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March 3, 2007

Well, Pitt is playing to be co-Big East Regular Season Champs with G-town’s beating of UConn. Pitt’s also trying to stay as a #2 seed in the Big East Tournament.

Marquette is playing in front of the home crowd on Senior Night. ESPN GameDay on hand. On a night they are honoring the 1977 team — with most of them on hand — and trying to snap out of a funk. They have lost 4 of 5. They are locked in as the #6 seed.

8:28: A rare pre-game update. Marquette Guard Jerel McNeal is out for this game. Injured thumb.

9:12: Fitzgerald has his 2nd foul inside of 3:30, so naturally a 7′ senior drops a 3 in his place.

9:21: No, ‘effin’ way. I will not be able to handle it if yet another 6’11” – 7′ suddenly finds his 3-point stroke against Pitt after never doing anything before. Kinsella — a senior — hits the second 3 in his entire career. Both in this game.

9:36: Pitt struggling, on offense. Gray is getting doubled, and he’s not handling it well. The guards aren’t getting great looks but forcing shots. Fields has to drive. Marquette is vulnerable to penetration. Cook was able to do it. Fields and Graves have to at least try.

9:45: This is frustrating to watch. Pitt has allowed itself to be pushed to the perimeter on offense, where Marquette can beat Pitt. Whether it’s on offense off the dribble, or on defense and getting Pitt to take jumpers.

9:57: Pitt down 43-30 at the half. Unbelievably bad half by Pitt. A combination of some sloppy defense and Marquette hitting some deep 3s to open things further for them to penetrate and drive. On offense, Pitt keeps settling for jumpers. You can’t stop repeating that. Fields, Ramon and Graves are not getting good looks, and when they do, they are rushing their shots. Sam Young is clearly hobbled right now and can’t drive. That puts it all on Cook to try and penetrate as Graves has totally lost confidence in his shooting — whether jump shots or driving.

The problem, though, is on defense. 43 points. That’s frustrating.

10:32: Even if Pitt wasn’t playing crappy in the first half, seeing Marquette nail back-to-back deep 3s like that just about convinces me that this is Marquette’s night. 57-40, 11:28 left. Oy.

11:16: 75-71 Pitt loses. Damn. Why did this go quiet? Well, Pitt started coming back after I stopped posting. Had to hope.
Let me just get one small little thing out of the way. How did Matthews not get called for that forearm into Benjamin’s chest on the last inbound? That was pathetic.
That said, Pitt dug itself too big of a hole. After Dominic James went out, Pitt got back into it, but it was too far for Pitt to come back. James went out with a 57-42 Marquette lead. Obvious, now, how valuable he is to the Golden Eagles. He played the kind of game that will put him back in the discussion for a 1st round NBA pick with 11 assists.

Simply put, Pitt’s guards didn’t come close to even being adequate. Fields 2-13, Ramon 3-9, Graves 1-8, Benjamin 1-5.

That doesn’t even begin to describe the problem with the guards. They failed to get the ball into Gray or over to Cook or any of the forwards too often. You do have to credit the Marquette guards and defense for denying it, but they didn’t respond to being challenged.

At halftime, Erin Andrews reported that Fields was the one to try and fire up the team. Hate to bust on a kid, but if you do the talking you have to match it with the play.

More later after I go find a cat to kick.

By most metrics, this is expected to be a close game. The most accurate metric tends to be the betting line which has Marquette as a 1, maybe 1.5 point favorite. Might as well be a pick-em — which if you look at the “wagerline consensus” you see it as nearly split. Yeah, this is a game I wouldn’t want to wager on.

On the emotional side Marquette will be honoring not just their seniors, you have ESPN College GameDay pumping things up, and if that’s not enough the Golden Eagles will be honoring the 1977 Marquette Warriors team.

For Pitt, on the emotional side, it’s a chance to at least be co-Big East Regular Season Champ.

“Everyone is excited,” sophomore forward Tyrell Biggs said. “We just have to go out and take it.”

Pitt and Georgetown are tied atop the Big East standings with 12-3 records. Georgetown plays Connecticut at noon today, so the Panthers will know well in advance of their game whether they are playing for a share of the title or an undisputed championship.

I have to admit worrying a little if they let themselves slip a little emotionally assuming Georgetown wins and they know they can only be co-winner versus winning outright.

Emotion, though, can only matter so much. There’s a hell of a lot more to do with the actual way the teams play. Pitt wants to take better care of the ball.

Every Pitt player who played six weeks ago in the 77-74 overtime loss to Marquette had at least one thing in common.

And it’s something they don’t want to share again.

