt history.
Going back to that three-pointer, I was surprised Wanamaker was able to get so wide open:
Louisville’s lead could’ve been more than four, but Edgar Sosa missed two free throws late in the game. On the ensuing Pitt possession, Jermaine Dixon drove to the hoop, but had his shot swatted into the first row by Louisville’s Samardo Samuels. On the inbounds pass from Dixon, Wanamaker stood all alone in the left corner and knocked down a 3-pointer, his only attempt from beyond the arc all game.
“Ashton and me crossed, and with Ashton being the shooter they followed him and left me open,” Wanamaker said.
Rick Pitino seemed to take this one hard. Real hard:
"Outside of Duke and Christian Laettner, this was the worst loss I ever had to experience," Pitino said after Pitt's 82-77 overtime victory.
As I mentioned yesterday, Nasir Robinson was a big part of the victory, but without Brad Wanamaker's three-pointer and free throws in the last 30 seconds of the game, Pitt gets dealt a harsh loss. He's grown up quite a bit from the freshman who played so sloppily that many (including myself) wondered if he'd ever make key contributions to Pitt. There's no doubt now, though, that he can step up in big games.

Joe Starkey at the Trib says it's the little things Pitt did that helped win the game.

The shot chart on the game showed that unlike the UCONN contest, Pitt managed to force Louisville to make outside shots.

The loss may end up to be a costly one for Louisville, still without a signature win.

I think Jamie Dixon said it best:
"We found a way to win," Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon said. "They're a good team with good players. It was a well executed game and we battled through. I'm not going to single out any guys. The rebounding numbers speak to how well our guys played, especially against a rebounding team. It was a good win against a good team."
With two solid wins this week, Pitt is due to move up in the polls.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What A Game

I've got to admit to doing two things I normally don't -

First, down 5 with about 30 seconds left, I started to write the 'eulogy' about how Pitt lost a close game and had simply been outplayed just a bit. Not so much because the lead was insurmountable at that point. It just 'felt' like it wasn't Pitt's day. Normally, I have a pretty good radar for this type of stuff.

But not today.

Second, I visited two live game threads/message boards - one Pitt, one Louisville. It was amazing to me how both sides were so adamant the refs were out to get them. Personally, it felt like an evenly-called game to me up until the last bit of regulation and OT. It seemed like Louisville really got the benefit of the doubt on several calls: The Samardo Samuels non-charge call (especially since the refs had been so quick to call Pitt for charges early on), Edgar Sosa getting bailed out on the layup as replays clearly showed he traveled before being fouled, Samuels grabbing the arm of Wanamaker in OT and not getting called for it, and perhaps the most egregious, the non-call near the end of regulation on the Ashton Gibbs three-point attempt. Does anyone seriously think that someone as accurate as Gibbs would short a shot THAT much?

Anyway, I'm not even so much blaming the refs on those. I think they were determined to 'let them play' and swallow their whistles. I just think Louisville was more physical on those plays and, thus, got the benefit of the calls.

Moving on.

It's amazing how much sports can pump you up. Not that I wasn't interested in this game, but I thought Pitt had a good chance to lose this one and perhaps, braced for the worst. I watched the game, but wasn't overly emotional when Pitt got behind (and was behind for most of it). But the feeling after tying it in regulation then coming out strong in OT was unbelievable.

Okay, so, the game.

Well, it was a good one. For starters, if you missed it, Pitt won 82-77 in OT. All you have to do is look at the vaunted game flow chart and you can see it was a close game all the way through. No team had a lead larger than six points and while Louisville led for much of the game, it never really felt like Pitt was really out of it.

The thing about this Pitt team is that different guys continue to step up. Ashton Gibbs had a crappy day shooting the ball today (4-12 / 15 points). Gil Brown for some reason was a non-factor and ended up with zero points. But someone else stepped up. Big time.

Enter Nasir Robinson - the type of player that really embodies Pitt when you think about it. Not the most talented guy, but showed he can play well when needed. 26 of the most efficient points you'll ever see (11-14 from the field 4-6 FTs) and 11 rebounds (more than double of any other Pitt player).

