January 21, 2007

Sitting on the newly assembled couch some Bell’s Hopslam Ale (it’s a double IPA with 9.5% ABV) in hand, ready for this one. Should be a very good, very close game. I expect Gray to be forced outside a lot on defense, so it will be up to the forwards to help on rebounding.

Can’t believe a second straight week of Pitt’s game going opposite an NFC playoff game.

3:13: Pitt leading 10-9 13:33 to the half. Gray looks very aggressive on the offensive side and is 4-4. Only a couple double teams so far. As expected, Marquette is trying to bring Gray as far out on the perimeter on defense as possible.

Forward Hayward already on the bench with 2 fouls, meaning the ineffectual Fitzgerald in. Some early flops from Marquette against Cook one worked the other didn’t.

3:24: Now down 15-10 and Marquette is looking very sharp. They are pestering Pitt’s offense now that they seem to have some confidence going right at the hoop. Pitt seems a little stunned to be put back on their heels.

3:30: Pitt now down 24-17 with 7:39 left, but Ramon heading to the line. I’ve seen and read their struggles shooting the 3. So naturally they are burying some really deep ones right now. Sigh. Pitt’s shifting to the 2-3 zone to keep them from penetrating was correct. It’s just that with those deep 3s, it’s hard to stop.

3:40: Well the crowd is fired up by some very questionable calls going against Pitt. The tech on Dixon and an offensive foul on Gray for backing down Barro were both stunners to even the CBS play-calling crew. Usually on coaches techs, the play-callers are talking about how a coach needs to chill. Apparently these refs have a short fuse. I’m still confused about the offensive foul call against Gray. Frustrating, as Fields then (legitimately) picked up his 3d foul.

Mike Cook has been very sloppy with the ball. 3:55 29-23 Marquette.

3:48: Pitt down 32-27 with 55.2 seconds left. Graves and Ramon are doing a very good job. Starting to get some calls on the inside as Marquette keeps shoving in the back. No, I’m not frustrated.

3:51: Halftime. Marquette leads 32-27. I am not ready to be overly concerned yet. Marquette has done what I expected. Just that their 3s have been falling 5-11 (technically 5-12, but the last one was an attempt before the buzzer) and a 5-6 FT shooting for a team that shoots about as well as Pitt. Dominic James has been the story with 14 points on 5-9 shooting (4-6 on 3s).

Kendall has 4 assists along with 3 rebounds and 5 points. Gray hasn’t had many more opportunities as the Golden Eagles have been double and triple teaming him.

The second half, Pitt needs to bury a couple 3s (only 2-7) and do better with the ball. If you are wondering about Sam Young, well when he was out there briefly, all he did was keep the ball and turn it over because he never even pretended that he was passing. I’m guessing Dixon wasn’t going to let him do that. Aside from Fields (3 fouls) the starters are going to play a lot in this tight of a game.

4:14: Pitt down 40-35, 15:33 in the game. Gray heading to the line. This is just going to stay tight the whole way. Hayward and Matthews for Marquette have 3 fouls.

4:20: 44-37. Pitt not hitting free throws for this game. Oy. Benjamin’s ball handling against Marquette is not exactly inspiring for earning more minutes.

4:35: Pitt still down 50-45, 8:48. Just not able to finish closing the gap. Got to within 3, but then Marquette got another spurt. 4 fouls on Mathews.

4:38: Does CBS actually have instant replay? I’m just curious.

4:47: Pitt still down 54-51. Got it within 1, but again, couldn’t get the lead. Marquette is doing a great job at denying many good looks from outside.

4:53: WTF? Fitzgerald for Marquette draining 3s? This is a Bryan Butch nightmare repeat. A guy who has been a bitter disappointment finally comes up large when facing Pitt.

Fields has received a harsh lesson this week about where he really stands in the Big East with the top guards.

Graves has been good on defense, but only 1-7 shooting 3s. A credit to Marquette’s guards that they have the speed on defense to keep Pitt from getting good looks on the perimeter.

 5:31: Crap. Lost in OT. 77-74. Marquette suddenly shoots lights out from the FT line. Pitt shot like it usually does at the line. That’s it. Frustrated by the loss.

Gray was 2-8 from the line, to unfortunately be the big goat. When he doesn’t even come close to his season average of somewhere near 60% from the line, that kills. Especially with the misses in OT. I don’t know if it was the sore wrist or not, but that killed Pitt. Hate to say it about the guy when he had 16 points and 9 rebounds. The fact is, though, he only shot 50% and had 4 turnovers. It wasn’t a particularly strong game from him despite the hot start.

