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February 28, 2007

To start, I’d like to say I’m moderately scared that Jeff Long will take away my football season tickets if I say something bad about the football or hoops teams. If bloggers in Egypt who talk bad about the government can be thrown in prison

It’s not worth me breaking down the WVU game anymore than it already has been. I was at the Penguins game and wouldn’t have been able to see it if I had stayed home (friggin’ Comcast). Chas did a great job recapping it anyways. Instead I’ll look towards Saturday for our trip to Marquette.

It’s going to be a College Gameday; no word on if Marquette Rollabanas will be on display. Cracked Sidewalks doesn’t care about those though — they just can’t wait for a certain sideline reporter.

Lastly, I know some people asked how the tie breaker would work if we finish with the same record as Georgetown which now seems more likely after they lost at Syracuse. It’s still not a guarantee; we have to play Marquette at their place while the Hoyas host UConn. By the looks of it, they have the easier road. Anyways, if we were to finish with identical records in conference, we would be regular season co-champs. Obviously it’s nice but not as important as winning the Big East Tournament in New York City.

As for seeding for the tourney up in NYC, it looks like Georgetown would be the top seed (once again, that’s if we tie them at the end of the regular season) at which point I laugh at them for having to play at noon on the second day of the tournament. Of course, this could come back and bite me in the ass if we get the #1 seed. For a great breakdown of that whole thing, check out BigEastHoops.com.

So, apparently Aaron Gray was not going to go quietly on senior night.

Pitt’s Aaron Gray never has much to say to his teammates in terms of motivational words. He leaves that type of stuff to the more vocal players.

The silent 7-foot center usually leads by actions. But his raspy voice last night told a different story. Gray took it upon himself to deliver a stirring halftime to speech to his reeling teammates, and they responded by staging a come-from-behind, 80-66 victory on senior night at the Petersen Events Center.

“It just felt like the right time,” Gray explained afterward. “We have a lot of guys who are real inspirational, real good leaders. I usually don’t say much. I usually lead by example. I just thought this was my last night. We’re playing for first place. I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt if we let this game slip away.”

And his message:

So Gray stood up before the coaches entered the locker room, an action that got his teammates’ immediate attention.

“We had great energy in warm-ups … but when the game started, we lost it a little bit,” Gray said. “We weren’t having fun out there.”

Gray had six points and six rebounds by halftime, and fellow senior Kendall had eight points and six rebounds. They reached out to the underclassmen at halftime.

Everyone was giving Gray credit for picking his spot to get their attention.

They would get no closer as Mike Cook scored 8 points in five minutes to fuel a Panther breakout, as Pitt went on to win, 80-66.

“We were more aggressive and got more open shots in the second and I was able to knock them down,” Cook said. “Aaron huddled us up at halftime and we responded by being more aggressive on offense and defense in the second half.”

Everybody contributed in this game.

Gray, showing no ill effects of his sprained left ankle, finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Kendall nearly recorded the second double-double of his career, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Graves had seven points, six assists and one steal.

The underclassmen also got into the act. Sophomore Levance Fields scored a team-high 14 points, while juniors Mike Cook (12) and Ronald Ramon (10) also scored in double figures for Pitt. Sophomore Tyrell Biggs didn’t play in the first half but scored seven points after halftime, as forward Sam Young sat the final 20 minutes with tendinitis in his knees.

Well, he did walk gingerly a couple times off the court, but clearly he was not going to let it stop him on the court.

I was very happy that Doyle Hudson was able to get into the game in the end, and hearing the chants of “We want Doyle” honestly had me chanting it from home (my daughter was very confused) because you could here the giddiness of the crowd. It was a such a welcome relief after the last couple weeks of stress, and infighting amongst fans.

This attitude does seem fairly accurate, in summing things up.

Ah, the Sweet 16.

That is why interest in this team is beginning to fade. No one believes that this Pitt season will end up unlike the past five. And with the Penguins’ success across town, a 25-5 record after five straight 20-win seasons doesn’t give people much hope.

All they want to know is whether these Panthers can get past the Sweet 16. And, after Saturday’s loss at Georgetown – the Panthers’ fifth against a ranked team – they are convinced that won’t happen this year.

Talk-show callers and sports barflies and letter-to-the-editor writers are reaching back to the 1980s for a slogan: Same Old Pitt.

The Panthers can’t beat a good team, can’t defend quick guards, have no answer for athletic wings. And now, they can’t shoot. They collapsed last year. They collapsed the year before. They’ll collapse again this year. Sweet 16 this year? How about upset in the first round. After they get that six seed. Same Old Pitt.

And Tuesday’s demolition of West Virginia’s 1-3-1 defense probably won’t convert anyone. Positive thoughts won’t be borne of the 80-66 victory. Few will take solace in the 51-point second half, the stifling defense, the 60 percent shooting from the floor.

None of that means much. The Big East regular-season title doesn’t matter. Anymore, success at the Big East Tournament doesn’t even register.

It’s at least the Elite Eight or nothing, and until the Panthers reach that, their act will be stale.

