January 10, 2007

I’ll be watching, and making the occasional comments like I have lately. Feel free to comment away.

7:04: Just dawned on me that the “Allstate Arena” is what used to be called the Rosemont Arena. I saw the Dead there, several times in the early 90s. God, I feel old. Dave O’Brien just pointed out that this is a 6pm local time game, so the crowd is still eating dinner. No they are not. They’re stuck in traffic.

7:09: Pitt leading 4-2 at 15:44. Missed some shots. DePaul has come out looking sloppy and not particularly sharp (to be kind). Wesley Green is a big guy. I’d like to see him take Majerus’ suggestion to take Gray off the dribble that far out — just for the comedy value.

7:20: Pitt leads 11-7 with 10:49 in the half and Benjamin going to the line. Benjamin seeing some good minutes early — and playing well. Just a thought as I watched Biggs take two jumpers including that air-balled wide open look. Early impressions of players is not always fair. Antonio Graves still seems to be taking crap for his admittedly poor play as a younger player. He has been a very, very good player for this whole season; but a lot of people can’t let go of how he played in the past and almost seem waiting for him to revert. Biggs is well on his way to having the same problem. He is not making anyone feel good about his future.

7:27: Fields not playing particularly well tonight. Not holding onto the ball. At least 2 or 3 turnovers, and lucky not to have more. Definitely nice to see Gray trying to be more aggressive. It helps that DePaul is playing more 1-on-1 and giving Gray more space than he’s had.

7:38: Thank you Graves for helping make my earlier point. That was a great move to strip Chandler, floor dive and slap the ball to Benjamin ahead for the slam.

7:44: 28-18 Pitt at the half. It is not exactly guard play tonight. Kind of ugly, but Pitt is doing okay. Have to love that the refs are letting them play. Not saying NBE called the conspiracy, but…

Benjamin has apparently responded to the positive press by playing even harder. Fields seemed a bit sloppy at least to start. Gray probably had to stifle a s**t-eating grin to see that DePaul was going 1-on-1 without anyone dropping to double team everytime he got the ball. Graves is playing solid defense and also getting rewarded on the offensive possessions.

One thing to worry about in the second half. DePaul was only 1-8 on 3s. If they start falling as can often happen from one half to the next, the whole game will change quickly. That will force Pitt to defend further out and free the inside for Chandler and Mejia to drive or just get the ball inside.

8:06: Pitt still leading, but DePaul is more determined this half to try and drag Gray further out from under the net. Graves is playing some great defense in this game. Kendall is looking a little better this game. Mike Cook really is making an effort to crash the boards for rebounds this game. Too bad he forgot to warn his teammates — there have been a couple collisions and balls knocked away from each other.

8:16: Pitt now up 40-26, 11:55 left. DePaul has remained cold behind the 3 (2-14 now). Majerus comments makes it hard to give be positive to Kendall. Way too effusive, but let’s be honest. Kendall is definitely playing a better game tonight. The kind of game I expected to see from him most of the season. Fields has settled down and playing a lot better.

8:21: Pitt calls a good time out when Benjamin was trapped in the corner (11:13) with two guys on him. Nice work by Benjamin not to pick up the pivot foot. Annoyed not to see anyone from Pitt coming near to help.

8:28: Majerus is killing me. He gets his talking points, and by God, he won’t leave the page. The Syracuse game was Ronald Ramon. Tonight it’s Kendall. Look, for the last 2 weeks, the best defender for Pitt has been Antonio Graves. Just because you have the quote from Dixon — which he made during the BE Media Day — does not make it reality at this point. Kendall is having a solid game — his best game in quite a while (and maybe his parents should make some more trips to games) — but keep it in check. Up 44-30 with 7:47 left.

8:37: 48-41 Pitt with 3:40 left. Burns has been the only guy hitting shots for DePaul. Need to go at Chandler and force him to pick up that final foul. At least eliminate another offensive threat.

8:44: Thank you Mike Cook. He went at Chandler and forced the 5th foul. Even if Chandler was having a bad night (and he was) it eliminated a major scoring threat.

8:55: Solid win for Pitt. 59-49.  I made no secret about this game making me nervous. I’ve seen DePaul when they have been on this season to worry. The Pitt defense did a great job on shutting down one of the best duos in Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia. Two players averaging nearly 32 points held to only 19.

Pitt played a solid game and clearly was happy to have the refs keep the whistles in their pocket. I’m not complaining. That’s the Big East.

I guess I’m conditioned or just too cynical. Can’t shake the feeling that either the 3-point shooting is going to absolutely suck tonight or Gray is going to have a miserable game.

