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February 17, 2004

I was going to take the day off from PSB, but Shawn inspired me.

How long had Pitt basketball been down? Think about it. Pitt was off the radar for the better part of the 90s. A brief flash in the early part of the decade then nothing — other than the occasional police blotter. Pitt didn’t actually show anything worthy of notice until the Big East Tournament in March 2001. Pitt, maybe 6 deep, went on a run in the tournament in Howland’s second year. They were carried by Senior Ricardo Greer all the way to the Big East Championship game, where they had nothing left in the tank and lost to BC.

That was only 3 years ago. Pitt has been one of the best teams in the Big East since that time. But it has only been 3 years. The national media fawns over teams like Duke, Stanford, UNC, Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas and so on because they have been good/great teams for a long time in the past and show no signs of not being the same in the future.

St. Joe’s gets attention this year because it has two things going for it that Pitt doesn’t. 1) That one great player that carries the rest of the team and is clearly the best player (the best player on Pitt’s team is debatable — Krauser, Page, Brown, Taft — because Pitt is a more complete and balanced team). Jameer Nelson is a focal point, it makes the story easier to tell. 2) They are unbeaten. Another storyline, and it gives writers a chance to be lazy and do comparisons to the runs of Indiana or UCLA.

Last month I excerpted something which commented on Pitt’s soft non-con schedule. Here’s the salient note.

Pitt doesn’t have the luxury of being an established commodity like Syracuse, and a couple of big-time games on national TV would do wonders for elevating the program.

Right now, Pitt fans are feeling underloved. They are letting national sportswriters know. That commenting on the non-con got a lot of response

I won’t go tit-for-tat with every team whose fans wrote to complain, but it’s clear there are plenty of people rooting for Pittsburgh and Wake Forest who believe their teams warrant a “Buy.”

And apparently they continued to badger Seth Davis at SI.com. A little aside in his column — where Jaron Brown was listed as “captain” of his “All-Glue Team.”

Yes, Pittsburgh fans, I should never have sold your stock a few weeks back.

Sticking with the SI.com writers, Grant Wahl listed 8 teams he thought played team ball and could win the national championship a few weeks ago. Pitt wasn’t one of them. He got some mail on the subject.

Sorry guys. My eyes glazed over from all the mail about last week’s Magic EightTM. If the ‘Bag had one of those electronic light-board maps that Google uses to measure worldwide traffic, it would’ve been Christmas-treeing in the Pittsburgh area.) Before I let the readers speak, some points:

3. Pittsburgh is a nice team. Pittsburgh is a nice team. Pittsburgh is a nice team. There. I said it. Still don’t think the Panthers will win it all, but they do play Team Ball and they could go far in the tournament.

While we got plenty of arguments for Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Saint Joseph’s, by far the most responses came on behalf of Jamie Dixon’s Panthers in the wake of their drubbing of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome last week. One of the more sane takes was that of reader Patrick Lister of Jersey Shore, Pa., who writes:

Does any team exemplify Team Ball more than the Pittsburgh Panthers? When five players are averaging 10 points a game or more for the majority of the season and your team has one of the best scoring defenses in the nation (holding Syracuse to a Carrier Dome-low 45 points) and you’re coming off a strong showing in back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, I think you deserve a little recognition. Need I mention the 19-1 record? But if you’re looking for the perfect definition of team ball, look to the loss to UConn at the Hartford Civic Center. With three seconds left, down three, and the ball in the team’s top scorer’s hands, what would most teams do? (Hint: Not dish the ball out to an unheralded freshman averaging 2.8 points a game.) THAT is team ball. I look forward to seeing that picture of you in Panthers gear.

Patrick: Thanks for the points. I like the Panthers a lot, and they’ve certainly taken a leap forward in many eyes after the win at Syracuse. You’re also right about winning over converts with the loss in Hartford. For me, though, the real tests will come on Feb. 15 (at home against UConn) and March 2 (at Providence).

Is Pitt sophomore point guard Carl Krauser already better than Brandin Knight was as a senior? Krauser shoots better, scores more and plays solid defense. As much as Knight helped establish Pitt as a burgeoning program, could Krauser help the Panthers take the next step? Jason Wawrzeniak, Melbourne, Fla.

Good question, but don’t sell Knight short here. Keep in mind that statistics mean less when evaluating point guards than with other positions. The only stat that really matters is winning percentage in March, and Knight has a pretty good one. Head to head, though, Krauser has advantages over Knight’s senior stats in points per game (15.1 to 11.2), field-goal percentage (.472 to .367) and free-throw percentage (.786 to .575). Meanwhile, Knight leads Krauser in assists per turnover (2.07 to 1.86) and steals per game (2.12 to 1.56). Krauser may not be better than Knight was last year, but he is certainly in the same discussion, which is very good news indeed for Pitt.

The following week, his column disclosed the location and occupation of Pitt legend Jerome Lane.

Another factor that helps with media coverage — the coach. Pitt has a newbie, Jamie Dixon, and is boring copy. He does the total coachspeak thing. Longtime, successful coaches have built up relationships with national media that has covered them — Roy Williams (UNC, formerly Kansas), Bob Knight (Texas Tech), Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Gary Williams (Maryland), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Tom Izzo (Mich. St.)Rick Pitino (Louisville) and so on.

The nature of the coverage in general is to ignore until they are sure the team will be around for a while, and then continue the coverage even if the team doesn’t merit it.

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