I think some of why Pitt didn’t get him the ball as much in the first half was that Fields was forced to sit with foul issues early. The point guard and guy who gets it inside to Gray — or at least starts things.
Pitt’s inside game suddenly looked weak when the guards from Marquette were keeping Pitt from getting good looks at 3s.

Even More On Marquette

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Opponent(s) — Dennis @ 2:08 pm

Some more stuff on the Golden Eagles who will be visiting our Zoo.

ESPN provides a little more info on the Golden Eagles.

Marquette is 3-1 against Top 25 teams this season, and used back-to-back victories over ranked squads last week to climb back into the poll. The Golden Eagles dropped out of the Top 25 after losing their first two conference games, but have since won three straight, including a 74-65 victory over Louisville on Monday.

Marquette allowed an average of 72.0 points on 46.1 percent shooting in its two conference losses, but is giving up 65.7 points on 37.3 percent shooting during its win streak. “The most important thing is we’re starting to get better, we’re starting to learn how to play.” coach Tom Crean said. “Our team is building confidence.”

Dominic James, averaging a team-high 16.5 points, scored 18 to lead four Golden Eagles in double figures on Monday. James had 32 points and 11 rebounds in two games against Pitt last season as a freshman.

Marquette, which joined the conference last season, has never won four straight Big East games.

Marquette has no problem with knocking off Top 25 teams and ranked or not, they’re a scary team. Jay Bilas says Marquette has almost looked like a new team in the past few weeks (Insider subs.).

Marquette has really refined its playing style the past two weeks. In its past few games, Tom Crean’s team has taken 10 fewer 3-point shots per game, has shot 10 more free throws per game and has made more 3-point shots. The Golden Eagles have moved the ball better, attacked in transition better and attacked off the dribble more efficiently. Ousmane Barro has been more active; Dan Fitzgerald has been more of a threat; and the Marquette guards have benefited from both improvements.

The defense has been up all year as well. Jerel McNeal could be a defensive surprise of sorts and could make a bunch of small but solid defensive plays that in the end will add up.

Meanwhile, Marquette remains one of the best and most active defensive teams. The Eagles average 51 deflections per game, and Jerel McNeal averages 12.5 of them. As a comparison, Dwyane Wade averaged 12.2 deflections.

Facing Marquette

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 1:53 pm

The Warriors Gold Golden Eagles come for a visit. An article yesterday pointed out how much trouble Pitt has had against athletic guards like Marquette. Of course, earlier in the season, there was an article about how forwards capable of going inside or out (Boggans, Tucker) give Pitt trouble. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter the position, if a team has a top-flight talent at a position, generally he will give opposing teams trouble.

Having said that, yes Marquette has 3 excellent guards that will be another challenge for Pitt. Especially since it means better defense on the outside.

The three guards dominate the Golden Eagles’ statistics. They rank 1-2-3, in no particular order, in scoring, assists, steals, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, free throws made and free throws attempted. James leads the team in 3-pointers. McNeal and Matthews rank 2-3 in rebounding.

Marquette ranks first in the Big East in forced turnovers, and second in steals.

“We have to make them pay for pressure,” forward Mike Cook said. “If they want to pressure us, we have to make them pay. … Levance is really looking forward to the challenge and everyone on the perimeter is looking forward to the challenge.”

Dixon said the key to guarding James is to keep a defender in front of him, similar to the effort the Panthers used to hold DePaul’s Sammy Mejia to 10 points two weeks ago.

The big thing will not be the 3s, it will be preventing the penetration. Marquette has gotten hot as it stopped settling for the outside shot.

Four players have scored in double figures in victories over Connecticut, West Virginia and, most recently, Louisville as 24th-ranked MU (16-4 overall, 3-2 Big East Conference) has bounced back from a 0-2 start in league play largely by sharing the basketball and working for high-percentage shots.

“The more we can space the floor, the better off we’re going to be,” coach Tom Crean said after practice Friday. “It’s going to open up the way we play, whether it’s man or zone. Getting the ball spread so we can drive it will create drop-offs and great post-ups out of it, drive-and-kicks out of it. When you’re moving the ball like that, a lot of people are going to be recipients of it.”

Not surprisingly, the Golden Eagles’ sophomore trio of guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – have been front and center in the resurgence.

Should be a great game.

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