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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.

February 22, 2007

Kevan Barlow, former Pitt running back and local high school player, is out of a job and maybe out of football for good. His season was u-g-l-y.

Kevan Barlow‘s tenure as the successor to Curtis Martin lasted a season.

The New York Jets released the veteran running back yesterday after the least-productive season of Barlow’s career. He ran for a career-low 370 yards — third on the team — and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

Barlow, a former Pitt and Peabody High School player, was acquired from San Francisco in August to jump-start a running game that was without an injured Martin. Instead, rookie Leon Washington emerged as a prime playmaker and second-year back Cedric Houston got lots of playing time late in the season.

Barlow started just three of the 12 games he played in for the Jets, although he led the team with six rushing touchdowns.

If you’ll recall, on his way out the door in San Fransisco, he lashed out against his coach and did it Nazi style.

“He walks around with a chip on his shoulder, like he’s a dictator, like he’s Hitler,” Barlow said after he was traded. “People are scared of him. If it ain’t Nolan’s way, it’s the highway.”

Imagine if he ever said that about Wannstedt. Looking at some recent discipline for a perspective on this, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t matter if Barlow was across the world — Wanny would find him and punish him with an iron brass knuckled fist.

(Much credit to Mondesi’s House for the links.)

By the way, I can’t help but feel very excited for the game on Saturday against Georgetown. It should be a good one.

A Day Off

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Injury,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 9:27 am

Aaron Gray didn’t practice yesterday. But then there was no practice yesterday.

Some of the players spent the normal practice time yesterday at Petersen Events Center anyway, holding personal shoot-arounds or lifting weights.

Coach Jamie Dixon is at least publicly indicating Gray is at best 50-50 for Saturday (Insider subs.).

“The swelling didn’t go down that much,” Dixon said Tuesday. “They were still telling me Sunday he would play Monday but I wasn’t so sure. I am worried about Saturday.”

If Gray can’t go then the Hoyas will have a clear advantage in the post, especially with the way center Roy Hibbert has turned-up his game on of late, save the win at Villanova last Saturday. In the three previous games — all wins — Hibbert had 20 points and 11 boards at Louisville, 23 points and 11 rebounds over Marquette and 20 and six boards in a win over West Virginia. Hibbert scored 11 points and had two boards in the five-point loss at Pitt while Gray scored 11 points and had four rebounds, essentially negating each other.

There is no doubt Pitt needs Gray to have a good chance against Georgetown. To be honest, though, the guy who most worries me for this game is Jeff Green.

February 21, 2007

…and we’ll play two very tough games and one moderately tough game to finish out the Big East regular season.

Here’s what we’re looking at before the Big East Tournament:

Date — Opponent
2/24 — Georgetown
2/27 — West Virginia
3/3 — at Marquette

So let’s take a look at what’s on the schedule. The beginning of the end starts with a Georgetown team that is streaking and knocked Pitt off from the top of the B.E. Power Poll for the first time all year. The winner of Saturday’s game will not only be atop the power poll but will also likely be the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament.

To be honest, I don’t want Pitt to be the top seed because it means a noon tipoff up in NYC. In order for that to happen, we’d need to lose another game though; not a big fan of that option. A lose-lose situation — damn.

Back to this game though. A loss to Georgetown would make a ton of people uneasy. Actually, a sloppy game that we win will still make people a bit shifty. We need a solid game from every single player soon enough so that we can all calm down a bit. I’m not freaking out, just a little uneasy.

Then we host the Mountaineers and will avoid seeing this guy. Losing to them would be a big downer for a few reasons. First off, it’s WVU. West F#%&in Virginia. I hate losing to them and I’m sure you feel the same way. Losing to a team with an RPI below 50 doesn’t look too great and right now they sit at 53 according to ESPN but that could/will certainly change by next Tuesday. By the way, they aren’t a great team at home and the Zoo should have some fun with them.

Oh yeah, did I mention we really don’t want to lose just because they’re WVU?

To close out the regular season are the Marquette Dominic James’. They live and die by his shot which means depending on how the 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the game work out will determine this game’s importance. By that time we might have already wrapped up the reg. season title…or we could be fighting for the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th spot. Either way, both teams will want to go into the conference tournament on a good note.

