January 11, 2007

Dennis did a nice recap from the Pittburgh papers on the game. In Chicago, it was all about DePaul coming out flat and slow.

As the night opened, it was apparent, even to DePaul, that the Blue Demons were a step slow, a pace behind.

It could be understood, given the draining two days the team endured leading up to Wednesday night’s game with No. 7 Pittsburgh. Emotional center Lorenzo Thompson’s 43-year-old father died of a heart attack Monday, and that somber mood followed DePaul to Allstate Arena.

The Demons were certain, though, as the night went on, as the nationally televised game against a ranked opponent progressed, the tempo would change, the spring in their step would return.

“Our guys are so good, so I’m thinking eventually we’re going to get into our style of play,” Blue Demons guard Draelon Burns said.

It never happened, and in the end, DePaul limped away with its first loss at home this season, a frustrating 59-49 Big East Conference defeat against the Panthers.

“All the mental mistakes we made, as lazy as we were on offense, we were still right there,” point guard Sammy Mejia said. “It only takes a couple shots to get the momentum. We tried, but we just weren’t the team we needed to be offensively. That’s the worst part, knowing that if we play the way we normally play, we’d have a chance to win. That’s what’s heartbreaking about this.”

Which, of course, is what a good team can do to DePaul. Not let them get into  their comfort. They play a tough defense, but on offense want to score quickly off of transition. They are not effective when they have to play a half-court set.

Part of that was that Pitt made them work much harder than they are used to on defense. With Pitt’s passing and ball movement, the Blue Demons were forced to work much harder and longer on defense than they liked.

“They just are not going to let you run,” coach Jerry Wainwright said. “You have to have people below to help on (Aaron) Gray.”

Hoping to contain the 7-foot Gray, DePaul started both Green and forward Marcus Heard rather than its normal guard-heavy group.

“They started a little bigger,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn’t expect that. … But we can pick things up and make adjustments.”

Gray emerged from a recent scoring slump to finish with 18 points, but DePaul curtailed the Panthers’ other threats. Problem was, the Demons couldn’t carry over their half-court defense to the other end.

DePaul forced 7 first-half turnovers but scored only 8 field goals, notching their second-lowest points total (18) for a half this season.

“We fought and hung in there on the defensive end,” Wainwright said. “But what happens sometimes is we have a tendency to rest on offense.

“Everybody on the team knows I’m really possessed with our defense. What you have to get the kids to understand … is somebody’s offense is their best defense.”

What Pitt didn’t expect — and I mentioned it in game –  not double-teaming Gray.

‘They started big, and we didn’t expect that,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. ”We thought they would double-team a little more [on Gray], and they didn’t initially. But we really defended all the way through, and that was the emphasis for this game. … We did the things we wanted to do offensively and defensively.”

While being frustrated with the way DePaul played, Pitt was held up as an example.

Minutes later, sitting on the platform Mejia just exited, Panthers coach Jamie Dixon offered words of a different tone and they screamed out all the difference in the game just ended.

“It was,” he said speaking of his team, “a very efficient and solid, smart game all the way through. We just came out and did what we wanted to do from the jump offensively and defensively. It was a testament to our guys and our focus.”

Does that define how you go about your business, I asked him later in a hallway.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “And I guess never being satisfied might be thrown in there too. We were smart today, but I think we can get smarter.”

How do you get a team to play with that sense of urgency, I asked.

“It’s practice,” Dixon said. “You don’t do it in a day. You don’t do it for a play. It has to be a constant battle and when [a player’s] not ready to perform, ready to practice, you can’t allow it. A sense of urgency is not a one-day thing.”

We’ll see a lot more of that sense of urgency — there or not — this weekend against Georgetown.

All kinds of numbers after the last night’s game. Among them:

Pitt had made at least nine 3-pointers in each of its past three games, but the Panthers stayed inside the the arc against DePaul. Pitt attempted a season-low eight shots from behind the 3-point line Wednesday night, making three.

That kind of thing will happen when Aaron Gray is getting the ball more. If he gets to the hoop and makes his shots inside then we won’t need to try as many treys.

Levance Fields finished with eight points, snapping his streak of consecutive double-digit scoring games at seven. But the sophomore point guard contributed in other ways, finishing with seven assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

Basically the same thing as above. If he didn’t need to take the shots and could get it into Gray for a higher percentage shot then why not? If he only needs to take seven shots (as opposed to the 15 he took against Syracuse) and Gray is scoring then having Fields score in that 7-10 point range is fine.

