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February 10, 2007

You know, Pitt didn’t shoot free throws particularly well (13-21), but they were aces compared to Providence (7-16). Interesting to see that the final shooting percentages were nearly the same. Pitt was 28-60, while Providence 28-61. The key difference was that when the final stats come out and the halftime splits are seen, Pitt shot better in the second half.

This was a key win, because Pitt was actually outrebounded 41-33 (and worse 16-11 on offensive glass), and didn’t have a great advantage on shooting. Those are usually the things that indicate doom for Pitt. Pitt was able to overcome that. This was an off-night for the team, but they were good enough to over come that.

Providence played a much better game than I had seen from them recently (they looked nothing like the team that nearly blew it to Cinci at home. Hard to believe, but the Providence team could actually be quite good in the next year or so. Still, Pitt has beaten the Friars 7 straight. Since Pitt came into the Big East, Providence has been the one team they have consistently beaten.
The good: Pitt only had 10 turnovers to Providence’s 6. And the team had 18 assists.

Gray had 22 points. Cook had 11. Graves had 13 (all in the second half). Kendall had 10 rebounds — doing a decent job of picking up the slack on the boards when Gray was out — and those two charges he took were so important.

Despite all the struggles, Pitt had a very balanced distribution of minutes. Levance Fields and Graves played 31 minutes. Five  other players had at least 22 minutes. Benjamin had 11 minutes.

The bad: guard play was shaky, especially in the first half. Pitt only had 7 assists in the first half, and 6 turnovers.
It was disturbing to watch Ramon dribbling, trying to shake his defender to create space for his shot. That wasn’t fooling anyone. If he wants to do that, he needs to show them that he can take them off the dribble and go to the hoop.

It’s probably just me, but there were points where Gray settled for short jump shots rather than push to the basket. It made me think that he was doing that because he’d rather take the chance with the shot than draw the foul, and have to shoot free throws.

Now that all football is done, the 6pm games on ESPN begin.

It’s a Coaches Versus Cancer day, so expect to see Jamie Dixon and Tim Welsh in sneakers.

If you are listening to the radio, be sure to leave a comment on how Hillgrove and Groat do when they have to say Weyinmi Efejuku.

6:12: Just got over here as the Hofstra game just went final. Missed the first 14 points of the game.

6:16: Oh, Gray will abuse Hill if the Friars leave it one-on-one.

6:21: 17-14 Pitt, 12:08. Sam Young not exactly looking that sharp early. Inconsistency is a killer for him.

6:24: 18-17 Providence, 10:46. Pitt slipping into Providence’s game by rushing some shots. Need to control the tempo.

6:42: 30-30 Providence, 3:03. Young recovered from missing some shots, a couple turnovers to notch 6 points. Cook has 7 points.

Providence was getting some tremendous penetration from Curry. This is probably the second best I’ve seen the Friars play on the road (the best was against UConn).

Is anyone else feeling a mixture of amusement and annoyance when they keep referring to rivalry week, with the implications that Pitt-Prov is a rivalry game?

6:56: Pitt trailing 34-33. Gray only played 8 minutes in the half with 2 fouls. Pitt’s shots were a mix of some rushed shots and others that just didn’t go. Graves and Ramon were 0-5 and very little. The team looks uncomfortable and unsettled.
Herbert Hill has been able to back down on the Pitt defense and Sharaud Curry has been very creative. The other players for the Friars haven’t shot that well.

Lots of time, and no reason to panic. Mild frustration is permitted.

7:23: Pitt leads 47-43, 13:11 left. Pitt has gone on an 11-1 run. Kendall has taken two charges in this game.

Just some less than smart play from Pitt too often, while Providence — and I can’t stress this enough — is playing one of their best games. They are, though, one of the bad FT shooting teams in the BE.

Pitt’s guards are not having a good game. Graves, Ramon and even Fields are struggling. Not just shooting, but spacing and ball movement overall.

7:38: Pitt leads 57-52. If Gray could just finish — at least two easy ones just rolled off the rim — he’d be closer to 30.

7:47: Graves grabs back the turnover on the errant pass, and wow! 63-59, and after the TV TO, a chance for one more.

7:59: Here’s a statement you don’t get to read everyday. Pitt has the advantage at the free throw line against Providence.

8:07: Whoever the color guy was that simply said “Fatigue” when Curry missed a FT was dead-on. Curry’s played the entire game. Can’t believe how much Gray struggles at the line, though, down the stretch.