Brad Wanamaker's been doing it for most of the year, but started off kind of slow in the Big East. He'll get kind of lost in the Nasir Robinson talk, but Wanamaker was just as important. He added 20 big points today and without his late three-pointer and two clutch free throws at the end of regulation, we're sitting here talking about a loss.

Free throws - without a doubt, the biggest game-changer today. Usually, when that's said, it's a bad thing for Pitt. But the Panthers are getting increasingly better at free throws and are starting to shake off that terrible reputation for missing them. Wanamaker 11-12, Gibbs 4-4, Taylor 3-4, Robinson 4-6 - they really shot well from the line today. Pitt shot 24-30 from the line to Louisville's 10-17.

The press turned out to not be a big factor. Louisville did use it, but only at times, and for the most part, Pitt had no trouble with it.

On the flipside, Samardo Samuels was no joke - 25/5. Preston Knowles also played well for Louisville. I was surprised to see him not get the last look near the end of OT for the three, but maybe Pitt's defense had him covered.

Today's joke of the day was when Reginald Delk fouled out and was headed to the bench. He received the obligatory 'left-right' chant as he headed back to the bench and faked sitting down as the Zoo said 'sit down'. By the way, if you've never heard this/seen this at the Pete, bear with me. He then sat down again and the crowd yelled 'sit down' a second time. He had a smile on his face and was chatting with a few teammates. Funny stuff. I'm always curious as to how much the players pay attention to the fans.

Here's a nice link to some sweet AP game photos.

Strong win for Pitt, but the end of this labyrinth is not yet in sight. Next up - Georgetown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

One Big Game After Another

There's been PLENTY of talk about Pitt after the UCONN game and it seems like the nation is finally catching on to something we all know - Jamie Dixon is a pretty good coach and Pitt is a pretty good team.

The articles have been out there all week and rather than recap them, I'm going to take a brief look at the Louisville game tomorrow.

It's a big one.

Certainly not a must-win for Pitt on the heels of three very good road wins. But Pitt has a real chance to carry momentum forward for another week. Win, and the Panthers should be knocking on the door of the top ten in the polls. Another would win would allow Pitt to take another step towards becoming the best in the Big East.

Louisville, to me, is a team similar to UCONN in the sense that in the times they've been challenged, they've fallen short. Louisville's played two ranked teams - Kentucky and Villanova, and have lost both. Their best win? Probably going on the road to defeat Providence. So they'll come in with something to prove. It's also early in the season, but like UCONN, a loss won't help their hopes of making the tournament. Their schedule only gets harder, having to play UCONN twice, Syracuse twice, West Virginia and Georgetown - half of those games are on the road. Losses to teams like UNLV, Charlotte, and Western Carolina (all decent, but not spectacular) will not help their chances, either.

The key to the game could be Louisville's vaunted full-court press. I've not seen Louisville yet this year, but I expect the press to be in full force. Pitt's seen a little bit of the press this year, so hopefully they can be prepared for it.

As the only team to win twice at the Petersen Events Center, Louisville isn't likely to come in overwhelmed by the Pete. I expect them to come in hungry to get a quality win for their tournament resume.

Also, Rick Pitino and guard Peyton Siva discuss the matchup.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Class of the Big East?

That's the question I'm asking shortly after Pitt's ten-point win AT UCONN. Pitt's now gone on the road three straight times and come away with three wins for the first time in its Big East history. Factor in the competition in a top 10 team, top 15 team, and a team that was previously ranked, and in the words of Judge Smails the teams they've beated have been 'no slouches.' UCONN, on the other hand, is left with yet another defeat to a ranked opponent.

Beating UCONN three straight times feels mighty good. The early reports are in and folks are just now starting to catch on, it seems.

I always find myself rushing to the box score and flow chart immediately after the game looking for something specific. Tonight, I was looking for UCONN's number of layups or points in the paint. Had Pitt lost, that would have been the main reason why.

The verdict? According to, 19 of the 25 field goals were layups or dunks.

No that's not a typo. I knew it was bad, but no idea it was THAT bad. What's even worse was that 12 of their 13 FGs in the second half were layups or dunks.

