Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Last Word On Dixon Until, Well, Next Year

Personally, I'm glad this whole saga has ended. It started off with rumors I couldn't believe even a bit, then went to the 'really?' stage yesterday, and reached an end today with an extension.

I'm not going to over-dramatize this because I think enough of that's been done. Bottom line - Pitt got what it needed. Yet another assurance from Dixon that he wants to be here. But. The most ludicrous thing in the world would be to assume that he's here for the long haul. Jobs open all the time. Personally, I think there are few jobs Dixon would leave for. Dixon has turned down the allure of settling for a job to move out west a few times. That threat appears to have passed. But if a dream job ever opened up, there's always a chance he could go. But the longer he's here, I think the better his chances are of staying.

Now onto something that had me going insane on the drive home today. I caught all three of his post-conference local interviews with 93.7 the Fan, Fox Sports 970, and ESPN Radio 1250. I was appalled that no one (to my knowledge...maybe someone can correct me if I'm wrong) asked the one question I think had to be asked - Did he meet with Oregon? Maybe no one bothered if he ducked the question in the press conference or maybe I just didn't hear it asked. But all of the interviewers lofted softball questions and instead of a bunch of questions about the Oregon situation or leaving Pitt in general, we got things like, 'So, coach, who's starting at the 4 next year.' Please.

One final note. Dixon blamed the canceling of his interviews that were to occur after his newsbreaking interview on the Fan on scheduling conflicts. I really like Dixon, but I think he's clearly misleading people on this. No rational person would honestly believe that the rest of his interviews would be suddenly canceled for the day because he wasn't told about them. The interviews were for local shows and I find it infinitely hard to believe that he couldn't be tracked down to do an interview that was supposed to be on his schedule. Sorry, Coach - not buying what you're selling.

That said, I'm glad he's back and think Pitt is extremely fortunate to have him.

Jamie Dixon Press Conference Announced Today

Stay tuned - details to follow. Not sure if this will be to announce an extension or that he's leaving. Personally, I think he'll be back, but who knows.

UPDATE (2:08 p.m.): Andy Katz is now reporting an extension is what the press conference is about. Obviously, hope that's true.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Give Up

So today started out normal enough. Dave Wannstedt's contract was extended, which means next to nothing.

Then there was the news that former Pitt recruit Herb Pope is going to the NBA early. Well, at least in the NBA Draft.

And then things got, well, weird. I was listening to The Fan today and heard Jamie Dixon coming on. That's when all hell broke loose. If you've not yet heard the interview, you can check it out here. The weird part came when Dixon was asked if he would even be the coach NEXT YEAR. I'm thinking this was a slam dunk 'yes', but then came the awkward laugh, the dancing around, and certainly anything but a yes. Downright scary. I can see him not committing to the long-term. Given his history, I didn't expect that. But to not be able to commit to next year? That's a little alarming.

Another telling fact was when asked if he met with Oregon representatives, not only did he not didn't deny it, he didn't even address it. Hmm, strike two.

Still, I fully expect Jamie Dixon to return next season. I'm leaning this way for a number of reasons:

1. Pitt has a good team coming back next year and an even better one coming the year after. Recruiting has gotten better and better and Pitt has exceeded the 'team' label and become a program. Something that should be able to be sustained as long as Pitt sticks to the same system and avoids thinks like violations.

2. Dixon has stated over and over that he genuinely likes the area and that his family likes it here. Don't know how true this is, but you've got to think it's at least partially true since he brings it up so often.

3. Dixon can establish a true legacy here at Pitt by sticking around for many years. That type of thing is rare in coaching.

4. The whole Big East thing will loom large until the Big Ten figures out its situation. But for the time being, Dixon has the luxury of playing in the best conference in the country. In a sport like football that doesn't have a playoff, playing in the toughest conference may be a hinderance. One loss can ruin your season. But in basketball, it prepares you for the tournament and assists greatly in recruiting.

5. Going to Oregon would mean he would have to face Ben Howland twice a year. For the life of me, I don't understand why this should matter to Dixon. And despite his insistence that he doesn't want to do that, I don't think it would stand in the way of getting a job he really wants. Still, he HAS mentioned it and assuming he's not lying, should favor Pitt.

6. He passed on the Arizona job when it was open. That school has much more prestige than Oregon and I don't understand why he would not take that job then turn around and take an inferior one.

Look, I don't think it's a guarantee that Dixon will be around long-term. He's never said that this was where he wanted to be for good, and even if he had, things can change. But simply put, I don't see him leaving this year.

But I'll say this and it's meant as no slight to him. The fact that his name is continually brought up means something very important to me. It means that other schools have reason to believe, (for whatever the reason), that he is 'available.' Until he repeatedly comes out and says he wants to be at Pitt for the long haul, this type of stuff will continue to happen. Do I want Dixon to stay? Of course I do. I think he's one of the best coaches in the country. He proved he can win with limited talent and as more starts to come in, look out. I think Pitt is a budding program that can turn into a UCONN in the near future (5-10 years down the road).

That said.

I'm also getting sick of this annual dance we seem to have with him. He never comes flat out to deny any job. I understand he's doing that to avoid the same fate Ben Howland did with fans here. But, really, you can't turn down ANY job publicly? I really believe that most of this is just posturing for more money (and even in the case of potentially playing a factor on if Pitt would ever leave the Big East, a certain degree of power), but the University has done right by him in my eyes. First, there was the 2006 extension that significantly increased his salary after he was mentioned as a possible Arizona State candidate. Then there was the 2008 increase that bumped him up over his then $1.3 million salary.

The Chicago Tribune reports that his salary is currently $1.5 million. Dixon is a great coach, but still one without even a Final Four appearance. Oregon could throw Nike money at him, but you've got to think Pitt would at the very least offer a raise to try to get closer. John Calipari leads the list and there are only three guys at $3 million and over. If Oregon came in with $3 million, I've got to think Pitt will try to get to at least $2 million. I really think Oregon would need to make him one of the top 1-2 highest paid coaches in the NCAA to get him.

