January 29, 2007

Should be a very close game tonight. From a match-up standpoint, this will be a big challenge for Pitt with the Wildcat guards. ‘Nova is also unbeaten at the Wachovia this year including an outstanding performance versus Texas.

7:11: Pitt up 8-4, 15:01 in the half. Slow sluggish start plus being at an NBA arena rather then the cozy home court, really quieted the crowd. Could hear the pro-Gray, -Cook and -Pitt contingents pretty well. So far the guards are doing a nice job of not being too bothered by Villanova’s guards. Surprised to see ‘Nova standing around so much early.

7:20: This will not be a good game for Sam Young. He’s being beaten by the ‘Nova players on defense. He already looks frustrated — and it effects him on offense by trying to make amends.

Both teams playing tight defense, getting up on the guards.

7:29: God-damn! Pitt showing little energy. Not boxing out. Only running on offense, not getting back on defense. When Gray is the only one hustling back, that’s ugly.

7:32: In case you were wondering: Cook is 0-4, Young 0-2, and Gray is 3-4. The team is shooting 6-19 (‘Nova at 7-23). Gray has 8 of Pitt’s 17 rebounds. 18-17 Villanova, 6:30 to the half.

7:38: Villanova up 26-20 with 3:53. You know, Pitt missed some early shots that were good looks, and it seemed to hit their confidence. They just seemed stunned the shots weren’t falling, and ‘Nova would get out on them for the rebound. Frustrating to see 8 turnovers already.

7:50: I’m not sure ‘Nova should feel that great about the way they played. Yes they have the lead, but aside from Sumpter they aren’t looking too good. Nardi and Reynolds already look tired — at least they don’t have the legs under their shots.

Pitt, however, can only feel crappy about the way they played. Digger Phelps complaining that they aren’t getting it inside to Gray enough. Here’s the problem. Pitt is struggling to get it inside to Gray. The Wildcats are doing solid work bodying up on the perimeter to give no space for the 3 or to see around them to make the pass inside.

11 first half turnovers. Mike Cook is playing like he’s nervous in front of his friends and family. Definitely in his head.

28-23 Villanova.

8:13: Pitt being much more aggressive after another passive start to the half. Suddenly the fouls are being called on ‘Nova as Pitt drives. It’s that simple. Refs are consistent with it.

Have to credit Villanova with a defense first approach. They are asking and the guards are agreeing to spend their limited energy on the defensive end and let the frontcourt do the work on offense.

8:22: That sucking sound is the forward position for Pitt tonight. Young, Kendall and Cook 1-13, 6 turnovers, and 8 rebounds (6 for Kendall).

Despite that Pitt just took the lead on a Benjamin 3. 38-37 Pitt, 12:20.

8:37: Damn, have to corral those loose balls! Pitt leads 47-45, 6:44 left. Sumpter heading to the line.

Benjamin has been very good, but 3 fouls put him on the bench for a couple so he’s there for the final minutes — at least that’s what I’m believing.

8:43: memo. Never do lettuce related throwing event on a basketball court.

8:49: Pitt leads 54-49, 3:50 left. Still too close.

I have to concede to shock at seeing Young get back on the court in the second half. Especially now. I’d like to see Benjamin back out there, but that’s me.

9:03: Pitt wins 65-59!!!

Big, big win. Much like the Syracuse win, a bad first half, gave way to a great second half effort. Corrections were made. The intensity turned up and they forced the opposition to play the way Pitt wanted. Beautiful.

Antonio Graves had a great game on both sides for Pitt. He was excellent on the defensive end, even when he struggled in the first half. In the second half he was the sparkplug. 13 points, 6 assists, 4 steals (and on the negative 4 turnovers).

Pitt, only had 4 turnovers in the second half for 15 total. Villanova ended up having more (17).

Aaron Gray had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Another Monday has arrived (and it’s a “Big Monday” for the Panthers tonight on ESPN) which means all kinds of different polls and numbers can be seen left and right. First we start with the two Top 25 polls, both of which bumped Pitt up to 7th in the nation. The six teams in front of Pitt are the same and in a matching order in both polls with teams such as Duke (who had a win handed to them last week), Oregon, and Texas A&M.

Next we get something interesting from the Big East Basketball Report: RPI ratings for Big East teams composed of stats just from conference games. From that, here’s what we get through yesterday’s game.

Notre Dame————-.5268——————.4941————11
West Virginia———–.5069——————.4676———-15
St. John’s—————-.4653——————.5133———-8
Seton Hall—————.4516——————.4949———10
South Florida———–.4446——————.5303———-3

I don’t think it would be expected to see Pitt at anywhere but the top two or three slots at this point through conference play.

The weekly conference poll they run there also came out for the new week with Pitt checking in at number one. The top five looks like so:

1) Pittsburgh (16): 286 pts.
2) Marquette (2): 269 pts.
3) Georgetown: 245 pts.
4) Notre Dame: 228 pts.
5) Louisville: 208 pts.

I found it a bit surprising that more voters did not give their first place vote to Marquette and the voting followed how things have gone the past few weeks.

Also following suit from last week were the player of the week, Dominic James, and freshman of the week, Scottie Reynolds from a ‘Nova team we’ll see tonight, both of which were voted into those spots for the second straight week.
Also a few notes from ESPN Insider who now have Aaron Gray as their #22 draft prospect.

Positives: Gray is a legit 7-footer, and he has the girth (he weighs in at 270) to handle the middle full time. He’s a good rebounder, especially on the offensive boards. Excellent hands. Good lower body strength helps him hold position in the paint. Nice baby hook. Good perimeter shooter.