All nine who saw action turned the ball over at least one time. In no other game this season — or last season, for that matter — were the Panthers so unanimous in their generosity.

Some more consistent shooting would also be nice.

Of course, as myopic as any fan is concerning their own team, the Golden Eagles have been struggling.

A little more than three weeks ago, it seemed a virtual certainty that tonight’s game would determine the Big East champion. That’s probably a big reason why Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and the rest of the ESPN Gameday crew will be at tonight’s game.

Pitt has held up its end of the bargain. A win against Marquette tonight would secure a tie with Georgetown for the Big East title. If Georgetown loses to Connecticut, the Panthers can win the conference outright.

Marquette, however, has lost four of its last five, and needs both Syracuse and Notre Dame to lose to even have a chance to have a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament. While Marquette’s NCAA Tournament hopes are almost certainly safe, a win over Pittsburgh tonight would do a lot to bolster the Golden Eagles seed as they ready themselves for the postseason.

“We really need to shore some things up,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said earlier this week. “We have a lot of things to work on to get where we need to be.”

The inconsistency of the Golden Eagles seems to be why Seth Davis at SI.com is going with Pitt.

I’m sure Marquette will be pumped up in front of its home crowd, but I still think Pitt is the better team.

They have also had a week to prepare.

It also comes as no surprise that, with an entire week to prepare, MU enters the game not only fully apprised of the ramifications but also eager to enter the Big East Tournament on an upswing.

“They’ve got a championship at stake so we know we’re going to have to take their best shot. But we’re playing for something, too,” said sophomore guard Dominic James, who has factored prominently in each of the Golden Eagles’ previous three games with the Panthers.

“We’re playing for momentum going into the tournament; it’s our last home game, ‘College GameDay.’ But right now we should want it just because we lost our last game. We desperately need a win for this team to get that momentum and that confidence that we need going into the tournament.”

Especially since Dominic James isn’t exactly committing to returning to Marquette for his junior year at the moment. Of course it’s not a distraction. Nope, never.

Countdown to MU

Filed under: Basketball,Big East,Conference,Opponent(s) — Dennis @ 12:57 pm

We’re about 8 hours away from ending another good Big East regular season. The WWL did the morning part of College Gameday from center court at the Bradley Center and I would be lying if I said Marquette’s fans didn’t impress me. I guess after going to the show myself this year, I watch the students more and the actual show less than I should.

A few notes on Marquette from the Trib.

The Golden Eagles have lost four of their past five games, and can finish no better than sixth place in the Big East standings. But don’t be deceived by the recent slide. Three of the four losses were on the road (at Georgetown, DePaul and Notre Dame), and the other came on a Louisville 3-pointer at the buzzer. Marquette beat Villanova for its lone win in the past three weeks. One problem has been wildly inaccurate shooting by Dominic James (15.2 ppg, 4.73 apg), who scored a game-high 23 points in the win over Pitt. The 5-foot-11 guard went 2 for 11 from the floor against Providence, 2 for 17 against Georgetown and 6 for 20 in the 85-73 loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 24.

BY THE NUMBERS

G Jerel McNeal Is second in the Big East in steals at 2.62 per game.

G Dominic James Is 4 for 31 from 3-point range in the past seven games.

There’s a bit of payback in the air tonight from the previous meeting.

If the Panthers want to win another conference championship they’ll have to do it against a team that has given them fits the past two years. Marquette has won two of the three meetings between the two schools since joining the conference last season and each game has been hotly contested.

The combined margin of victory for all three games is 11 points. Marquette beat Pitt in overtime, 77-74, in January at the Petersen Events Center.

“We definitely want it bad,” Graves said. “Second chances don’t come too often. We definitely have to take advantage of that and capitalize on it.”

It seems like they enjoy throwing around a certain seven letter “r” word up in Milwaukee. Is it because MU doesn’t have a true rival?

But throw in what’s at stake in the teams’ regular-season finale tonight – No. 12 Pittsburgh playing for at least a share of the Big East title and No. 20 Marquette for post-season positioning – and this fourth meeting in the past two seasons could wind up being the best one yet in what’s quickly become a full-fledged rivalry.

I sort of gave my thoughts on the whole rivalry thing back on Thursday after Tom Crean talked about it.

And if you’re not watching the UConn-Georgetown game, well, you should be. The Hoyas lead by 4 at the half on CBS. I still think the best possibility would be that both G’town and Pitt win and we get the #2 seed in the Big East Tournament — and that 7 pm start time on Thursday.

EDIT: 1:42 pm — UConn is slipping quickly so they went to the Texas-Kansas game. Looks like Georgetown will get that top seed in the BET.

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