January 4, 2007

Open comments. I’ll be watching the game and posting some stuff. Not a full liveblog. Tonight’s adult beverage to get me through is the the Dalmore Single Malt Scotch, Cigar Malt.

7:20: Whenever there is a shot by Pitt, there is no one else besides Gray under the basket. Making any attempt at a rebound a 1-on-3 battle. Gray had better be well conditioned. The plan for every team is to draw Gray as far from under the basket on defense as possible.

Not a pretty start for either team, but I don’t like what I’m seeing from Pitt’s rebounding effort. Pitt is 1-4 on FTs.

7:35: Majerus after Benjamin’s 3 in the corner. “Pitt finally with some ball movement.” Yep. Too much standing around on offense.

The good news for Pitt is that the game is still very close. Pitt can adjust and hopefully get some coffee or something for the second half.

7:47: Pitt trailing at the half, but only by 1. 34-33.

Coach Dixon heading into the lockerroom. As you expect just positive. Folks, the day he rips his team or anything like that at halftime is the day we know pressure is getting to him.

Pitt needs to find Gray. Period. They aren’t even trying to get him the ball. Part of that is Pitt seemed to have a bit more trouble than expected with the zone.

I was really scared when Cook came down badly and seemed to be grabbing his groin, but he seems okay by the end of the half.

I’m really bothered by the poor rebounding. None of the guys at power forward are providing much.

8:04: Syracuse has to burn an early TO as Pitt goes on a 7-0 run in the first 1:12. Much better energy coming out of the break.

8:10: Terrance Roberts is flat on his back. His face ran right into Kendall. Looked accidental, but he staggered down.

8:25: Levance Fields has gotten so aggressive on offense the last couple weeks. And he is 8-13 tonight.

Roberts for Syracuse is getting stitches and checked for a concussion.

8:37: Syracuse is having Krauser flashbacks with the way Fields has played.

Harris for ‘Cuse is showing why Pitt wanted him badly.

Rick Majerus is sticking to his talking points about Ramon. Kind of comical.

Syracuse is making its push, Pitt has to slow it down.

8:58: Pitt wins by 8, 74-66.

Levance Fields for the post-game interview. Talked about the team, and how Gray opens things up for the others and he just happened to be knocking them down.

I nice road win against a place that used to be a house of horrors until the new century.
The post-game credits to Pitt’s mental toughness and not panicking under pressure. Bardo in the studio may be the first analyst to say that any player for Pitt can and will step up — rather than complaining about the lack of a go to guy.

First up, the Mike Jones transfer out of Syracuse appears to matter more than I realized. I thought it would be bad longer term but not this game given his lack of minutes and who he backs-up.

Jones, a 6-foot-8 forward from Hopkins, S.C., told SU coach Jim Boeheim that he was homesick, and Boeheim said Wednesday that playing time was an issue.

Jones averaged only 6.5 minutes per game, playing behind senior Demetris Nichols, the Orange’s leading scorer.

Matt disagreed below, thinking he would see a lot more minutes in this game. The move also leaves the Orange very shorthanded for this game due to injuries as well with likely only 7 scholarship players dressed. Of course the last ime Pitt went on the road to face a team that was short-handed due to injuries was the Oklahoma State game a couple weeks ago and…

Pitt is ready to get to the conference slate starting with Syracuse.

“This is like a second season,” junior guard Ronald Ramon said. “We definitely want to step in against Syracuse and play our best.”

“I think they are ready to go and excited,” Dixon said. “We played very well throughout (the nonconference schedule). I think it’s been good. We got better as we went on. That’s the important thing. We did a lot of traveling, and that takes its toll. But it was good.”

Now the Orange are waiting for Pitt — and to be honest this still hasn’t gotten old even as it is no longer so strange — as Pitt is the big dog going into this game. The team looking down on Syracuse.

Pittsburgh comes into tonight’s game as the highest-ranked team in the Big East.

In Jamie Dixon’s fourth season as head coach, the Panthers have become the 21st century’s version of the Connecticut story. In the early 1990s, UConn shed its label as Big East doormat to become one of the conference’s standard-bearers.

Matt Glaude did some nice work on a Pitt-‘Cuse preview that I’m not even going to bother. Just go read it and enjoy.

Tonight is the beginning of a totally new season. Conference play is much different from non-con games. You see the teams a lot over the years, know the players, start rivalries, and grow to hate the coaches. (Actually in the case of Boeheim and Calhoun it took about 25 seconds.)

For a team in Pitt’s position, it’s even better to come to the beginning of the “second season”. Losing both of our tougher games, and having them both be rather recent losses too, could only call for a remedy like starting over. As of now, we have a 0-0 record and the players have to enjoy that. I can only hope they won’t let it slip to 0-1 tonight.

Syracuse is excited and it’s hard to not be; hosting a pretty beatable Top 10 team in your own dome is something that doesn’t come around every week.

“It’s the Big East,” Syracuse senior forward Demetris Nichols said. “You know you’re playing the top teams in the country. If you’re not excited to play this game, you shouldn’t be playing.”

(Quote from The Syracuse Post-Standard)

There’s also a discrepancy between number of possessions each team averages per game. We average in the low 60’s per game while the Orangemen average somewhere in the low 70’s. The winning team is likely going to be the one that forces the other to to play a different pace than usual.

If I may also add a little about B.E. foe West Virginia: during the Gator Bowl on New Years Day while the Georgia Tech band was performing on the field, a Mountaineer fan took a little bathroom break…

…in the GT band section. Photographic evidence can be found here. I’m frightened to think that when they say “S*** on Pitt” they might actually be serious.

