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January 31, 2007

First off, let me begin by going back to the game on Monday in Philly. Big time congrats to Villanova’s game day entertainment department. The lettuce throwing competition during a media timeout was pure gold. I think it was mainly a ploy to get ‘Nova a free timeout so Jay Wright could go tanning. Personally, I would have gone with a water gun fight.

However, moving forward into this unnecessary break we have from Pitt hoops…After picking up a win over in Eastern PA, we bring our season total to 20 wins with a ton of room to pile on more. Only seven or eight years ago, we would be very happy with 20 wins. That’s especially true with the type of attention and expectations that were given to any Pitt hoops team; it was pre-Pete, pre-Oakland Zoo, pre-Ben Howland recruiting, and so on.

Then the ultimate goal for any NCAA basketball team at that stage becomes “Hey, let’s try to make the Big Dance as an at-large bid,” which we managed to accomplish in 2001-02, also knocking out the goals of winning the Big East Tournament, making the NCAA tournament as a conference champion, and reaching the Sweet Sixteen. All of that in the same year; expectations were on the rise.

Now the next goal is getting over the Sweet Sixteen hump and reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship. We went three straight years to the Sweet Sixteen, then only the first round in 04-05 and the second round last year. All of this culminates by asking the final question: when will Pitt basketball fans be satisfied?

At this point through both conference and non-con games we have a pretty solid gauge of where this team stands. We’ve seen them against horrible teams, decent teams, top 25 teams, and even a top 3 team in Wisconsin.

Another Sweet Sixteen year is expected from this team for sure unless someone very important gets injured. Getting to the round of eight would be no surprise from this team at all. They could go all the way (notice I never said they would or that they have the best chance of anyone else to do it) and no one would think twice.

So is the Sweet Sixteen a failure? Or is it the Elite Eight? Should we be satisfied if we don’t make it to Atlanta and the Final Four?

Then there’s also the Big East tournament to throw into the mix. If we run through the three (or four, however it’s unlikely) games needed to win it and then go out in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament then is it something we should be happy with? If we bomb up at MSG then how far do we need to get to make this season worthwhile?

Personally, I don’t think this team can be happy with anything less than Elite Eight, especially if they don’t manage to win the conference tournament. This is the type of team than can get to the Final Four and it’s possible for some to think that anything less than even that is a failure.

I’m sure everyone has their own separate answers to all of those questions depending on what you thin “success” means for this current Pitt team. What are yours?

Peeking Forward

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 12:25 pm

I haven’t had time to get to the Schenley-Chester HS basketball game. Normally, I don’t bother but there are commits for 2007 and 2008 on both teams.

Schenley won the game with the help of DeJuan Blair.

Blair and Kennedy had big games yesterday as Schenley knocked off perennial eastern Pennsylvania power Chester, 85-74, in the Play by Play Classic in Springfield, Pa., near Philadelphia.

Blair, a 6-foot-7 Pitt recruit, had 23 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocked shots in front of a packed house at Cardinal O’Hara High School. Kennedy, a 6-5 senior guard, had 26 points, including 22 in the second half.

“It was definitely a statement game because we’ve never beaten any teams down this way,” Blair said.

Schenley (15-2) has demolished 10 City League opponents this season by an average of 39 points a game and is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAAA. But some wondered how it would fare against No. 3 Chester (14-3), a team that can play sticky man-to-man defense and also likes to run.

The game was tough, and Chester’s coach was a little bitter towards the official.

Blair, who would finish with 23, turned on his game in the third quarter, ignoring his fear of fouling and dominating down low.

“As they were trying to get around me, I was thinking maybe I better get out of the way or something,” Blair said. “A lot of guards like to throw themselves into me and I’ll get the foul. But I was trying to be smart about it.”

Although Blair had seemed to make a rather brilliant adjustment, Chester coach Fred Pickett saw things a little differently.

“I think fouls crippled us from being aggressive,” Pickett said. “Early in the game, their big fella shoves and they blow the whistle. He drops down an elbow and they blow the whistle. He pulls somebody, they blew the whistle. Second half, they didn’t call those calls. But my big men, they’re all on the bench. All of them sitting.”

Even Burton. But he wasn’t on the bench.

Twice, he took off with the ball and thudded into Blair’s torso. Amazing how one electric point guard can bounce back so far. But maybe Burton was trying to set an example.

The teams left the court without shaking hands. On the Chester side, Nasir Robinson who has verballed for 2008 had 13 points and 8 rebounds.

Oh, and there was a high school basketball tournament in Pittsburgh over the weekend. I know both Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) and Mount Vernon (New York) — the latter being where Keith Benjamin played — attended the Pitt-St. John’s game. I like to think it left a good impression. Especially when you think about some of the players that have come out of Oak Hill.

Gray’s Life

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Puff Pieces — Chas @ 9:09 am

Aaron Gray’s hometown paper loves seeing Gray succeed. Assuming he gets drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, he’d be the first kid from the Lehigh Valley to accomplish that. So, they sent a reporter and photographer to document a day in the life of Gray.

”I don’t go out much,” said Gray, whose Panthers (19-3) are ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll. ”I get so much attention, but I really don’t want that much attention. I think I’ve gone out like 10 times in my four years here. I’d just rather hang out with people, low key.

”I’ll go to houses where there are people that I know, so that I don’t have to be bombarded with the same questions. You know, the people who’ll try to tell you how to play, the people who’ll tell you how great that you are, or the people who’ll tell you how bad you are.”

The Petersen Events Center, a 21st-century arena where Pitt plays its home games, sits at the peak of the upper campus. It’s a steep climb to Petersen, one reminiscent of Gray’s rise in college basketball.

”My earlier years here, we lived down the hill and we had to walk up to practice every day,” Gray said, ”so we’d be loose, ready to go, stretched out and have a little sweat just from walking up the hill.”

Now he drives to practice, arriving Monday just after noon and staying until nearly 5 p.m.

Yet another reason the players are probably glad not to play at Fitzgerald any longer. That was always a hell of a haul if you didn’t bother with the shuttle.

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