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January 24, 2007

You didn’t think I’d forget.

8:10: Pitt up 10-6, 14:44. Fields has knocked down 2-3 wide open 3s as the Bearcats are collapsing on Gray. Gray is going to have to come out early. Sikes is going to keep him very far out on defense. He won’t be getting a lot of rebounds.

8:18: Pitt is getting wide-open 3s as Cinci is in fear of letting Pitt in the paint. Fields has 9 points. Ramon dropped his 1st 3 and was fouled. 17-8 under 13 minutes.

8:37: It may be bad form to complain when the team is up by double digits. Still, the refs seem to be taking pity on the smaller Cinci team with no calls under the basket. Gray, Biggs and others have been shoved and hacked with impunity.

8:49: Halftime. Pitt up 38-26. Lovely camera work at the end. Focused tight on Fields, missed Cinci’s shot and Pitt getting it out to Graves. Fields was not missing in the first half. 5-6 all 3s for 15 points.

As I said earlier today, Gray keeps getting pulled away from the glass on defense. No one else is helping on the glass. It has allowed Cinci to get 7 offensive boards and make extra shots 10-27. With Pitt shooting so well, very few offensive rebound opportunities.

Pitt has 7 turnovers — all but one from the Centers and Forwards.

9:12: It’s getting frustrating to watch Gray play so passively. It’s one thing to pass out of the double-teams. It’s something else to keep seeing him hesitate when he gets the ball — giving Cinci time to get better position to defend.

9:21: I have to think part of Gray’s hesitation to slam at the moment is the fact that he hurt his wrist on a slam in practice. Just watched him choose to bank an open lay-in. It looked like he thought about the slam and then changed his mind just as he started going up.

9:36: Pitt 61-41, under 8 minutes. Now it’s a matter of just practicing some stuff. Giving other players some time. Not getting hurt and maybe pad a couple stats.

9:55: Pitt now 6-1 in the Big East and 3-0 on the road. 67-51 win.

Pitt just took their time and showed mercy to Cinci. Gray, Cook and Graves all missed their chances to get to double digits on scoring.

Sam Young showed why he needs more minutes and why he doesn’t deserve them at various points during the game. This time, the good outweighed the bad.

Just nit-picking, especially with such an easy win, but I think this would have been the kind of game — at least in the second half — to play a bit more 2-3 zone on defense and let Aaron Gray stay inside. Conserve his energy and let the team practice it a bit more. It might help against say a team like Marquette.

Palko at Senior Bowl: Part 1

Filed under: Alumni,Football,NFL,Players,Practice — Dennis @ 1:12 pm

ESPN Insider is following a few college QB’s who are expected to be taken lower than your top prospects like Brady Quinn and Jamarcus Russell. Tyler Palko along with Chris Leak, Troy Smith, and Drew Stanton are among the QB’s being watched and closely examined each day at practice.

First, here are the basics with a few comments from the scouts.

Height 6-1 — Palko is on the short side for an NFL QB.
Weight 210 — Good build with thickness and definition.
Speed 4.92 — Plays faster than his timed speed, but will not run away from defensive backs or linebackers at the next level.
Intelligence Son of a well respected high school coach, Palko is a film rat with an excellent understanding of the game.
Toughness Showed great toughness at Pitt behind suspect offensive lines. Took a pounding and played hurt.
Strength/Flex Good, but not great, flexibility. Can contort his body to make plays, avoid pass rushers and break out of arm tackles.
Durability Excellent. He is a tough guy and is built to take a pounding.
Character Great strength. The football junkie is tough, and well respected and liked by his teammates. Leader.
Production Up and down. Really struggled as a junior, but had fine sophomore and senior seasons.

Here’s what some NFL scouts are seeing after a few days of practice:

Palko did not have a bad day on Monday, but it was rather evident that he’s the least talented of the three North quarterbacks at this year’s Senior Bowl.

Not as talented as Smith and Stanton. Not a huge surprise. I’m not sure how a guy like Smith projects at an NFL level though so I would give a second thought to him being placed under Palko based on NFL type talent.

Palko measured just shy of 6-foot-1 and weighed 217 pounds at this morning’s weigh-in, which is a little shorter and lighter than expected.

He shrunk an inch from what the Senior Bowl roster has as well as his bio on the Pitt athletic department website?

During practice, Palko displayed good timing and accuracy as a passer. However, he does not stack up with Drew Stanton or Troy Smith in terms of arm strength or mobility.

I was never under the impression that Palko wasn’t mobile. Watching him on the touchdown pass to Oderick Turner against Rutgers really sunk in as mobility. Sure he’s not going to beat Troy Smith in a foot race but look at a guy like Mike Vick. Sure he’s a good NFL player but I’d rather have a slow footed Peyton Manning that Vick in most situations.

When called upon to make a throw vertically or on a deep out, Palko noticeably dropped down and wound up even more than usual in his delivery.

NFL scouts don’t really like that kind of stuff.

I’ll be back in a day or two with more notes from his practices and well as how he does in the actual game. For the Senior Bowl website check here and for the Palko scouting report go here (Insider subs.).

Going To Cinci

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 11:34 am

I have to say that I hope people don’t call for a new arena to replace the Pete as quickly as they are the Fifth Third Arena for Cinci. Seventeen years and already a “dump.”

The local theme about going to face the Bearcats: who are these guys?

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats have a new coach, four new starters and an overhauled roster that includes a back-up tight end from the football team and a reserve whose old school got wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.

The starters are three junior college transfers, forward John Williamson, center Marcus Sikes and guard Jamual Warren, along with McGowan and guard Deonta Vaughn, who is averaging 13.6 points and having the best season by a Cincinnati freshman since Shaler’s Danny Fortson in 1994-95.