It should be a fun stretch before the greatest time of the year (gotta love filling out your brackets, don’t ya?). If I had to predict, I’d say we beat WVU and split with Georgetown/Marquette. After watching this Pitt team though it would be no surprise to see us run the table or go 1-2 (because we’re not losing to West Virginia).

Hey there, lots going on today. Spam commenting exploded for whatever reason today. Seems like I spent half the morning dealing with that. Cinci football may still be building itself to BCS level, but good news, they can be accused of sex, recruiting and possible videotape scandals like the big boys.

Pitt is unbeaten in conference road games so far this year. I’m torn about how good that should feel. Part of me was ready to denigrate it because it included Cinci, Seton Hall and DePaul. But when you consider that DePaul has knocked off ND, Marquette and Kansas at home, that win looks pretty good. Even in a down year, beating Syracuse on the road is pretty good. Villanova was a nice win, and doing the Hoopies at the concrete toadstool always is a strong statement.

In a season where no one seems to win on the road very much, no matter what conference, this is impressive. Or as fellow fanhouse bloogger MJD (who is also the weekend editor at Deadspin) put it, “I don’t care who you are, in what conference … that is manly. It speaks to Pitt’s veteran leadership, and their ability to play a number of different styles.”

Of course, all that positive feelings about how Pitt did on the road can go right out the window if Pitt doesn’t at least get a  split in the final 2 road games.

Georgetown has a road game tonight at Cinci, so there isn’t much hype yet for the Saturday, 2pm CBS game. One thing is certain, Pitt will see more of DaJuan Summers then they did back in January.

Georgetown has been on a roll since Summers picked up on some of the Princeton-influenced nuances in the half-court offense and bought in to the urging of coach John Thompson III that he could be a defensive stopper.

Summers played a total of 44 minutes in Georgetown’s first three games. In Saturday’s win at Villanova, he was on the floor for 35. Nearly a 40 percent shooter from three-point range until he missed all four of his long-distance attempts in Philadelphia, Summers was nonetheless clutch at the free-throw line, where he made seven of eight, and he blocked a career-high four shots.

In Big East games, Summers is averaging 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and nearly 30 minutes. He defends bigs and smalls – see the clamps he put on Towson’s Gary Neal in December, and the possessions during which he checked 6-2 Scottie Reynolds at Villanova.

Summers may not have the numbers to crack the Big East All-Rookie team in this season of the freshman, but if Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Brandan Wright and Chase Budinger all take the money and run, he would be among the best sophomores in the nation next season.

In the G-town-Pitt game last month (PDF), Summers only played 21 minutes and scored only 4 points (1-5) and had 1 rebound.

I realize Pitt has played plenty of easy teams in the non-con in recent years. And that getting 20+ wins is no longer as hard as it used to be. Still, congratulations are in order for Coach Dixon in getting 100 wins and only 26 losses in just 4 seasons.

I know there is still a good amount of mixed feelings about Dixon, but there is a reason that he is considered one of the best young coaches out there right now. The only recruits left on this team that could be considered “Howland recruits” are Gray and Kendall, but they never played for him.

I agree Dixon is still learning some things — particularly with late game situations and putting a team away, but I also don’t see anyone doing a better job with this team over the past 4 years.

Dixon has been building this program as he keeps improving the recruiting. He has worked to improve the profile of the program in the community. The work he has been doing to develop and grow local basketball through the summer league and things like that. I don’t think that can be underestimated. It is the sort of thing that will pay dividends for years later for Pitt.  It’s a longview approach to helping Pitt improve the local basketball and recruiting base.

February 20, 2007

As I said after the game had ended. I blame myself for Seton Hall making the end a lot closer than it should have. I should never have jinxed the team by predicting the end that soon. I should know better then to have written that, even though, that is exactly how Seton Hall has faded in a ton of other games this season. Naturally in this one, they actually hit their shots.

Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez — who I have heard from many may well be one of the most annoying, animated and abrasive coaches in the Big East, and with a conference that includes Boeheim, Calhoun and Pitino that is saying something — believed that Seton Hall had the game at the end when Nutter took that 3.