Dixon's salary has risen considerably over the past few years, as well it should have. But at what point does Pitt finally say 'enough is enough?' I don't fault Dixon necessarily for this. He's playing the game he needs to play to a degree. But I really wonder when Pitt will finally say 'no' to him without seeing a significant boost to the program's postseason success. As mentioned, Dixon has zero Final Fours, let alone championships, to his name. Certainly not a fireable offense, but his salary is well in line with someone of his accomplishments so far.

I'd be surprised if he goes, but this story seems like it will be around until Oregon fills its position.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rooting For WVU

The more interaction I have with others, the more I'm trying to decide where I stand on this whole West Virginia thing. Do I think Pitt fans are somewhat bitter about having a great program for nearly a decade and having no Final Fours to show for it, while WVU reached one this year? A little. I know I am.

There are plenty of good reasons for both sides. On one hand, there's the whole 'root for the conference' thing going on. The Big East has struggled and it feels somewhat good to have at least one conference rep in the Final four. Then there are the folks who will root for WVU because of their proximity to Pitt. Along that same line, I think you've got casual fans in the area who aren't huge fans of either school, but always will root for both to do well.

On the other hand, you've got the contingent that won't root for WVU no matter what. Too big a rival for Pitt and when you mix in the fact that Bob Huggins is despised by a number of people, it's easy to root against them. Further, since Pitt hasn't been there themselves, there's even more disdain for the Mountaineers.

I was listening to a radio show today and someone mentioned that WVU making it to the Final Four will actually help PITT'S recruiting. The thought being that Jamie Dixon will be able to tell recruits that they can play against the NCAA Champion if WVU would happen to win the title. I think that's a bit of a reach. Recruits already get to play in the Big East, which has had numerous Final Four teams in recent memory and three NCAA Championship teams in Syracuse and UCONN in the past 11 years. I don't think adding one more team will make that much of a difference. The Big East is already widely seen as the best league in the country.

At the end of the day, I can't bring myself to root for WVU. I don't like the team, don't like the coach, and find it increasingly difficult to find even one reason other than the whole conference thing to hope they win a title. And about that whole conference thing - I find it much easier to root for other Big East football teams than I do Big East basketball teams. Big East basketball is already renowned nationwide. The football conference is still trying to gain respect and it's much easier to root for the football side to do well.

Sorry, can't do it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

He's Baaaack

A source of frustration for many Pitt fans in the 1990s, Kevin Willard is now back in the Big East, landing the Seton Hall head coaching gig. He's apparently turned into a pretty good one at Iona:
Willard took over an Iona program that was in the bottom 10 among Division I teams in RPI three years ago and led it to a 21-10 record this season, earning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coach of the year award.
Here's hoping RMU coach Mike Rice gets another opportunity down the line somewhere else.

Spring Football Notes

A few Spring football bits and pieces coming out over the past few days:

The time for Dan Mason, Chris Jacobson, and Mike Cruz is now.

Speaking of Jacobson, he's going to be one of three new starters on the line. One of Pitt's biggest challenges this season will be having a new quarterback behind a retooled line.

And with Mason poised to start, once-prized recruit Shayne Hale, who was a potential MLB, is making the move to DE.

Meanwhile, running backs coach David Walker tries in vain to convince us that there is a chance for some competition going on for the starting back job:
"We all know Dion had a lot of success last season. We know he did a great job," said Pitt running backs coach David Walker. "But Ray Graham's trying to win a job. Jason Douglas is trying to win the starting tailback job. Chris Burns is trying to win the starting tailback job. So, those guys are working hard, and they're not going to concede anything to Dion."
Okie dokie. Hard to believe that even Ray Graham, who has shown flashes of brilliance, will even take a significant number of carries from Lewis, who is still bringing home awards based on last year's performance.

Dusting off Women's Basketball

After a really down season, which saw the women's team go 16-15 with a first-round NIT loss, things have been gotten a bit strange. Not so much with losing as assistant head coach in Jeff Williams, who took the head job at LaSalle. Things like that happen all the time.

But three players have now left the team since the end of the season, leaving Pitt with only eight players on their current roster. Further, six of those eight are going to be seniors next year, leaving them with only two current players that will still be around in the 2011 season.

All three that left (Pepper Wilson, Kate Popovec, and Sarah Ogoke) were sophomores and they were head coach Agnus Berenato's entire 2008 recruiting class. You have to wonder what the circumstances were and as of now, I've not seen any reasons given for the departures. The student newspaper, The Pitt news tried to reach Coach Berenato, with no luck.

Pitt started off 12-2 to begin the season, but then closed it out with a 5-13 stretch.

Not to mention, all this is on the heels of Pitt reporting that money was lost from hosting NCAA Tournament games this year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jamie Dixon News

To start, no, I don't mean the long-shot rumors of him going to Oregon, DePaul, or any other job. In my opinion, I don't think Dixon is looking at jobs such as Oregon, DePaul, and anywhere else that's been mentioned this year. Those are lateral (or worse) moves and unless we're talking boatloads of money (like, say, triple what he's making now), I don't think there's any chance of this happening. Even if another school offered significantly more, I have a hard time believing Pitt would not offer another extension and up his pay.

However, it appears Dixon has found a way to the second weekend after all:
Dixon will provide commentary for the network beginning on Friday and running through Sunday. He will appear on Friday's broadcast between 7 p.m.-12:30 a.m., on Saturday from 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. and Sunday between 1:30-4 p.m.

He joins Marquette's Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, UTEP's Tony Barbee, BYU's Dave Rose and former St. John's coach Norm Roberts as in-studio analysts. Adam Zucker, Tracy Wolfson and Tom Hart anchor the studio programming with CBS College Sports analysts Steve Lappas and Wally Szczerbiak.
Steve Lappas? Gee, thanks for giving me yet another reason not to watch.

Buh Bye

Not sure if I mentioned this before. Heck, I'm not even sure if I knew about this as I'm slowly getting into football mode. But at any rate, the International Bowl is officially gone.

The Big East was 4-0, but the interest was always extremely low for this game. Mix in the fact that you now need a passport to go to Canada, and even fewer people have the opportunity to go.

