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January 17, 2007

UConn-Pitt: Game Recap

Filed under: Basketball,Opponent(s),Players — Chas @ 2:52 pm

I said it last night at the end of the game, and I still feel this way: 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.

There were struggles for Pitt. Especially on the offense. Cook’s shot wasn’t falling, Gray was missing a lot of close looks, being bothered by the inside guys for UConn. Pitt wasn’t doing a good job on the boards — Gray excepted. Levance Fields struggled against tight physical defense on the perimeter. Fields couldn’t get a shot to go and it effected him even at the foul line (1-4). The other guards had major struggles getting open for looks.

Kendall got himself in early foul trouble, limiting his ability to help inside on rebounding and just to box out, as he spent a lot more time on the bench. The bench was disappointing as Biggs was physically outmatched, Young looked lost again (and I’m not prepared to say that it was the lack of playing time in this game, he just looked unsure of what he was doing) and even Benjamin was unable to provide the instant spark of offense that he usually brings.

And with all of those issues Pitt beat a young but talented UConn team.

Gray kept fighting on the boards as a solo act and in the second half went 4-4 shooting — responding to the situation with some aggression rather than hanging his head. I think he has played very well when facing another big man straight-up this year (Wisconsin the obvious exception). Clearly he hasn’t forgotten how Patrick O’Bryant of Bradley abused him.

Ronald Ramon was so clutch with his threes in the game. I know, there is some sentiment that he should have had more than 5 shots when he was that on, but the UConn defense was keeping rather tight on the guards and Fields was struggling to find the open perimeter. Not to mention a clear gameplan by Pitt to go inside a lot for this game.

Fields despite a bad game (probably his worst since the BE Championship game), still fought through things. While not getting a lot of assists (in part because of all the missed shots in the first half), was getting the ball inside effectively more often than not.

Cook realized after the first half of 0-4 shooting that he was not shooting well. Instead he changed his offensive approach and made the inside pass to notch 6 assists (4 coming in the second half) and take advantage of the fact that UConn was playing him on the assumption that he would shoot first. Pitt may not be having any luck with JUCOs the last few years panning out, but the team hit a homerun with Cook’s transfer.

The defense and control of the tempo was fantastic. Let’s face it, Pitt was not getting shots to fall in the first half. A lot of shots looked good and were just off. Instead of forcing it, the team made sure to keep the intensity going on defense. UConn’s guards were not a factor. The perimeter defense kept UConn from finding open looks (2-13 on 3s) and while Dyson got 11 points it came on 5-16 shooting.

Free throw shooting was UConn’s problem, not Pitt’s. The Panthers shot 70.8% (17-24), which I will take with Pitt almost any time.

So, yes, it is okay to agree with Smizik’s column today.

Can Pitt win like this all the time? No. Will they win many games playing like this on the road? Hardly. This is basketball, not football. There are going to be off-games and bad nights. Nights where the team just isn’t all there or has a less than A game. No team can bring the max effort every game (compare OK St. losing by 30+ last week to Kansas and it’s triple-OT effort against Texas — which the only reason I am bothered by that game is it totally eclipsed the Pitt-Ok St. 2OT game earlier  as one of the best of the year, and how do the Cowboys get to win both?). It isn’t the end of the world or the end of all championship hopes. Naturally there’s a lot to do if they want to accomplish the goals, but there would be regardless. This is only January. They know they still have to get better.
The very good thing about this was how much better Pitt played in the second half. They adjusted. The whole way, they never let UConn get control of the game or play the way the Huskies wanted. They ground it out. They did coast in the final couple minutes — and I bet they will pay in practice for that.

Closing the McCoy Matter

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Recruiting — Chas @ 12:03 pm

LeSean McCoy ended the non-suspense by officially declaring that he will be going to Pitt.

Daphne McCoy said her son had seriously considered attending Penn State but said a trip to State College, scheduled for last Thursday, was canceled.

The Pittsburgh trip was also scheduled, and Daphne McCoy said her husband insisted LeSean honor his intent to visit. Once there, Daphne McCoy said, LeSean quickly warmed to the possibility of a Pitt commitment.

“We had to postpone the trip to Penn State and I was going to go there this weekend, but now there’s no need to go,” LeSean McCoy said.

It’s been a rumor for some time that McCoy’s father was really in favor of LeSean going to Pitt — even last year. There have been some sour grapes of course, which is typical (I know I was less than pleased at the time when Morelli made his final switch). The grousing and unconfirmed reports regarding McCoy’s academic status and that PSU pulled his offer, actually was something McCoy had to address.

McCoy also disputed rumors that Penn State hadn’t offered a scholarship because he hasn’t qualified yet or that the Nittany Lions pulled their offer off the table.