“I actually thought it was good,” said Gonzalez. “I thought it was destiny that we were going to win the game.”

Um, it only would have forced OT. See, and I could have agreed with the first part of what he said.

The Pirates’ pressure made things difficult for Pittsburgh the rest of the way.

“I thought they were sort of playing not to lose,” Gonzalez said of Pittsburgh. “They got very tight. … I thought we outplayed Pittsburgh. I thought we deserved to win.”

It’s the last two things about outplaying and deserving to win. The Hall shot under 41%, and even with all the pressure and trapping at the end didn’t get the turnovers like they usually do and need. Only 14 while turning it over 11 times themselves. They were outrebounded even as Pitt was playing without their leading rebounder. The Hall had a shot, and did outplay Pitt for that final few minutes. Deserved? No. Outplayed for the game. Hardly. Hung around? Competitive? You bet.

But then Gonzalez is feeling a bit defensive and is a bit of an asshole.

“We haven’t talked about the Big East tournament in two weeks,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to play every game like it’s the national championship until the season is over. That’s how you build a winning program, not a team that wins 18 games and goes to the NCAA tournament.”

That was a thinly veiled reference to last season’s Seton Hall team, which won 18 games and reached the NCAAs for the second time in three seasons under the soon-to-be-fired Orr. That team was picked 15th in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, just as this season’s Seton Hall team was.

Gonzalez added, “I’m talking about a team that wins a championship.”

That was “thinly veiled?” I would say that was a direct reference. Really for no reason other then defending this season by attacking the guy before him. Well done and classy.

At least now, I have a better understanding of why a guy with his success at Manhattan had to wait this long before anyone would hire him. He was supposed to be an up-and-comer 4 years ago or so. There was even talk of Pitt hiring him after Howland. Phew.

Of course, Pitt got off to a sluggish start, down 14-4 in the first 5 minutes. Apparently Coach Dixon chatted with his players during the timeout.

Pitt looked lost in the beginning, and Seton Hall jumped all over it, racing out to a 14-4 lead in the first six minutes as Nutter connected on two 3-pointers and the Pirates’ spirited man-to-man defense forced the Panthers into bad shots.

After a timeout tongue-lashing by head coach Jamie Dixon, the Panthers stopped settling for jumpers and started going to the basket. The result was a 12-2 run that included two put-backs.

Jumping back to the end of the game, Levon Kendall said something we can agree and disagree over.

“I think we got a little complacent at the end,” Kendall said. “We were a little too comfortable. They started making shots and we started missing a few. They were able to come back, but we did a decent job of handling their press and knocking down free throws at the end.”

That wasn’t a decent job handling the press. I have no idea where that came from.

What definitely didn’t help in letting Seton Hall comeback — aside from the obvious turnovers — Pitt committed 5 fouls with under 5 minutes left. Astoundingly, 5 different players committed the fouls — Young, Cook, Ramon, Graves and Biggs. Stopping the clock and to shoot free throws compounds the problem of finishing the game. I credit Seton Hall for the aggressiveness to the basket, but that was 6 points Pitt gave without even running clock. Not smart play.

As for the upcoming Saturday game at Georgetown, Coach Dixon won’t commit Aaron Gray to anything.

“We’ll have to see,” Dixon said. “There was no shot at him going today. He wanted to try, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

Gray’s ankle was sprained in the waning moments of Saturday’s victory against Washington. He received treatment Sunday and yesterday, but had to miss a game for the first time in his two years as a starter.

Gray was happy the team won.

“We have great players and a great coaching staff and I wasn’t worried,” Gray said after the game. “Levance stepped up. We hit free throws pretty well tonight and we out-rebounded them. We did a great job.

“Levi really stepped up. Sam Young gave us a big spark in the second half. Tyrell (Biggs) played well. They did a great job of stepping up when I was out. This won’t do anything but help this team out.”

Biggs was a surprise to me. He played 21 minutes getting 6 points, 4 rebounds and even a couple assists and a steal. If he just hadn’t taken that 3-point shot, I’d be wanting to see more from him. He stepped up in a game that was actually a bit of homecoming for him. He played HS ball in NJ for Don Bosco Prep.