I've been watching basketball for over 20 years. I honestly can't remember ever seeing a college game where a team got so many easy baskets. They had a lot of transition points and seemed like they were in the paint all night. Pitt's defense wasn't the greatest - ESPECIALLY in transition.

But perhaps that makes the win that much more impressive. To win by ten in a rivalry game on the road when (and this is key) you didn't play your best game gives me a good feeling.

For once, Cryin' Calhoun didn't make any excuses, lauding Pitt in his post-game comments. And even though I talk about all the easy baskets, Jamie Dixon pointed out another key stat:
"We came in at halftime; I told them we got beaten on the boards by four. We had to turn that around."

"We out rebounded them by 13 in second half, and clearly that was the difference."
The silly talk about Pitt perhaps not making the tournament should be over. As I mentioned before, this IS a tournament team. And not only a tournament team, but a team that can challenge for the conference title. Starting 4-0 in the conference and winning your last seven games will make you think like that. Funny thing is, I keep waiting for the team to falter. I'm convinced it will happen, but when? I figured this would be a much harder game, but the fact is that had UCONN not gotten so many easy buckets, it would have been much more lopsided.

Brad Wanamaker had his first good game for Pitt in Big East play, scoring 19 to co-lead the Panthers along with Ashton Gibbs. It was a good thing as Jermaine Dixon didn't have a particularly strong game.

On the flip side, Travon Woodall looks like a mess out there at times. I don't know if it's because he's not getting as many minutes or whatever, but he was completely wreckless with the ball lately taking bad shots or throwing it away. The fact that we never see Chase Adams out there makes me think he must be somehow even worse.

And in the middle, Gary McGhee is painfully mediocre. I almost think he cancels himself out because for every good putback or rebound he gets, he gives up another. And it's clear that Dante Taylor has much less leeway than McGhee does. Taylor was called for a moving screen (which was no worse than some of McGhee's) and he came right out immediately. McGhee allows offensive rebounds or makes a piss-poor effort blocking someone out and he stays on the court. Granted, he played better tonight, but Dixon's intolerance of Taylor's mistakes seems like a pattern.

UCONN, like Pitt, on the other hand doesn't have the same look as in previous years. But even with strong performances by players at times (i.e. Stanley Robinson tonight) are really without a key leader according to folks in the area. I don't know. Pitt really doesn't have a leader if you think about it. Ashton Gibbs? Can a sophomore really lead a team even if he's their best player? Gilbert Brown? Fresh off a suspension and he doesn't even start yet. Jermaine Dixon may be the closest to the team leader and he's certainly not a definitive one and has only been in the program as long as Gibbs has. I don't know how much that plays into it. The Fab Five went to the National Championship game with a starting lineup composed of freshmen.


For once it's nice to get the edge on free throw shooting - Pitt shot 85% to UCONN's 46%.

As absurd as it sounds, if Pitt can beat Louisville at home (which could be a daunting task because of their press), Pitt will have a look at getting to...*gasp*...25 games.

Yeah, I said it.

Football News and Notes

Some miscellaneous football notes for the day:

Paul Zeise and the media had an unusally informative session with Dave Wannstedt today. Some of the things that came out of it - RB Shariff Harris plans to transfer, Phil Bennett possibly staying, and the tentative offensive line heading ito the Spring.

Also out of that session, and confirmed by ESPN's Joe Schad, was a good piece of news for Pitt fans - Greg Romeus will be returning for his senior season. That's not a huge surprise to me as I don't think it was ever confirmed he would be a high pick. Very welcome news considering Pitt is already losing Mick Williams to graduation.

More postseason Big East awards go to Pitt from and they also called Dan Mason next year's breakout defensive player.

And in incredibly late news, despite repeated trips to, I've just now noticed their satellite site, even though it was out since September.

And just in case you were wondering, Pitt has seven NFL players still in the playoffs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Links Du Jour

Long, long day today - just getting to some links:

Looking ahead to the NFL draft, Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham get combine invites.

