February 8, 2004

Filling in Some of the Gaps

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 10:25 pm

I wasn’t planning to post any more on the Morelli Mess. Just let it go. And I don’t have anything to add. I will point anyone who still cares to a long but really good article on the whole saga. With plenty of weird and interesting little tidbits

They don’t know, Greg says, that he took custody of his young son. That he worked two jobs to make ends meet. That he invested countless hours into Anthony’s development. That they are so close, they have matching barbed-wire tattoos on their left biceps.

I am always heartened to hear when a dad takes his teenage son to the tattoo parlor to get the same tattoos. Especially the cliche and trite barbed wire tattoo.

Sources also told the Trib that Morelli was overwhelmed by the complexities of Harris’ offensive scheme after sitting in on quarterback meetings prior to the Continental Tire Bowl in December.

“He’d be pretty wowed by that – anybody would, not just Anthony,” said Bob Johnson, director of the EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp. “When you jump into a college meeting, you’re listening to a foreign language because of the terminology. They’re not trying to stop and teach it to him. They’re trying to win a bowl game.”

After the meeting, Morelli realized his chances of playing early – an important factor in his decision – were slimmer than expected when he committed.

“Palko and (Luke) Getsy have been down there two years and know the offense like the back of their hands,” Morelli said. “I felt like I was behind”

Most importantly, he didn’t want to sit.

“From talking to Anthony and Greg the past couple years, early playing time was always a huge deal,” said Greg Biggins, Student Sports Inc. recruiting director. “Any school that was able to come along and sell an open depth chart was going to be appealing to them.”

Not a concern at Penn State, huh?

“You leave a bona fide quarterback coach in Walt Harris,” Lemming said, “to go to a school that isn’t known for developing quarterbacks.”

Jay Paterno, however, is expected to be replaced as quarterbacks coach. His successor will be pivotal the development of Morelli, who possesses NFL tools but needs to improve his mental approach to the game.

I wonder if Jay knows that?

Morelli will have plenty of competition. Penn State signed five other high school quarterbacks, though it promised him four of them would play other positions. Greg Morelli also claims that Lions coaches indicated that Robinson would move to defense.

I think Penn State fans should be very unnerved by this. Morelli seems to be operating under a lot of assumptions of getting into the starting line-up real soon, and without much competition. I wonder what the over/under is in terms of months after the season starts before the Morellis start making noise about promises broken and not getting an opportunity?

Pitt vs. Seton Hall — Preliminaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 10:06 pm

With the game tomorrow, there isn’t a lot of time to do much coverage. Pitt’s site has nothing yet. Seton Hall, though, has it’s press release for the game on their site, with a link to their game notes (PDF). Pitt has beaten Seton Hall 4 out of the last 5 times, but lost in NJ last year. Pitt leads the all-time series 25-17. Here is a Seton Hall blog, nothing on the Pitt game, at this posting.

Football Coaching News

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 1:03 pm

Looks like Pitt didn’t get a new offensive coordinator yet. Frank Scelfo decided to stay at Tulane.

“This was a great experience for me. Pittsburgh is a great place with a great facility, and (Coach) Walt Harris is a first-class guy, but I had to follow my heart,” Scelfo said. “Tulane University and the city of New Orleans are pretty special for me. I saw a lot of passion in a lot that happened last spring, and I couldn’t see myself leaving. It’s hard to walk away from all the things this city has done for me and my family. That’s what it boiled down to.”

Scelfo has been with Tulane for eight seasons and has served as the Green Wave’s recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach, directing the team’s wide receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks. He’s the only coach on the staff that was an assistant on the 1998 undefeated team.

Scelfo, whose brother Chris is the Wave’s head coach, said he understood that taking the Pittsburgh job would have given him more visibility as an offensive coordinator and could have moved him closer to his goal of being a head coach.

Despite some concerns over potential trouble down the road, I think Harris missed again. HE got turned down by a guy who chose to stay at a school that nearly eliminated their football program all together last year. Ouch.

Basketball Notes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 12:58 pm

Here are the beat reporters stories on Pitt’s 66-58 win over ND. My write-up is here. The Chicago Tribune felt the game ended 5 minutes into the second half.

With 14:43 left in the game, Jaron Brown’s three-pointer from the right baseline merely extended a four-point Pittsburgh lead to seven.

Logic dictated there was plenty of time left for Notre Dame to reclaim the momentum. Instinct, though, was screaming that it was over.