February 19, 2007

If you have ESPN Full Court, you’ll find it there. If you are checking your regional provider — MSG, Fox Sports Pittsburgh, MASN, Comcast SportsNet (West) have the game live.

8:10: Pitt trails 9-4, 15:12. Shots are not falling. I mean they are good looks, and some of them look like they are halfway down before coming out. Lovely. Shooting woes continue.

Why is Sam Young settling for jumpers? It’s not like Seton Hall has anyone taking space in the middle. They are giving so much space, they are begging Pitt to take jumpers, though.

8:22: Pitt down 16-10, 11:10 in the half. Starting to drive a little more — barely. It’s hard to resist taking those open jumpers. Even when they are not falling. The thing is, Pitt has such a depth advantage they need to go inside. They need to force Seton Hall to expend a lot of energy and hopefully get into foul trouble. This is a game Pitt has to show it can win w/o Gray.

8:31: Pitt now up 23-21. Biggs has come off the bench and done well. He’s been active inside and had a nice shot going (that 3 that rimmed out, notwithstanding). Young and Cook — the two of them did not look good on the court at the same time. Neither wanted to play defense — this run by Pitt started with both of them out. Graves finally realized he needs to drive, with his shots not going.

8:37: This is the kind of game, that you want to see which players will step up without Gray. I think this matters to the coaches. Not just for next year but for the NCAA Tournament. It seems that this is the kind of test to see which players respond and step up, when there is no fall-back with Gray. Which players will give the coaches what they are asking and need. Did I use enough cliches?

8:46: Geez. Hate that. Harvey got the mid-court shot at the buzzer 3, to put the Hall down 30-26. Looks like the time on the bench got the attention of both Cook and Gray. Much better effort on both sides of the ball.

Love the team effort on rebounding. That was a necessity without Gray. The team is shooting 13-27. Kendall, Biggs and Ramon all have 6. Graves and Cook have 4.

For Seton Hall, Jamar Nutter has done the job with 11 points. Only 4 players have scored for the Pirates. 7 Pitt players have scored.

The steals by Seton Hall, aren’t totally shocking. That is what they do a lot of to keep them in games.

9:06: How the hell wasn’t Kendall fouled?

9:09: 14:31 left, Pitt up 39-33; Harvey heading to the FT line for the Pirates. Kendall’s looking a little pissed out there now — at least on offense. Good.

Did everyone else scream “NO!” when Young looked like he was going to take a 3?

9:27: Twice,inside, Cook has moved it right to Young for the basket.

9:36: 7:16 left, Pitt up 52-45. Mike Cook heading to the FT line. Eugene Harvey is keeping the Pirates in this game by penetrating and drawing contact. The refs let them play inside, but call the bumps when guards or forwards drive the basket. That’s why Pitt isn’t getting as many FT shots.

9:45: I fear writing this game off too soon, but this has been the way most Seton Hall games play out. They play tough and tight for a long part of the game, but then fade as they start wearing down and the other team simply is better and deeper.

10:17: Okay, I apologize for nearly jinxing the team with the previous entry. Pitt hung on for the 71-68 win. Frustrating to watch the team struggle against the press that everyone knew was coming.

Better free throw shooting — though any misses at the end make things scary. Pitt shot better than 50% for the game. They just struggled to take any shots in the final minute and a half.
Seton Hall, specifically Eugene Harvey, lived at the line in the second half and went 11-11. 55 points from Harvey, Laing and Nutter for Seton Hall. 13 points from the rest of the team.

Over To East Rutherford

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Injury — Dennis @ 11:16 am

Tonight the Panthers (23-4, 10-2 Big East) travel to play Seton Hall (12-13, 3-9) at 8 p.m. at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. Coming home with a win would mean keeping their record away from the Pete at a perfect percentage.

There is a belief in the Big East Conference that the team which wins all of its home games and splits its road games can claim the regular-season title.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon subscribes to that theory, even if his Panthers are going about it backward. They are 5-0 on the road and 5-2 at home in conference play.

After No. 1 Florida’s loss Saturday at Vanderbilt, No. 7 Pitt is the last major-college program in the country to be undefeated on the road in conference play.

