February 13, 2007

I have some theories about Pitt fans and the basketball team. I don’t think Pitt fans are unreasonable, overly negative or anything like that. I’m also hesitant to speak in blanket terms — especially in the immediate aftermath of a bad loss, I generally like to give a 24-hour “getting over it” period. But after the comments here and on the message boards I have to write something. The lack of perspective sometimes gets disturbing.

I think, more and more, that Pitt fans treat the basketball season as a football season. It’s kind of natural. Pittsburgh is a football town, and it’s the mentality. Where every loss is the end of it all. All hope for significant post-season is lost. That all flaws are permanently exposed and will be exploited without doubt from here-on out. That the team is doomed to early failure — again.

The basketball season isn’t like that. There are going to be bad nights, regardless of the talent or the coach. (Hell, ask UConn. There are going to be bad years.) There are going to be nights where the shots don’t fall, the team comes out flat. The energy, somehow, someway is inexplicably lacking.
There are also going to be nights where the other team comes out and does everything right. Where they have so much more energy and their execution is flawless and the ball hits right for them.

There aren’t many teams that can do what Louisville did last night for even a little while, never mind a complete game. Louisville hadn’t done it all season. It’s a team that a week ago lost to Villanova and Georgetown — teams Pitt had previously beaten. Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach with great talent and his team lost at home to Dayton and UMass this year.

Pitt has put away WVU in Morgantown by 13. No other team has beaten the ‘Eers in Morgantown this year. Pitt has beaten DePaul in Illinois where the same Blue Demons beat Kansas, and the Jayhawks also lost to Oral Roberts. Pitt lost to Marquette who lost to ND State and fell at home to Syracuse by 12.

I know that some of the anxiety is all about the NCAA Tournament and the seeding. I understand. I was the one who got annoyed over a mock bracket and the assumptions that led Pitt to being a 3 seed. In a mock bracket. The seeding helps in getting the weaker teams to move closer to the Sweet 16 and hopefully beyond. It is also the prestige issue of seeing Pitt on the #2 or even #3 line.

Yes, I know there are bad match-ups teams that will just make things more difficult to play. Or schemes that will give Pitt problems. That will be there regardless of the seed, though.

The thing is, Pitt could still go out in the first or second round. And you know, so could just about every team listed in the top-25. The #1 seeds may almost be set in my mind, but the field is just unpredictable. This Tournament may not have a George Mason but the difference between the 2 seeds and the 9 seeds seem smaller than ever. Even the 1 seeds don’t look that far superior. It just takes one bad game, or one really spectacular game. Regardless of the talent, the system and the coach.

RIP: Pitt’s Top Seed Chances

Filed under: Basketball,NCAA Tourney — Dennis @ 11:35 am


“We Hardly Knew Ye”

The men and women of Pittsburgh are digging up the most depressing clothes they own for tonight’s funeral and reception. The loss to Louisville last night saw the end of our chances at getting the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

As he (or she…or it…) lay dying in a back room at the Petersen Events Center, suffering from a case of too many turnovers and sloppy play, he uttered the final words, “I hope you guys don’t kill my brother, the #2 seed, too.” Shortly after, as the game clock struck 0:00, so did the clock on his life here in Pittsburgh.

He (or she…or it…) is in much greener pastures now. Places like Pauley Pavilion, the Dean Smith Center, the Kohl Center, the O’Connell Center, and maybe even Value City Arena. We barely knew you, and we can only hope your brother leads us to the same happiness we had hoped to gain from you.

(**Que sad organ music)

Recovery Day

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 10:44 am

Okay, everyone getting a little perspective and breathing just a touch easier. It’s rough, I know. Worst loss ever at the Pete. The worst home loss in 6 years.

“I didn’t recognize that team to start,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s not a good feeling right now.”

“It was just a bad day,” senior center Aaron Gray said. “It’s going to happen sometimes. The true test will be how we respond.”

“There were multiple reasons we lost this game,” Gray said. “If we play like that, we will lose every game.”

I still can’t believe how abysmal Pitt was in just about every facet, and every individual. Well, Tyrell Biggs went 4-4 from the free throw line for about the only positive surprise.

The Pitt players were frustrated, angry and embarrassed — as you would expect. Aaron Gray was the only player who was willing to talk with the media after the game. You can blame your favorite player to hate or the coach or whatever. In this game, it was the ultimate team loss. A complete team effort.
On the bright side, as bad as the game was, it still only counted as one loss.

The coaching staff will have a little more hard evidence to employ as a teaching tool, particularly as it relates to handling full-court pressure and attacking a zone.

Practices will likely become a little more spirited than they might have been, especially considering the Panthers had been less than themselves in getting out-rebounded by eight but still beating Providence, 74-68, on Saturday.

And the players’ pride has clearly been challenged now that a second conference game has been surrendered at home.

Ron Cook  who had been writing laudatory piece after laudatory piece for the last couple of weeks is now concerned.

But Pitt couldn’t stop Louisville’s offense.

That probably was most depressing.

A program known for its tough man-to-man defense was embarrassed by the more athletic Cardinals.

Again, it was a quickness issue.

If you really want something to worry about Pitt at tournament time, worry about that speed thing.

It wasn’t just Gray, who has been known to struggle with mobile big men. Louisville’s David Padgett and Derrick Caracter ate him up inside, but Gray was hardly the only Pitt player who was a step slow. Caracter blew by Levon Kendall for a layup. Terrence Williams flew past Levance Fields and Keith Benjamin on separate occasions. Brandon Jenkins left Fields and Antonio Graves in the dust on his way to an uncontested layups.

We’ve all known that Pitt is not a team with great quickness. I hardly think that’s a revelation.
There are ways to address this, which Pitt had done in terms of moving the ball, staying in position on defense and just not getting rattled. Even in the Marquette game — which Louisville cited as the template — Pitt adjusted to it and made better decisions and execution. There was none of that last night. They were flustered, and then frustrated. They never got settled. Disjointed doesn’t even begin to describe it.
On the flip side, you have to give credit to Louisville. As I wrote later, they finally got everything together in one game. They played their finest game in two years.

“When the ball goes inside, they’re very smart in finding their shooters,” Pitino said. “Once it went inside, we weren’t going to let them go outside to the shooters.

“We played zone and man, and when the ball went inside the foul line, we were just going to match up. We also used some 3-2 zone that we haven’t played much this year.”

The end of the game featured something Louisville fans hadn’t seen in a couple of years: players smiling and laughing while taking down a ranked team. That might have been the signature moment of this night.

“That’s the best win we’ve had in a couple of years,” Padgett said. “We knew coming in that if we won this game and did well our last four games, it would be pretty hard to overlook us (for the NCAA Tournament). This is the kind of win that can turn our season around.”

It was the big win they needed to get themselves solidly in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Now, Pitt needs to respond the rest of the way.

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