March 15, 2007

This is it. VCU upsets Duke 79-77 and sends them home after the first round for the first time since 1996.

As the last game of the night, of course the prior game would run long. Jeez Maynor is a killer. I don’t know how many of you saw what he did to George Mason in the CAA Championship. He scares the hell out of me, assuming Pitt wins.

Tip time is 10:10.

10:14: Looks like this game will be called loosely. That benefits Pitt. So does the score. 13-0 Pitt. 17:05 still to go in the half.

10:32: Well, looks like Wright St. has some fight in them. 21-15 with under 11 minutes. Gray took an extended break. Solid WSU game plan to take their time on offense and then drive when presented the opportunity.

10:39: Call a TO. Pitt just stopped playing team offense. Everyone just started launching, sloppy. Tied at 22.

10:50: Fields has really struggled lately. He seems to be trying to hit the homerun in his passes and shooting too much lately. I don’t know what it is. He just is making reckless passes, way too often.

10:53: Speeding the game up actually helped get Pitt back the lead. Not running and gunning, but getting out ahead of the defense. The bright side, assuming Pitt wins, they won’t be taking VCU lightly.

11:00: 43-30 Pitt at the half. Everybody breathing. Just a little bit of highs and lows in the first half.

11:16: Anyone else notice that Eastern Kentucky has closed to within 5 early in the second half. After leading by 27. Fire Roy Williams.

11:52: Looks like Buffalo has cleared out as the game has remained a blowout throughout the second half. Graves did a fantastic job on making DaShaun Woods a non-factor for most of the game. Ramon had a good game. The cynical view is that, of course he did, he was shooting over guards that weren’t as tall as him and played too far off. Still he hit the open looks — just hope he still does that on Saturday.

12:06: Well, after watching Ramon get stripped twice in 10 seconds, I think he won’t be getting too cocky despite his solid shooting night.

12:07: Jeff Rizk hits 1-2 at the FT line.

Final score. 79-58 Pitt wins.

Now it’s VCU. Start reviewing what worked against Marquette and Louisville in the BET and really emphasize protecting the ball and getting it inside.

Okay, so the afternoon games have hardly been shockers. A momentary scare for Maryland, but even that passed. Let’s face it, we are hoping for more of the same, at least as far as Pitt is concerned in the nightcap.

Antonio Graves got a nice feature story in USA Today.

“I got him on the phone,” Dixon says, “and now that I know him more I can imagine the smile he had through the phone, because when certain things come through that you work for, I recognize the smile he might have had.”

Four years later, Graves’ team bio still lists his happiest and most gratifying moment in sports. It’s the day he signed with Pitt.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky on recruits. Not only with Graves but when Walter Walters failed to qualify and went to Cleveland St. for a week before failing out there. Considering the NCAA emphasis on academics, Pitt dodged an additional bullet with APR issues. (Seton Hall could be heading for a minefield with that issue once Pitt recruit Mike Davis possibly finally qualifying.)

The New York Post notes what Pitt has done over the years,

They are the Big East’s forgotten power in so many ways. They just competed in their sixth league championship game in seven years, a stretch of excellence that covers two coaching administrations and is unparalleled in conference history. They are one of only 12 teams that have played in each of the last six NCAA tournaments; no other Big East school can say that.

Yet, there is something about the Pittsburgh Panthers that is easy to overlook. Georgetown beat them in that finale last week, and the Hoyas are the fashionable selection among bracketeers to enjoy the league’s longest NCAA run. Just as much energy was devoted this week to who’s not here – Syracuse missing the NCAAs, St. John’s and UConn being left out of NIT – as to who is here.