It’s an interesting enough stat when seeing we’ve been able to win at places like Syracuse and Morgantown. Tonight doesn’t seem like the night to have that record put to the test either. Seton Hall has actually played us tough the last eight times we went up against them but the teams that beat us in 2003 and 2004 were much better than the Pirates of 2007.

The toughest part of tonight’s game could be the full court press that Seton Hall is likely to use on us, especially after watching what Louisville was able to do to us. Listening to a SHU reporter talking on local radio, he said the press will probably cause us some trouble but not for the entire game.

Then there’s the issue of the big guy. As you’ve probably heard/read by now, Aaron Gray sat out yesterday’s practice.

Sounds like we’ll be waiting for a game time decision on his status. If he’s out, the shooting will need to be better. We can’t continue to shoot threes like we have the last two game which have combined for a total of 7 for 36. As Chas mentioned in his last post, no one is worried about it.

“It’s not a concern,” Fields said. “We’re getting good shots. A couple of mine [on Saturday] were in and out. We’re not going to let that get to us. That’s not going to bother us.”

Small forward Mike Cook, who broke out of a scoring slump against Washington with 15 points, is not worried about the shooting woes, either.

“It’ll come together,” Cook said. “Those guys are great shooters. We’re not worried about it. I hope teams think they can let us shoot from out there because we’ll take advantage of that. Our guys will start making them again.”

That’s what we need to win, but for what SHU needs to pull off a huge upset, PirateCrew.com gives us these two keys.

• Stan Gaines will have to duplicate his effort put forth against West Virginia. That will be much more difficult given Pittsburgh’s style, but Gaines at least has to be a presence on the boards. This is also a game that John Garcia should see significant minutes in. He must put forth an effort similar to those against Providence and Villanova.

• Larry Davis and Jamar Nutter will both have to immediately snap out of their slumps. Davis and Nutter combined to shoot 12 of 25 against Villanova and 7 of 13 from behind the arc. Since then, the duo is a combined 7 of 33 from the field and 4 of 21 from the arc. Their production has been beyond dismal, especially in a week where you play 2 road games and are battling late in the second half. Fortunately, both shoot much better at home.

Much easier said than done.

Going to the Hall

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 10:53 am

Maybe it’s because Pitt has looked past them late in the season. Maybe dumb luck. Whatever, but Seton Hall has beaten Pitt 3 of the last 5 times.

On the surface, it looks like another “Groundhog Day,” but there are two variables this time: The Panthers’ dominant big man, senior center Aaron Gray, is questionable after spraining his ankle Saturday, and Seton Hall has played some of its best basketball against Pitt over the past three years, including a 65-61 win on the road last winter.

“Brian Laing and Jamar Nutter and the guys who played in that game know that even though Pitt is the best team in the league, they’re not invincible,” Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez said Sunday.

Seton Hall has lost 7 straight in the conference (they beat Princeton in the span), but they have been in every game until late, when their lack of depth has just caught up with them.

Gray missed practice yesterday, and will likely be a gametime decision. Size-wise if Gray doesn’t play, Pitt doesn’t suffer tremendously in this instance. Seton Hall is not just short on depth, but lacking in size.

What they do, do is press and gamble on steals.

“I know (Seton Hall) watched the Louisville game, and they’re fired up,” Pitt G Levance Fields said. “We didn’t attack the press against Louisville. We were a little nonchalant.”

Of course, if Gray doesn’t play, it means the rest of the team has to play a lot better, especially the shooting by the guards.

“Obviously, we have to shoot better,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’re one of the top field-goal shooting teams in the country and we haven’t shot it well in the last two. We have to do a better job in that regard.”

A big part of the problem is the 3-point shooting. Outside shooting had been a positive for most of the season, but the guards have gone cold lately.

In the past four games, the Panthers are shooting 26 percent (15 for 57) from 3-point range. In those games, Antonio Graves is 3 for 13 from behind the 3-point arc, Ronald Ramon 4 for 13 and Levance Fields 4 for 14.

The players, of course, don’t express concern. They profess confidence that all will be well. As you would expect.