After a year of shutting down some of the top receivers in the game, former Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis finishes 2nd in the voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Pitt women have tumbled out of the polls after losing their last three games.

Gary Parrish over at has the Pitt men all the way up to 12th in its most recent poll.

And in the Post-Gazette's weekly Pitt basketball chat, Ray Fittipaldo discusses a number of topics including prospect Maurice Walker, his updated over/under on Pitt's Big East wins, and the likelihood of Ashton Gibbs leaving early for the NBA, and

Jumping ahead to the basketball game tomorrow:

Pitt is 4-0 since the return of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown.

Ol' Sourpuss, Jim Calhoun, actually gives a compliment that's not backhanded.

UCONN's coach and one of its players can't quite decide on the importance of the game tomorrow night:
"It's not a critical game for us," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, downplaying the importance only slightly. "It's an incredibly important game for us, as every single game is."
"I think for us it's a must win," UConn guard Kemba Walker said. "We need it. I think we need a win right now."
And if you think you needed another reason why tomorrow's game may be a difficult one:
No. 16 Pitt will shoot for a three-game Big East road sweep -- an unprecedented feat for the Panthers since they joined the conference 27 years ago.

Monday, January 11, 2010

WR Coach Out

Paul Zeise of the PG broke the news that Bryan Bossard, Pitt's receivers coach, is apparently moving on.

Tough to say what really went wrong. He seemed to do a fine enough job - Baldwin has been great and Mike Shanahan looked good in his first year. But like Paul says, there's also the personality factor that we never really think about unless we hear of conflicts.

Either way, good luck to Bossard down the road.

Paul also has some news in there on Phil Bennett and running backs coach, David Walker.

Baldwin Cleared

I have to admit that I forgot about this little incident back in the Spring, involving wideout Jonathan Baldwin.

Looks like he was finally, just now, cleared and found not guilty:
Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski acquitted Baldwin, 20, of two counts of indecent assault and two summary charges after a brief non-jury trial this morning. The charges stemmed from an April 18 incident on a shuttle bus.
Gotta love the legal system - a brief non-jury trial? Couldn't this have been handled sooner than nine-months in that case?

Oh well.

Pitt Up To #16

Pitt moved up in the rankings today, as expected. The Panthers moved up seven spots to #16 in the AP Poll and six spots to #20 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

The team also got some love from Joe Lunardi in the latest Bracketology rankings as a rising #4 seed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Talking UCONN

Pitt gets ready for yet another road game on Wednesday vs. the hated Huskies. I've got to admit that this game just doesn't feel the same without the likes of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Hasheem Thabeet. But it should still be a big one. These two teams have been the best in the Big East over the past decade.

Would have been nice if UCONN had been able to come away with a win yesterday. As if UCONN needed yet another reason to get up for the game.

Pitt may never outlive that 1998 classic :
More than a decade later, Albert Mouring vividly remembers the wild scene at Fitzgerald Field House.

Mouring, a former guard for Connecticut, recalls the assist that set up his fadeaway 22-footer with 9 seconds to play.

He still can see Vonteego Cummings' errant inbounds pass, and Khalid El-Amin's game-winner as the top-ranked and eventual national champion Huskies, down by four with 11 seconds to play, stunned Pitt, 70-69.

El-Amin punctuated the Dec. 12, 1998, win by jumping on the scorer's table and taunting the stunned Pitt faithful, some of whom tossed plastic water bottles at the gloating point guard.

"I guess the fans were pretty upset that they lost the game," said Mouring, who lives in Maryland.
UCONN has played a bear of a schedule this year and a few nice wins. They've already played Kentucky and Duke as well as Georgetown and Cincy. Oh, and they've still got Texas as well in addition to Louisville, Syracuse, and Nova on the road. Ouch. I'm sure UCONN doesn't want to lose thiks game and fall to 11-5. Obviously a loss wouldn't derail their tournament hopes, but Pitt has a little more margin for error at this point.