I don't think this one will be missed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Football Talk

So after a long hiatus from football discussion, with basketball out of the way, let's get into it.

For starters, former Panther Elijah Fields could end up at California University. There were some grumblings of this as a possibility almost immediately after he was dismissed from the team and it looks as if it could be a possibility:
Elijah Fields, who was dismissed from Pitt's football team last month for violating team rules, might end up at California University.
Head coach John Luckhardt said Fields has shown interest in transferring to the university. The 6-2, 225-pound safety would have one season of eligibility remaining.

"Everything is still in the processing stage," Luckhardt said.
As much as he botched his chances at Pitt, I still try to convince myself that he's young and still learning. I hope he can turn things around there.

Paul Zeise of the PG thinks that while Tino Sunseri had the first crack at reps with the first team, that Pat Bostick seems to have the slight edge in terms of knowing the system. It's been documented that Coach Wannstedt would like this battle to be settled this Spring. I don't know - with the way last year's competition went on, I'd be kind of surprised if that happened. Both quarterbacks say they're ready. blogger, Brian Bennett, goes over the usual questions in his Pitt spring preview video. He also talks to Offensive Coordinator, Frank Cignetti, about Pitt's many offensive weapons. wonders if Pitt is ready to dethrone Cincinnati. More Pitt-Cincinnati talk. Everything I've heard this offseason has been about Pitt and Cincinnati. I'm a little surprised that it appears West Virginia isn't even being passively seen as a contender with both Jock Sanders and Noel Devine coming back.

Cam Saddler's opportunity to get on the field more comes - at wide receiver: I really think he could turn into a great kick returner and hope his focus remains there. But with the losses of Oderick Turner and Dorin Dickerson, there's definitely a need there for another receiver.

And with all the NFL Draft talk about Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham getting drafted, after Bill Stull's season and experience with a pro-style system, he is getting some looks as well:
Stull, who was one of 15 former Panthers who worked out Tuesday for scouts representing 27 of the 32 NFL teams, is considered a late-round draft pick or a desired free agent.
After the year he had, I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more discussion about him as a middle-round draft pick. He has experience in a pro system, made very few mistakes last year, and despite his weaknesses such as throwing an accurate deep ball, makes for a reasonable NFL prospect.

Meanwhile, speaking of Dickerson, he's having a hard time gauging where he might be selected because of all the interest he's received.

More to come...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

At the End of it All

So now that we've reached the end of Pitt's season, it's time to evaluate. To do that, I'll use a commonly referred to theory: expectations change.

Expectations change throughout the course of a season. Coming into the season, I predicted Pitt would win 23 games. Seemed I was pretty close on that one. That said, I was wildly inaccurate about Dante Taylor playing a large role and Gary McGhee, a small one. But based on winning that many games, I was hoping for a Sweet 16 appearance and would have deemed that as a success.


After the first game against Wofford, a narrow win, expectations changed drastically. At that point, it appeared Pitt would be going through growing pains of a much higher degree. If they could barely beat Wofford at home, how could they get through the rugged Big East? That was the question a lot of people had, including myself. Wofford, of course, turned into a pretty decent team who made the tournament, but all in all, Pitt normally beats those types of teams a little more easily. So, yes, even after only one game, my expectations had changed. I figured they would get better throughout the course of the season, but thought my 23-win prediction was looking like a bit of a reach.

But, then that all changed.

First, Pitt beat Wichita State in what was essentially a road game. Then they played a highly-ranked Texas team to basically a tie for about 30 minutes. They stumbled against Indiana, but then rattled off eight wins in a row including three on the road against undefeated Syracuse and solid teams Cincinnati and UCONN, and then a comeback win at home against Louisville.

That sound you then heard were Pitt fans stumbling over themselves to get back on the bandwagon.

Losing four out of their next five was quieted by the team going 8-1 the rest of the regular season. Pitt wrapped a 24-7 regular season and better yet, had beaten a bunch of top teams on the way in Syracuse, West Virginia, and Villanova. True, they had shown their down moments at times and lost to a few teams they shouldn't have, but what team doesn't?

So at the end of it all, at 24-8 heading into the NCAA Tournament, the team had fulfilled my expectations from the beginning of the season. They didn't take a direct path, but they had gotten there. As a 3-seed, I think you've got to win at least two games in the tournament.

It's easy to say that coming into the season, an NCAA tournament berth was sufficient. But after such a successful regular season, it's expected that we should have wanted more. For example, Syracuse was not expected to do much, either. They were picked somewhere around the middle of the pack in the Big East and many of their fans probably would have been happy with an NCAA tournament appearance had you asked them at the beginning of the season. Now that they became a #1 seed, if they had gone out in the first round, wouldn't that be considered a colossal disappointment? Of course it would have. Why? Because they tore through the regular season and their expectations CHANGED.

I think Coach Dixon did a heck of a job coaching and give him a lot of credit with doing more with less. But this team was not only capable of winning two games in the tournament, it SHOULD have. All in all, as a 3-seed, you've got to get to the second weekend and Pitt failed to achieve that.

If you want to claim that Pitt had a successful regular season, but disappointing tournament, I can accept that. But I tend to group the tournament in with the season, so for me, Pitt could have done better.

So Much For Kansas State

Pitt may have been hard pressed to beat Kansas State, but I would have liked to see them try. I actually thought they could have had a decent chance against them, but so much for that.

Pitt again let another team that is probably slightly inferior to them, get the best of them. I think Pitt is a little better than Xavier, but they sure didn't look the part today. Got to give Xavier credit. Or more to the point, Jordan Crawford credit.. He didn't single-handedly beat Pitt, but he scored about 40% of his team's points. Ouch.

Our Panthers have had their shares of problems with teams that have a star guard. As much of a defensive stopper as Jermaine Dixon appears to be, not only didn't he stop Crawford, he couldn't even slow him down a little. Add in the fact that he was only 1-9 from the field and, well, he didn't do a very good job today. I like him as a player and think he shows a lot of heart, but in reality, what he is is just a fine player. He does okay and can occasionally have a very good game. But that's it.