February 18, 2007

Tommie Campbell — the only returning starting linebacker for Pitt — has been suspended indefinitely. According to Dokish, he could be done for good. The obvious cliche, is that this is a developing situation. Speculation can continue to run rampant.
I don’t have any knowledge as to why or what. The reasonable deduction with the suspension coming in the off-season is either relating to academics or to the off-season conditioning program. These days, that’s the good news — since there are no police blotter reports at this time.
I’m leaning towards the off-season conditioning  issue at the moment — just on gut. Not that Coach Wannstedt would slack on the academic side, but I’m not sure he would suspend him like this for that sort of issue. An indefinite suspension this vague suggests more that Campbell took less than an eager approach to workouts and conditioning. As much as Wannstedt is a postive, “players” coach who won’t publicly speak ill of any of the players; he does expect it to go both ways and know they are willing to give as much back to the team.

So, how’s Aaron Gray? That’s the question locally.

“I thought it was pretty bad,” Dixon said afterward. “He’s had ankle problems in the past. But he went down pretty bad on this one. I think this one could be worse [than the other sprains] from what I saw. I hope I’m wrong.”

Gray limped off the court after the injury and did not return in the final 10 seconds. He gingerly made his way to the locker room and will be re-evaluated today before determining whether he can play in the game at Seton Hall tomorrow night.

It was unclear during the game about what happened. The announcing and camera focus made it seem more like he took a nasty bruise to the shin, cutting it a little and leaving a knot. Given that it was under 12 seconds left, taking him out for the rest of the game seemed reasonable regardless of the severity.

Of course, it seems with Pitt, any loss seems to herald the sky is falling. Last year a desperate Seton Hall team contributed to that storyline by upsetting Pitt at the Pete, as Pitt lost 3 of its last 4 before the Big East Tournament (of course that included losing at Marquette and WVU). Pitt is only 3-3 versus the Hall the last 6 meetings (PDF, p. 12) — so there can be no taking Seton Hall lightly.

In the cup half-full, view Pitt did not lose despite not shooting particularly well and not rebounding. They found a way to push through for the win.

Pitt (23-4) held on for a 65-61 victory over Washington to scrub out some of the bitter aftertaste of its humbling loss to Louisville.

“After how we lost on Monday,” Levance Fields said, “we were definitely looking forward to this game.”

Whether it was a Sam Young layup off a Mike Cook assist, a Ronald Ramon running jumper, a Levance Fields 3-pointer or a Gray bucket, Pitt repelled every Washington advance during the pivotal second-half stretch.

“We made some very good decisions at the end of the game,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was a great win for us.”

Cook broke out of his three-week scoring slump with a game-high 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

Fields scored 14 points, going 8 for 8 from the line, and added four assists. Ramon (11) and Sam Young (10) each came off the bench to score in double figures.

Let me say something now. This is the final season to talk of how a game goes back to the “Ben Howland era.” I’m beyond tired of it now. Gray and Kendall are the only recruits left on this Pitt team that were signed when Howland was the HC.

This isn’t to rip on Howland or denigrate any of those teams that mean a hell of a lot to me. But,there is this twisted feeling about how the present team needs to play like the team under Howland with Brandin Knight, Jaron Brown and Julius Page — players recruited by Ralph Willard — while at the same time talking of how Pitt needs higher calibar, elite players.

It’s just, even when intended as a compliment, there is no winning that comparison.

Mike Cook was vital for the Pitt win. He had been in a bit of a slump. Seems slightly exaggerated for the length, but it has been a couple weeks  since his last good game. Even so, it seems Coach Dixon expects more.

It was bad enough for Cook having to look Dixon, Gray, Fields and the others in the face after his 1-for-7 shooting night at West Virginia and his 0-for-7, zero-point night at Villanova.

But those darn cell phone calls …

“My family and friends would call and ask, ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you playing better?’ ” Cook said.

You might guess the next line.

“I’m looking forward to those calls tonight,” Cook said, grinning.

..

“When you’re not shooting well, it’s going to affect you no matter how confident a player you are,” Cook said. “It really took its toll on me. I just tried to stay aggressive. Everybody kept telling me the shots would start to fall.”

