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January 16, 2007

4:30 Eastern tomorrow, Coach Jamie Dixon will be the interview on “Jim Rome is Burning” on ESPN. It’s expected that  he brings up UC-Santa Barbara in the final 30 seconds of the interview. Discussing Ben Howland should come about halfway through. The loss of his sister Maggie should be just after the Howland portion. That leaves maybe a minute to actually talk about the team.

The drill remains the same.

7:11: Did anyone see what happened to Thabeet? I didn’t see it. The officials, though, are really letting the teams bang. The only foul, when Kendall made a dumb reach-in after he got bumped and stripped. UConn definitely looks uncomfortable with being stuck playing at Pitt’s style, but they don’t look able to break it out and run.

7:12: Okay, now they showed the camera angle where Cook accidentally clocked him going up for a shot.

7:20: Pitt’s second squad not looking nearly so good as the starters. Sam Young looks like he is back to struggling again. Getting killed on the boards. Pitt not boxing out or out-hustling UConn. The Huskies seem a bit fired up with Thabeet knocked out.

Vitale is right, the Huskies are really establishing the post position. 11-11, 10:48 to the half.

7:26: The TV timeout gave Pitt the chance to get most of the starters back in (including Kendall with 2 fouls) and Pitt went on a 6-0 run. Cook has yet to score, but Gray has 6. 8:40 to halftime, Pitt up 17-11.

7:29: Dear god, that Vitale address to the Pittsburgh Zoo. No profanities? Where’s the fun in that?

7:38: Thabeet back. Apparently they were afraid he broke his nose. Some interesting spurts from UConn, to keep it close than I’d like. They are really slapping at the ball to get a bunch of turnovers. Not too worried about the shots not falling, yet — frustrating, but they will fall. 19-16 Pitt, 4:20.

7:47: Ramon drops a 3 at the buzzer to retake the lead, after surrendering it for the first time. 24-22
Dixon bothered by poor offensive execution. Standing around too much, going inside, but the shots not falling. No kidding. Gray has 10 rebounds but is only 4-12 with 8 points.

Too much standing not enough, cutting gives the perimeter defense of UConn time to slap at the ball and get position to stop drives. Should be an interesting halftime speech.

8:10: Cook is just having a horrible game (weak offensive foul call). Shots not falling, struggling with the passes, turnovers. Just struggling.

8:22: Ugly, ugly game. Pitt is still not shooting well. UConn’s athleticism is really compensating for inexperience tonight. Pitt just remains out of sorts. Unable to finish shots. Pitt holds an overall rebounding edge, but UConn has a 10-8 advantage on offensive rebounds. Every shot sees more blue under the basket than white.

34-33 Pitt, 11:08

8:28: 41-34 Pitt, 8:51 left. Calhoun had to take a TO after Fields nailed a big 3 and was fouled (missed the 4-pt play), but UConn failed on shots the other way. Pitt got the basket after Kendall missed the jumper, Gray rebound and threw it right back to Kendall — still wide open — who dropped it.

8:37: Another Dick Vitale speech to the Zoo about drinking. Um, not exactly the speech from Hoop Dreams. I do like the fact that he doesn’t preach abstinence in drinking. That works about as well as preaching it with sex. I’ll climb off of my soapbox now.

8:46: 48-37 Pitt, 3:55 left. Ramon has been big tonight, 14 points and 4-4 on 3s. Gray has been great in the second half. 4-12 in the first, 4-4 in the second; 17 rebounds with no other Pitt player with more than 2. Cook hasn’t scored or done much on the boards. He is the leading assist man in the game with 6.

8:55: Second half runs against UConn stat that they showed kills UConn this year. They just fade, and can’t stay together. Have to concede that to be a function of youth. They will be so good in another year. Hell, under Calhoun, I expect them to be a dangerous team by the Big East Tourney.

Vitale called the game for Pitt at 2:24 and Pitt up 53-40. He also congratulated Dan Shulman on his son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Okay.

8:56: Damn. Kendall got the ball first, but his angle got the rest of the arm to foul out with Biggs.

8:57: They mentioned the verbal from Nasir Robinson. Cool.

9:00: Missing the point that, yes, Cook has only 4 points. If he looked a little further he’d see that whole 6 assist part.

It’s now 57-48 with 52.8. Dumb foul by Graves.

9:09: Damn, forced to agree with Vitale — again. Pitt has not played smart in the final couple minutes. Some dumb fouls to drag this out.

In the words of Dan Shulman, “Pittsburgh will hang on to win” by 9 points. 64-53. PittHoops called the differential. Definitely not Pitt’s best game. The good news, was that it was still good enough against UConn. The Huskies were the ones that couldn’t make free throws — 10-23.

Aaron Gray finished with 22 points and 19 boards. The team, after shooting 10-30 in the first half, went 10-15 in the second.

Pitt won despite not losing the battle of offensive glass 18-10. The overall rebounding appears to be tied at 36. UConn caused 18 Pitt turnovers. I’m not thrilled with the way Pitt played, but the fact that Pitt had a bad game and still notched the win makes me feel pretty good. Homecourt in college basketball. Never underestimate it.

