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February 9, 2007

Football Stuff Nearly Forgotten

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:22 pm

Well, no. Not really. It’s been in my browser tabs all day. Just hadn’t had a chance to get around to it. The Zeise Q&A was the last for probably a month or so. Wonder what the main topic was?

Well of course there was a lot about recruiting. There was also a long little rant about people needing to chill about the script Pitt. This was worth noting to me.

Q: In light of Buddy Morris’s less than favorable assessment of the shape Pitt’s players are in — Do you think that the team’s sluggish look near the end of the season had more to do with conditioning than talent?

ZEISE: Here is another one of my pet peeves — any time something has gone wrong with Pitt it is automatically their conditioning and the strength coach who is the culprit and the next guy will save the day and make Pitt stronger and tougher. Look, I’m not saying Buddy Morris won’t turn this offensive line into the Redskins Hogs, but I’ve become worn down with this whole strength and conditioning coach thing. First it was Dave Kennedy that was going to save the Panthers, then when Pitt began to fall it was his fault and Mike Kent was brought in and his program was much better for Pitt and they even went to a Fiesta Bowl with him. Then Pitt began to fall again and now it is Buddy Morris to the rescue.

At some point, you have to ask yourself — how much of a difference does a strength and conditioning coach really make? I’m sure there are great ones and their are awful ones, but I bet like any position coach — the great ones have a lot better athletes to work with. My point is this: Perhaps a new voice in the weight room is a good thing but you don’t give up 641 yards in a game or let D.J. Hernandez do a Michael Vick impression against you simply because you aren’t in shape. You do that because you aren’t very good, period.

Case in point? Buddy Morris is considered a great strength and conditioning coach and is given credit for doing some great things at Pitt during some of their best seasons. But don’t forget, he was also the strength and conditioning coach in 1984, 85, 86, 90, 98 and 99 — and those years were pretty lean. He also was the Browns strength coach under Butch Davis, who, if I’m not mistaken, is now at North Carolina because he didn’t win in Cleveland.

My point? Strength and conditioning is an easy target when things go bad, but I’d be willing to bet most strength and conditioning coaches are roughly the same and their success or failure is almost always commensurate with the talent they have to work with.

Given the little debate last week over the puff piece on Buddy Morris (where I was able to dig up nice laudatory praise for Mike Kent from another Zeise Q&A), I find myself bemused. Not even saying I disagree with what Zeise just wrote (I really don’t). But I am bemused.

Ron Cooks asks, but when will Pitt win? What a shock, the answer again –2008.

Let’s see some recruiting euphoria — really, it’s so much like the couple days after the NFL draft. Recruiting grades in the Big East (Insider subs).

Pittsburgh: B
While everyone fell in love with coach Dave Wannstedt’s class in 2006, this class is every bit as good — if not better — but hasn’t received the same attention. The Panthers addressed just about every position, and QB Pat Bostick (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) and OG Chris Jacobson (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks) are excellent additions. S Maurice Williams (Erie, Pa./Strong Vincent) is the surprise athlete of the group.

That was the highest grade given to a Big East school. WVU and Rutgers, B-; USF, C; L-ville, C-; Syracuse, D+; UConn and Cinci, D. Scouts, Inc./ESPN.com in the final rankings put Pitt’s class at #19.

Tom Lemming at CSTV ranked Pitt’s class at #20.

Rivals.com put the class at #25.

Scout.com clocked Pitt at #9.

Tom Deinhart at the Sporting News on the class.

Dave Wannstedt once told me he wouldn’t sign a kid unless he thought he was an NFL player. And, by the looks of this class and his first one, Wanny is getting his word. The Panthers’ future pros look like QB Pat Bostick, DT Tommie Duhart, OL Chris Jacobson, DE Tony Tucker and WR Aundre Wright. The real horse could be RB LeSean McCoy, an uber talent who was forced to a prep school last year.

There’s always questions about which one didn’t the team get that was most disappointing. Personally I’m torn between 2 misses for the O-line. Either Gino Gradkowski who chose West Virginia (you just know another Gradkowski will haunt Pitt) or Josh Marks who went to PSU.

Finally, LeSean McCoy Highlights (hat tip to Jon K).

Hoops Talk

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Tactics — Chas @ 12:12 pm

Ray Fittipaldo has his Q&A and chat on Pitt basketball.

Q: You answered a question about Dixon by noting that he is signed through the 2012-13 season. However, as we all know, the contract of a college coach is about as binding as Anthony Morelli’s verbal commitment was to Pitt, right? So what good would that be if Dixon’s dream job comes calling?

FITTIPALDO: You’re absolutely correct, Bob. Coach’s contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on. If it’s any peace of mind, Dixon said all the right things after signing the contract, like how he felt at home and how he wanted to raise his family here. I suppose it’s up to each individual out there to make up their own mind about believing what he said.

I gotta admit, I’m not sweating this issue this year. I don’t sweat it, generally because I think Dixon really wants to stay (based on no actual proof other than my gut); but he will listen periodically to make sure Pitt periodically kicks up the salary.

