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February 13, 2004

Media Round Up — UConn’s Turn

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 10:45 pm

I said this would be later.

UConn has its game notes out (PDF). Looking at it, the thing that stands out and makes me most jealous as a Pitt fan out of the Pittsburgh market — the number of national TV games. This is the reward for being a consistent top team in the country for a number of years: 9 games on ESPN/ESPN2 and 5 games on CBS and ABC. That’s the kind of national exposure that helps perpetuate the talent levels. Hey, I’d rather see them on TV than any more Duke and UNC.

The Hartford Courant has a notebook piece focusing on Denham Brown and his knee. In another notebook piece from the Connecticut Post there is a good passage about the rivalry with Pitt and the context.

So is Pittsburgh UConn’s No. 1 rival these days?

“No, I think Syracuse is,” Calhoun said flatly.

After his denial, however, Calhoun pointed to the magnitude the game has taken on in recent years.

“I was talking to a friend in Pittsburgh and he thinks from the game in which Khalid (El-Amin) came back and scored five points in the last 30 seconds to win the game and things were thrown and so on, it was just a heart-breaking loss for Pittsburgh,” the coach said of UConn’s 70-69 win at Fitzgerald Field House Dec. 12, 1998. “And it was an exhilarating win for us on the way to a national championship.”

That game, Calhoun says, made the Pitt players and fans hungry to get back at UConn.

“Since that time, Pittsburgh has felt the team it wants to beat is Connecticut,” Calhoun said. “And the fact that Pittsburgh beat us twice last year, clearly they’re a team we want to beat.”

UConn beat Pittsburgh 68-65 earlier this year in Hartford.

“So I would say that this season they are our greatest rival,” Calhoun said. “But I would still put Syracuse, over the last 10 or 12 years, as our biggest rival.”

First, it isn’t an insult to say the ‘Cuse are the biggest rivals of any team in the Big East. Syracuse has been on top in the Big East from day one. Everyone in the Big East wants to beat Syracuse. They’ve been here longer, and they’ve been on top the longest.

Next to the painful subject of that game at Fitzgerald. That was the last game I attended at Fitzgerald. Pat had gotten tickets invited me to come for the game. We went from the ecstasy of looking like Pitt was blowing them off the court to the agony of watching Pitt blow that game. That was the game that guaranteed that Ralph Willard wasn’t coming back. He never recovered from that game. Weeks later, after a Pitt loss, he would somehow bring that game up in the context of the team still working it through.

So, when I read this column on how Pitt is the big rivalry game with UConn, this passage didn’t ring true.

The rivalry was conceived before Pitt became a contender. The date was Dec. 12, 1998, and UConn’s Khalid El-Amin was being pelted with plastic bottles as he danced on the scorer’s table. El-Amin had just drained a buzzer-beating runner in the lane to give the Huskies a 70-69 victory at Fitzgerald, its first signature win during the national championship campaign.

Now of all the things that rained down on El-Amin — most of them were boos and insults (regrettably, some were of a racial nature — no excuse for that). Plastic bottles were not pelting him. That’s revisionist crap. Some bottles were thrown on the court, but if they were thrown at him, they were poorly aimed.

This article focuses on Pitt’s homecourt advantage, and quotes from Ben Howland.

It’s going to be a tough, physical game. That is really the only thing everyone can be sure of.

Sports Illustrated lists it as the marquee matchup and in its breakdown of the game, picks UConn. The pick to UConn seems to be decided on a nod to Calhoun’s history and coaching. He clearly has the advantage in track record, and so you have to give him the benefit of the doubt with coaching right now.

I can’t pick this game, because I can’t separate my heart from my head on this one.

Media Round-Up — Just Pitt

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 9:32 am

Going to split this up, because I don’t know how long Sesame Street can keep my daughter distracted. For those UConn fans that seem to be showing up this week, welcome. During football season, with a week to build up to a game, I usually try to collect some of the stories in the media from both sides. Since there is extra time for both teams, I’m using the format for this game. (Go to the October or November archives for plenty of examples if you are so inclined.) I’ll get to the Huskie side later.