The other thing to take into account is that you've got to think that UCONN still remembers those two defeats last year. I think this game matches two pretty evenly matched teams and expect a game down to the wire with the early edge to UCONN as it's a home game for them.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Early Look to 2010 Season

Noticed a few preseason polls (yes, already) for the 2010 football season: has Pitt entering next season as #13.
BUZZ: Dave Wannstedt and Pittsburgh was a win away from a BCS bid in 2009. RB Dion Lewis will be a candidate to be the fourth consecutive sophomore to win the Heisman. The Panthers need to replace some key players on defense - both tackles, a couple of veteran linebackers and CB Aaron Berry - but the Panthers should be the preseason favorite in the conference.
No mention of QB Bill Stull and Dorin Dickerson on offense, but limited space was alloted to each team. One thing I kind of lost track of was the three straight sophomore Heisman candidates. Kind of ironic considering all the talk that Larry Fitzgerald didn't win the Heisman because he was a sophomore. That seems forgotten now.

At any rate, Rivals picks Pitt as effectively the top Big East team with UCONN a somewhat surprising second.

Meanwhile,'s ranking of 15th places Pitt exactly where the ended this season:
Pitt finally got over the hump under coach Dave Wannstedt, who led his alma mater to its first 10-win season since 1981. The Panthers will have to replace quarterback Bill Stull and three starting offensive linemen, but they'll have two of the country's best playmakers in tailback Dion Lewis and receiver Jonathan Baldwin. At least five starters will have to be replaced on defense, too, including All-Big East defensive tackle Mick Williams, linebacker Adam Gunn, and cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel. Wannstedt hopes junior defensive end Greg Romeus is coming back for his senior season. Pitt plays an aggressive nonconference schedule, with road contests at Utah and Notre Dame and a home game against Miami. The Panthers will play Big East road games at Connecticut and Cincinnati and will play Rutgers and West Virginia at home.
Still not sure why exactly Pitt would want to travel to Utah to play, but to each his own. In this poll, Cincy ranks first among Big East teams and Pitt second.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Final Blog Poll

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

Dropped Out: Oregon State (#18), Houston (#20), Oklahoma State (#21), Arizona (#22).

I had to give Boise a bit more credit for finishing undefeated AND beating an undefeated TCU team that was pretty good. Also ranked Florida ahead of Texas due to their thrashing of Cincinnati.

Also, Navy gets into the rankings for a 10-4 season and after their win over Missouri.

Pitt Finishes 15th

Pitt football finished 15th in the final AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. I was a little disappointed to see a four-win Nebraska team finish ahead of them, but not a big deal. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that this was Pitt's highest poll finish since 1982.

One thing I noticed, whether right or wrong, was Boise State's finish of 4th behind both Texas and Florida.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Things That Make Little To No Sense

Plenty of things make little to no sense. You know, the BCS, republicans and democrats, skinny jeans, twitter...the Big East apparently looking into a conference championship.

Now, it's not the conference championship part that's so strange. From a competitive standpoint, I don't particularly agree with adding yet another difficult game to a schedule. In my opinion, that just potentially sabotages a good team from reaching a national championship game, where you can possibly run into the same team twice in a given year ala the ACC. But that's another issue for another time.

No, the reason this particular scenario is so odd is because, according to this article, they would apparently reach out oto the Mountain West Conference to play a joint championship game.

Somehow along the line, I missed how this would actually benefit the Big East.

Apparently, the Big East is afraid of losing its automatic bid with a Big Ten heist and feels it needs to send a preemptive strike of sorts, figuring that a shared bid is better than no bid. But in that case, the Big East needs to focus on other things to solve the football/basketball issue they have, rather than sharing its BCS bid. Those things have been discussed ad nauseum, but in case you've not seen/heard them, in the event of a Big Ten purge of football teams, the most common ones I've seen are:

1. Get Villanova's successful I-AA football program to move to to I-A;

2. Force Notre Dame football to be in or out;

3. Since an exit by one or more teams would remove some basketball members, the Big East could then reach out to teams like Central Florida or Memphis; and/or

4. Reach out to a team like Temple (yeah, I know it was kind of a messy breakup) or another team that may join the football league, but keep playing basketball in another league.

