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February 23, 2007

Well, as you would expect. The Pitt-Georgetown game has some attention considering the implications. Of course, the prestige takes a hit when one team is lacking its star player.

2. Gray area: One nagging question dominates discussion of Saturday’s first-place Big East showdown featuring No. 8 Pittsburgh at No. 12 Georgetown, and that is the availability of Panthers center Aaron Gray. If his sprained ankle keeps him on the bench, Pitt might have major problems containing the Hoyas’ Roy Hibbert. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon hopes the day off from practice he gave his team Wednesday helps.

Seth Davis at SI.com goes with Georgetown, which is no surprise. Even with Gray, they are the home team and very hot.

I was going to skip the power ranking stuff this week, but Luke Winn’s commentary as he puts Pitt at #12 was the partial answer to something I had been wondering about since Monday night.

Panthers fans: Have you ever said to yourself, I want to dress exactly like the injured Aaron Gray? Well, now you can. The Power Rankings’ fashion consultants have tracked down a store selling the exact track suit — the Adidas velour Vegas 07 model — that A-Gray wore like a sideline pimp during Pitt’s win at Seton Hall on Monday (boot sold separately). According to the product description, the suit is “loaded with Vegas-inspired details, including side-welt pockets to hold your chips.”

I know Adidas is Pitt’s supplier, but it still doesn’t answer why he wasn’t wearing Pitt sweats rather than that thing.

Orlando Antigua gets some love in the New York Post.

“It was an easy call,” Dixon said. “Orlando knows Pitt, he knows the Big East, he’s great with the players, and we wanted to continue our New York connection.”

So far, so good. Antigua, 33, has slid seamlessly into his new role in one of the nation’s premier programs. He’s become a student of Pitt’s rough-and-tumble defensive scheme, which has trickled down to the players, as evidenced by their 24-4 record and No. 10 ranking. They connect with Antigua on many fronts. And vice versa.

“I feel fortunate, first of all, to be at my alma mater, but to be there at a time of such success,” Antigua said. “To contribute is such a great feeling. To be in the background like I was, to watch Barry – and how he conducted himself – helped. I had the knowledge, I just had to go out and apply it.”

Now — and this is kind of fun to type — the talent level in NYC kids has be high enough to match Pitt’s level.

I know, “now?” Well, I don’t want to forget about these little things.

The draft combine is underway. There are some Pitt players in attendance, beyond Darrelle Revis. ESPN’s got a list of top players by position with point scores (1-100, though 30 seems to be the lowest number for any of the attendees) going into it (Insider subs.).

  • Adam Graessle gets tied in a group of 3 punters at the bottom with a score of 30.
  • At QB, Tyler Palko was listed at 11th with a score of 45 (Luke Getsy clocked in at 30).
  • For Inside Linebackers, H.B. Blades goes in with a grade of 61 for 10th.
  • Darrelle Revis is the second ranked CB at 91. Leon Hall of Michigan is ahead with a 95.

Whoever helped edit and check the list must be a Virginia fan. Every Virginia Tech player finds themselves coming from Virginia Polytech Institute.

Then there is the looming time of Spring Practice. It starts March 17 for Pitt, and ends April 14. Whee. Tom Deinhart at the Sporting News has a superficial look at the priorities on offense and defense for teams in the Big East.

OFFENSE

1. QB Tyler Palko started the past three seasons. He’s gone. The battle will rage.
2. Dave Wannstedt wants a better ground game. But the best running back options may not arrive until August: LeSean McCoy.
3. Every starter but the center returns on the line, but depth must be augmented to help the ground game.

DEFENSE

1. The linebacker corps must be overhauled with the departure of H.B. Blades.
2. The line must improve and get stronger after the team finished next-to-last in the Big East in rush defense and last in sacks.
3. Darrelle Revis bolted early for the NFL, leaving a big hole at a corner spot.

Scary that he’s actually understating the priorities with the linebackers. Really, you could just put in big 42-point font size under defense: HELP!!!

God help us, the one thing that could allow Rhoads to keep his DC job for another year. Expectations for the defense will be so low, that anything above completely sucking could be perceived as progress.

Definitely seems like Pitt will be going it without Aaron Gray tomorrow.

“If I had to guess going by what I saw [yesterday] I don’t think he’ll be ready to go on Saturday,” Dixon said after Pitt’s workout. “I’ve been wrong before. We’ll just have to see. In the next 48 hours there might some recovery there, but going by what he did today I would say there wouldn’t be a good chance.”

Gray, averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds a game, did some light work on the side as Pitt went through practice. The main problem is the ankle is not responding well to treatment. Gray has dealt with turned ankles in the past, but this injury seems more serious.

“It’s swollen, very discolored and it doesn’t look good,” Dixon said. “I’ll put it in layman’s terms. You wouldn’t want to walk on it if it was yours.”

Let’s just say, I’m not feeling good about Pitt’s chances against Georgetown without him. It really weakens Pitt defensively in two positions. Obviously at Center where Kendall will have to slide over and play, but also with Sam Young sliding in to start at Power Forward and going against Jeff Green (who absolutely terrifies me).

Georgetown’s offense is absolutely the worst kind of offense for Young to face. They run set plays with backdoor cuts and great movement without the ball.  Young struggles to maintain his concentration on defense. He drifts out of position and gets impatient. I can see him being exploited for those tendencies badly. Young has all the abilities and tools to be the better player than Kendall defensively — even undersized at PF — but he hasn’t shown the mental for a full game (which, by the way, probably has as much to do with anything else as to why Young has not gotten the minutes everyone things he should get).
HoyaSaxa.com has an excellent preview for the game.

A game that was supposed to be all about deciding the Big East regular season, now has a different meaning for me.  It’s now about seeing what the team does and plays knowing that Gray cannot be the main guy — at best. They have to pick up the effort on both sides. I was encouraged by the rebounding effort against Seton Hall after the slow start, but there  needs to be more on the defensive side. Keeping the guards outside, and stopping Green and others from driving. Pitt is suddenly very depth deprived inside with only Kendall and  Young with Biggs to spell them both. That means, staying out of foul trouble for the forwards will be essential, hence while Hibbert could be enough of a problem, if players are getting drives to the basket you know there will be some fouling inside. Something Pitt can’t afford.

Joe Starkey’s column is all about saying, “you people didn’t appreciate Gray enough, but now maybe you’ll understand.”  I sort of understand, but I think that some of the nitpicking and complaints about some of what Gray has and hasn’t done this year has been justified. I haven’t heard anyone claim the team would have been better without him. Just that they expected more.

The complaints I never got were things about how he hasn’t improved or regressed from last year. When he’s in the game, he changes things for both sides. And other than with rebounding, there isn’t much standing around by the team waiting for him to do something.

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