Surprisingly, Dixon wasn’t effusive when asked about Cook. Maybe it was all those things that Pitt didn’t do well, including its 4-of-15 shooting from 3-point range and Washington’s 42-32 rebounding advantage. Or maybe it was Gray’s situation. More likely, though, it was that he realizes how much ability Cook has and he expects so much more from him.

“We need more rebounding from that spot,” Dixon said. “He had four offensive rebounds, which is good. But he had no defensive rebounds. We need to improve in that area.”

I know that there’s a lot of complaints that Dixon doesn’t publicly rip his players more — but that’s never been his style. He’s not needed to, generally, because I think it has as much to do with knowing his players and whether they need or respond to public challenges. No matter the pressure, these are still kids, not professional players. It appears, that maybe he’s determined that Cook responds best when the challenge is made known to all.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that there is some grousing about the disparity over the foul shooting — Pitt had 25 FTAs to Washington’s 8.

Two of the three officials were from the Big East, including the head referee, so that can be safely called a Big East crew (no one seemed to know where the third official was from). UW coach Lorenzo Romar tried to be tactful afterward when asked about the officiating and UW’s 25-8 disadvantage at the free throw line, but assistant Cameron Dollar was a little more forthcoming.

“Twenty five to eight and we’re going inside every time,” Dollar said. “But that’s what happens on the road.”

As for my thoughts on the officiating against Pitt, I wouldn’t say the Huskies lost the game because of it if only because I’m not one of those to ever blame anything solely on the refs — officiating is so much a matter of perspective, and I think that if it’s looked at with an objective eye it usually turns out to have been pretty even.

But the free throw disparity is worth pointing out in a game where the Huskies were the ones going inside all the time while Pitt was the team doing more from the perimeter. That said, UW’s guards got beat a lot off the dribble, which is what led to a lot of the fouls. Quincy Pondexter picked up four fouls in 17 minutes, for instance, largely because he had trouble keeping his man in front of him. I was just passing along that there were some who thought it odd that Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes shot a combined two free throws despite taking a combined 29 shots from the field (both free throws by Brockman).

As for what crews work games, it’s usually decided upon at the time of scheduling. Given that a Big East crew worked this game, I’m sure that means a Pac-10 crew will work the game when Pitt comes to Seattle next Dec. 8.

I understand, and if the positions were reversed, I’m sure we’d be a bit pissed. In defense of the  way the game was called, the refs let the players inside bang, rake and push. If you look at the box score, the inside players for both teams got many calls. It came down to guards getting checked and fouled penetrating and going to the hoop.
You know, I realize that some of these stories are played out for Pitt fans. Stories talking about Jamie and Maggie Dixon  — fairly or unfairly — almost become especially anything regarding Levon Kendall. That said, he is something approaching a local kid for Washington State coming from Vancouver.

Pittsburgh pays a return visit to Seattle next season, but that will be too late for Kendall.

“Yeah, I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “I was ragging on my coaches, ‘Thanks a lot, guys. You book a home-and-away with the closest school in the States to Vancouver and you guys had to book the home section while I was still here.

“It would have been really nice to play close to home, especially in my senior year.’”

Considering how “homecomings” have worked out for NYC area players and Cook in Philly — well, let’s just not discuss the possibilities.

Some perspective for Washington — and it tells you how disappointing a season it has been for the Huskies — there’s some looking at the bright side.

For the first time this season, they went against a ranked team in a big-time road environment and didn’t blink.

They went into a citadel of physical Big East Conference basketball and didn’t back down.

However, the result also reminded them of home: a 65-61 loss to No. 7 Pittsburgh – the exact same score as their Wednesday home loss to No. 10 Washington State.

“We haven’t done very well on the road this year, but (Saturday) I thought maybe we turned the corner,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We didn’t win the game, but I was proud of how our guys approached the game.”

The mileage was important and oft-repeated.

Twenty-five hundred miles from home, the Washington Huskies might finally have found themselves.

Officially, it was another road loss as the Huskies bowed to No. 7-rated Pittsburgh on Saturday at the Petersen Events Center, 65-61, their eighth road defeat in nine games this season.

But unlike a 30-point massacre just two weeks ago at Arizona or similar blowouts at Washington State, UCLA and Gonzaga, this one came down to a missed shot here, a bad bounce there.