Still, I’m going to enjoy this one for another day.  Regardless of flaws, questions and everything else. Why? Because Pitt probably knocked the Mountaineers from the NCAA.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock of Pitt’s 80-66 win against West Virginia at the Petersen Events Center last night, the Pitt student section began to taunt the Mountaineers with chants of “N-I-T, N-I-T.”

Heh. Heh.

It’s not just that the Mountaineers lost, it’s that they actually still think they had a good shot at this game, and are stuck blaming themselves.

The Mountaineers made just 11-of-33 3-pointers and two of their most productive scorers — Frank Young and Alex Ruoff — were a combined 0-for-11 on 3s until Ruoff made two meaningless ones in the final seconds. Combine that with 29 percent shooting overall in the second half and Pitt’s 70-percent rate over the same 20 minutes and the outcome was easy to predict.

The really frustrating part to the Mountaineers, though, was that in this one the shots were makeable. That’s not always the case against Pitt’s defense.

“I thought we had better shots tonight than we’ve ever had in this building,’’ West Virginia coach John Beilein said. “We got the shots we like to get against a terrific defense.’’

They just didn’t go in.

“The first game [against Pitt] we didn’t shoot well, but our IQ wasn’t very high and we just didn’t play well,’’ said Ruoff. “Tonight I felt like we played well. Everybody played hard. Everybody played smart. We just didn’t shoot the ball.’’

It’s worth pointing out — again — that the Mountaineers 3-point shooting percentage is 36.1%, and they shot 33.3% on 11-33. That’s a difference of exactly 1 extra made trey (12-33=36.3%). And they shot that way on 3s in both halves. The problem, was they got shut down in the second half from finding good looks inside. This Mountaineer team shoots 54.6% (421-770) on the season from on shots that aren’t 3s. They were held to 11-22 for the game, but the big deal was being held to 2-10 in the second half.

Really, their whole thought that the shots weren’t going ignores the fact that Pitt completely dismantled their defense in the second half. I’d buy it more from them if they said something like “we just didn’t get it done on defense.”  Not only did Pitt shoot 16-23 in the second half, but Pitt only had 4 turnovers in the second half. They were unable to disrupt Pitt’s offense.

That leads to questions in their own backyard about the intangibles of this team.

That cuts to the heart of another question. Does this Mountaineer team have the heart, the confidence, the determination to make a late run?

“This just might bring the best out of us — knowing we really have to play well,’’ said Young. “Knowing we’re really on the bubble.’’

But can the Mountaineers? Is there enough grit in their grouts?

Heh. Again.

I don’t know if you’ve watched the SportsCenter Highlights or the same thing on College Gamenight. It’s kind of funny to see the analysis of the game essentially be that Pitt did a better job of defending the 3 in the second half than in the first; and that was the difference defensively.

To support the claim, they showed Ramon and Benjamin late getting out on a shooter in a couple made 3s in the first half. Then they showed Pitt getting a hand in the face of shooters in the second half. Now, try and forget that cherry-picking some plays as illustration does not prove anything. It’s the boxscore that points out the silliness. WVU shot 4-12 on 3s in the first half and 7-21 in the second half. The exact same shooting percentage from outside.

That wasn’t the area they played significantly better defense. They played a little better on defending outside, but the big shift was denying the lanes to try and go in off the dribble and not allowing cuts to get easier baskets. Yes, as a general rule, the Mountaineers live and die on 3s, but they weren’t particularly far from their normal shooting on 3s. What killed them, was that Pitt stopped letting them find space for other shots (only 2-10 from the rest of the floor in the second half versus 9-12 in the first). That’s where they win a lot more games, by shooting at least 50% from spots inside the arc. They are going to have more games shooting in the 30-40% range from outside then they are shooting better than that.

I’m very glad we swept the Hoopies this year. Not just because it’s always a good thing and we can also enjoy the idea that Pitt probably knocked their hopes of making the NCAA out cold. The other reason is that WVU is going to be very good next year, so get some licks in now. Considering how much they lost from last year’s team — Herber, Gansey, Pittsnogle — that they are this good already is kind of scary.

I have noticed several comments about getting the ball to Gray more — a constant complaint all season — that he is getting open and they just aren’t passing to him. For this particular game, I’m not so sure that would be the best thing. WVU’s defense is very good at jumping the lanes and getting a hand on the ball where it looks like an easy pass. It’s part of the nature of the 1-3-1.

Generally, this is the area of the game where Carl Krauser is really missed. Say what you want about his game and everything else (and I know everyone has), but Krauser was one of the best inside passers. It was his biggest strength that he could get the ball inside with such ease and consistency. He did it with Troutman and Taft. Then he did last year with Gray. All players that don’t exactly move a lot once they get/got into the post area, so it’s not like they could lose their man. Part of that was because Krauser was always a threat to drive the lane and penetrate. It created space for him to pass.

Fields is getting better, but he is nowhere near as good as Krauser was with that part of the game. Considering Pitt can’t afford to give away too many possessions, it’s arguably good that he doesn’t force that too many times a game.