8:10: Pitt wins, 74-68. It wasn’t pretty. It was a less then impressive win. Still that’s okay. Pitt was probably due for a bad game. The timing was important. Better to struggle in this game rather than the prior or even the next two.

The Big East has seen a few big games today with some implications for Pitt.

First was Georgetown walking all over Marquette. I have a hard time believing we can drop three games to the Golden Eagles after this game, but hey, this is the Big East. Every game is tough and every game can surprise you in some way. From a Pitt standpoint we get a little more breathing room at the top spot in the conference standings. Georgetown is one game back and Marquette is 1.5 back.

The real upset was West Virginia over Ben Howland’s Bruins. Although it was 10 am in the internal clocks of UCLA players and starting PG Darren Collison didn’t play, a loss is a loss in the eyes of the RPI–something which means a good deal to Pitt at this point.

According to ESPN InsiderRPI (subs. of course), UCLA had the #1 RPI before the loss (Pitt with the 3rd RPI) and it will be interesting to see how that shapes up once it is updated.

Should it be a choice between Pitt and UCLA for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, our win over WVU and UCLA’s loss could both play a big part in that decision.

By the way, four weeks from tomorrow we’ll know if Pitt gets screwed again by the selection committee.

This Week in the Power Rankings

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Polls — Chas @ 5:04 pm

They seemed to be a bit late this week. Luke Winn at SI.com has Pitt at #8 behind Marquette, but seems almost prescient:

Smart scheduling by the Big East for putting the Panthers’ visit to Marquette on the regular season’s final Saturday, in the hopes that the league title will be on the line in a nationally televised game. But there are also decent odds that Pitt could finish first in the Big East, with Marquette second, even if the Eagles sweep the teams’ regular-season series. The Panthers only have one league loss (to Marquette at home on Jan. 21) and a much easier schedule leading up to March 3. Aside from a trip to Georgetown, every other game — home dates with Providence, Louisville and West Virginia, plus a trip to Seton Hall — is an expected W. The Eagles, on the other hand, have two Big East losses and visits to Georgetown, DePaul and Notre Dame remaining.

Of course, Pitt has to still get those Ws.

ESPN.com has Pitt up to #7 and a semi-mea culpa/backhander.

This space has been a bit rough on the Panthers, who are a quality outfit in a slightly lesser league this season. Any win in Morgantown is good, but in the Backyard Brawl, it’s even better.

For the record in this power 16, there are 3 Big East teams, 3 PAC-10s,  2 from the ACC, Big 11, SEC and Big 12. The individual votes all have Pitt between 6 and 9.

Finally this article on Senior prospects for the NBA says this about Gray (insider subs).

Gray shocked scouts last year with his emergence from the shadow of Chris Taft’s ruined sophomore season. And he was the anti-Taft in so many ways. While he didn’t have Taft’s physical gifts, he played hard, was consistent and produced for Pittsburgh when they needed him.

Gray declared for the 2006 draft but didn’t get a first-round guarantee, so he returned for his senior year at Pittsburgh.

Gray is a 7-footer with the girth to handle the middle full-time. He’s a good rebounder, especially on the offensive boards.

The knock on Gray is that he’s not athletic, and with the NBA moving toward an up-tempo style, Gray’s type of game is less valued than it’s been in the past.

Still, for a second straight season, Gray continues to prove he’s a legit NBA center prospect, despite scouts’ misgivings.

Right now, he’s moved from the first-round bubble into the first round.

[Emphasis added.]

I think that will hurt Gray in the draft more than anything else. The change in style of play. He’ll be a solid player, and should have a decent career. His offense, though, won’t be enough to put him among the better centers.

Settling in for my weekend monitor duty for AOL Fanhouse (gorging myself on watching lots of college basketball for 10-12 hours, drinking a little and making snarky posts — I love this gig). Trying to think about the Providence-Pitt game a little without feeling overconfident. Pitt has won 6 straight against the Friars. Still, I don’t want to turn into Lou Holtz with puffing a team I really think Pitt should pound.

The Friars have a very nice troika of Herbert Hill, Geoff McDermott and Sharaud Curry. Hill, was actually my mid-season Big East player of the year. Yet, outside a very surprising running off the floor of Marquette (Wesley Matthews was injured and Dominic James was slumping), the Providence Friars haven’t really done much against the better teams — especially on the road.

Pitt is a team, that Providence has to envy. They also aren’t sure where to key on defensively.

At this point, it’s getting difficult to pinpoint just what is the most impressive feature in the six-year run the Pittsburgh Panthers are on.