In merchandising news, Pitt gear is selling at an all-time clip because of the success of the basketball program. Dick’s Sporting Good’s says Pitt gear is its #2 collegiate seller right now. Behind (yes, Lee,) Ohio St. Of course, I still can’t find a single stinkin’ piece of Pitt gear in the Cleveland area. I mean, the damn hat stores have Penn St. and WVU, but not Pitt, WTF? No mention in the article about how the players responsible for the success will never see a dime.

Finally, this piece by Andy Katz at on assistant coaches taking over a program when the head coach moves on to another job. Obviously Jamie Dixon gets a lot of attention.

Next up, a trip to the present home of the New Jersey Nets, the Continental Airlines Arena, to face Seton Hall on Monday Night. Seton Hall blew out Rutgers last night, and are looking forward to the Pitt game.

“I’d rather be in this position going into (the) Pittsburgh (game) than the other way around,” Pirates coach Louis Orr said after the Hall’s 85-58 victory.

His players are understandably looking forward to the challenge of meeting one of the top teams in the nation. Last season, the Pirates split a pair of games with the Panthers. Pitt was ranked seventh when Seton Hall beat it, 73-61, at Continental Airlines Arena last Feb. 15. Junior John Allen said a victory over the Panthers, whose only loss this season came to No. 5 UConn, could go a long way toward helping the Pirates get back into the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve got to make this game carry over into Monday night,” Allen said. “If we do that, we won’t have a problem. If we come out and play hard, we won’t have a problem. We’re going to have a chance to maybe make (an NCAA Tournament bid) happen after this big game. But we can really make some noise against Pitt.”

I’m sorry, it’s still a thrill to read things about how other teams are looking to make a statement by upsetting Pitt.

Pitt Football Odds and Ends

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 12:17 pm

A few things to pass along.

Kicker David Abdul, who had to be extremely grateful for the end of 2003 — with the drunken death of his roommate and best friend Billy Gaines, his apartment going up in flames, a horrible year kicking. Hardly gets 2004 off to a good start. He fell asleep behind the wheel of his sister’s car, crossed the median and collided with another vehicle. He suffered 3 breaks in his kicking leg.

Abdul broke the tibia and femur in two places on his right leg and had lacerations on his right hand and right knee, his father said. He also will require skin grafts later this week to replace “a chunk of meat” between the calf and ankle on his right leg, his father said.

His father believes Abdul will be ready to kick at the start of the 2004 season.

Recruiting analyst, Tom Lemming speaks about signing day. Pitt headlined “surprises” and “losers.”

The biggest Signing Day surprise for me did not involve one specific school or player. It was all the decommitments. In fact, more prospects made last-minute changes this year than in any other in the 24 years I’ve been covering recruiting.

Just look at Pittsburgh for an example. The Panthers lost QB Anthony Morelli to Penn State and RB Andrew Johnson to Miami on Wednesday. There had been rumors about Morelli, but the surprising thing about his switch was that he waited right until Signing Day before letting anyone know.

Pittsburgh lost four top players on Wednesday and suffered through a devastating Signing Day. The Panthers were on their way to a top 20 year before things fell apart. In addition to losing QB Anthony Morelli (Penn State) and RB Anthony Johnson (Miami), Pitt lost receiver Johnny Peyton (South Florida) and cornerback Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest).

The Big East Conference was another loser. In losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC, the conference also lost the prestige those schools bring. This fact ultimately hurt recruiting for Syracuse, West Virginia and Rutgers. Not one of these teams will finish in the top 30 recruiting classes for 2004.

I’m starting to really believe that Smizik is skimming our site for his columns. Last week it was the recruiting arguments we were having.

Now in today’s column on Harris.

It has been as bad a 10-month period — beginning in May with the news Big East was in big trouble — as might be possible for Pitt football, and Harris has been at the middle of it. In August, he excited the masses by proclaiming the national championship as a goal. By December, that dream was a sick joke.

The expected progress for the overall program, just like the aspirations for last season, hasn’t been there. There’s a widely held belief that Harris is not the man to take Pitt to the next level. He did a remarkable job in upgrading the program, but once it reached the point of a flirtation with national ranking it stalled.

Here’s what I wrote.

2003-2004 has to be one of Harris’ worst years. Pitt had high expectations that crashed. His in game coaching was exposed all season — again. His supposed real strength — recruiting — took a major blow. And I think it is safe to say that most of the local media has just about had it with him and his constant position of “Not my fault.”