Mike Cook is a talker and a woofer. I know it bothers a lot of people but I think it gets made into something that it isn’t. It’s part of how he gets himself going, and motivated. He gets a little hyper and emotional. I also think Dixon, the coaches and even the other players know that, and generally let it go. Pitt has been on TV all season. They have had national coverage and media attention. It’s been a non-story. Now, maybe everyone is missing this story — and if it was just the local media I might be more inclined to agree. I’m just more of the opinion he’s kind of like Brett Hull was. Always talking, and his teammates and coaches just ignore it. The only way I can put it is this, until he’s sitting on the floor with his shoes off or undone that’s not going to be a big issue for me

February 27, 2007

WVU-Pitt: Open Thread

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,liveblog — Chas @ 7:02 pm

Let’s get started.

7:04: Any question as to the importance of this game to Pitt. Dixon didn’t start Hudson on Senior night.

7:11: Gray now 0-4 on FTs.

7:18: 10:49 until the half, Pitt now behind 11-9. It’s not going to be a blowout. Both teams playing tight.

7:20: Fields may have to play the whole game. Pitt handles WVU on both ends much more efficiently with him in there. I’m not kidding. When he went out, Pitt fell behind. As soon as he got back in there, Pitt got the lead right back. The whole team looks to flow much smoother.

7:34: Good grief. Fields is out, and sure enough Pitt fall behind again. Graves may have hit a 3 or a 2, 2:51 left to the half, Pitt down 27-26 or 25.

7:47: Pitt trails 32-29 at the half. All things considered, not horrible. Both teams are 13-24. The difference is quite literally 2 free throws and 1 more 3 made (though the same shooting % — 4-12 vs. 3-9).

The bad news is that WVU is shooting over 50%. While the 7 TOs by Pitt isn’t great, against WVU it isn’t horrible.

Good news, only 4 fouls by Pitt — no one has more than 1 foul. WVU actually has fouled more — a rarity. Smalligan and Ruoff each have 2. Pitt has the edge on rebounding 17-9 (6-2 on offensive boards). Gray and Kendall are doing some damage inside and from short-range (14 points combined, 3 assists and 12 rebounds). Ramon has his stroke so far; and after starting shaky and not looking confident, Graves seems a little more settled. 12 assists on 13 scores — Cook and Fields each have 3.

Obviously I’d prefer a lead, but I like most of what I’m seeing from Pitt. Just keep Fields out there a lot more. Pitt does need to be better on the passing, and they have to go to the ball, not wait for it to get to them. WVU can reach.

8:07: Pitt up 38-32, 16:19 remaining. If Gray could hit free throws… Ah, well that’s kind of an old complaint. Pitt has been in their faces on defense, and driving the basket. Getting the Mountaineers in early foul issues. 4 fouls on WVU in under 4 minutes. For WVU, that is a big deal. They just don’t foul.

8:10: Oh, Gray wants this game. He hit the floor to save the ball and tossed it off a Mountaineer’s shin to keep it at Pitt’s end. He already has a double-double.

8:28: Pitt up 54-51, just under 8 minutes left. Nothing to really say. This game will go down to the end. Just hope Smalligan fouls out soon.

8:40: Pitt up 66-53, 3:38 left, though the Hoopies heading to the FT line. Levon Kendall in the first half, Biggs was great on offense in his spell (if he could just match it on the defensive side) and then Mike Cook with 12 second half points.

8:51: under a minute. Chants of “We want Doyle!”

8:55: Pitt wins 80-66.

9:00: Now that’s the way to rebound from a tough loss on the road. That’s the way you want to close out the season at the Pete for the Seniors.

Jamie Dixon: We played a lot better in the second half. Guard and penetration wasn’t very good in the first half.

Dixon just mentioned RPI and that he checked. Heh. Tell me coaches don’t pay attention to all that stuff.

Dixon said that Young was little banged up and couldn’t go in the second half.

Fields needs to know he’s the guy that is the catalyst and has to know that he makes the team go.

9:03: Safe to say, that Pitt came out angry and ready to play in this game. The defense really picked up in the second half.

The unofficial stats show that Pitt had an astounding 24 assists on 29 baskets. Graves with 6 and Fields and Cook each with 5.
I would have liked to have seen Kendall get one more rebound to get a double-double.

If Gray could have hit the FTs everyone would feel even better about this game. The good news, besides him going 5-7 with 12 points and 13 rebounds was that he only played 26 minutes. As much rest as he can give that ankle is always a plus.

Seems there was a little act of vandalism by Pitt fans on the Georgetown campus.

Vandals spray-painted vulgar phrases on the blue and gray “Hoya Saxa” sign near the Canal Road entrance to campus on Saturday on the same day the men’s basketball team defeated the University of Pittsburgh in a game that received national attention.

Students returning from the basketball game Saturday afternoon said that they saw several curse words spray-painted over the Georgetown catchphrase. The sign has since been repainted.

Emily Dorff (COL ’10) said she saw that the sign had been vandalized on her way home to campus.

“It had ‘Go Pitt’ and ‘Fuck Georgetown’ spray-painted on it in blue,” she said.

There’s a picture with the article. It’s not the biggest picture, but it would appear that there was only one of the 7 dirty words used once. So I’m not sure about multiple vulgarities.

Students who saw the vandalism said that they suspect that the phrases were painted by Pitt supporters some time before the end of Saturday’s game.

