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February 28, 2007

To start, I’d like to say I’m moderately scared that Jeff Long will take away my football season tickets if I say something bad about the football or hoops teams. If bloggers in Egypt who talk bad about the government can be thrown in prison

It’s not worth me breaking down the WVU game anymore than it already has been. I was at the Penguins game and wouldn’t have been able to see it if I had stayed home (friggin’ Comcast). Chas did a great job recapping it anyways. Instead I’ll look towards Saturday for our trip to Marquette.

It’s going to be a College Gameday; no word on if Marquette Rollabanas will be on display. Cracked Sidewalks doesn’t care about those though — they just can’t wait for a certain sideline reporter.

Lastly, I know some people asked how the tie breaker would work if we finish with the same record as Georgetown which now seems more likely after they lost at Syracuse. It’s still not a guarantee; we have to play Marquette at their place while the Hoyas host UConn. By the looks of it, they have the easier road. Anyways, if we were to finish with identical records in conference, we would be regular season co-champs. Obviously it’s nice but not as important as winning the Big East Tournament in New York City.

As for seeding for the tourney up in NYC, it looks like Georgetown would be the top seed (once again, that’s if we tie them at the end of the regular season) at which point I laugh at them for having to play at noon on the second day of the tournament. Of course, this could come back and bite me in the ass if we get the #1 seed. For a great breakdown of that whole thing, check out BigEastHoops.com.

So, apparently Aaron Gray was not going to go quietly on senior night.

Pitt’s Aaron Gray never has much to say to his teammates in terms of motivational words. He leaves that type of stuff to the more vocal players.

The silent 7-foot center usually leads by actions. But his raspy voice last night told a different story. Gray took it upon himself to deliver a stirring halftime to speech to his reeling teammates, and they responded by staging a come-from-behind, 80-66 victory on senior night at the Petersen Events Center.

“It just felt like the right time,” Gray explained afterward. “We have a lot of guys who are real inspirational, real good leaders. I usually don’t say much. I usually lead by example. I just thought this was my last night. We’re playing for first place. I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt if we let this game slip away.”

And his message:

So Gray stood up before the coaches entered the locker room, an action that got his teammates’ immediate attention.

“We had great energy in warm-ups … but when the game started, we lost it a little bit,” Gray said. “We weren’t having fun out there.”

Gray had six points and six rebounds by halftime, and fellow senior Kendall had eight points and six rebounds. They reached out to the underclassmen at halftime.

Everyone was giving Gray credit for picking his spot to get their attention.

They would get no closer as Mike Cook scored 8 points in five minutes to fuel a Panther breakout, as Pitt went on to win, 80-66.

“We were more aggressive and got more open shots in the second and I was able to knock them down,” Cook said. “Aaron huddled us up at halftime and we responded by being more aggressive on offense and defense in the second half.”

Everybody contributed in this game.

Gray, showing no ill effects of his sprained left ankle, finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Kendall nearly recorded the second double-double of his career, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Graves had seven points, six assists and one steal.

The underclassmen also got into the act. Sophomore Levance Fields scored a team-high 14 points, while juniors Mike Cook (12) and Ronald Ramon (10) also scored in double figures for Pitt. Sophomore Tyrell Biggs didn’t play in the first half but scored seven points after halftime, as forward Sam Young sat the final 20 minutes with tendinitis in his knees.

Well, he did walk gingerly a couple times off the court, but clearly he was not going to let it stop him on the court.

I was very happy that Doyle Hudson was able to get into the game in the end, and hearing the chants of “We want Doyle” honestly had me chanting it from home (my daughter was very confused) because you could here the giddiness of the crowd. It was a such a welcome relief after the last couple weeks of stress, and infighting amongst fans.

This attitude does seem fairly accurate, in summing things up.

Ah, the Sweet 16.

That is why interest in this team is beginning to fade. No one believes that this Pitt season will end up unlike the past five. And with the Penguins’ success across town, a 25-5 record after five straight 20-win seasons doesn’t give people much hope.

All they want to know is whether these Panthers can get past the Sweet 16. And, after Saturday’s loss at Georgetown – the Panthers’ fifth against a ranked team – they are convinced that won’t happen this year.

Talk-show callers and sports barflies and letter-to-the-editor writers are reaching back to the 1980s for a slogan: Same Old Pitt.

The Panthers can’t beat a good team, can’t defend quick guards, have no answer for athletic wings. And now, they can’t shoot. They collapsed last year. They collapsed the year before. They’ll collapse again this year. Sweet 16 this year? How about upset in the first round. After they get that six seed. Same Old Pitt.

And Tuesday’s demolition of West Virginia’s 1-3-1 defense probably won’t convert anyone. Positive thoughts won’t be borne of the 80-66 victory. Few will take solace in the 51-point second half, the stifling defense, the 60 percent shooting from the floor.

None of that means much. The Big East regular-season title doesn’t matter. Anymore, success at the Big East Tournament doesn’t even register.

It’s at least the Elite Eight or nothing, and until the Panthers reach that, their act will be stale.

Still, I’m going to enjoy this one for another day.  Regardless of flaws, questions and everything else. Why? Because Pitt probably knocked the Mountaineers from the NCAA.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock of Pitt’s 80-66 win against West Virginia at the Petersen Events Center last night, the Pitt student section began to taunt the Mountaineers with chants of “N-I-T, N-I-T.”