I'm not going to blame it all on him, though. Gary McGhee did absolutely nothing (0 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers) in nearly 20 minutes of action. Not to rehash an old argument, but if this is the Most Improved Player of the Year, than I might as well be.

Considering that Dixon and little-played reserve Chase Adams are the only players leaving, and Pitt should be a top 15 team coming into next year. Pitt will be a veteran team with five upperclassmen playing significant minutes. Unfortunately for Pitt, I don't know if any of those guys will be the much-needed 'go to' scorer they need. But that's discussion for another time.

Now the question - was this a disappointing year for Pitt? Well, I'll expound on this later, but yes, I think it was.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Previewing Xavier

Looking ahead to Xavier, I've got to be honest. If you look purely at their record and their schedule from this year, it's easy to come away unimpressed. Their best win is arguably at Florida, which barely made the tournament themselves. A closer look, though, reveals tight losses to good teams such as Baylor (5), at Wake Forest (4), at Temple (5), and Richmond (4). Tight losses isn't exactly what teams strive for, but they were able to hang around some decent teams. Playing against a top team in Kansas State they were soundly defeated by 15 on the road.

But you should have at least some fear in this game.

First, there's always the chance Pitt doesn't play its best. We've seen that numerous times this year - sometimes Pitt can come away with a win and others it cannot. Xavier averages about 10 more points than Pitt offensively, but also gives up about 7 more on defense.

Then there's the revenge factor. Most of the team was around for last year's loss to Pitt in the Sweet 16. But even the ones who didn't play were stung pretty hard:
A year ago, Jordan Crawford watched Xavier play Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament from his dorm room in Cincinnati. Come Sunday, the Musketeers' junior will be the focal point in a second-round rematch between the two schools.

"It was just me, Mark [Lyons, who was red-shirting], and Dee Dee Jernigan from the women's team watching on TV," recalls Crawford. "That Pitt game hurt me when we lost."
Xavier also relies heavily on rebounding. They average a whopping 40 rebounds per game (three more per game than Pitt). And while we're on the subject, THIS scares me just a little bit:
But the Musketeers' offensive rebounds- they outscored the Gophers 20-8 on second-chance points - helped them survive 21 percent shooting (9-for-42) in the first half, which ended with a 26-26 deadlock.
Wait. Giving up offensive rebounds and second chance points? So stop me if you've heard this one...

I'd like to call these teams mirror images of each other, except that they're really not. While they have some similarities, Xavier scores more. A lot more. They average about 80 ppg, good for 9th in the country.

And oh yeah, you've got the star guard factor, which seems to do Pitt in quite a bit. Xavier's star player is Jordan Crawford - a sharpshooting sophomore who went from a solid contributor as a freshman to the team's best player and a decent three-point shooter. Sound familiar? Truth be told, he's better than Ashton Gibbs and has been more consistent this year. He also has the ability to take on more of a scoring load than Gibbs and has really only been held in check twice all season (at Marquette and at Fordham). By the way, yes, it's THAT Jordan Crawford who dunked on LeBron at his camp last year.

Crawford had some kind of first game against Minnesota to help Xavier advance to the next round.

So what does Pitt have in its favor? Well, this isn't exactly the same team as last year. None of the players contributed significantly last year with the exception of center Jason Love - and he was a role player to a degree averaging about 7/6 per game. Gone are starters Derrick Brown (NBA 2nd Round Draft Pick), B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson, who contributed more than 50% of the team's total offense. But like Pitt, they've had success even with these losses. Love, Jamel McLean, and Terrell Holloway aren't stars, but they've all significantly increased their minutes and each has virtually doubled his scoring average over last year. Heck, they even lost their coach and didn't miss much of a beat, record-wise.

As much as I don't like Pitt facing star guards, Pitt is fortunate in that respect to a degree as their best defender is a guard. Here's hoping a healthy Jermaine Dixon can keep him in check, at least somewhat.

And while that offense is scary in that they score so much AND spread the wealth a bit, I don't see Pitt giving up that many points. Pitt will force them into their tempo and I would assume, control the score a bit more. Plus, A-10 defense is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Big East defense. Minnesota, a solid defensive team and 62nd in the country in scoring defense, held them to 65 points, 15 below their average. Pitt (32nd in the country) is even better defensively than Minnesota.

So what do I expect? I'm not too sure. I have a hard time getting by the fact that Xavier could not beat teams like Marquette (neutral court) or Wake Forest (on the road). Those aren't bad teams, but Pitt beat Marquette on the road and I'd fully expect them to beat Wake Forest. Plus, the fact that they have not even one signature win despite several chances makes me question if they'll be able to beat Pitt. Pitt has beaten the likes of Syracuse, Villanova, and West Virginia. I've got to think that if they play a good game, they should win. I'll go with Pitt by eight.

Easier Than Expected

Been MIA for the past few days. Just an incredibly busy week with filling out brackets. Mix in a busy week at work and a Fantasy Baseball draft to get ready for and, well, you get the idea.

I thought Pitt was going to have a harder time in this game than they ultimately did, winning by 23. But that's what happens when Pitt actually plays up to its ability. I thought Pitt would end up with around a 12 point win and was surprised to see Oakland virtually fold up after Pitt made a run late in the first half after they got off to a very sluggish start.

Keith Benson was a one-man wrecking crew for Oakland. 28 points on 9 of 19 shooting, 9 boards, 3 steals, and a block. Not sure if he'll be a first-round NBA Draft pick, but at 6'11", he's got the size and it might just be a matter of putting on some more weight. I was really impressed with his game.

Oakland also received nothing from its second leading scorer (12.4 ppg), Derick Nelson after potentially a key play in the game:
There was some drama in the physical game though.

Oakland forward Derick Nelson took an accidental elbow to the head going for a rebound and was on the court for several minutes before leaving to receive six stitches with blood still on the court. He returned in the second half but finished with only one point on 0-for-7 shooting in 25 minutes of play.

His absence took away any momentum Oakland had gained.
Oakland was up 14-10 at the point of Nelson's injury and Pitt really took over after that. While I don't think it would have changed the end result, losing a senior leader like that may have played into Oakland fading so quickly like they did. Nelson did come back in the second half, but you've got to wonder if the injury played into it at all.