Of course, we all know why, Pitt hasn’t gotten past the Sweet 16. Syracuse in the 80s couldn’t get past G-town in the Big East Championships for years before finally breaking through. Still at least they made runs in the tournament.
I think Ray Fittipaldo is about sick of getting the e-mails and messages about how bad Gray is. I can’t say I blame him. I try to attribute it to some anxiety about the team not succeeding in the Tournament, but some of it seems like downright hatred. To the point where people don’t even want to admit when he did play well. I guess it’s the problem when you harden your position to an absolute, there are no exceptions. And even if the facts disagree, you still argue otherwise.

Just a little something I had forgotten about Wright State Coach Brad Brownwell and how basically the AD and administration went ultra-cheap on Brownwell to shove him out the door.

Brownell said if he had felt better at his situation at UNCW, it would have taken a coaching offer “really special” to make him leave. But he and athletic director Mike Capaccio couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and Brownell resigned March 30 to take the job in Dayton.

“I had a couple of chances to leave there as an assistant and a couple of other times as head coach,” Brownell said. “Just building a program, being a part of something that was really special, that took a long time, that you put so much of your heart and soul into, you want to reap the rewards of that.

“It’s really a special place, but sometimes things don’t work out. Things change and you don’t always know if you feel right.”

Last year UNC-Wilmington was in the NCAA Tournament. This year they had 7 wins. That AD better have some incriminating photos of key members of the administration.

Somewhat uneventful day today, at least in the afternoon games. All of the better seeds won and by pretty large margins. You probably knew that already since most people are like me — get to a TV or computer as often as you can.

Pat Forde gives us the best and worst case scenario for each team. Pitt’s includes the best case of making it all the way to Atlanta while the worst case would be losing to Duke.

Best case: Panthers finally break through the Sweet 16 ceiling, riding their punishing defensive style to a validating Final Four. UCLA cannot handle Aaron Gray in the regional semis, and Pitt outmuscles Kansas in the regional final. Push to Atlanta lessens the Iron City dread of another oncoming Pirates season.

Worst case: Pitt team that lost three of its last six grinds to a halt in the second round against Duke. Gray is outplayed by the more skilled Josh McRoberts, and nobody can hit a key perimeter shot. Media vows to keep Panthers out of the Top 10 until they can prove something in March.

We can’t lose to Duke if they don’t even make it though. They hold a 40-38 lead at the half in what has been basically what we expected…a close one.

In the Western Pennsylvania market we can’t see the Marquette-Michigan State game but so far MU has looked really bad. Took them almost 10 minutes into the first half to put points up. UCLA was challenged by Weber State for about 10 minutes before breaking that one open at the half.

Pitt and Wright State in about an hour and a half. Have fun.

Ahh, it’s almost here. The start of the NCAA Tournament is close. Bad scare this morning as the DSL went out for more than an hour. Not a good scene. Rending of garments, teaching my daughter some new words, then trying to bribe her not to repeat them in front of her mother. The usual.

Of course, the 12 hours of good feelings and basketball will only be that way as long as Pitt wins. Does build a lot of anticipation with Pitt being the last game. Glad I have the DirecTV March Madness package. Just saw that Xavier is on at the same time and in the Ohio area, I already know which game they will be showing locally.

So let’s hit this quickly.

Keith Benjamin is right when he says the best thing to do with Wright State is put them down early.

The Panthers, he said, can’t come out slow again tonight in their NCAA Tournament opener against Wright State.

“You’ve got to go out and dominate the lower conferences and get them out of there,” he said. “You can’t let them gain confidence as the game goes on. That’s how you get upset.”

“Those guys are no different from us,” Benjamin said. “They are Division I basketball players. But, sometimes, they see ‘Pittsburgh’ or something like that, and it scares them a little bit. If after the first 10 minutes of the game, they are not afraid of you anymore, then you are in for a long game.

“But if you come out and do everything that you normally do and get Aaron Gray 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game — and he’s dominating and we’re hitting our 3s — that fear becomes bigger because they think they can’t do anything to win now. They will just quit.”

Of course, you can also bet that this is going on the bulletin board for the Raider players. Not to mention the fear that Pitt will come out tight thinking about how they have to do this and, well, that’s just not a path I want to travel.