It’s All But Over

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Numbers,Players,Recruiting — Dennis @ 3:54 pm

All of the questions surrounding LeSean McCoy, that is. His high school coach confirmed what we already knew and then were told not to believe: Shady is Pittsburgh bound.

“I deal with all the Division I-A schools in the country and I have to say, without a doubt, Pitt recruited really hard,” McCoy’s Milford Academy coach Ben Chaplick told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I guess it paid off in the end. He clicked with Coach (Dave) Wannstedt and that’s who he’ll be playing for.”

McCoy reportedly committed to Pitt this weekend after a visit, but the report was not confirmed until today. He is expected to make an official announcement later today.

The official announcement is expected tonight, even with the collective thoughts of Pitt fans focused on the Pitt-UConn match up. And in case you missed the recruiting video of McCoy posted in the comments section, I gladly present it (Video Link).

Other Pitt football news is the news of Chris Ball being hired as the new secondary coach. Even though it’s a few days old it is still important to note.

Or at least it would be if we had a somewhat competent defensive coordinator.

Wannstedt, as any smart coach would do, praises him quite a bit.

“In Chris Ball we have added an exceptional football coach and recruiter,” Wannstedt said. “Chris has been an integral part of some of the top defenses in the country. We expect his experience and knowledge to be a major asset for our program.”

He comes from Alabama where he had some good defensive backfields under his watch. Over the past few years the numbers of his defenses have looked good. In 2004 they ranked first nationally in pass defense and second in pass efficiency defense allowing just 113.1 yards per game through the air and limited opposing quarterbacks to a 92.8 rating. 2005 saw them ranked as fifth nationally in pass defense and yards per game.

Long drive back yesterday from the family in Central Pennsylvania. Now it’s all about catching up on things and unfortunately the real world has to come first — especially if I want to have time to watch the game tonight (and I do).

So, I’m going to do this quick-hitter style.

Three themes are prevalent for this game. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the battle of the big men.

For Thabeet, though, Gray will present a situation like no other this season. The Pitt center is leading the Panthers (16-2, 4-0 Big East) in scoring on a team with the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country. Also, for the second straight game, Gray will face another 7-footer after limiting Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert to 11 points in 30 minutes Saturday.

“You can’t go in expecting him to play better than you,” Thabeet said. “The coaches here have challenged me. Now, he’s (Gray) going to be another challenge. But I like challenges.”

The theme is repeated a few times. Tip for the Oakland Zoo about Thabeet’s family. The family already has money and from in Tanzania (though I think the family now lives in Senegal). His father is actually part of the World Bank in Africa. Consider the e-mail scam regarding the secret bank account theme.

Thabeet had been struggling — especially against Marquette last week — but had a great game against St. John’s. Sure, it was St. John’s but, um, when it comes to the Red Storm, Pitt should never look down on them. Heck, UConn actually went zone on them.

Somewhat related, but a little broader is the UConn is now young theme. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, and tonight, you can expect the same Jim Calhoun interview clip from the Big East Media Day to be shown — again. Though, credit Coach Jim Calhoun for his honesty about the young UConn team and struggling:

“No one feels bad for us,” Calhoun said. “I tell the kids that you are making a lot of people happy by doing this.”

The other big theme — the UConn-Pitt rivalry.

After all, nobody else in the Big East — not Syracuse, not Georgetown, not anybody — has strung together more championships and more victories over the last six years than UConn and Pittsburgh.

The two teams have combined for 10 Big East championships: seven regular-season titles and three Big East Tournament crowns. They also boast nearly the same, sparkling conference records during that run: UConn is 64-20 and Pittsburgh is 63-21.

From Taliek Brown’s 30-foot heave in UConn’s double-overtime victory over Pittsburgh for the 2002 Big East Tournament title, to Chevy Troutman’s bruising performance against the Huskies for a 76-66 victory at Gampel Pavilion in 2005 for ESPN’s launch of College GameDay, there’s never been a lack of drama in this series.

There’s also no longer any pretending this isn’t a big rivalry game from Calhoun as in years past.

“There’s been some great, great games between Pittsburgh and Connecticut,” Calhoun told a roomful of reporters and TV cameras at the Petersen Events Center. “It’s been a terrific, terrific game. I would expect our kids to hold up their end. I know Pittsburgh will.”

The fact that there have been so many tough, great games between the two has made it a rivalry that the folks in Connecticut are now happy to acknowledge how much this matters. Pittsburgh media and Pitt have been on that for a while. Great point, early in this story about how rivalries can change in college basketball much faster.

Rivalries come and go over the years. Games that once defined Big East basketball for a generation are now just other games on the schedule. No one blinks an eye anymore when St. John’s plays Georgetown, for example.

But, in the past six years, no rivalry in the Big East can compare to Pitt-Connecticut.

It’s, of course, been the measuring stick for Pitt in the past and in a way it still is this time.

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