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January 8, 2007

Revis going pro is not a shock. That it has taken this long for it to leak is more surprising.

The final note that McKenzie Mathews is transferring is disappointing considering his potential at DE. I have to wonder if he’s going to go to a D-1AA school. Lots of the problems for him this year was homesickness. The Big East prevents players from transferring to another BE school on scholarship — ruling out Syracuse and even UConn. If he wants to be closer to home, maybe BC is a touch closer. Otherwise it’s dropping down a class.

UPDATE: Sure enough, after I post this, this comment from Coach Wannstedt.

“McKenzie is uncertain whether he wants to continue playing football,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said in a statement. “He has informed us that he will transfer from Pitt, perhaps to a smaller school closer to home. We wish him well in his future pursuits.”

SIonCampus is back with the Monday Awards, Pitt popped back into the top-10 at #8, and I offered some of my thoughts.

The ESPN.com Weekly Watch includes Levance Fields in the list of “Five you should know”

So much was made about who would replace Carl Krauser, but Fields has the ability to make it moot. Fields scored 24 points and was impressive in a road win at Syracuse.

And of course the Georgetown-Pitt game was on the list of games to be. No kidding. Considering ESPN’s college basketball show will be at the Pete.

While still on the subject of ESPN, d**k move by the WWLS to schedule “Big Monday” to start as counter-program against the BCS. Well, at least for the Big East teams it’s G-town and ‘Nova. Might as well go with the b-ball only schools.

Polls Left and Right

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Bloggers,Polls — Dennis @ 4:20 pm

All kinds of new polls come out each Monday and here’s a few with Pitt. New AP and ESPN/USA Today polls are out with the Panthers checking in at the seventh spot in each poll. Each has the same teams rounding out the top 10 and a very young, possibly unready North Carolina team takes over the top spot.

The Big East Bloggers Poll came out after the first real week of conference play and Pitt continues to hold onto that #1 rank. The ‘Eers are closely coming in behind us; even though Pitt got many of the 1st place votes, WVU got a few and then raked in the rest of the second place votes.

This Week’s Poll (first place votes in parenthesis):
1) Pittsburgh (16): 300 pts.
2) West Virginia (3): 274 pts.
3) Georgetown: 256 pts.
4) Notre Dame: 234 pts.
5) Connecticut: 221 pts.
6) Providence: 207 pts.
7) Syracuse: 205 pts.
8) Marquette: 181 pts.
9) DePaul: 150 pts.
10) Villanova: 144 pts.
11) Louisville: 114 pts.
12) St. John’s: 82 pts.
13) Seton Hall: 79 pts.
14) Cincinnati: 54 pts.
15) Rutgers: 45 pts.
16) South Florida: 31 pts.

Looks like we managed to make South Florida bad enough that they took over the last (and definitely least) spot.

A couple ESPN Insider looks at the conference favorites and such as conference play gets under way from Fran Fraschilla:

Built in the mold of recent Panthers teams in the Howland/Dixon era, this team has no McDonald’s All-Americans but it does have a lot of depth, toughness and balance. Is there a style of play in the country that is a better fit for a city like Pittsburgh?

Doug Gottlieb:

What we know: The Big East will be a much-hyped conference, but this is clearly a transition year for the league. Gone is just about every star from last season. No more G-Mac, Quincy Douby, WVU’s Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey, Steve Novak, Taquan Dean, UConn’s five draft picks and Brandon Bowman. We are left with Aaron Gray, Roy Hibbert and Dominic James as the exceptions, so a drop-off was to be expected.

Pitt is the favorite because of its depth, but the Panthers do not have real star power, unlike some of the younger teams in the conference.

What we think: Georgetown, Notre Dame and Marquette seem like the best bets after Pitt to be consistent winners in the Big East, with Georgetown’s guards the biggest key in its ability to win the conference.

What we wonder: Is UConn any good? Is Doug Wiggins a better point guard for the Huskies than A.J. Price? Over the last eight games, Price is averaging 12 points per game in 27 minutes per while Wiggins is scoring 13 points in just 23 minutes. Yes, Price is averaging more assists but also more than twice as many turnovers as Wiggins. With Jerome Dyson and Marques Johnson as UConn’s go-to guys on the perimeter, maybe Wiggins is a better fit because of the lack of scoring punch that Hasheem Thabeet gives the Huskies?

He also wonders about Louisville and DePaul.

I have to admit that at this point, the Big East definitely seems down this year. That can change by Tourney time, but right now the Big East looks a little down.

Of course you can also say that about the Big 11, Big 12 (especially the Big 12) and the ACC as well. The drop-off after the top few teams seems steep. Right now the SEC and the PAC 10 are looking like the deepest conferences this year. This doesn’t make them the best or where the national championship is coming from. It’s just where the competition seems especially strong and deep.

You know where a team ranks on the sports landscape at times when you take a look at the byline of the articles. To be fair most of Florida is preoccupied with the Florida Gators and the BCS game tonight (*ahem* blatant plug AOL Fanhouse will be liveblogging it, I’ll be helping with peanut gallery snark on the side). The beat writers for USF apparently were pulled in and shipped off to Arizona. (At least when the Steelers were heading to the Superbowl last year the beat writers for Pitt stayed with the b-ball.) So, the articles from the Tampa and St. Pete’s papers were from Pittsburgh sportswriters.