You mean Hoya fans didn’t do it themselves? There are times when I love student papers.

Though students said the graffiti could not totally ruin the positive atmosphere surrounding Georgetown’s win Saturday, it was a source of anger and frustration for many.

Michael Driscoll (MSB ’08), who heard from a friend about the sign’s alteration, said he was infuriated by the offensive vandalism.

“You just don’t do something like that,” he said. “It’s tasteless.”

Some students, however, said that the vandalism did not upset them much.

“I wouldn’t say I was upset. Perhaps annoyed, with a tinge of amusement,” Dorff said.

The sign has already been repainted and no evidence remains beyond the photographs and memories.

I’m not condoning it, because I don’t think “Fuck” was necessary. Simply painting Pitt over a sign that could and was easily repainted seems harmless enough.

Well, the WWLS decided it’s properties take precedence over live games. The WVU-Pitt game was supposed to be on ESPN2. It’s been bumped to ESPNU. Why? So that ESPN2 can air an hour-long  Arena Football preview. Nice. Since the Mouse Monopoly has an ownership interest and airs the games now, time to pump it up after ignoring the thing all the years prior.

So, if you don’t have a dish, get yourself to a sports bar that does.
So, will Pitt be “demoralized” or “angry” when they come out tonight against the Mountaineers — or judging from so many of the comments will that just be the fans?

It’s Senior Night. Time to say good-bye to seeing Aaron Gray, Antonio Graves, Levon Kendall and even Doyle Hudson at the Pete as anything other than as a spectator.

“It sneaks up on you,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “Obviously, what they’ve done has been tremendous. What they’ve done over the four years is unbelievable.”

The seniors have a combined record of 100-27, ranking seventh in overall victories among Pitt players — 108 is the record. They are the only senior class in the Big East with 20 overall wins and 10 conference wins in each of their four seasons.

The Hoopies will be coming to Pitt with a week off and plenty of time to stew over their loss last week. A 3-point loss at Providence where they shot an amazingly bad 9-41 — on 3-point shots. When Pitt beat WVU in Morgantown a few weeks ago, Pitt had come off of a week-long lay-off. Of course, Pitt had a win before the break so there was no stewing.

So WVU will be looking to payback Pitt. They also will be desperate for a win. They are a bubble team that  has not a single good road win and a weak non-con. The team knows that it really needs this game.

“Last week we had what I call a mini-camp Thursday and Friday, where we got a lot of work in on basics. Sunday we practiced a couple hours and it was a lot about us and Pitt.”

Frank Young, who leads the Big East in three-point goals, said upsetting Pitt would be a big boost to WVU’s hopes for postseason consideration.

“I think it would put us in the driver’s seat as far as (impressing) the NCAA committee,” the 6-foot-5 senior reasoned. We may have to win a game or two in the conference tournament if we lose this game.”

Young, who’s averaging 14.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, believes the long layoff between games will be beneficial.

Besides getting some rest, the team had time to correct some mistakes and make adjustments for this rematch. “It gave us a chance to get our legs back,” Young said.

“It’s a rivalry game with a lot of emotions. That’s also a tough place to win. But we’ve just got to go in there and play hard.”

Pitt has it’s own issues. Specifically, the fact that the team has been shooting poorly. It’s been a lot of things, it seems. You have the poor 3-point shooting from the guards, the forwards haven’t exactly been hitting jump shots or much else consistently. Even Gray, before he got hurt, seemed to be struggling to finish.

It’s got everyone a bit frustrated. On the guards, it seems a mix of a slump — given the number of missed open looks — along with defenses playing a lot tighter on them because there is little fear of them penetrating or driving. The forwards — all of them (Kendall, Young, Cook and Biggs) –  haven’t showed consistency all season with a jumpshot and now that the guards aren’t getting free as much, that is getting exposed and not providing any spacing for the guards or for Gray to not face a swarming double-team.

For those of you looking for Coach Dixon to be anything but positive sounding, forget it.

“We were leading the conference in 3-point shooting,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We had a high bar set there. If you don’t hit them it sticks out. It’s been obvious that we haven’t shot the ball well. The numbers don’t lie. But I think we’ve taken good shots. There have been some rare instances where shot selection has been a concern. But if you lead the conference in 3-point shooting you have to continue to take them. That’s important.

“You’ll find a [tough] stretch with any team. Even the best shooting teams in history, you’ll find four games where they didn’t shoot it as well. That’s easy to do. You just have to continue to take good shots. We’ve been doing that.”

If you find it frustrating that he never says anything really negative  about the team or the players, well that’s unlikely to change. That is the way Coach Dixon is with the media and his team. He won’t rip them publicly. He will be positive to the point where people will believe he is delusional. That’s just the way he does it. Other coaches that do it that way include Gary Williams of Maryland and Lorenzo Romar at Washington.

I admit it bothered me after the 2nd year of the Dixon reign, especially after the Pacific loss. The thing that I’ve learned is that it is simply his way of doing things. I doubt he believes it, everytime but Dixon is the type of coach that believes that stuff stays in the locker room. He won’t call out individual players. He will always be relentlessly optimistic publicly. I think it works against him at time and creates more anger to him, as people will say he’s in denial or is oblivious to the problems.