Matt Glaude of Orange 44 and I finish up our talk about Pitt and Syracuse. My answers to his questions in part 1 and part 2. Here’s part 1 of his answers.
1. Pitt has successfully attacked the Syracuse 2-3 zone as well as anyone the last few years. To such a point that the Orange quickly abandoned it in the BE Championship game. Do you anticipate more man-to-man again for this game or because it is still early in the season, Boeheim sticking with it a lot longer to make sure players like Harris get better used to playing it?

I think this question turns on two points that really have little to do with Pittsburgh’s ability to destroying the vaunted zone.

The first is that Boeheim has actually been playing a lot of man-to-man this season. The players hounded him to go with man in the preseason and during the non-conference slate and Boeheim, surprisingly, acquiesced (at least to some degree). There is a feeling that this team is better suited for man-to-man defense simply because it is more athletic and tougher than recent vintages of the Orange.

The second point of emphasis is that Syracuse is really struggling with depth right now. Mike Jones, the “other” heralded freshman the Orange brought in this year, announced yesterday that he was transferring from Syracuse. He is not currently with the team and there does not appear to be any hope of a return.

Moreover, the team is struggling with injuries right now. Terrence Roberts is still banged up (although he anticipates that he will play tonight), and Matt Gorman, the man that replaced Roberts in the lineup, turned an ankle the other day and is status is questionable. The combination of these three happenings leads me to believe that Boeheim would like to play zone tonight in order to preserve the short bench he is now forced to play with.

So, I guess to answer your question, I expect Boeheim to play a lot of zone tonight, even though he and the players would probably like to play extended periods in man coverage. Given the fact that Pittsburgh is not the most comfortable perimeter-oriented offense in the country (I believe they rank below 225 in 3PA/FGA), playing extended periods of zone may not be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, if Pittsburgh eats up the zone again, Harris and Company are going to get a baptism by fire in the man-to-man defense. A fact that I seriously worry about given Pittsburgh size and strength.

2. So Mike Jones is transferring. I know this is an issue longer term, but is this much of an impact for this game and season for a kid playing less than 7 minutes/game? It only seems to matter if there is a season ending injury to the forwards. Jones didn’t seem to get much increased play even after Roberts went down since he struggled anywhere but at small forward behind Nichols.

The Mike Jones situation is still developing from an impact standpoint. As I noted above, his departure leaves Syracuse with only nine scholarship players and very few bodies in the frontcourt. That is obviously a concern, especially considering how bad Syracuse has crashed the boards this season.

The real kick in the pants, though, is that Jones would have likely seen serious minutes tonight. With Roberts nursing his injury and Matt Gorman’s injury still uncertain, Jones would have started at the 3 tonight with Nichols moving to the 4. For a guy that was itching to get out of the doghouse, tonight’s game could have been the remedy for Jones’ ills.

Finally, given Mookie Watkins’ and Terrence Roberts’ penchant for getting into foul trouble, Jones could have contributed with his long frame and jump shooting ability. The only real reason he didn’t find a lot of floor time this year was that he did not have time to develop as a wing playing the 2 or a functional 4 on the defensive end. He certainly had a role on the team and his departure is going to leave a hole that either Matt Gorman or Paul Harris will need to fill.

In short, Jones could have been a solid option down the line this season, but he chose to act like a coward and cut and run before he truly earned the time he thought he deserved.

3. How do you think Syracuse will handle things if Pitt does get control of the tempo and pace? Can Syracuse be patient and find the best shot?<

If Pittsburgh dominates tempo and pace, Syracuse is screwed. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for the Orange to get into transition and create easy buckets.

The fact of the matter is that Syracuse currently has one shooter on its roster: Demetris Nichols. Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins have the potential to become half-court offensive threats, but neither has established that role as of yet. Paul Harris and Josh Wright were built for fast-break situations, not structured offensive sets. So, if Pittsburgh puts the locks down on Nichols, the Orange really doesn’t have any other reliable half-court option to look for.

Unless, of course, you consider ill-advised Matt Gorman shots as solid offensive options.

4. Which player needs to have a good game overall, other then Nichols, for Syracuse to win tonight? Are you going with the home team on this one?

There are a host of Syracuse players that I would love to see put together a solid effort. Paul Harris really needs to put together a signature game both on the glass and on the defensive end. Eric Devendorf is due for a big output, as his shot is desparately needed. Even Josh Wright, a man that is much maligned in Orange Nation, needs to put together a turnover free performance so as to quell many of the concerns surrounding his play.

But the guy that Syracuse needs most tonight is center Mookie Watkins. Watkins showed at the tail-end of last season that he can be a tremendous force in the middle. Against Aaron Gray tonight, Watkins has the opportunity to contribute significantly on both ends of the floor. If Watkins can establish himself in the paint, I think that Syracuse has a fighting chance. Especially considering how bad this team needs to find and inside-out identity.

Given the above, I am staying so far away from Syracuse tonight that it’s almost ridiculous. Even though its a home contest, the students still haven’t gotten back to campus. The team is coming off of a disappointing effort against St. Bonaventure and still has not put together two solid periods of basketball. As this team lacks so much consistency (and because Pittsburgh is pretty much the polar opposite, at least from an offensive efficiency standpoint), I think that the Panthers will run away with it early and probably hold off another late charge from the Orange.

Final score: 65-53.

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