Colin Dunlop who usually covers high school and recruiting for the P-G moonlit for the St. Petersburg Times. Meanwhile the Tampa Tribune hired the Trib-Review‘s beat writer, John Grupp to do the story (labeling him as a “Tribune Correspondent”), meaning Grupp got to do two for one. Just one of those things that amuses me.

Mike Cook wonders if the Pitt team just lacks morning people or something.

“I think it’s the early game,” forward Mike Cook said. “We struggled with that last year, too. We weren’t shooting well. We weren’t passing well. We weren’t doing anything well. We relied on our defense.”

Despite shooting 34 percent in the first half, Pitt led, 32-22, at the break after limiting the Bulls to as many field goals (9) as turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. USF managed only three field goals in the final 7:16 of the first half.

“I think we’re improving defensively,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I don’t think that we’ll ever turn the corner. But we’re getting better. And we should improve. We are working a lot on it.”

That’s about as close as Coach Dixon will come to publicly calling out the defensive effort from his team, and it just got tossed in there as an aside comment. It was a good defensive effort, though, and nice to see Pitt clamp down when the shots weren’t going.

“When arguably your best player can have an off night and you can win convincingly you have to feel good about your team,” McCullum said. “Their perimeter shooting is one of the areas they have improved greatly. Offensively, it gives them so much more balance. It sort of makes you pick your poison. You can drop off and help on Gray and make him kick it out. They do a great job of knocking down jumpers. They have good chemistry.”

Fields was 3 for 4 from 3-point range and Ronald Ramon was 3 for 5. Levon Kendall, Keith Benjamin, Antonio Graves and Tyrell Biggs made one apiece.

I have to be honest seeing Biggs make a three bothered me. Mainly because he will probably take more 3s when he should almost never do that.

Ron Cook wonders what is going on with Aaron Gray? Well most of us are at least a little concerned at this point. I’m more concerned about the poor shooting than the lack of touches.

Pitt’s competition is about to improve dramatically. Maybe it won’t happen so much when it plays at DePaul Wednesday night, but it certainly will when it plays Georgetown, Connecticut and Marquette in a three-game homestand that begins Saturday night. Those teams are capable of lining up and playing Gray man-to-man and covering Pitt’s perimeter players. It’s fair to believe the Panthers will need Gray’s offense to win.

“Absolutely,” Gray said, nodding. “The big thing is we’re winning, but I know I have to be more consistent. I have to do my part. I think I bring a lot to the table for this team. I just have to show it.”

Wednesday night at DePaul would be a nice time to start.

The DePaul game scares the hell out of me. DePaul is unbeaten at home. They have knocked off Kansas and Cal there, and blew Wake Forest completely out of the water. The Blue Demons are a Jekyll and Hyde team, and at home they are Hyde.

Is Fields Going To Keep This Up?

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Tactics — Dennis @ 7:09 am

Maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe the choice for the Big East Preseason POY was wrong. Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t imperative for Aaron Gray to need to score in double digits for us to win, but instead someone else does. Enter Levance Fields.

He’s now gone for 10+ points in seven straight games while Gray has been held to under 10 for four straight games. In the three games prior to the beginning of this streak, he was within 2 points of hitting double digits. It took Fields a few games to actually get going this year since he was not in any starting situation like this last year. Now he’s broken through as the present and future point guard for the Panthers. He’s shooting well, driving well, he knows when to pull up for the shot, and the quick release on his passes to other guards have lead to a good deal of points. (I wouldn’t mind seeing more passes down low but if it would mean he’s forcing it and turning it over then obviously I’d take the lower risk pass to another guard.)

The combo of Fields and Ramon has looked like pure gold. Fields shoots well (even with that odd over the head shot) but if he’s not shooting, he’s probably finding Ramon lining up for a three pointer.

Ramon touched on that point after yesterday’s game saying:

”When they double-team the big guys, we know it’s going to open up shots for us,” Ronald Ramon said. ”Aaron’s a smart player and he sees the double team coming. The way he passes the ball, that’s going to open up guys on the perimeter.”

Fields and Ramon have capitalized on that very well and it’s hard to ask for much more from those guys.

None of this is to bash Gray and there are probably going to be games when Fields doesn’t shoot lights out or there is a great defensive guard matched up on him. At that point, Gray is going to need to use some more athleticism to get open and get feeds from Mike Cook or Sam Young (but at the same time he probably won’t be double teamed and it’ll be easier to get the ball to him any way). Fields has been a great surprise this season though and if teams are going to do everything to stop us from getting it to Gray then Levance will be glad to take the game into his own hands.

The Panthers have some of the most balanced scoring in the nation so it’s not like there is a ton of pressure put on one player, but as with any point guard, Fields has to know there is probably a little more on him than anyone (even with all of Gray’s expectations) and moving deeper into Big East play it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up with it all.

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