“Of course they offered me,” McCoy said. “That’s crazy for people to say that. That’s nuts. Anybody who believes that, they’re nuts, too.”

Or bitter.

It provided a huge boost to what had still been a very good recruiting class.

He becomes one of the most prized prospects in Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt’s 2007 recruiting class, which is on the verge of another top-10 national ranking by scouting services.

“From a talent perspective, he’s a fantastic talent,” said Allen Wallace, Scout.com national recruiting editor and SuperPrep magazine publisher. “We’re talking about the kind of guy who was getting recruited by BCS bowl teams. This is the kind of player Pitt needed to improve its stature.

“They have to get guys LeSean McCoy if Dave Wannstedt wants to get to the next level.”

Scout.com now ranks Pitt’s class as #8 in the country. Rivals.com puts Pitt at #21. The always quirky Scouts, Inc./ESPN.com (Insider subs.) moves Pitt to #26 (behind Kentucky?).

So much to discuss and so little time. There’s recruiting in both football and basketball, game analysis and just some media matters on the game. I’ll start out easy – media matters. Especially since it gives me a chance to mention that I’ll be gone for most of the day tomorrow. In a sign of true strangeness, I’ll be on a panel discussion at the City Club in Cleveland talking about journalism and media criticism. The City Club usually has podcasts of these things up a few days later. A local station also airs (and streams) the things the next day. I still shake my head when I think that there are people that actually think I know what I’m doing.

Let’s start with Jim Calhoun. What can I say, I love prickly, acerbic, sarcastic coaches. They provide great quotes. Guys who over time can say anything and people look for the backhanded swipe, and in a press conference can merely arch an eyebrow and people look for the meaning. The Pittsburgh media isn’t used to it. They aren’t used to a guy who seems more critical of his own team at times than complimentary of the winning foe. Most never have and never will forget the “I don’t think they’re the most talented team in the league, but I do think they’re the best team in the league.” comment.

Last night, Calhoun again labeled Pitt the best team in the Big East but added he was sorry the Huskies only play Pitt once during the regular season.

“I wish we’d play them in February and have (7-foot-3 freshman center Hasheem Thabeet) healthy,” Calhoun said.

That left you wondering just how impressed Calhoun was with the performance of Pitt center Aaron Gray, who had 22 points, 19 rebounds and four blocked shots.

See to me, that’s as much about the confidence that Calhoun has in his own team to keep getting better and improve. I don’t take that as much of a slight. Come February, the team will be improved and much better. Plus, it seems Thabeet was never quite right the whole game.

Thabeet took an inadvertent elbow to the nose from Pitt’s Mike Cook while he was trying to grab a rebound just a minute-and-a-half after the opening tip. The freshman big man was stunned and had to be helped into the locker room but returned with 6:48 left in the first half.”That was the third hit he got,” said Calhoun, adding that Thabeet’s eyes wouldn’t stop watering. “I think the idea was to take it right to him. I don’t mean intentionally, but take it right at him and see if he can block shots.”

Jonathan Mandeldove filled in admirably for a time, but the Huskies clearly missed their shot-blocker.

“I got dazed. I couldn’t see. I lost my vision,” said Thabeet, who didn’t attempt a shot in 21 minutes of action. “Even when I came back, a couple times I lost my vision.”

You can always find the disrespect. Calhoun, to the Connecticut media was actually quite willing to praise Pitt.

Jim Calhoun isn’t shy to talk about how good he thinks Pittsburgh is.

The UConn men’s basketball coach seems to embrace this rivalry, which has grown into one of the Big East’s biggest in this decade. The close competition, combined with a commitment to both playing a physical style, has also led to similar interests on the recruiting trail.

He was frustrated more about the performance of his team.

“Every team that loses games finds a reason to be happy,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “I haven’t got one damn reason to be happy, to be honest with you. What should I be happy about?”

Asked what Thabeet might learn from a game like this, the coach offered, “Duck.”

It was fitting of a night that ended with Calhoun finding himself short on explanations or information worth holding onto. He was brief with the media, even briefer with his players and looked to be running low on tolerance.

“I’m not taking anything away,” Calhoun said. “I don’t want to find new ways to lose.”

In the rivalry thing, you could argue that Gray took a swipe at the present UConn players when asked about the UConn players that left.

Pitt center Aaron Gray was asked how it is not seeing those guys anymore.

“It’s kind of a relief,” he said. “They had so many good players go through and so many players that could do so many different things. Obviously, through the draft last year, you saw how good they really were.”

It wasn’t actually a swipe at the present UConn players — especially with their potential — but it could be construed that way. As if they don’t measure up to the talent before them.

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