Pitt Athletic Department has it’s press release for the game, along with the game notes (PDF). Here are Pitt’s prepackaged storylines for the game:

Today’s game features the two winningest teams in the Big East over the last three years and is a rematch of the last two Big East Championship games.

Pittsburgh is 17-0 at home, owns a 39 home game win streak and is undefeated at the Petersen Events Center (33-0).

Pittsburgh enters the contest with a nation-leading 22 wins. The program reached the 20-win plateau for a school record third consecutive season.

Pittsburgh’s defense leads the way as it has held 16 of 24 opponents under 60 points and 21 of 24 under 70 points.

National Coach of the Year candidate Jamie Dixon is the first rookie head coach since Bill Hodges (1978-79) to begin a season with 18 consecutive wins. The national record is 33 consecutive wins by Hodges’ Larry Bird-led Sycamore team.

You do have to wonder about how the beat reporters cover the team. Do they get suggested stories from the school? Do they share their information? I don’t know. If only we had a guy with real experience in newspapers to share some inside information. A guy who even teaches at a j-school. Know anyone, John? The two papers each have two articles on the same topics, only slightly different.

Topic 1: Freshman Antonio Graves dealing with missing a game tying/winning shot again. The Trib is brief on the subject as the lead in the notebook. The P-G does a full article on Graves coping with it, and expressing his confidence that he will make the shot at some point.

Topic 2: Freshman Chris Taft, as one of the best centers in the country. This time the P-G has it as the short lead in it’s notebook column. The Trib runs it as a full story. Both stories quote Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who said,

“I think he’s in the top echelon of centers, not just in the (Big East), but in the country,” Boeheim said. “He’s one of the top four or five guys in the country at that position.”

So, the Trib story speculates a little more as to whether he could/should/would turn pro. An unnamed NBA scout said he would be at best a late first round pick — but more likely after all the Euro-players are included, he would end up somewhere in the second round. The scout agreed with Boeheim’s assesment, but added that it was another down year for centers in college basketball. Taft is still too raw, and needs more strength. Someone should put him in touch with Mark Blount. My guess, Pitt will get to keep him for one more year — barring an academic breakdown. There are no comparisons to Okafor of UConn in the articles — does that seem strange to anyone else?

There is a column talking about the meaning of this game in terms of seeding potentials for the NCAA Tourney. It’s an empty piece. Just skip it, unless you want to read something that will have no meaning in another week. Seeding discussions are fun in the bar, but any discussion now, assumes that the top dozen teams won’t lose again until the conference tournaments.

I missed this article earlier in the week. A rare freebie on Pitt Insiders about the Seton Hall game being a Pitt “worst case scenario.” A little overwrought and few mangled phrases (how can Page’s bad game be “insulting?”), but not necessarily wrong.

Finally, Coach Jamie Dixon was on ESPN2’s barely tolerable “Cold Pizza” this morning. Rather typical coachspeak regarding the game. Lots of props given — by name — to his assistants and the seniors.

Just One More Thing on Pitt v. Nike

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 8:44 am

One of our readers (yes, Lee, we really do have readers) Tony in the (Harris)burg sent me an e-mail with some comments. He also provided a link with some information about what Nike paid some of the top football programs a couple years ago.

FSU: $6 million, 5 years.

Michigan: $5.7 million, six years.

North Carolina: $4.69 million, four years.

Alabama: $2.9 million, five years.

Penn State: $2.6 million, four years.

Illinois: $2.5 million, seven years.

Idle thought: wonder whether Addidas, Pitt’s b-ball outfitter, whispered some numbers in AD Long’s ear.

The Ice Pavilion Melee

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lee @ 8:39 am

It’s nice to see that the more things change in the Penn State football program, the more they stay the same. Like I always tell my wife, you don’t have to trick the Nittany Lions into making asses of themselves. You don’t even have to want the Nittany Lions to make asses of themselves. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch the Nittany Lions make asses of themselves. It will inevitably happen.

Perhaps this is just a big conspiracy to get Michael Robinson out of Morelli’s way on the depth charts?

You suck, State.

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