Pitt, which has struggled at the free-throw line this season, made them down the stretch. The Panthers converted 9-of-10 free-throw attempts in the final 5 minutes, 24 seconds to seal the win. Pitt entered the game shooting 66.3 percent from the foul-line — 11th in the Big East.

Any time the other team gives us free points we need to convert them.

Other funs stats include:

The Big East season is only a week old, but Pitt (15-2, 3-0) and Providence remain the only unbeaten teams in league play. Providence (12-3, 2-0) plays at Louisville on Saturday. Pitt gets ready for Georgetown, Connecticut and Marquette — all at home — in a nine-day span beginning Saturday.

There were only 10,479 fans in attendance at the Allstate Arena, which seats 18,500.


Love That Defense

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Media,Opponent(s),Players — Dennis @ 12:14 pm

Coming off of a 59-49 road victory over DePaul last night, the one thing that hits you just from looking at the final score was the defense. The Post-Gazette mantions how the defense really stepped it up as soon as we crossed the threshold into Big East games.

It was almost as if Pitt was programmed for Big East play. As soon as conference play began last week, the Panthers began playing the type of defense that has been associated with the program the past several years.

Levon Kendall says it might have taken a bit longer than usual to get everyone to play together. As with any man-to-man defense, playing as one complete unit is greatly important.

“It took awhile for us all to get on the same page,” senior forward Levon Kendall said.

“We’ve been working on the defense for a while, getting ready for the Big East. That’s usually when we try to step it up.”

Even if they aren’t on the same defensive level as teams of years past, they’ve still done something that those teams did not: hold the opponent under 50 points in consecutive games. Obviously, some of that is going to be help from the other team (missing shots, not being a very good offensive team) but there is still a good deal of credit due to the defense as well.

One player who caught the eye of viewers on the defensive side of the ball is Antonio Graves. In the three Big East games we’ve played now, he’s been assigned to cover the opposing team’s top scorer and in all three games he’s been able to keep his man to under their season average.

As always, Coach Dixon makes sure to say the right thing and gives credit to the entire unit, not just one player.

“Antonio and Keith started on him, but it’s a number of guys switching onto him throughout the game,” Dixon said. “It’s a team thing. You’re not going to guard him with one guy because he’s that good off the dribble. It comes down to a lot of guys doing things. The shots he hit at the end were tough shots. We wanted him to take all tough shots, and I can’t remember him getting an easy one.”

Revis Formalizes His Departure

Filed under: Football,NFL,Players — Chas @ 8:46 am

Darrelle Revis held a formal press conference to announce his early entry into the NFL Draft. He was a bit late for his own press conference, but he did apologize.

“I thought he changed his mind,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said, “and that’s why he’s late.”

No such luck for the Panthers, who knew before the 2006 season that it would likely be the Aliquippa junior cornerback’s last in a Pitt uniform. Revis’ junior year only confirmed their suspicions and solidified his decision.

This decision was no shock to anyone.  The shock would have been any decision to stay. I see know reason why he shouldn’t enter the draft now. He is undoubtedly a 1st or 2nd round pick.

Still, the press conference was good to at least read him say all the right things.

“My decision was a difficult one. It is difficult to say goodbye to my teammates and my coaches, but I am excited about the future and what it holds, and I hope I can make the University of Pittsburgh proud.”

“I have to get my degree,” Revis said. “My mom is sitting right there and she’s smiling, but she’s serious about it and I am too. That’s one of the goals I want to accomplish as well.”

You know, this was only the second game all season that Pitt’s effective field goal percentage (eFG%) was below 50%. Ken Pomeroy has has added a very useful new feature to his already invaluable site. It’s called the Game Plan. Not only does it chart key tempo-free stats from each game for easy comparison, it looks for correlations to certain stats and how a team does in a game. Something of an explanation about the Game Plan is here. Very intriguing.

It’s kind of funny to read the DePaul players such as Sammy Mejia complain that DePaul didn’t play their own pace. That they let Pitt dictate the tempo.

“We were terrible offensively,” DePaul guard Sammy Mejia said. “We weren’t moving the ball the way we usually do. We played to their pace. We just weren’t the same team we have been in the last month.”

The pace of the game was not particularly fast. Only about 62 possessions/40 minutes for each team. The funny thing about Mejia’s comments is that DePaul plays at nearly the same pace as Pitt. DePaul’s pace is 64.1 (291th) and Pitt’s is 63.7 (298th). It’s not like their pace was significantly slower.

What did happen is that Pitt’s defense kept them from running the offense the way they wanted.

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