It’s quite weird. Pitt football and basketball has two coaches that are relentlessly positive about their team and players no matter what, that I think it creates almost a backlash of frustration. Where you feel like screaming at the TV or computer, “Liar!” when you see or read their comments. Unfortunately, not everyone can be as caustic and great copy like Jim Calhoun.

February 26, 2007

While lurking around the message boards over at Panther Digest, I came across the link to an interesting interview a few days ago with H.B. Blades. I hate to look back at the season that was, especially how it ended, but perhaps Blades knows why some things happened that maybe shouldn’t have.

HOW FRUSTRATING WAS IT THAT PITT STRUGGLED THE LAST TWO YEARS AFTER BEING IN A BCS BOWL GAME AS A SOPHOMORE?
“Personally, it was heartbreaking. You play this game to win, especially as much as you put into it through spring ball and winter conditioning and the summer camp, then to go .500 or don’t even make a bowl game, it’s heartbreaking. It was one of those things that just happened. There was adversity, so I appreciate things a little bit more when they happen. We went to the BCS game my sophomore and then we got kind of complacent. It was one of those things where we had guys that weren’t thinking about the games. They were thinking about what they were going to do after college football.”

The last two lines that I bolded there are the key. The only guys who should have had NFL thoughts were Revis, Palko, and Blades himself. I’m pretty sure none of those guys mailed it in early. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the locker room there to see what guys weren’t focused on Pitt games and instead were looking towards the next level.

It should also be known that Paul Rhoads likes a good cry or two.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PAUL RHOADS AND CURTIS BRAY?
“Coach Rhoads is very intense. He will be there for us, he will cry with us, he will make you want to play for him. Coach Bray was more humble and laid back.”

It’s probably safe to assume that even the mention of the name “Rhoads” will start some sort of outlash towards him.

Get It While It’s Hot

Filed under: Basketball,Internet,Media,NCAA Tourney — Dennis @ 3:18 pm

No doubt you’ve seen some sort of ad for this: March Madness On Demand from CBS where you can watch streaming video of games from outside of your viewing network online for free. I used it last year and enjoyed it since I don’t have any extra TV packages for the March Madness holiday. To sign up early for a “VIP pass” to avoid waiting time when the games actually roll around, go here. I don’t believe you’ll be able to watch Pitt games at work using this however due to certain restrictions. My solution: just stay home!

Also on that page is a countdown with days, hours, minutes, and seconds to Selection Sunday. Yes, I’m excited.

A Note To Pitt Fans

Filed under: Basketball,Fans,General Stupidity,Media — Dennis @ 8:31 am

Last weekend when Vanderbuilt upset Florida in that wacko gym they have down there in Neashville, the fans rushed the court. I didn’t have a huge problem with it and still don’t, even though the media promptly took some shots at the Vandy students; it really hurt that the SEC has a rule against it and therefore they cost the athletic department some money. Vandy isn’t a horrible team (the win was enough to propel them into the Top 25) but it’s not everyday that you defeat the current #1 and defending champion team.

Then on Tuesday, the Michigan State fans stormed the court after #1/2 Wisconsin went down. More people voiced their displeasure.

Finally, yesterday’#1 vs. #1 (sort of) game went down in Columbus. Ohio State beat Wisconsin by one point in a good game that came down to the final shot — and the fans ran out onto the court. To be honest, it was a lazy “should we or should we not” court rushing but it still happened. And it wasn’t like a few dozen dumb kids ran out. There were plenty of people who decided to do it.

Bottom line: Pitt fans, never rush the court. Never. Ever. Over the last eight years, we’ve become one of the best basketball programs in the nation. At some point (speaking in a matter of years, not anytime soon) we won’t be in the Top 25 but if, during that time, we beat a team like UConn or Syracuse that is ranked #1, it is still not enough to rush the court. Thankfully it hasn’t happened during this eight year period because our fans aren’t stupid enough, so let’s keep it that way.

February 25, 2007

This may come as a shock to many readers, but it seems that Georgetown may have actually won the game. Not just Pitt losing it. You know, the hottest team in the Big East.

The Hoyas are now one game shy of setting a program record for most consecutive wins against Big East opponents. The 1984-85 team also won 11 straight games over conference foes, but that streak included both Big East and NCAA tournament games.

But that wasn’t on their minds. The Hoyas were just happy with the one win. Hibbert said that it felt like a tournament game, because of the atmosphere and the opponent; since the start of the 2001-02 season, no Big East team has won as many conference games as the Panthers (70). Green said that it felt good to beat Pittsburgh, because the Hoyas wanted revenge for the earlier loss. Even Thompson, who is loath to step back and consider the big picture, had to concede that the Hoyas put themselves in a good spot.

“Today was a very good win — don’t get me wrong — against a very good team,” Thompson said. “You can’t be unhappy about the position that we’re in. Even I can’t.”

Before the Aaron Gray injury, the assumption was that this was going to be a rematch of Hibbert and Gray. They do like banging against each other (not as dirty as it reads).