At least one Oakland player said his loss hurt a bit:
"It changed a lot," guard Larry Wright said. "He's our rock on this team. He can rebound, defend, score. He does everything for us. We didn't pick up the slack when he got hurt. That really hurt us. We didn't back him up."
In the end, Pitt just played too well and with six players in double figures, it's easy to see that pretty much everyone came out to play. They shot 53% from the field, had a +7 rebounding edge, and did just about everything right other than giving up a lot of fouls.

Though part of it was due to foul trouble, Oakland did what it set out to do, and that was to stop Ashton Gibbs who struggled. Unfortunately, they forgot about the rest of Pitt's team. This was the first time he's been held to single-digits in scoring for two straight games, so I've got to think he'll play better on Sunday against Xavier.

And speaking of Sunday's game, I can only assume that after 17 points today, Gil will be good for a solid four points and one rebound in that one. Sorry, had to say it.

Lastly, this little nugget upset me a bit:
Oakland's fans didn't head to the door, though; even as some Pitt fans thinned out their section, the Oakland faithful remained in their seats, getting their full 40 minutes' worth of NCAA tournament enjoyment. A few rogue fans even kept making noise -- weird whoops and hollers and yodels -- when Pittsburgh shot free throws. You have to admire the dedication.
Hard to believe you'd travel all the way to Wisconsin and then leave early during a win, no matter the score.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Afternoon Game

Just heard Pitt will play around 2:45 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. Yuck. Get out of your cubicles early.

Breaking Down the Oakland Golden Grizzlies

So with the news about Pitt headed to Milwaukee, just how much of a threat are the Oakland Golden Grizzlies? Let's break it down.

To start, Pitt played them three years ago and didn't completely overwhelm them. I think I was actually at that game at the Pete.

Oakland may not have any real quality wins this year (their best one was probably beating IUPUI at home), but they were 17-1 in conference. The Summit may not be the Big East, but they did have three 20-win teams this year. I guess that's prone to happen when six out of the ten teams have losing records, though.

One thing that scares me a little is the fact that Oakland was 7-1 on the road in conference this year and a reasonable 3-6 on the road in non-conference, considering who they played: Syracuse, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oregon, Michigan State, and Memphis. They didn't win any of those games, but I think they did themselves a favor scheduling games against some of the best of the best. They won't be intimidated by Pitt and have a good 10-7 record overall on the road this year.

It seems like the scheduling gauntlet they went through was for a purpose:
Getting trounced at Kansas, Wisconsin, Memphis, Michigan State, Oregon and Syracuse could pay off today.
When the Golden Grizzlies reached the NCAA tournament in 2005, their RPI was 192, which made them one of the lowest-rated teams in the field and put them in the opening round/play-in game in Dayton. They won it to earn a spot against No. 1 North Carolina as a No. 16 seed -- where no underdog has ever won.
This year, because of their non-conference schedule, the Golden Grizzlies seem slotted for the No. 14 or No. 13 seed, with an RPI of 52 (according to, the highest Summit RPI in the past 16 years. A 53 RPI in 2008 got fellow Summit member Oral Roberts a 13th seed.
Apparently, though, Oakland wasn't all that happy with the seeding decision:
"I’m absolutely ecstatic that we’re playing in Milwaukee and all our kids can get there, we’ll have five or six bus loads of students go there,” OU coach Greg Kampe said. “I’m really disappointed in the seed though. I don’t understand how you can have a 51 RPI and be a 14 seed when teams that are 90 and 100 in the RPI get 13 and 12 spots. I guess that’s just a matter of us being new to (the tournament) and maybe there’s not a respect level for us. Maybe we need to do something about it and get a win first before that respect will come.”
Pitt should definitely expect a quasi road game as they're not only the higher seed, but Oakland is a good 3+ hours closer to Milwaukee than Pittsburgh is. I really hope Pitt finds a way for some student buses to get there as well.

For Oakland, it all starts with 6'11" center Keith Benson. He's currently projected as a second-round 2011 draft pick on my favorite NBA Draft site,, and going into the season, they had him as a first-round pick. They rate him as a pretty good center.

Pitt has gotten killed by star guards in the past and I'm glad this team doesn't appear to have one. With McGhee's defense improving, I think Pitt will be able to contain him. Normally, I might suggest they try to get him in foul trouble, but as he's only fouled out once all season, not sure how great of a strategy that might be.

Benson, who's the #15 rebounder in the country, has helped them become one of the best rebounding teams in the country (30th overall) and they win the rebounding battle by about +5 per game.

Looking at the Pitt side of things, while Jermaine Dixon isn't on my enemy list with this quote, just the fact that he can mention not being able to ignore seeing Syracuse in their bracket is slightly annoying to me:
"You can't ignore it, but we're thinking about Oakland only and that's something we've got to get past," Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon said Sunday, not long after the Panthers gathered around a large-screen TV to watch the NCAA tournament selections.
I reaalllllly don't want to hear even the slightest mention of Syracuse or Kansas State. Not after the way Pitt played against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament.

All in all, if Pitt plays hungry (and that's a sizeable 'if' considering they way they've played of late), they should not have trouble winning this game.

A #3 It Is

I really thought Pitt deserved a 3-seed, but wasn't sure they would actually get it. As I said before, I think Pitt is the only team to defeat three top five teams. They had not only a bunch of good wins, they had multiple great ones. Looking at the bracket, it's hard to complain. They missed out on playing in Providence where they may have had a few more fans as that's Big East territory, but the driving distances to Providence and Milwaukee from Pittsburgh are about the same.

The draw they got was pretty favorable for the first two rounds. Pitt should defeat Oakland and while Xavier is not a gimme game, they are a bit down from last year's team.

Even the bracket after that isn't terrible. Facing BYU in Utah would be tough, but out of the two seeds, I think they got the best draw against, what I think, is a somewhat overrated Kansas State team.

All in all, Pitt fans should have no beef with this draw.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Big East Blogger Awards

Ken over at the South Florida Bulls blog, Voodoo 5 sent an invite my way to participate in a Big East Blogger Award postseason poll. A dozen bloggers took part in it and you can view the entire results here.