If a Big Ten defection or defections is/are expected, these moves make infinite more sense to me than tryng to share a BCS bid. The article discusses this being potentially a one-year idea, but why open the door? Say the MWC beats the Big East - good luck to the Big East in trying to explain why they deserve to continue receiving a bid.

Out of Season Football Talk

Hadn't visited Brian Bennett's blog over at in a while and he had some interesting nuggets about Nate Byham playing in the East-West Shrine game, Pitt's Meineke Car Care Bowl ticket sales, and a brief look at returning starters on Big East teams.

The last topic is mildly interesting considering that Pitt has the fewest returning starters coming back next year, but is looked at as a favorite to win the title. Guess that's what two outstanding players can do for you.

Another story that's making it's way around again is the potential loss of Defensive Coordinator, Phil Bennett. This isn't the first time it's been discussed and DPJ over at the Cat Basket goes over the possibility again.

Unlike that earlier story from last year, it looks like Bennett has been mum on the subject as of late. His name is also resurfacing in a lot of message boards around the net, including this one.

Obviously it would be a bit of a blow, even if he's replaced by someone competent in-house, as is being rumored. The defense, with the exception of a few games such as the NC State (38 points) and Cincinnati (45 points) games this year and the Rutgers game last year (54 points), has been very good. Yes, the secondary wasn't so hot this year, but it got better as the season went on and injuries didn't help matters. I hope he sticks around, but the silence makes me expect otherwise.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Halfway Home

Well, here we are, halfway through Pitt's regular season. Hard to believe in a way, but it's gone by fast. Let's recap a bit -

To start, I'm still enjoying Pitt's three-point road win against Cincinnati. It seems the bus ride home wasn't exactly a smooth one. These two wins are bigger than many can imagine. Pitt's not only proved they can win on the road against solid opponents, but they're now effectively 3-0 in the conference. Now, I really hate to do this, but I don't see any way Pitt misses the tournament. With 13 wins already and eight games against lower-tier teams (check the schedule), I'm sorry, but it seems as if 20-21 wins is all but a certainty.

So here's to me popping the champagne cork early. I think this team is surely tournament-bound. As Chas over at Pitt Blather reminds us, there are sure to be some stumbles along the way. But this team has put itself in a good position and can afford some of those hiccups, which are sure to come.

Now, at the beginning of the season, I predicted an ambitious 23-7 record (could not predict one game as it wasn't known if we'd be playing Texas or Iowa in the early non-conference tournament). So taking that game out, to this point in the season, I've been pretty on calling for 12-2. Unfortunately, I got some of those games wrong, even though the record was right.

Disclaimers: Had I called for a prediction after the Wofford game, it would have been much worse. I also had a few other things wrong in there.

Okay, back to predictions. Seeing where Pitt is at, 23-7 might not be too bad, so I'll basically stick with that for now (23-8 with the added Texas game). So given that, what are my expectations for the team? I'll stick with simply making the tournament again. At this point, a first-round loss would be painful, but could be understandable with a young team. It's way too early to start talking about advancing in the tournament at this point.

I really have a hard time coming to grips that Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown make such a difference on the team, but that indeed appears to be the case.

But not everyone is sold. Gary Parrish at may be this year's Doug Gottlieb for Pitt fans as after the Syracuse win, he still didn't rank the Panthers.

So with that said, let's get on with the second half of the regular season - starting next week at UCONN.

A few other news and notes:

- Ashton Gibbs didn't make the cut for the Midseason Top 30 List for the Naismith Award.

- Pitt's women's team are playing the Backyard

- Ashton Gibbs was named Andy Katz's Player of the Week.

- I was somewhat surprised during the Pitt/Cincy game to see that it was Pitt's only scheduled appearance on Big Monday. I wonder if they'll regret that should Pitt continue steamrolling opponents as they have been.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Who's Laughing Now?

True, Pitt's 74-71 win at Cincinnati did absolutely nothing to remove any of the disappointment of the football game. But if Pitt's win over Syracuse didn't properly serve notice to the rest of the Big East that the Panthers are for real, beating a second straight quality opponent on the road must have.