“As soon as he came out on the court, he was like, ‘I missed you, Big Roy,’ and I was like, ‘I missed you, too,’ ” Hibbert said. “It was a battle. I can’t wait to play against him again. But it turned out to be Georgetown versus Pittsburgh, and not Roy Hibbert versus Aaron Gray.”

Pitt had a chance, but it had a lot to do with another star player for Georgetown taking over the game.

After the Hoyas fell behind 44-36 on a 3-pointer by Ronald Ramon with 11:52 left, the message finally sank in. Or perhaps it was then that Green simply grew tired of watching his teammates’ remedial routine. Whatever the case, Green decided that the Hoyas were not going to get swept out of their own building in front of a CBS audience in the league’s regular-season showcase game. And Green decided he was not going to let hobbled Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray (10 points, six rebounds) overshadow what was supposed to be his coronation performance.

So, with the Big East’s top seed, the streak and the league MVP laurels hanging in the balance, Green took over. During the game’s final 11 minutes, the 6-foot-9 forward had eight points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“I just tried to will my team to win,” said Green, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists.

Green, apparently talked the talk to his team and walked it.

Or, as Hibbert put it: “Jeff said, ‘I’m going to take over.’ He missed a shot, got his own rebound and scored. He’s aggressive, and we follow him.”

Green is a guy a lot of teams in the NBA are very interested in.

Every other Big East team is chasing the Hoyas with a week left in the regular season because Thompson III has a player who also would have excelled on any of his father’s teams. Forward Jeff Green, a 6-foot-9 junior from Hyattsville, Md., is a throw-back player, who seemingly doesn’t do anything exceptionally well and yet does everything for Georgetown.

Going into Saturday’s game, Green didn’t rank among the Big East’s top 15 scorers. He isn’t among the league leaders in rebounds, assists or steals. But when the conference hands out its hardware in a couple of weeks, Green should be the Big East player of the year. There isn’t a more valuable or versatile player in the college basketball’s biggest league.

“Jeff Green is a basketball player and when you start trying to label him, saying he’s a big guy or a small guy, all of a sudden he does something the opposite of what you are saying,” Thompson III said. “He is a basketball player and he is comfortable anywhere on the court.”

Green was all over the court when Georgetown needed him most against the Panthers. The Hoyas trailed by eight points with less than 12 minutes to go, but Green, who was hampered by foul trouble in the first half, started attacking the basket. His baseline jumper over Levon Kendall tied the score at 49, and then he showed his versatility with less than 3½ minutes to go.

Following a timeout, Green dribbled near the top of the key with forward Sam Young defending him. Green dribbled the basketball off his foot and nearly lost it, but then got it back. When it seemed he would challenge Young and drive to the basket, Green delivered a pin-point, back-door pass to Jessie Sapp, who scored an easy layup for a 51-49 lead.

So, the Hoyas have two likely first round picks if they both come out this year.

Told there were at least 15 credentialed pro scouts at the game, Thompson managed a half-smile.

“Hey, Aaron Gray is a heckuva player,” he quipped while referring to Pitt’s 7-foot center.

Translation: “Please don’t put foolish NBA thoughts in my kids’ heads before I’m done preparing them for their next challenge in life.”

Gray is also projected to be a first-round pick, and the scouts indeed also came to see him and Georgetown’s 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert bang inside. But this was Green’s game. He seized it when it mattered, scoring on putbacks, stepping into the passing lanes, finding his teammates for two of the most important layups in the final minutes of a game Georgetown had to have to win the regular-season conference title and stay in the running for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Three things won this game for the Hoyas: (1) defensive tenacity, anchored by the most excitable and active guy in the gym, Patrick Ewing Jr.; (2) offensive execution in the final minutes, the way the Hoyas either milked the clock or refused to settle for a bad shot; and above all, (3) Jeff Green.

His calmness in the clutch, especially on the offensive end, was why a throaty sellout gathering stood in awe at the end. This was a no-flow, body-up, contest-every-shot eyesore for much of 40 minutes. Pitt was threatening to pull away with less than 12 minutes left, leading by eight points.

This was as much about a talented G-town team with a great player not  letting the team quit and leading the team. It does take another team to win the game.

How many of you thought we were going to win yesterday’s game before tipoff? (Not me; my prediction was G’town 78 Pitt 68 but obviously the defenses made my score look bad points-wise.) So let’s not get too upset that we lost the game. Instead, we should be a little more concerned about what this all means going forward.

We’ve had our share of problems in the last 5 games or so. What we need ASAP is a game where we play very solidly for all 40 minutes. We’re going to be playing teams that need to win as much as we do though so we’re not going to be walking down easy street.

We also need to be strong up in New York City. It’s not imperative that we win the Big East Tournament — we’ve done that before and it doesn’t automatically put us past the Sweet Sixteen — but it’s not something the Panthers can just blow off. We can’t play like clowns for the rest of the regular season and in NYC and then expect to flip a switch going into the NCAA Tournament. As commenter Stuart said, “We can’t play bad down the stretch and then ‘turn it on’ in the tournament.”

But once again, don’t get too worked up. This wasn’t a game we could have expected to win anyways. We’re still a Top 25 team and looking at past years, we can see that right now any Top 25 team has a legit shot at the Final Four.