As for my votes, see below:

Player of the Year - Luke Harangody. He only missed six games during the season and check out some of these point/rebound lines from some of his games: 29/11, 32/6, 29/10, 27/11, 31/6, 36/3, 31/9, 37/8, 19/13. Pretty sick. He averaged 23 and 9 during the season and that included a few mediocre games at the end of the season since he's been recovering from his injury.

Luke Harangody
Scottie Reynolds
Jamine Peterson
Wes Johnson
Austin Freeman
Dominique Jones

Jeremy Hazell
Greg Monroe
Jerome Dyson
Lazar Hayward
Tim Abromaitis

Coach of the Year - Jim Boeheim
Freshman of the Year - Lance Stephenson
Most Improved Team - South Florida
Game of the Year - Pitt Vs. WVU, February 12th, 3OTs

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wake Up. Please?

Simply put, Pitt didn't play very well. There haven't been too many times this year when I've been furious at their effort, but tonight was certainly one of them. I don't even have the energy to provide links and his game has really left me wondering just what Pitt will do in the tournament.

They looked apathetic in the beginning, played better in the middle, then downright stunk at the end. It seemed like when they came back and made the score close that they just expected Notre Dame to lay down and die. What a load of crap.

And someone please shut Gilbert Brown up. All the talk of wanting to play Notre Dame again looked like just that - talk. I try not to criticize college players too much, but Gil, maybe you should focus on playing defense and scoring more than three points than opening your mouth to take on all comers. They not only stunk up the joint offensively, they allowed Notre Dame to shoot over 50% from the field. Again. And even in the 2nd half when they played better defense and held ND without a field goal for seemingly an eternity, they couldn't get anything going offensively.

The disappointing part was that it wasn't hot shooting from outside this time. It was major defensive lapses on Pitt's part. There was a play around the 12:00 mark of the 2nd half that summed it up perfectly (even though it didn't result in a field goal). Dante Taylor was out on the arc covering a guard and for some reason unknown to me, left him to cover another player leaving him wide open. The guard was so stunned to find himself open, he stepped up and promptly airballed (or wildly missed - can't remember which) a three-pointer - probably because he couldn't believe what just transpired.

The end was no 'walk in the cake' either as Wanamaker missed a layup and got a second chance on a tie up. Little did they know it would do them absolutely no good as they (can't remember who took this shot) would miss a wild layup attempt.

Now, the optimist will chalk this up and say it doesn't matter or say, 'well, they were just rusty.' That's fine, but the problem is they're now off for at least six more days. You can talk all you want about the 'disadvantage' of going deep into the Big East tournament, but at least you're less likely to be rusty if you do that.

For their sake, they better hope they don't play like this in the NCAA tournament. Otherwise, it will be a long night for them against a 13 or 14 seed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Are The Odds?

I was sifting through some Panthers news around the internet and found a somewhat intteresting 'article' about NCAA Tournament odds. I use the term 'article' loosely, because most of these put out by gambling-related sites are little more than advertisements. But I did find it interesting that they placed Pitt as 60:1 odds to win the whole thing.

To me that seemed a bit high. No, I don't expect Pitt to win it all, but this is a year when there are only a handful of very good teams. I think last year's Pitt team may have been better than any other team this year and I really believe that the tournament could be won by a lower seed such as a 5 or 6. You have the big three in Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse, but I don't know if any of them are really 'great' teams.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jamie Dixon Loses Out

Pitt missed on another award as Jim Boeheim took home Big East Coach of the Year, besting Jamie Dixon, keeping him from winning his second such award.

As I said in a recent Q&A with another Big East blogger, I've got no beef with this. If I had a vote, I would have given it to Boeheim as well. His team is led by Wes Johnson, who's a very good, but not great player. Pitt and Syracuse both match up pretty well numbers-wise and neither has a drop-dead complete star. Ashton Gibbs even averages slightly more ppg than Johnson. Gibbs is a deep threat while Johnson is a very good rebounder. Johnson may be a better player, but I don't think it's by all that much.

Pitt has four players average 10+ ppg, while Syracuse has five. Syracuse scores about 13 more ppg, but both teams rebound about the same. What I'm trying to say is, I think the two teams are pretty comparable. Both teams lost arguably their top three players from last season. So that aside, as great a job as Dixon has done this year, Boeheim's team has four fewer losses and has been unbelievable. I'd have given the nod to him as well. Ray Fittipaldo of the PG makes a good point in that Dixon did a great job with Pitt when both Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown were out. That's true, but I'd still go with Boeheim by a hair.

In related news, Wes Johnson took home conference Player of the Year. He had a very good year, but I would have gone with Luke Harangody - sorry, but nearly 25 and 10 on a team likely to make the NCAA tournament is too hard for me to ignore.

Most Improved....Again

Pitt had a player take home the Big East Most Improved Player of the Year Award once again. This time it was Ashton Gibbs. That gives Pitt six winners in the past eleven years.

Can't say it was completely unexpected. My vote would have probably gone to Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, who averaged only 1.7 ppg as a freshman two years ago and did not play last year. This year, he's averaging an incredible 17.2 ppg. Not sure if he was eligible as he didn't play last year, but if he was, he would have been my pick. I've got no problem with Gibbs winning it, though, and he was well deserving.

As I mentioned before, this is kind of a hard award to judge because many times, a player's numbers will go up dramatically due to increased playing time - not necessarily due to any great increase in skill set.

There's been no mention of this by Bob Smizik of the PG, who made the incredulous statement that Gary McGhee was not only the Most Improved Player of this year, but perhaps in the history of the conference. Previously, I detailed why this was likely not true and despite improving this year, I wasn't so sure he was a worthy winner of this award.

Again, I really like Bob, but I don't think he could be more wrong about this. Hard to rip him too badly, though. Blogging is far from an exact science - it's more about random thoughts of how you're feeling at a particular moment. Plus, it's not like I've never said anything stupid on here.