The win was Pitt's sixth in a row and snapped Cincy's four-game win streak. This one was a real battle and a back and forth effort, as evidenced by the game flow chart. No team led by more than seven all game long, and that was an early 11-4 Cincy lead.

Ashton Gibbs, who was named the Conference Player of the Week, was his usual self, scoring 19 even while blanketed for much of the game. His free throw streak came to an end at one of the worst times for Pitt, as his miss allowed them a final near half-court three-point attempt to tie it. But in the end, it didn't matter. Looking back at that final foul, in which Cincinnati fouled Gibbs before the inbound pass: That was either unbelievably poor coaching or just a stupid move by the players. Of all the guys to foul, I couldn't believe they went for Gibbs, who is not only one of Pitt's best free throw shooters, but one of the best in the country.

The biggest thing to come out of this was that Ashton Gibbs showed he can be a factor and still find a way to get his points, even while not getting many open looks. Ten of his points came from the foul line and he was able to rack up 19 points while only making four field goals.

But if you watched the game, you know that Gilbert Brown may have been Pitt's biggest star, as he went 7-13 from the field for 17 points, including one of his highlight-film dunks.
Darnell Wilks' 3-pointer with 11 minutes to play gave Cincinnati a 52-51 lead -- its first advantage since four minutes into the first half -- but Brown answered with a 3-pointer and Pitt's most explosive dunk of the season. With the score tied, 54-54, after a follow-up dunk by Rashad Bishop, the 6-foot-6 Brown took a pass from Woodall along the baseline, drove to the basket and dunked over the 6-8, 255-pound Toyloy while being fouled. Brown's free throw gave Pitt a 57-54 lead.

"Travon made a great pass," Brown said. "I made a natural basketball play. I just went up and finished."
But it wasn't that he scored 17, it was WHEN he got them:
Gilbert Brown scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half Monday night, showing the Panthers what they've been missing for most of the season, and Ashton Gibbs made three free throws in the final 7.4 seconds to close out a 74-71 victory over Cincinnati.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin knew the value of his second-half play:
"They're not a very easy team to defend," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Brown had five second-half baskets that I thought really broke our back. You can't really judge Pitt (except) since they have their full team back."
Part of the reason the game was so close was because of the play of Cincy's three stars, Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, and Yancy Gates who shot 56% from the field and went for 48 points.

I was also surprised to see Gary McGhee get more minutes than Dante Taylor tonight. Just when you think Taylor's surpassed him, Jamie Dixon goes back to McGhee. You can look at the box score and say McGhee wasn't all that bad, but he really didn't play that well. He was slow defensively, was outrebounded on several occasions, and looked downright uncoordinated many times. Taylor is not going to be perfect, but he needs more game experience. I found myself screaming at McGhee for much of the night, and that's not good for anybody. With Dixon's penchant for playing upperclassmen, Taylor might never start ahead of McGhee. But that needs to change.

Oh, and those pesky turnovers? Not an issue tonight as Pitt only had 7 - their second lowest total of the year.

Personally, I figured Pitt would be a little flat in this game coming off a big road win only two days ago. Going on the road again, I conceded there might be a chance for a letdown. Glad I was wrong. With the rest of the week off, Pitt has plenty of time to prepare for UCONN next week. They should also move up in the rankings as well.

First Poll Appearance

It's amazing what one quality win will do for you. Pitt's men squeaked into the polls this week for the first time this season, moving up to #23 in the AP poll. They were still unranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll, which might not be so bad if it weren't for some of the teams in front of them.

I'm pretty shocked that Syracuse didn't drop farther, only falling two spots in each poll. Getting your butts handed to you at home by a team that is only ranked in one poll apparently doesn't mean as much as it used to. Conversely, if Syracuse only falls two spots and they're really that good, then Pitt should be higher. Whatever.