Other things from yesterday:

As much as I hate to complain about refs, yesterday’s game caused me to scream at the TV more than I usually do. It seems like every foul called on Levance Fields was complete crap. To sum up yesterday’s calls, look at this picture (courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Levon Kendall being held by Roy Hibbert. I don’t know if this was a shot by Kendall (the PG caption says it was a drive to the basket) but if it was, it wasn’t called — Kendall shot 0 foul shots.

Round of applause to Aaron Gray. He showed some big time guts yesterday buy playing the kind of minutes he did. Forget it that he was slower than ever, he’s committed to the team and wants to leave Pitt knowing he did whatever he could.

Lastly, a little update on a few teams we saw back in December. Auburn upset 25th ranked Alabama yesterday while Florida State has a very good chance of making the field with an at-large bid. Does that brighten up your day at all? Probably not.

February 24, 2007

24-Hour Rule Reminder

Filed under: Basketball,Fans — Chas @ 7:11 pm

Probably necessary after this loss. As fans, we are entitled to roughly 24-hours of stewing, self-pity, misery and “woe-unto-us” stuff afterwards.

Thankfully not really necessary at this point, the reminder that you can be upset at the way a particular player performed, but no unfounded, unsubstantiated attacks on the player personally.

Pitt-Georgetown: Open Thread

Filed under: Basketball,liveblog — Chas @ 1:44 pm

Barring OT in the OK St-Texas Tech game, it looks like the Pitt-G-town game will start on time and without any delay of TV coverage. Of course, with the Cowboys, there is no guarantee of that.

2:07: Tip-off and Kendall was the center. They are saying Gray might still play.

2:14: 6-5 Pitt. Problem is I think Graves just picked up his 2nd foul.
Pitt has gotten Georgetown being a bit sloppy. Forcing turnovers and getting Hibbert playing further from the basket.
Cook has 4 points.

Hibbert has 1 foul.

2:22: Gray in the game. A little slower (hard to imagine), but able to run and play. Pitt leads 11-7, 11:50.

2:33: Pitt struggling horribly to get a basket at this point. Hell, just struggling to score. Now down 16-11. It’s been at least 6 minutes since their last FG. Some missed looks, blocks, and good defense has frustrated the offense. It’s not G-town has looked that good. They are just able to convert a few more now, and not turning the ball over as frequently.

2:43: 3:56 to the half, Pitt trails 20-19. Ewing, Jr. is a pest in the best possible way — if he’s on your team.

Gray looks decent. The size of Georgetown is more of a problem for Pitt as they try to get guys driving to the hoop. The only good thing, they are drawing fouls against the Hoyas.

3:06: Sorry, my network crashed for a bit. Interesting to look at who’s missing in the box score.

Young 2-6, 5 points, 2 rebounds

Fields 0-2, 4 assists, 1 TO

Graves 0-2, 1 assist and 1 TO

Kendall 0-1, 1 rebound

Gray 3-5, 7 points, 4 rebounds

Cook 2-5, 4 points, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 TOs

3:18: Just the way they drew that up with Fields airballing a 3 that Cook read grabbed and put back. 33-33

3:30: Pitt leads 44-36. 11:49 remaining. An 18-3 run. Wow.

Seeing something from everyone right now.

3:51: I hate typing it, as it sounds like whining, but these refs suck.

It’s 49 all with under 5 minutes left. Both Pitt and Georgetown have played great on defense.

4:20: Pitt lost this game. I’m disappointed, but not upset. 61-53.
Gray looks like he’ll be playing the rest of the season. Even before the Gray injury, this was going to be a tough game for Pitt to win.

Both teams played great defense, Yes the Hoyas shot close to 50%, but they only had 36 attempts. Pitt’s defense severely limited their possessions. That was huge when you are talking about the most efficient offense in the country. You don’t expect to hold them to under 40% as much as limit their opportunities.

Do I think Pitt could have shot better than they did? Hell yes. Once again, the Pitt guards struggled with their shooting — all of them. Ramon was the most “accurate” at 3-9. Benjamin missed all 3 of his shots. Graves was 1-5. Fields, 2-8. Some shots were just bad luck — halfway down before coming out. Others were some missed open looks. But the majority of them came in the teeth of some great defense.

I think at times it is easy to forget how much it matters how the other team plays. Simply, Georgetown did play great defense against Pitt. Staying out on the guards to keep them on the perimeter and really battling inside.

Pitt worked hard in this game. They out rebounded the Hoyas and got more chances to shoot.

I’m still bothered by the refereeing. Not for the foul disparity. 29-16 in difference of attempts is not nearly so bad since Pitt missed several front ends of 1-and-1s to skew it a little higher. And, when you’re on the road, you should never expect the foul calls to go your way. What bothered me was the sheer randomness of the calls.

That said, Pitt was 8-16 on FTs (Gray and Young 3-10) while the Hoyas shot 22-29, to really win it at the line.

And in the meantime, I’m nervously watching Syr-Prov; Cinci-DePaul; Miami-VPI; OKSt-TTU. On top of that I’m trying to post. Wheee!!!

I do feel a sense of equilibrium returning. Bob Smizik is complaining that Pitt is in trouble.