“Hopefully we turned a corner today,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar. “I don’t think three weeks ago we would have been able to do what we did today. We talk about the hopeful maturation of our team and even in spite of our loss last game against Washington State, I just think we are becoming a better and better basketball team. A few years ago [in February of 2004] we went to North Carolina State and it was a similar game to this [a 77-72 loss]. We came up short but you could just see that this team is starting to jell.”

Lorenzo Romar, like Jamie Dixon of Pitt is a positive, not saying a negative word about his players to the media kind of coach.

This didn’t really come through on the telecast, but interesting.

Gray wasn’t around for interviews afterward, having suffered a sprained ankle late in the game when he fell awkwardly after colliding with Jon Brockman while battling for a rebound.

Brockman was booed loudly and admitted that, “It might have looked like I threw him down. But he landed on my ankle [which caused him to fall].”

Gray could miss a game or two, though teammates said they were hopeful he would be back quickly.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon applauded Brockman afterward for coming over to the Pitt bench to check on Gray.

“He’s a class kid,” Dixon said. “That’s a class program.”

Not that there wasn’t some trash-talking. Adrian Oliver and Mike Cook got into it.

Oliver showed that edge when he got into a brief staredown with Pitt’s Mike Cook late in the first half after being called for a foul while going after a rebound.

“He said something to me so I said something back to him,” Oliver said. “I think he was surprised. I think he thought we would just back down. Like this is the Big East and we would just back down. I was showing him we weren’t going to back down.”

Heh. No, that was something Cook likes to do and hasn’t done enough lately. Getting into it with another player, tends to motivate him. So, let’s just say thank you to Oliver.

First, the Gray injury needs to be addressed.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has watched Aaron Gray turn his ankle many times the past four seasons in practice. But, when his star center went down in a heap late in a 65-61 victory against Washington yesterday after grabbing a game-clinching rebound, Dixon made a beeline to the baseline to check on his hobbled 7-footer.

“I thought it was pretty bad,” Dixon said afterward. “He’s had ankle problems in the past. But he went down pretty bad on this one. I think this one could be worse [than the other sprains] from what I saw. I hope I’m wrong.”

Gray limped off the court after the injury and did not return in the final 10 seconds. He gingerly made his way to the locker room and will be re-evaluated today before determining whether he can play in the game at Seton Hall tomorrow night.

Well he seemed to walk over to the bench pretty well under his own power and when he sat down there were no trainers hurrying over to see him. I am in no way a doctor (at least not a medical doctor) so I could be completely off base with this — I just don’t feel too concerned about it right now.

Especially if he was to miss the Seton Hall game tomorrow. Not exactly the worst game to lose him for.

Looking back at the actual game though, Pitt did not play a stellar game (for the second time in a row) but this time managed to pull out the win. Washington did a good job from deep and they were able to keep the game close by shooting 7-11 from three point range.

In comparision, our outside shooting was less than stellar. We were 4 of 15 from 3-point range which puts them at 7 for 36 from behind the arc in the past two games.

Looking inside at the big men, Gray was only able to add 5 points as the combo of Hawes and Gray each neutralized one another. The 20 NBA scouts there didn’t see a ton of scoring from the two but saw them going at it all game.

A recurring theme with this Pitt team is someone new stepping up each game and yesterday it was Mike Cook coming through with 15 points. Ramon (11) and Sam Young (10) each came off the bench to score in double figures.

Gathering what I could from a Washington blog, it seems the mood there is mixed.

The Huskies received their second tough loss in as many games today. I really feel the Huskies were the better team in both of those games.

After reading the comments on the game, I thought I would respond. John Brockman was in foul trouble for most of the game. I think that hampered is ability to play physical basketball. He had some great, aggressive moves early on. He played timid for the majority of the second half in my opinion. Quincy Pondexter also was in foul trouble. His ability to help this team is nowhere to be found. He looks like a natural one play and the next he throws the ball out of bounds or goes to the hoop out of control. It is amazing how unpolished this freshman group is. Take away Hawes and this groups freshman year is an absolute bust.

Seems pretty happy with how the game went; not so much with how some of the players look right now.

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