Back to Gibbs - He really had a heck of a year. He went from being a role player as a freshman to a leader of a top ranked basketball team. It's easy to forget he's only a sophomore and had he not been forced to play the point so much this year, I think his numbers could have been even better.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Going Out In Style

Pitt finished its regular season with dominance not seen in a while in a 29-point win over Rutgers. I've got to say I expected a little bit more of a contest, but it was never close other than the first few minutes of the game.

Rutgers coach Fred Hill seemed to think Rutgers was walking into a trap...and he was right:
"I had a feeling that a game like today was going to happen," Rutgers head coach Fred Hill said. "A lot of our guys had been playing upwards of 38 minutes a game and I think we tired a little today. We had a short turn around and we got outplayed today. My worst nightmare came true. We were a little worn down and we need to just throw this game out and move on. I give Pitt credit, they came out on senior night and jumped out to a quick start. They got the crowd into it and controlled their emotions."
And Rutgers was visibly frustrated during the game:
"I said it at halftime, faces started changing," said senior center Hamady N'diaye. "You could tell that the team was falling apart. I said it; all I ask for was to give out the effort. During this entire year, I've thought everybody had the same mentality and that wasn't the case today."
I like to pull out negatives from each game and offer reasons why Pitt could have played better. But it's hard to complain even a little about the performance today.

Shoot well? Check (48% from the field, 41% from three-point range)

Rebound? Check (+20: 39-19)

Take care of the ball? Check (Only 7 turnovers)

Get everyone involved offensively? Check (five players in double figures)

Play defense? Check (Held Rutgers to 54 points on 40% shooting)

Like I said, Pitt played well all around and it was utter domination.

I've got no answer for the whole Gilbert Brown thing. He's been feast or famine on and off for 12 straight now. Literally. He's been in double figures every other game. Like I mentioned before, I'd take him him averaging a steady 12-13 a game rather than 20 one game and 0 the next.

Dante Taylor really had somewhat of a breakout game. He's been playing better lately and acknowledged some frustration early on and pointed out the possible turning point:
“It felt good. I did what I do every game and I went in there and played as hard as I could. Tonight was a confidence boost for me. My confidence was down in the beginning of the season when I wasn’t contributing, but it started to come back for me at Marquette when I had three dunks.”
Today was the best maybe I've seen him all season. He had a good game against Syrcause, but even in games he's put up decent numbers, he's looked awkward at times. He took his game to another level today and looked really aggressive on the boards and getting to the basket. There were plenty of glimpses today of what the future should hold - and it looks bright.

And then of course, there was the whole Senior Day story. I've criticized Jermaine Dixon at times for not being consistent enough, at least offensively, this year. He definitely has had his share of bad games this year, but he's incredibly valuable defensively and Pitt will miss that. And about that injury, Dixon doesn't think it's that bad:
The only downside to Pitt's victory was guard Jermaine Dixon being lifted with a sore right ankle early in the second half, after he scored 10 points in 12 minutes. Dixon missed the first eight games of the season after twice breaking his right foot, but he insisted this injury is minor. "I could have played, but we had the game," said Dixon, who was coming off a 24-point game against Providence. "I'm good. I'll be ready [for Thursday]."
Even though there have been struggles offensively, Dixon has been a stabilizing force for Pitt this year and it's safe to say that he was a big part in getting the team to gel together early on.

There was another bright spot today, Pitt wrapped up the #2 seed in the Big East tournament with WVU's win over Villanova. Not that any path in the tournament will be easy, but it's really pretty unbelievable that Pitt was able to finish that high in the conference.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Rutgers Q&A With On The Raritan Banks

In preparation for the game against Rutgers, I was glad to get an invite for a Q&A from Shawn over at the Rutgers blog, On the Raritan Banks. Here are his answers to my questions and you can check out his site later for my answers to his Qs.

1. Following a promising 9-2 start, Rutgers ran into the meat of their schedule in a hurry - a nine game stretch including games at UNC, WVU, and Georgetown and home games against Villanova, and Syracuse. I know it's the Big East and everyone has tough schedules, but is there any thinking that teams like Rutgers might have a better shot at the NCAA Tournament if they weren't in the juggernaut that is the Big East? I guess what I'm asking is, are there times when Rutgers fans might dread having to play in the Big East?

I've certainly wondered how things may have turned out if RU was back in the Atlantic-10. Although the A-10 is having a better year than the ACC, it is still several rungs below the Big East. That being said, I'm still a big fan of the Big East. True, RU gets spanked from time to time, but I can still make the short trip up Route 27 to the RAC and watch players like Scottie Reynolds, Wes Johnson, Greg Monroe, and Luke Harangody when they come to town. Honestly, I'd rather have us struggle in the Big East and eventually turn into a legitimate conference contender than dominate at a mid-major. The key is to eventually turn the program around. Right now, the team would struggle against the nation's top mid-majors. I still have patience, but I'm sure others are losing it with each losing season in the Big East.

2. Everyone knows about Mike Rosario, but I think a big part of the game will be how the centers play against each other. Hamady Ndiaye and Gary McGhee are similar in ways that I think at times, both have probably frustrated fans who want more from them. Though both have experienced some growth this year, Ndiaye has really played well at times and has probably had a better year than Pitt's big man, Gary McGhee. What are some of the strength's/weaknesses of Ndiaye's game?

An obvious strength of H's game is his shot-blocking ability. He leads the Big East with over four blocks per game and is four shy of tying the school's all-time mark set by Roy Hinson (355). He has to be a front-runner for Big East Defensive Player of the Year. A glaring weakness-stone hands. He gets a lot of easy dunks, but he should probably have twice as many stuffs this season. He has difficulty handling passes that premiere big men put away with ease. He's picked up his scoring once sophomore center Gregory Echenique transferred to Creighton and left his heart on the floor every night. The fans love him at the RAC and it was a shame the team couldn't get a win for H against Seton Hall on Senior Night.

3. Ndiaye, of course, leads into a former frontcourt player for Rutgers, Greg Echenique. He had a very good freshman year for Rutgers and looked like he was going to be an excellent player early on this year. Corey Chandler (who of course had issues with his transfer to Binghamton) was the first prized recruit to bolt, now Echenique. What were the circumstances of each player leaving?

