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February 16, 2007

Washington is a different breed of dog for Pitt. Even if the match-up isn’t as big as initially envisioned, it is still an interesting thing when teams come from over 2000 miles away for a game.

The Huskies (16-9, 6-8) have stockpiled some terrific young talent. Unfortunately for them, they’re walking into the Panthers’ den after Pitt was stunned at home 66-53 by Louisville. It will be interesting to watch 7-foot senior center Aaron Gray against former five-star prospect Spencer Hawes, who leads Washington in scoring as a freshman.

Hawes has had a rough year, dealing with some injuries.

Life on the trail can be difficult for young Huskies. Washington freshman center Spencer Hawes battled a bad ankle that contributed to the Huskies’ midseason slump that now makes them NCAA tournament long shots (16-9, 6-8 Pacific-10). But his 22-point outing Wednesday against Washington State, even in a losing cause, could give UW reason for optimism Saturday at No. 5 Pittsburgh as he takes on veteran Panthers big man Aaron Gray.

There are rumors that Hawes may go pro after one year.

According to an NBA Eastern Conference scout who has watched Hawes and several other former area high school standouts play in college, Hawes needs to think hard before he decides to leave Lorenzo Romar’s nest for the rigors of the NBA.

“He has very good hands, plays well in the open floor for a guy that’s 6-11,” the scout said. “He’s very comfortable with the ball, has a great touch around the basket, nice form with his shot. He is not going to be the quickest or most athletic guy.

“Some guys like Hawes and (Pitt’s) Aaron Gray, those guys were immediately looked at as lottery picks 15 years ago. (But) just because you’re big doesn’t give you that advantage. There are plenty of NBA teams who have won titles without a big center, and if this 6-9 guy is more athletic, they may take him.”

“He struggles against the more athletic, quicker big (men), and his rebounding skills are good but not great,” the scout said. “He’s gotta get stronger on his lower body. He’s not that imposing force defensively.”

That sounds good for Gray. As does this from a UDub beat writer:

…Pitt has struggled against teams with quick guards, which unfortunately doesn’t really define what the Huskies are right now.

Seth Davis at SI.com is going with Pitt since UW is only 1-7 in true road games and Pitt should (better) be pissed from the Louisville game. Not that Washington isn’t more than a little frustrated after losing at home to Washington State.

The Huskies fell to 6-8 in the Pac-10. They must finish at least 9-9 in the conference just to be considered for the NCAA tournament. They have five games remaining, four of them against Top 25 foes. They probably need to win four of those games.

They’ll be swimming with piranhas, hoping not to be snacked on, for the remainder of the season. The next carnivorous creature: No. 7 Pittsburgh, a physical, disciplined and defensive-minded foe that figures to be a terrible matchup, especially on the road.

The  last time they traveled east for a non-con game in February, was in 2004. They lost the game to NC State. It’s also the first time they will appear on the ESPN/ABC since Fall 2004.

To be honest, I’m not really as excited about tomorrow’s game as I was back in November and December. Maybe I forgot how important conference games were as opposed to the non-cons. Maybe I figured Washington would be ranked at this point. And after reading what one Huskies fan has to say, I think they might be under that same mindset.

Tomorrow’s game against Pitt is a good exposure game for the Huskies. The impact of that game on the Huskies post season hopes is minimal in my opinion. As long as the Huskies win 3 out of 4 Pac-10 games they will get into the tourney. Winning the game will be great for the RPI and win record, but losing will not affect anything. The Huskies have been hot as of late. If that trend continues then they shouldn’t be worried about an at large berth. The NCAA committee loves to use the last 10 as a gauge for at large berths.

I guess in their spot they don’t have a ton to lose and are more interested in the Oregon game next week.

Can UW’s freshman center, the 6′ 11″ 225 Spencer Hawes, stop Aaron Gray? Other than him they don’t seem to have anyone to match up on him size wise so the Hawes-Gray is probably going to be the key to the game.

And don’t be fooled, Gray is valuable when he’s on the court. Very interesting stuff from the Post-Gazette and Ken Pomeroy.

It is no surprise that Gray is by far Pitt’s most valuable player in terms of plus/minus and on/off rating.

Gray is a plus-19 in the on/off rating, which is calculated per 40 minutes. In the plus/minus ratings, Gray is a plus-312, or an average of 12.5, for the season. The next-closest player is Antonio Graves at 241 (9.6). Gray posted a negative rating in a game only twice this season — in losses to Louisville and Wisconsin.

According to the ratings, Pitt’s least valuable player is sophomore forward Sam Young.

Is this why Young isn’t seeing the kind of time that most would like to see him get? Probably not because I highly doubt Jamie Dixon looks at this kind of thing; or maybe he’s sitting in his office right now looking over those exact stats. Just maybe…

But coming off of a loss, a win is important for the simple fact that the team needs to shake off the bad thoughts. We were given plenty of time to think about Monday’s loss though.

Two practices, three days and four words from their coach — “playing for first place” — served as an ointment for the shell-shocked Panthers.

Pitt spent the past two days of practice and film study working on everything from breaking the press to defending Washington’s formidable inside tandem of sophomore power forward Jon Brockman (6-7, 260) and Hawes (7-0, 250).

Pitt was somehow able to overcome this last week. The fat guy dancing during a timeout down in Morgantown as previously mentioned. If I may quote myself…

Thankfully there were no pictures to accompany this story.

Instead we get a full video. Just grand.

Click here to see a fat man do some dancin’.

And take notice how many people put up a backwards “C”.

As expected Pitt took a tumble in the power rankings that come along. Pitt fell to the 3 seed line on ESPN.com.

Sort of Kansas Lite in the sense that Pitt looks good for awhile and then does something inexplicable, like getting smoked at home by Louisville. I expected more consistent scoring punch from Mike Cook. They need someone to help Aaron Gray.

Range of the votes from 6 to 14.

Luke Winn at SI.com drops Pitt to #14 from 8. I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for the fact that he still keeps Marquette ahead of Pitt — despite what would appear from his comments to be greater concern and questions about the Golden Eagles.

Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News tries to make sense of a week of upsets and closer than expected calls for a slew of teams this week.

Is it possible it’s something like that for the guys who play the game? In the past week, we saw Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and North Carolina — three of this season’s elite teams — lose at home. And though they lost to capable opponents, they did not lose to elite opponents. Florida fell in a deep hole against an Alabama team that previously treated the road as if it were radioactive. Ohio State nearly blew a 21-point halftime lead at lowly Penn State.

It seems there is a tendency at this time of the year for the best teams to lose focus, because they know how long the year has been and because they know what’s up ahead. Texas Tech at home on a Tuesday night in February does not seem to be as big a deal as the Big 12 tournament and the NCAAs. But on that Tuesday in February, it’s bigger.

It’s comforting, but probably a little too easy.

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