The biggest problem is depth. The Bearcats have one of the shortest benches in the Big East.

Among all the backups, only junior guard Marvin Gentry, another junior college transfer, averages more than nine minutes per game. Four of the five starters average at least 30 minutes per game, and the fifth logs 28.9 minutes – the same amount that Pitt leader Aaron Gray averages.

The other backups include Ronald Allen, the displaced Katrina victim; Connor Barwin, a tight end on the Bearcat football team; and two walk-ons.

Not surprisingly, the team has been inconsistent. The Bearcats play at Fifth Third Arena, but it might as well be called One-Third Empty. Only one game has attracted more than 10,000 fans to the 13,176-seat venue, against cross-town rival Xavier. The average attendance is about 8,600.

I guess the funny thing about stories discussing how Pitt will face a totally different team — the fact that there was only one meeting with the previous incarnation. How familiar was Pitt with them to start?

Cinci is a team that has struggled to generate enough offense. Shot selection has been frequently questionable. Especially early in the game.

Cronin points to poor shot selection and a lack of patience as the main reasons for the Bearcats’ penchant to fall behind early in games.

“You can’t overstate the importance of shot selection, especially in our predicament,” Cronin said. “It’s definitely been the No. 1 cause of us falling behind.”

What happens, Cronin said, is that the opponent starts to pull away early in the game, which in turn causes the Bearcats to panic and fire up ill-advised shots in an attempt to keep things from getting out of hand.

More often than not, though, they end up contributing to the very thing they’re trying to prevent.

“Sometimes guys are trying to step up and get us a basket because they see the other team score, so we try to answer right away instead of showing patience and not getting caught up in the score,” Cronin said. “It almost seems like it takes us a certain time to forget about the score and just play basketball. Once we’re able to do that, we start playing good basketball.”

Cinci is not a particularly big team. Okay, they are downright small. Their starting Center is 6′ 9″ with no size to back him up on the bench. Now here’s the part that still makes me nervous Sikes — the Center is one of those guys who can shoot from outside. Yes, that’s right, Gray will be dragged outside on defense once again.

Granted on offense, Gray should do well. Greg Oden had a double-double in just 27 minutes against Cinci earlier this season. The Bearcats are well aware that there is Gray and a host of other offensive threats.

“They know how to move without the ball when they get the ball inside to Aaron Gray,” freshman guard Deonta Vaughn said. “A lot of teams look to trap down on him, and he can pass the ball outside, because they know how to move around him. You just try to make them take tough shots and make it hard for them to get the ball inside to Aaron Gray. That would help a lot.”

It likely will be tough for the Bearcats to play much zone defense against the Panthers. The team makes 49.3 percent of its shots from the field and 39.5 percent from the 3-point line. Both numbers rank second in the conference, and if UC plays much zone to keep the ball away from Gray, Pitt will take – and probably make – more outside shots.

“They can shoot it, there’s no doubt about that,” UC coach Mick Cronin said. “That causes problems. You can’t just go zone, because the way Ronald Ramon and Graves shoot the ball. And they pass over the zone. That’s a problem. The problem with Gray is that he’s just so big. We have to find a way not to give him layups.”

Game starts at 8pm.

Two Weeks to NLI

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:09 am

Can you feel the excitement?

I can’t. A disappointing season and real questions about when the kids will actually be helping Pitt, seem to have muted reaction to another outstanding recruiting class (the LeSean McCoy verbal excepted). Maybe it’s because last year it was all about keeping the local area kids and this year, the class is more diffused. A bunch from the eastern half of Pennsylvania. Just a wider geographic pool. That reduces the local coverage and puff pieces on the kids coming to Pitt. Just a theory.

Well, add another verbal. This one decommitted from Alabama.

The Panthers received a verbal commitment Tuesday from Tampa Middleton cornerback Sherod Murdock, a Florida Class 4A first-team all-state selection who had previously picked Alabama last summer.

Murdock took an official visit to Pitt Jan. 12-14, the same weekend the Panthers introduced former Alabama assistant Chris Ball as their new secondary coach. Murdock followed Ball, his primary recruiter for the Crimson Tide.

“It was a big part of my decision,” Murdock said. “Pittsburgh was considered the frontrunner already. When coach Ball got there, that sealed it.”

Murdock chose Pitt over Kansas and Alabama, which stopped recruiting him after coach Mike Shula was fired and replaced by Nick Saban. Murdock also had scholarship offers from Ole Miss and South Carolina.

Nice that the new hire brought some more help for the secondary. Especially a pretty good one. Scout.com and Rivals.com each have him as a 3-star recruit overall. Scout.com puts him as the #78 CB recruit nationally, Rivals.com says #49 and ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. ranks him #23 (Insider subs).

He possesses ideal height, average bulk and the frame to get bigger. Is a smooth and fluid athlete for his size. Possesses good top-end speed. He shows excellent acceleration when tracking the ball. Hips are smooth and he can plant and drive with ease. He has long arms and good leaping ability to challenge for the ball in the air. He plays aggressively in run support. Fills hard, takes decent angles and should develop into a solid open field tackler.

Rivals.com also ranks him as the  97th best player out of Florida.
So in the always amusing Recruiting rankings Pitt comes in at #8 according to Scout.com; #23 with Rivals.com; and tied at #26 with Texas A&M on ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc.

I have no idea what it means. I suppose if I was that curious I’d lay out the rankings of each player from each site to see where and why the variations are. The good news is I don’t have that kind of time and I’m not that curious.

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