A lot of the themes we have been talking about with Harris and the Pitt football team are in this column. SO, either Smizik is skimming for material, or it is so blatantly obvious that he is seeing it too.

In a game that seemed, at times, extremely similar to the game these two teams played a month ago, Pitt again prevailed 66-58.

The play calling crew is familiar for Big East tournament time, Sean McDonough and Len Elmore. I like them.

The game got off to a slow start. It took a minute and a half before there was a score. Chris Thomas, who had been struggling, hit a 3-pointer. He sank another one a couple minutes later, and ND was up 8-2. You quickly realize that ND is a real perimeter team. Torin Francis is their only inside presence. If Thomas struggles then you understand why they have lost so many games. They need Thomas and Quinn to be on, or they are in trouble.

The Irish are on a fast start. They go up 15-2, more than 5 minutes into the first half. Pitt is struggling with their shots. Taft is getting exposed for his youth on the offensive boards. If he gets the ball, he fails to look at passing the ball out to reset the offense. Instead, he seems determined to make a shot regardless of how far out of position or how bad a shot it is.

After going down by 13, Pitt starts to assert itself. ND got off to a hot start. Thomas went 3-3 for 9 points, but stopped taking many shots. He’s been in a slump and he seemed afraid to demand the ball. This worked against ND, because the previously hot Chris Quinn, couldn’t buy a basket. Quinn’s only points in the game, came from the charity stripe. He was 0-8 in total. ND can only win if Thomas and Quinn are scoring. With Quinn completely frozen, and Thomas afraid to push Pitt was allowed back in the game.

So despite going 6-13 from 3-point land in the first half, ND only led 32-26. Pitt was clearly outrebounded in the first half. A bright spot for Pitt, was that Julius Page, who has been slumping all season long, had 9 points on 4-7 shooting.

During the first half, Len Elmore listed his “All Big East Team.” Not really a surprise that Pitt didn’t have a player listed. It was:

Barrett — Seton Hall
Matthew — Va. Tech
Okafor — UConn
Warrick — Syracuse
Gomes — Providence

The first half was frustrating to watch as a Pitt fan. Pitt was too willing to play the perimeter game. Exchange 3-point shots. Pitt has to take the ball inside and bang the ND players. Physically wear them down. That is, literally, Pitt’s strength. They are not finesse or an outside shooting team. Pitt pushes, claws and scrapes inside for baskets. Inflicting punishment off the boards.

The second half starts with things immediately going Pitt’s way. ND’s center, Torin Francis is done with “back problems.” That completely removes most of ND’s interior offense.

The other big difference about the second half, is that the refs have decided to call a much tighter game. There were only 2 Free Throws in the first half (both missed by Troutman). The second half had 30 attempts in total.

At 17:11 Pitt takes its first lead of the night, 35-34. The Irish are starting to look frustrated at the defense and the missed shots. The losses in 3 of their last 4 are taking their toll. A sense of desperation can be seen on the players. 7 minutes into the second half and Pitt has gone on a 17-4 run to put the lead at 43-36. Notre Dame is noticeably extending its defense to keep Pitt from taking the outside or mid-range shots.

McDonough notes that ND is starting to wear down. That most of their starters are still in the game. Unlike Pitt, apparently, ND is not used to most of its starters logging minutes much over 30.

With the refs calling the second half, very tightly, Jaron Brown actually reaches 4 fouls and goes to the bench at the 9:56 mark. Pitt is up 47-39. The game has gotten, to use hockey vernacular, “chippy.” Both coaches are giving the refs an earful, and McDonough seems annoyed with the refs getting so involved in the game.

Comments that stood out from McDonough after the halfway point:

“… the refs are just looking for things to call… [they] are determined to inject themselves into the game.”

Amusingly enough, after a time out and a chance to look at the replay where Jordan Cornette committed a foul by trying to grab/tackle Krauser by the ankle, they he was forced to admit they called that one correctly.

At 7:45, Pitt leads 51-41

For Notre Dame, Chris Thomas is a great player, offensively. It’s his defense that kills the team. He is very much the ole style of defender.

Notre Dame tries to make a run near the end, but it falls far short. Pitt makes enough free throws, and ND can’t score enough.

Pitt just plain wore out the Irish.

Looking over the box score.

Page had a much needed good game. He had 17 points and shot better than 50%. Krauser had 19, Brown with 11, Troutman with 9 and Taft with 6. Once again, no dominating Pitt player, just that team effort that keeps the opposition from trying to shut down just one guy.

It’s a beautiful thing.

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