With all this media discussion the last couple days on Gray and the outstanding guard play, I’m just expecting it. Especially all the love for the guard play and Levance Fields.

On top of that, there’s even some attention to the fact that the defense hasn’t looked half-bad, superficially.

Final thing, last year the DePaul game was just before a major gamut of major Big East games for Pitt. No change for this year.

This is a scary game for Pitt. They are the road favorite by 1.5 to 2 points. They are facing a team that has won 9 straight home games dating back to last year’s thrashing they gave Syracuse before the Big East Tournament. I’ve repeated this numerous times, but DePaul at home is a very different team. 8-0 at home, 2-6 road.

Then you look at their two best players, and further reasons to worry. Wilson Chandler at Power Forward can be a beast, when focused. He is averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, and can even shoot 3s (37%). Then there’s leading scorer, Guard Sammy Mejia — apparently he could have been a Pitt player — who at 6′ 6″ presents huge match-up problems for Pitt. He feels confident about the game.

“We match up with them well,” guard Sammy Mejia said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”

A key to the game will be how the Blue Demons defend Pitt’s 7-foot center Aaron Gray, who averages in double figures in points and rebounds. Ordinarily, DePaul has a trio of centers to throw at a big guy like that, with coach Jerry Wainwright choosing among Lorenzo Thompson at 6-8, 290 pounds, Wesley Green, 6-9, 295 pounds, and Keith Butler, 7-1, 255 pounds.

However, Thompson’s father died Monday and it isn’t known if the senior will suit up.

Mejia is also playing the whole underdog part.

“This is a huge game for us,” Mejia said. ”We’ve always been the underdog, and we thrive in those roles. [The Panthers] have a bushel of confidence now, but we’ve won six out of seven. We want to show we belong.”

The match-up issue is something that concerns DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright.

Wainwright could take the obvious route and steer DePaul’s defense toward bottling Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year. After all, Pittsburgh’s last four opponents limited Gray to 6.5 points per game.

And they all lost.

Alternatively, Wainwright could go small, using DePaul’s backcourt size to curtail a group of Pitt guards he calls “vastly underrated.” But that approach would free up Gray (eight double-doubles) and dangerous forward Levon Kendall (5.8 rpg).

The fix has left Wainwright misquoting Scripture (“For everything given, something else is taken away”) and gushing over the seventh-ranked Panthers, who tonight visit the Allstate Arena (6 p.m., ESPN2).

“They’re so consistent, it’s painful,” Wainwright said. “They just beat you up.”

Wainwright’s praise for Pitt makes sense. He wants the same things said about DePaul down the line.

“They’re what we want to be,” Wainwright said.

DePaul does go 9 deep in the rotation regarding double-digit minutes, so they likely won’t be facing depth issues. The issue always seems to come down to which DePaul team will Pitt face.

Fields is wary of DePaul’s athleticism and versatility, but he ponders the same question many Demons fans are asking.

“Which team are you going to get?” he said. “They have some big wins and some upsetting losses. But they’re a very talented team.”

Damned if I know, but I expect the dangerous DePaul team.

Harsh on the Guy While Down

Filed under: Basketball,Players — Chas @ 9:09 am

Over at Slam Magazine, one of their writers lists his top-10 which is, well, interesting. He has Pitt at #8

I’ve yet to be proven wrong about the Aaron Gray Actually Sucks Theorem. This should be a tee-shirt.

Some quality wins against Syracuse and South Florida, but I really don’t see it with this team. Uconn and Marquette should do nature’s work with them in the next couple of weeks so we can slide Butler in here some place.

I know that I really enjoy reading and listening to commentary were clueless “edginess” is substituted for thought.

Here’s an AP article on Aaron Gray’s slump.

“I think he’s happy that we’re winning, but we do need to get him more touches,” point guard Levance Fields said. “People are keying on him, and a couple of times we missed him (when he was open), but guys are making shots, making plays.”

Not that Pitt wants to go much longer with Gray being more of a spectator than a participant in their offense.

After the DePaul game, Pitt returns home to play Georgetown and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert and No. 24 Connecticut and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet in a four-day span, and Gray will need to be at his best

“I don’t think he’ll get frustrated. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t think he’s forced up bad shots at all,” Dixon said. “That would be a reflection of frustration. He’s continued to pass the ball regularly. I think he’s handled it well.”

I’d like to see a little frustration. Or at least a little more push to get to the hoop. Still, the good part is that the team is playing with confidence and the knowledge that they can win games even when Gray is being contained.

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