The Panthers have made five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, easily the best run in school history. In fact, fans in the Steel City have become so spoiled that the only consistent complaint heard on the streets is not will the Panthers win 20 games and get into the NCAAs but why they keep falling short of the Final Four.

This may be the year that that NCAA drought is ended. Howland established Pitt’s tradition of big, strong and physical defense and rebounding before he left for UCLA in 2003. Dixon still stresses those traits and has the best center in the Big East, Aaron Gray, anchoring the team’s power game. But this Panther team’s biggest strength may just be its offensive versatility.

With a slew of talented guards, the best 3-point shooting in the Big East and some athletic, slashing forwards, stopping Pitt’s attack is an opponent’s worst nightmare.

While the minutes might increase for Sam Young, don’t expect him to start (but, really, we knew that). And you know what, no one is going to complain. Especially when Pitt is winning like this. Who really wants to be that kind of whiner? It’s hard to argue with success, and of the 3 losses. Can anyone really, definitively say Pitt would have won with Young in there more and Kendall out? Or Benjamin and/or Ramon in more for Cook and/or Graves?

Georgetown just knocked off Marquette (a lot closer than the score indicates). Guess what game now looms even larger then the season ender for winning the Big East regular season?

The 2013 John R. Wooden Award Winner

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Dennis @ 2:02 pm

Chris Dokish over at Panther Rants posted about a possible verbal commitment from a basketball player visiting the ‘Burgh this weekend. According to the article, he is great as a one-on-one player with the ball who posses great athleticism and he has great size too (6’ 5″ 220 lbs). Did I mention he’s a high school sophomore?

Terrence Boyd sounds like the amazing go-to guy who can easily take over the game that we’ve always wanted. The top 20 sophomore from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia is visiting the city with his mother and coach, and although his verbal isn’t binding at this point it sounds like he loves Pitt.

“I try to watch all of their games,” says Boyd, “and when I can’t, I go on ESPN to watch their highlights and say ‘how did my team do?'”

“They love their basketball there,” Boyd goes on to say. “You can really tell it’s a basketball area. I mean, it’s a lot about football there, too, but it’s really a basketball area now, too, and maybe when I get there and some others, it will be even more of a basketball town.”

Boyd says that if he does commit to the Panthers, that will probably be it. “Unless something drastic happens,” Boyd says, “like the head coach leaving, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

His college career is still a long way from beginning and although I think it’s odd that 10th graders are getting recruited like this, it’s a part of the game now. Actually, after seeing some 7th grade football players making websites to assist their chances, maybe Boyd got a late start.

The Friars out of Providence are tonight’s opponent and the past tells us we’re going to beat them. Last time we played them, February 2005, we won 81-68. We’ve won six in a row against Providence and haven’t lost to the them at home in more than eight years. Get out the magic marker and mark a “W” right?

Well, I would hold off on that just to make sure. The Tribune-Review gives us an article on Providence’s improvement which has been a surprise to Big East teams and coaches who picked them to finish 10th back in the preseason.

Providence is among the top scoring teams in the Big East at 73.8 points per game. When they shoot, good things happen. The Friars rank second in the Big East — and 10th in the nation — in field-goal percentage and No. 4 in the Big East in rebounds.

“They are very good offensively,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “They are very skilled. They shoot the ball well with their guards. They have a well-balanced offense.”

Coach, were you taking about us or them?

It is interesting though to see a team that is supposed to play similar to us on the offensive end. They get it inside to senior center Herbert Hill (18.8 ppg) but the guards will take the open shot too, especially Sharaud Curry (16.6 ppg).

Antonio Graves knows that the key to taking a lead will be stopping the other team’s offense.

“You can trade baskets all day,” Graves said. “It come downs to who can make stops.”

Looking over Providence’s schedule, you see wins over Boston College (when BC was ranked 23rd at the time) and a win over Marquette at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on January 4.

As discussed in this post about the possibility of mixing up the starting line up–notably putting Sam Young in and taking out Levon Kendall–well, don’t expect anything to change anytime soon. Even with Young coming off of a great performance over West Virginia and averaging 5.7 points in 14.7 minutes per game, Kendall will continue to get the starting nod (with 5.3 points in 26.2 minutes per game). Dixon is quoted as saying he loves having a new guy who breaks out every game and the writer’s continue to ask if that player will get more minutes. When another guy comes along the next game and puts up a load of points, then he’s the focus of writers who ask about getting more time.

Translation: One 21-point performance will not dictate a change to a system that has proven to be successful the past four years. For the most part, seniors start and underclassmen come off the bench if the competition is close.

If we keep winning then I have no right to complain.

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