Chandler was dismissed for behavioral issues. He was dismissed at Binghamton as well. I have no problem losing a talented player that was too problematic. Hopefully things will work out for Corey Chandler. As far as Ech goes, that's a different story. I wish him well too, but I think he may have over-reacted. I've only got rumors and speculations to go by concerning his transfer. I do know we suffered without him this season and he leaves a big hole to fill for next year. Let's hope he gave up too early, Rutgers turns things around, and the Scarlet Knights get a chance to pay Creighton in the next three years and make Ech regret his hasty decision. Who leaves the metropolitan area and basketball mecca for Nebraska? Apparently Gregory Echenique. Whatever dude.

4. It may sound a little foolish, but as good as Mike Rosario was last year as a freshman, I was expecting a little more from him this year. While I don't think it's a big deal that his scoring hasn't improved, I'm a little surprised that his shooting percentages haven't. At times he can be a good shooter, but others, he really has struggled much the way Pitt's guard Ashton Gibbs has. I'm wondering if there's any frustration towards him for that by Rutgers fans. And because of that, is there any chance he leaves school early after next season (provided he doesn't try to this season, which I can't imagine would be the case)?

Again, I've heard some rumors that Rosario might leave to play professional ball overseas ala Brandon Jennings and then try his luck with the NBA draft. I personally don't see it. I think Rosario likes his team and has developed more confidence in newcomers Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell to carry some of the scoring load. I agree with your thoughts on Rosario's efficiency. While he did lead the team with 17 points in Thursday night's loss to Seton Hall, he shot 4-16 from the floor. His shot selection was also questionable in the second half when the Seton Hall lead was in striking distance. More a shooter than a slasher like Dane Miller, Rosario needs a legitimate inside presence to open the floor for him. While Rosario can slash and get to the rim, he does have trouble finishing among the muscle for which the Big East is famous. Rosario has a similar build to a guy like Brandon Jennings, Rosario is listed as two inches taller and about 10 pounds heavier, but he lacks the ability to finish among the big fellas that will be needed at the next level. That's what he needs to work on and why he'll be back on the banks next season.

5. With a chance to finish over .500, Fred Hill has finally gotten this team to turn around at least a little bit this year. What are the long-term hopes for him? He's recruited pretty well and I'm wondering if people think he's the long-term fix for the program? What kind of guy is he?

I personally like Fred Hill. He never lost control of his team and has to get a lot of credit for turning a team around that many had pegged to be the worst team in Big East history. Finishing above .500 would be huge considering the team must win Saturday's game at Pitt to make this a reality. This will be tough to accomplish. Everyone likes to think a famous coach would come in and dramatically turn the program around. This is unlikely. Hill might not be the wrong guy for this program. Like you said, he can recruit. He signed Rosario ,the school's first McDonald's High School All-American, and Miller, the likely Big East Rookie of the Year, in back to back recruiting classes. Those are huge steps and I feel pretty confident that he's back at least for next year. It's a definite if his team knocks off your beloved Panthers on Saturday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sooner or Later...

Well Pitt has had their share of games they shouldn't have won this year and you can add another one. At some point, you almost have to think Pitt will be on the losing end of one of these. I'm just hoping it's not in the tournament.

Get ready for the cries of 'lucky shot' tomorrow by national media who haven't watched Gibbs play this year. But anyone who's followed him even passively obviously knows if he takes that shot ten times, he'd have a good chance to make four or five (or more) of them. Yes it was an NBA range three-pointer and he didn't have a chance to set himself completely, but he has the range to make that shot. Simply put, clutch basket by a guy who can shoot unbelievably well when he's on.

All in all, other than shooting well (53%, 42% from three-point land), Pitt didn't have a great night. They narrowly won the overall rebounding battle 35-34, but gave up 14 offensive rebounds. Simply put, that's too many...especially against a team that can score. This is sadly starting to become a trend and it's the type of thing that could do Pitt in against a mediocre team in the tournament. Pitt also lost the battles at the free throw line (-10) and in turnovers (-9), so you can see, it was far from a perfect game.

Obviously, Pitt will take a win any way they can get it. And I'm sure the postgame talk will reflect that. But the defensive effort wasn't there tonight. I realize that Providence is actually a pretty good offensive team, but Pitt simply has to do better. It seemed like they played in spurts...they'd go on runs and get up by 7, 8, 9 points, but then would allow Providence to get close again. And it almost cost them tonight. It SHOULD have cost Pitt tonight.

On the plus side, Jermaine Dixon played completely out of his mind. Career high 24 points on 11-18 shooting and 12 rebounds. Quite simply, Pitt doesn't win without him. He was really agressive going to the basket and shot well from the perimeter. I was a little surprised that he didn't get the final look near the end of regulation. Maybe the play wasn't drawn up for Wanamaker, but it sure looked like it was. Dixon was relentless tonight and was really on his game. I would have maybe went with Dixon there, but I can't fault the choice of Wanamaker. This was actually one of the most intriguing things to come out of the game - the decision of who is the 'go to' guy at the end of games. I don't think it's one guy. I'm guessing it will be a situation where Jamie Dixon tries to exploit a certain matchup or goes with the hot hand.

And this just in, Jamine Peterson is a monster. He didn't play last year after having a mediocre freshman season, so technically, not sure if he can win the Most Improved Player award. But he's averaging 19 and 10 as a 6'6" SOPHOMORE - that's sick. 24 and 16 tonight. Like I said - sick.

So the double bye is secured, but Pitt clearly has work to do. Bottom line, they did just enough to win. Teams will have hiccups along the road and everyone struggles against teams they shouldn't, so I have a hard time making too big of a deal out of this. But Pitt is now entering tune-up mode for the NCAA tournament. They only have one more regular season game before a likely tough matchup in their first Big East game. Time to step it up.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Basketball Rankings

As expected, Pitt fell a bit in the polls this week after their loss to Notre Dame.

They dropped five spots to 17th in the AP Poll, but only two spots in the ESPN/USA Today Poll to 18th.

Sounds about right.