This year, though, has nothing that really worries me. There are no schools in the other BCS conferences that would have openings this year that are or are potentially near Pitt at this time. The SEC? Maybe Kentucky jettisons Tubby Smith, but I don’t see Coach Dixon as a target. The ACC? Really only Miami and Haith seem to be nearing a split, but that would be a step down. Big 11? I suppose Michigan or even Illinois might make a coaching change, but neither seems particularly attractive at this point by comparison. The Big 12 has Colorado looking for a new coach, but they’ll be going cheap — plus they suck and have no real support. The PAC-10 actually is stable this year.

And from the chat, some questions about Mike Cook and, um, invaluability (yes, I know it isn’t a real word).

PittHoopsatPittBlather: What do you think has been the biggest reason Mike Cook has struggled the past two games (shooting 1-14 from the field). I figured he may have been a bit nervous at Villanova playing in front of his family, but after last night, I’m clueless. Do you think it’s a cause of concern?

Ray Fittipaldo: If it goes into the next game, I’d start getting concerned. He did play well the two games prior to Villanova. Maybe he’s going through a little slump. It happens. If he does continue to struggle, Dixon does not have many options. He could replace Cook with Benjamin, but Benjamin has always been a role player, not a starter. The only other option is Gilbert Brown, but Dixon would have to burn his redshirt if he played him now.

wow11: Is it time to sit Mike Cook down? He’s killing us out there right now with too many bad shots, turnovers, careless defense, I think its time for a change …

Ray Fittipaldo: Who plays in his place? I love Benjamin’s game, but he seems to thrive in his reserve role. As I said before, do you want to burn Brown’s redshirt year and hope he can come in and play significant minutes in the NCAA tournament after sitting the bench the whole season? The best bet is to coach Cook up in the next few weeks and try to limit his mistakes.

PittHoopsatPittBlather: While it’s a good thing that Pitt has so many players that can step up and have good games any given night, it seems like because of that, some players completely disappear at other times. After Gray, who in your opinion, is the player we can least afford to have an off night come tournament time?

Ray Fittipaldo: I would say Ramon because of his 3-point shooting ability. He made two big 3-pointers in the second half last night that kept WVU at a comfortable distance. Pitt is going to need someone to step up and make 3s in the tournament. Ramon cannot have a terrible shooting night or it could spell trouble.

The only concern with Ramon even if he’s shooting well. Can he get open? I love seeing Ramon shoot (most of the time), but he is best when he has a chance to spot up or a catch and shoot — preferably off of a screen. The scariest thing when he is shooting, is when he is trying to create his own space for a shot.
While there is some speculation as to whether Young will see more minutes, there is little question that Kendall will continue to start.

Kendall is averaging more rebounds and assists.

“Sam hasn’t been showing as much pain in the past,” senior Antonio Graves said. “In the beginning of the season, that was holding him down. Now he’s a lot more explosive in practice and dunking more in practice. He’s more energetic.

“He’s coming along at the right time. … It adds to our depth and makes us more dangerous. That’s the thing about this team. We are able to make a substitution and not lose anything.”

Young wouldn’t give his perspective. He has barely spoken to the media since an 18-point performance against Dayton two days before Christmas. But history shows that seniors — at least the good ones — almost always start ahead of underclassmen at Pitt. Since October, Big East coaches have said the 6-foot-10, 225-pound Kendall is one of the most underappreciated forwards in the conference.

You know, I do think Kendall does do a lot of little things, and fits well with the team. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the other coaches like to cite Kendall and puff him much the way they do losing coaches from their conference — you know, so they can keep beating a team rather then risk someone competent get the job.

Whether luck or skill, Pitt’s perimeter defense has been much better this year.

Opponents are shooting 29.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc compared to 34.6 percent last season. And those double-digit 3-point barrages have gone by the wayside. Only one team managed to make 10 3-pointers in a game this season, and that happened in the first game against Western Michigan.

“We’re better guarding on the perimeter, there’s no question,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’re better guarding the dribbler as well as getting out on shooters. It’s improved a lot throughout the year. That’s the area where we’ve improved the most and it has to continue.”

“Our attitude has changed this year,” sophomore point guard Levance Fields said. “We’re in the gaps more. We’re preparing ahead of time. The one thing coach has stressed to us is communicating. Everyone is talking to each other this year. We’re talking each other through everything.”

Mock Brackets

Filed under: Basketball,Fishwrap,Media,NCAA Tourney — Chas @ 10:17 am

I did a post today for AOL about the NCAA letting 20 writers take a crack at putting together a mock bracket based on all the information the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has. It really was a good idea.

Now, let me just add that I am now pissed at the writers. They put Pitt as a #3 seed. Seems Kansas and A&M were both given #2 seeds.
If I understand how it worked, in their mock-up Pitt ended up losing the Big East Tournament to Marquette (and it would appear that Pitt was swept by Marquette in the regular season). So Marquette was a #2 seed. Naturally Marquette was the lowest #2 seed and Pitt was the highest #3 seed. And since they are the same conference, Pitt got bumped lower in the brackets. Geez, even in the mock Tournament selection, Pitt gets slammed.

That said, it seems like an interesting experiment. And actually damn smart move by the NCAA.

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