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January 23, 2007

I swear, this time for sure. The final thing (I hope) regarding the Marquette game and the officiating. The one thing that hasn’t been resolved is why the hell Coach Jamie Dixon got a technical foul (Insider subs.)?

What’s up with the inconsistencies in calling technical fouls on coaches? Pitt’s Jamie Dixon was given a T after Tim Higgins, according to Dixon, didn’t like the look on his face. Huh? And then did you see Mick Cronin’s reaction to a no-call at the end of regulation of the Cincinnati-West Virginia? It was akin to when Mike Davis went mad during an Indiana-Kentucky game in Louisville.

Cronin went running wildly down the baseline and had to be restrained by his assistants. No call was made. Once again, calling a T on a coach shouldn’t be a subjective move by an official. Yet, that appears to be the case more often than not, depending on the mood of the official.

Glad, there was a good reason at least. Oh, what the hell. A little more from the same.

So what was Marquette’s Dominic James thinking when he went for a drive with seven seconds left in overtime against Pitt on Sunday? Well, James said he actually was reacting to what the officials told him. James said Monday that the officials who called a foul on him at the end of regulation said that he hit Ronald Ramon’s hand. So, James took that advice, knowing that the officials were going to call it tight, and went right at the Panthers. He was right. He got hit and he got the call with under a second remaining in the game.

Can’t fault James for being smart enough to know what to do with the way the game was getting called.

Speaking about the Big East race, Andy Katz got that question in a chat.

Andrew (Milwaukee): After these last four games for Marquette (at UConn, dismantling West Virginia, at Louisville, and then the HUGE win at Pitt) what do you think their chances are for taking the Big East? They only have 3 more road games (Georgetown, DePaul, Notre Dame), and they get Pitt again in front of a CRAZY Bradley Center crowd.

Andy Katz: As well as Marquette is playing those three road games you mentioned could all be losses. Georgetown could pose plenty of problems with its size and Notre Dame will be up for the Eagles and is fully capable of winning. DePaul is the wackiest team in the Big East this season. Ultimately I say Pitt wins the Big East by a game over Marquette.

We’ll see. Not sure why Georgetown (and even Villanova) seem to be being dismissed when there is still plenty of time left in the season and the standings very close.

Finally, Pat Forde likes what Pitt will and can do on the road in the Big East.

Pittsburgh (17) — Big East road record: 2-0, with victories over Syracuse (RPI 47) and DePaul (63). Road ahead: Tough. Cincinnati (140), Villanova (21), West Virginia (54), Seton Hall (105), Georgetown (36), Marquette (26). Count on at least a couple of losses in there.

I’d settle for just a couple losses in that mix.

If Pitt goes up big on Cinci early, it can’t actually be assumed Pitt will coast.

Against Ohio, the University of Cincinnati fell behind 27-13 in the first half, and in the next game, the Bearcats allowed Memphis to run to a 39-12 advantage. South Florida took a 26-15 lead against UC, Syracuse opened the game on a 30-9 run last week and West Virginia got off to a hot start last Saturday, taking a 24-7 advantage in the first half.

In the last two, Syracuse had to hold on pathetically to win by one and WVU had to come back late in the 2nd half to send it to OT where the Mountaineers were blown out.

Pitt apparently does well after home losses.

Since 2001-02, Pitt is 17-7 following a regular-season loss. Under Dixon, the Panthers have never lost a home game and then stumbled on the road in their next game. They are 4-0 during that span.

That’s a statistically useful thing. Gray is back to practicing with the team, which is more important.

Look for Cinci to employ a full-court press — maybe.

When full-court pressure works as well as it did Saturday in UC’s 96-83 overtime victory over West Virginia, the logical question arises: Why don’t the Bearcats do it all the time?

As Cronin explained after the West Virginia game, the press was a perfect tactic to use against the Mountaineers, who like to set up, run their offense and look for 3-point shots or back-door cuts to the basket, but isn’t always a good idea against other teams.

“Certain teams will attack you and make you pay a lot more than a team that really wants to set up,” Cronin said. “If (West Virginia) attacks you, it’s almost what we want because then we don’t have to guard their offensive sets. If you press Syracuse and they attack you it’s an NBA dunk contest.”

I think Pitt will see a good deal of full-court to try and slow Pitt’s offensive sets and cause less passing. Levance Fields is going to have to play a better game. The Bearcats do have an excellent young guard in Deonta Vaughn.

Fascinating.

With about six minutes left in the game, the referees apparently made the decision that they were going to ruin what had been a highly enjoyable half of basketball up to that point. After letting both teams get away with murder in the first half, Tim Higgins, Mike Kitts, and Ted Hillary decided they needed some face time and completely took over the game.

Louisville and Connecticut combined to shoot three free-throws in the first half, and  56 (38 total fouls whistled) in the second. It was an abomination.

Tim Higgins was the lead ref in the Marquette-Pitt game. It wasn’t quite that extreme. 11 in the first half and 57 in the second and OT. The fact is, that Pitt shot more FTs than Marquette — especially in the second half — but didn’t convert.

I guess that’s why I struggled with the article about Pitt struggling in games called tight.

The scenario was similar against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were called for 24 fouls, but the Panthers were 23 for 34 from the line. Oklahoma State was 32 for 38.

“I thought we’d be a little bit higher at this point,” Dixon said of his team’s percentage at the line. “But our guards are shooting a pretty high percentage. Free-throw percentage oftentimes is who is shooting your free throws.”

Yeah, but Gray going 2-8 really skewed the numbers. It isn’t whether Pitt can handle playing in a tightly called game — they can. Unlike in past years where it killed Pitt because of the number of free throws the other team had, this is about Pitt making their own. It’s about controlling what they do. That’s really all I have left on the Marquette stuff.

Three meetings don’t seem like enough to create a rivalry. And yet, the few times we’ve played the Marquette Golden Eagles have been great games with all kinds of twists and turns and now we might be witnessing the formation of yet another “new” rivalry.

Yet after torching Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville, one thing remained clear: Marquette is Pitt’s biggest threat for Big East supremacy this season.

In this age of an expanding Big East, we rarely see a head-to-head clash of this magnitude more than once — nor do we see one that heads to overtime like Sunday’s. Luckily for college hoops fans everywhere, the two programs meet again March 3 in Milwaukee, Wis.

“We are definitely looking forward to playing them at their place,” Pitt guard Antonio Graves said after Sunday’s loss.

So as both teams continue to stockpile talent and develop the programs, meetings like this will continue, manifesting themselves only every so often. And one thing became certain Sunday: Every ensuing contest between Marquette and Pitt will be a rivalry showdown — a must-see matchup at that.

We’re just finalizing the UConn-Pitt basketball rivalry in terms of both teams becoming great for a long period of time after playing them in all of those Big East Tournament finals. Pitt and Marquette are not anywhere near that stage so I’m not going to call this a rivalry quite yet.

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