Inexplicably, Pitt was right behind Temple. Yes, THAT Temple. The same team who was just steamrolled by 32 (32!) at HOME to #1 Kansas and has one more loss than Pitt. Yes, they're #1, but does anyone honestly think Pitt couldn't put up a more respectable score than that in the Pete? It's also hard not to be irked that teams such as these are ahead of Pitt:

- BYU (14-1): Beat no one of substance and lost to Utah State

- Butler (10-4): Four losses and has one win over a ranked team (OSU)

- Washington (10-3): Three losses and no wins over a ranked team

- Clemson (12-3): Beat Butler by one point - only win over a ranked team

And those are just a few of the teams with more losses than Pitt ahead of them in either poll.

Again, just another reason the polls are a joke.

At any rate, Pitt also gets some love (sort of) in the latest ESPN Bracketology as Joe Lunardi bumps them up to a rising seven seed. Again, whatever. This kind of stuff at least works itself out in this sport.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Orange Crushed

I know - not an original title. But this win felt good. Real good.

For one, Pitt proved that hanging with Texas for 3/4 of the game was no fluke. They not only hung with the Cuse, they defeated them fairly handily, going crazy in the 2nd half with 52 points.

A bunch of things stand out:

- Pitt could have easily folded when down 20-10 early and having not scored for about five minutes. They were having a problem hitting shots, and in a hostile environment, it looked like the rout could be on. But one thing stuck out to me - Pitt was shooting an abysmal 3-15 from the field up to that point and had they made even a few more shots, they'd be right there. Apparently they got the memo as they went on to shoot 20-37 (54%) the rest of the way.

- Ashton Gibbs is a star. Despite what some boneheads might think, he's more than just a jumpshooter. Ronald Ramon, who some want to hold as the 'gold standard' for shooting, was a fine player. He was a deep threat, but little more. Gibbs can shoot mid-range all the way out to NBA three-point range, and even drive to the basket a bit. His defense is reasonable and his free throw shooting is unbelievable. And by the way, he has 15 rebounds in his past two games. This isn't to bring down Ramon, who was as I said, a fine player. But Gibbs brings much more to the table and should be a star for Pitt. Also, congrats to Gibbs who was able to break the school record for consecutive free throws, extending his new record to 37.

- The biggest differences in the game were three-point shooting and free throw shooting. On three-pointers, Pitt was 10-24 while Syracuse was only 1-13. Pitt also bested the Cuse at the line going 26-36 to their 15-23.

- Pitt should have won this game by more than ten points, but their late turnovers and missed free throws didn't help their cause. If you remember games past against Louisville, you know this isn't Pitt's first foray into the land of the press. But Pitt will really need to find guys to step up and handle the ball. The good news is that they seemed to get better at it later in the 2nd half. The bad news is that Pitt will likely have more of that thrown at them and without a great ballhandler, it will only make the turnover situation worse.

- Dante Taylor played maybe as good has he has all year. In only 21 minutes of action, 3-4 from the field, 10 points, 8 rebounds, and only 1 foul. Contrast that with McGhee's 2 point/1 rebound effort in 15 minutes, and I wonder if this may be the tipping point in the season where Taylor starts seeing more minutes. He might not start right away, but I think it will take a lot to give McGhee more playing time at this point. Taylor looked comfortable and composed in a tough road game playing against some pretty good big men.

- Jermaine Dixon had maybe his best game at Pitt with a career-high 21 points. He also filled the stat sheet with 5 steals, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Pitt finally got the third scoring option behind Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. That will be needed if they want to keep winning games.

- I guess I've learned to live with the turnovers and am kind of numb to them now. But it's still incredibly frustrating to see the TYPE of turnovers Pitt is making. So many of them seem to be rushing to make a play or just being downright sloppy, throwing lazy passes. I can live with turnovers. Even more than previous Pitt teams. But the bad turnovers just make you want to pluck your eyeballs out.

I wasn't all that surprised to see Pitt win as I thought they could keep it close. I'm not even all that surprised that they got down early and fought back. But I was a little surprised to see them take it to the Orange in the 2nd half the way they did. They came out and played really well to close the deal. For all the naysayers who were predicting doom and gloom for Pitt, you've got to feel a lot better after this win as they've now shown in two games against top five opponents that they can play with virtually anyone.

Pitt should get a number of votes in the polls on Monday, but still might not be ranked as they only had one combined vote in both polls last week.