Neither game, despite large doses of praise for all his players by coach Jamie Dixon, was what might be expected from a top-10 team. The team has to play better if it has any hope of advancing beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Playing better certainly is in the realm of possibility despite the level of upcoming competition. Much has been made about the unselfish nature of the Pitt players. Praised is heaped upon them for their pass-first mentality.

Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe Pitt is too unselfish.

That’s right, essentially his complaint is that the frontcourt of Gray, Kendall and Cook are not being aggressive enough shooting. Forget that Cook was in a bit of a slump shooting — killing his point totals. Kendall hasn’t shot well most of the season. They need to take more shots.

I feel better.

Gray’s status is still up in the air, but some good news.

Gray apparently does not have a high ankle sprain, which is a serious injury to the ligaments between the two major bones – the tibia and fibula – of the lower leg. The Pitt official said he believed that the sprain was lower, a common injury for basketball players.

The semi-official word is that it remains unlikely that Gray will play. He hasn’t practiced with the team this week. Instead working on drills — and yes, free throws — and mobility stuff.

Regardless of whether Gray plays or not, Levon Kendall is still expected to pick up some more of the scoring and rebounding slack.

Against Seton Hall, Dixon called on Kendall for chances that would normally go to Gray. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Kendall converted, shooting 6 of 8 from the floor and playing a team-high 33 minutes.

“We needed that,” Dixon said. “That was a learning experience for me.”

It was an offensive breakout for Kendall. Prior to Seton Hall, he had scored in double-figures once in the previous 20 games. In 96 career games at Pitt, Kendall has never scored more than 15 points in a game.

Kendall, who averages 5.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, rarely shoots. He is attempting fewer than five field goals per game.

“I think Coach Dixon has some confidence in me that I can get some touches and make some plays,” Kendall said. “I knew that opportunity was going to come. It’s nice to be able to do that in a game and show that we can run plays for me at (center) and still be successful.”

Of course, this isn’t exactly Seton Hall and a small front court he’s shooting against.

If you care about individual accolades, this game could be a statement for Georgetown Forward Jeff Green as Big East Player of the Year.

Both Pitt and Georgetown have their reputations this season on the front courts. The backcourts for both were question marks going into the season.

But a New York City rivalry is brewing in the backcourt.

Panthers guards Ronald Ramon and Vance Fields hail from the Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively, while Hoyas sophomore Jessie Sapp is a Harlem native.

“We’ve been friends for a long time and played together in AAU,” said Sapp. “So I know what they do, and they know what I do.”

Sapp also knows guard play was supposed to be the Hoyas’ weak link this season.

“We heard it, but we really didn’t pay any mind to it,” said Sapp, who combines with backcourt mate Jonathan Wallace to average more than 20 points per game. “We came in with the state of mind that we had to work as a team.”

Wallace (11.2 ppg) has been unflappable, shooting 47.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s also a recognized team leader. Sapp (9.3 ppg) doesn’t carry the same stature, but has started 25 of 26 games and is a tireless worker who unafraid of big shots. He matched his career-high with 16 points against Villanova last Saturday, tied for a team-high 15 at Pittsburgh last month, and he’s averaged 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the last two games.

Neither team expects a repeat of the last meeting when the teams were so good on offense.

“Both teams shot 60 percent from the field. That was unbelievable, especially for two very good defensive teams,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

“Offensively, both teams had to be happy with the way they played. I would think both coaches would look at their defense and think they could do a better job.”

That first game was an aberration. Georgetown has the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big East at 56.5 points per game. Only one team scored more points against Georgetown this season than Pitt — Old Dominion had 75 against the Hoyas in the third game of the season.

Less than an hour or so.

The theme for Pitt basketball this season has been “a different players will step up each game if Aaron Gray doesn’t perform well.” Obviously, starting at 2 p.m. today, someone is going to need to step it up big time. We’re not talking about big time, we’re talking about big time. Hell, facing off against both Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, we’ll probably need two players to play the game of their lives to win.

There’s really no great stat to show how important Gray is except Ken Pomeroy’s plus/minus stat. Not only would Gray score but he would prevent Hibbert from scoring; obviously Hibbert would not be totally shut down by Gray but I’ll take Gray at 70% (or maybe lower) than Kendall or someone else against Hibbert.

We struggled against Seton Hall. You want me to say it again? We struggled against Seton Hall. Now we’re going down to a sold out Verizon Center against the team that is vying for the top Big East spot and it seems with the news of Gray’s injury, our chances have been totally washed away.

Don’t write us off too fast though. I mean hey, look, we’re ranked #8 in the nation and although we’re not playing the best that we can at this point and our big man is out, we’re still a top 25 team.

Levance could shoot the lights out like he did for a seven game stretch a few weeks back. Mike Cook could go for 18 like he did when we played the Hoyas earlier this season. Maybe Levon Kendall could stop playing like Levon Kendall and play like a real athlete and basketball player. And yet all of this is on the offensive side of the ball which leaves the whole other end of the court open for Hibbert and Green to have a field day. Because of that, I’ll set my prediction at G’town 78 Pitt 68.

Prove me wrong boys…

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