Heh. Heh.

It’s not just that the Mountaineers lost, it’s that they actually still think they had a good shot at this game, and are stuck blaming themselves.

The Mountaineers made just 11-of-33 3-pointers and two of their most productive scorers — Frank Young and Alex Ruoff — were a combined 0-for-11 on 3s until Ruoff made two meaningless ones in the final seconds. Combine that with 29 percent shooting overall in the second half and Pitt’s 70-percent rate over the same 20 minutes and the outcome was easy to predict.

The really frustrating part to the Mountaineers, though, was that in this one the shots were makeable. That’s not always the case against Pitt’s defense.

“I thought we had better shots tonight than we’ve ever had in this building,’’ West Virginia coach John Beilein said. “We got the shots we like to get against a terrific defense.’’

They just didn’t go in.

“The first game [against Pitt] we didn’t shoot well, but our IQ wasn’t very high and we just didn’t play well,’’ said Ruoff. “Tonight I felt like we played well. Everybody played hard. Everybody played smart. We just didn’t shoot the ball.’’

It’s worth pointing out — again — that the Mountaineers 3-point shooting percentage is 36.1%, and they shot 33.3% on 11-33. That’s a difference of exactly 1 extra made trey (12-33=36.3%). And they shot that way on 3s in both halves. The problem, was they got shut down in the second half from finding good looks inside. This Mountaineer team shoots 54.6% (421-770) on the season from on shots that aren’t 3s. They were held to 11-22 for the game, but the big deal was being held to 2-10 in the second half.

Really, their whole thought that the shots weren’t going ignores the fact that Pitt completely dismantled their defense in the second half. I’d buy it more from them if they said something like “we just didn’t get it done on defense.”  Not only did Pitt shoot 16-23 in the second half, but Pitt only had 4 turnovers in the second half. They were unable to disrupt Pitt’s offense.

That leads to questions in their own backyard about the intangibles of this team.

That cuts to the heart of another question. Does this Mountaineer team have the heart, the confidence, the determination to make a late run?

“This just might bring the best out of us — knowing we really have to play well,’’ said Young. “Knowing we’re really on the bubble.’’

But can the Mountaineers? Is there enough grit in their grouts?

Heh. Again.

I don’t know if you’ve watched the SportsCenter Highlights or the same thing on College Gamenight. It’s kind of funny to see the analysis of the game essentially be that Pitt did a better job of defending the 3 in the second half than in the first; and that was the difference defensively.

To support the claim, they showed Ramon and Benjamin late getting out on a shooter in a couple made 3s in the first half. Then they showed Pitt getting a hand in the face of shooters in the second half. Now, try and forget that cherry-picking some plays as illustration does not prove anything. It’s the boxscore that points out the silliness. WVU shot 4-12 on 3s in the first half and 7-21 in the second half. The exact same shooting percentage from outside.

That wasn’t the area they played significantly better defense. They played a little better on defending outside, but the big shift was denying the lanes to try and go in off the dribble and not allowing cuts to get easier baskets. Yes, as a general rule, the Mountaineers live and die on 3s, but they weren’t particularly far from their normal shooting on 3s. What killed them, was that Pitt stopped letting them find space for other shots (only 2-10 from the rest of the floor in the second half versus 9-12 in the first). That’s where they win a lot more games, by shooting at least 50% from spots inside the arc. They are going to have more games shooting in the 30-40% range from outside then they are shooting better than that.

I’m very glad we swept the Hoopies this year. Not just because it’s always a good thing and we can also enjoy the idea that Pitt probably knocked their hopes of making the NCAA out cold. The other reason is that WVU is going to be very good next year, so get some licks in now. Considering how much they lost from last year’s team — Herber, Gansey, Pittsnogle — that they are this good already is kind of scary.

I have noticed several comments about getting the ball to Gray more — a constant complaint all season — that he is getting open and they just aren’t passing to him. For this particular game, I’m not so sure that would be the best thing. WVU’s defense is very good at jumping the lanes and getting a hand on the ball where it looks like an easy pass. It’s part of the nature of the 1-3-1.

Generally, this is the area of the game where Carl Krauser is really missed. Say what you want about his game and everything else (and I know everyone has), but Krauser was one of the best inside passers. It was his biggest strength that he could get the ball inside with such ease and consistency. He did it with Troutman and Taft. Then he did last year with Gray. All players that don’t exactly move a lot once they get/got into the post area, so it’s not like they could lose their man. Part of that was because Krauser was always a threat to drive the lane and penetrate. It created space for him to pass.

Fields is getting better, but he is nowhere near as good as Krauser was with that part of the game. Considering Pitt can’t afford to give away too many possessions, it’s arguably good that he doesn’t force that too many times a game.

Mike Cook is a talker and a woofer. I know it bothers a lot of people but I think it gets made into something that it isn’t. It’s part of how he gets himself going, and motivated. He gets a little hyper and emotional. I also think Dixon, the coaches and even the other players know that, and generally let it go. Pitt has been on TV all season. They have had national coverage and media attention. It’s been a non-story. Now, maybe everyone is missing this story — and if it was just the local media I might be more inclined to agree. I’m just more of the opinion he’s kind of like Brett Hull was. Always talking, and his teammates and coaches just ignore it. The only way I can put it is this, until he’s sitting on the floor with his shoes off or undone that’s not going to be a big issue for me

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