Negatives: He’s not a very good athlete, and weight has been an issue in the past. With the NBA moving toward an up-tempo style, Gray’s type of game is less valued than it’s been in the past. Not much of a shot blocker. Poor free throw shooter.

Summary: For a second straight season, Gray continues to prove that he’s a legit NBA center prospect, despite scouts’ misgivings. He’s moved from the first round bubble to a pretty firm first round pick.

Two freshmen, Texas’ Kevin Durant and OSU’s Greg Oden, are battling it out to be in the #1 spot according to both ESPN and anyone who has eyes and has seen either of them play.

Jay Bilas also has Gray as his Big East Player of the Year so far (Insider subs.).

Big East
Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh: The most productive player on the top team in the league. Gray stands just above the rest in a season when there is no signature player or team, at least by traditional Big East standards. Gray is having a great season, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds and shooting just under 60 percent from the field.

Fran Fraschilla and Doug Gottlieb both took Dominic James over Gray.

Well, this is a game that makes me nervous. I just am not wild about the match-up with Villanova’s guard-oriented line-up.

“They have been accustomed to giving away size advantages inside for a couple of seasons, and as a team have been very good at using their quickness to deny the ball and interrupt the passing lanes,” says Covers Expert David Malinsky.

Villanova’s guard play is consistently among the best in the nation. The Wildcats combat the country’s 139th best rebounding numbers (38.5 per game) with one of the highest steal rates in the country. Villanova ranks fourth in the Big East and 42nd in the nation with 8.5 steals per game.

Gray is also the only big man Villanova has to worry about. Pittsburgh operates primarily out of a three-guard set and 6-foot-9 forward Levon Kendall is more of a perimeter player than anything else.

“One weakness that the Panthers have faced is getting someone other than Gray to hit the boards,” says Malinsky. “It is a team without a natural power forward, which can help Villanova to match up in this instance.”

If you watched Scottie Reynolds take over the Texas game, then you know what I’m talking about. Damn, he could be making life miserable for the Big 12 rather than the Big East if Sampson hadn’t made all those phone calls and jumped to Indiana. Basically, the slight edge on betting lines are going to Villanova with the home court.

As usual, the gameplan against Pitt starts with neutralizing Aaron Gray.

The Wachovia Center has been a comfortable arena for the Wildcats, who upset Texas there on Jan. 20. They won all three games there last season.

“We’re just going to get focused and be ready for Pitt,” freshman Scottie Reynolds said after the loss to Notre Dame. “We learn from [our struggles] quicker now.”

The Wildcats have shut down significant big men this season.

They held Georgetown’s 7-foot-2 center, Roy Hibbert, without a field goal and allowed Texas’ 6-9 Kevin Durant to score just one of his 12 points in the second half. Villanova also kept Providence’s 6-10 Herbert Hill, who is fourth in scoring in the Big East, in check with 12 points.

Considering this is a Big Monday match-up on ESPN, I think it goes without saying there will be at least one video showing and a bit of discussion of the eye-poke Allan Ray took last year in the Big East Tournament. Good play calling crew with Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas. Game notes for Pitt and Villanova (PDF).

Villanova Viewpoint has a look at the game as does Big East Basketball blogger. I expect a lot from Scottie Reynolds and Nardi to try and take the defender off the dribble. Especially to see Sumpter and their inside players play more to the perimeter to try and clear out things inside for that. Extra unnerving thing. Villanova is second in the Big East in free throw percentage. A definite worry in a game expected to be close.

Mike Cook’s Visit Home

Filed under: Basketball,Players — Chas @ 9:00 am

Here’s hoping that Mike Cook has been shown video of the Pitt-St. John’s game from last year for an education on not trying to do too much before all the friends and family. Ramon, Benjamin and Fields can tell him directly, but seeing Krauser brick it up in that game might also help. Can you guess what a big storyline is for this game?

Cook, the Panthers’ No. 2 scorer, has looked forward to this game all season. When asked how many relatives will be in the stands at the home of the 76ers, Cook smiled and said, “A lot.”

Some of Cook’s family moved to Pittsburgh when Mike, the oldest of four brothers, transferred to Pitt from East Carolina. But many of the family and friends will get a long-overdue look at the soft-spoken, slashing scorer who piled up a school-record 1,884 points at Friends’ Central before taking a circuitous path that led him to Pitt.

“My family is real excited to come out and watch me play,” Cook said. “They don’t get a lot of chances to see me play. This is a big opportunity for me.”

Some of those in the stands will be his father, Michael, a former high school standout in Philadelphia, his mother, Dawn, who played at Temple, and his beloved uncle James Wright, a West Philadelphia basketball legend who taught Mike how to play.

For the first time, Friends’ Central coach Keino Terrell will get to see his former star swingman play in a college basketball game. Terrell said at least 15 teammates, teachers and even the headmaster of Friends’ Central will attend the game.

I think we are all hoping for the Pitt blowout so walk-on and other local product, Maurice Polen can get in there.

For Mike Cook, his mother’s side of the family has deep Philly hoops ties. His mom was a standout in high school and at Temple and is now the head coach of a boys high school basketball team. As for his grandfather.

A star at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, Tom Hoover parlayed a successful run at Villanova into a first-round draft selection by the 76ers, the first player they drafted following the franchise’s move from Syracuse in 1963. After five professional years, he went on to an eclectic career that included stops as the promoter for Sly and the Family Stone, road manager for Richard Pryor and today includes developing gourmet food markets in New York City as well as serving on the board of directors for the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

Grandpa isn’t saying, which side he’ll be rooting for in this game.

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