The whole team is stressing getting off to a good start.

Joe Starkey is demanding at least the Sweet 16.

Luke Winn at talked music with Levon Kendall. I’m still trying to figure out Canadian alt-pop.

Of course Wright St. is confident of a win.  The Horizon League teams haven’t fared poorly in opening round games recently.

In three of the last four years, Horizon League teams have won at least one game in the NCAA, and in six of the last nine years.

The Wright State coach says his team has to be very, very good to beat Pitt.

“We have to have an exceptional night,” said WSU coach Brad Brownell of his 23-9 team. “There’s not just one thing you have to do. We have to play well in all areas.”

Gene Collier at the P-G says that really, DaShaun Woods has to have an amazing night for Wright State to win. Antonio Graves will be the primary in stopping that from happening.

Coach Jamie Dixon has nice things to say about Wright State.

Among the Wright State keys to victory — avoid foul trouble for the inside players (their forwards) and get Pitt to take more 3s.

Hal McCoy is a legendary baseball writer in the Cinci area. As he is down in Florida for spring training he caught up with Dick Vitale to talk a little bit about Wright State.

This year it crept up on me. It’s not like there’s tons of optimism or belief that this is going to be the turnaround. There’s more a sense of, well I guess we’ll find out if last year was rock-bottom before things start getting better of if there are further depths to plumb. Sorry, still feeling very cynical about things.

I’ll just try and get this quickly. One of the graduate assistants is now the Tight Ends Coach. Good luck to Brian Angelichio. I don’t know anything about him, but the TE has been one of the few consistent strong and bright areas from Harris to Wannstedt. Plus there is some serious talent and depth (go figure) at that spot, so just don’t screw it up.

Bob Junko has changed positions within the staff again.

After 14 seasons in numerous capacities, Pitt football associate head coach Bob Junko is moving to a newly created administrative post.Junko, 60, will focus on daily operations and working with the football alumni outreach program.

Last year, Junko moved from coaching to recruiting coordinator because of health issues. This reads like a continuation of those health issues. Stay well.

The #1 athlete and potential offensive threat from Pitt’s 2006 recruiting class is now a linebacker?

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said Wednesday that Dickerson has been moved to outside linebacker, where he is expected to compete for the weak-side starting job.

“We’re trying to put Dorin in a position where he can help the team the fastest,” Wannstedt said. “Dorin is one of the strongest guys on our football team. He’s up to 225 pounds and he’s benching over 350 pounds. I told him, ‘We want to do what you want to do, but we’re looking for the best place for you to contribute.'”

This is either a brilliant move to get an athlete on the field at a need position where he will excel and a clear recognition of talents that will serve the team and Dickerson well. That or insanity at wasting a huge potential offensive weapon who could create chaos for opposing defenses by playing in the backfield and catching the ball. I’m going to reserve judgment — mostly.

Just one thought. It does seem from the article that Coach Wannstedt has fallen back to a natural state as seeing players in set positions and not putting hybrid athletes simply on the field and looking for ways to create opportunities to use them. That’s okay, even if I disagree. The thing is, he has to recruit that way and be up front with the recruits.

Tommie Campbell and Corey Davis are still suspended and little used Kelvin Chandler has left the program. As he only has a year left, I imagine he will look for a 1-AA or D-2  school if he still wants to play.

A Q&A with Coach Wannstedt. Obviously you will want to read it all.

Question: How do you feel about the quarterback competition, now that Tyler Palko has graduated?

Answer: I think we’ll come out of the spring feeling good about all the quarterbacks that are here. Billy Stull will start off with the first group. Dexter Davidson is coming off the (knee) injuries, and we’ve got walk-on Steve Malinchak, but it’s going to be a two-man battle, as far as reps, with Bill Stull and Kevan Smith.

Both guys will get the majority of the work. One thing I’m thinking about doing different than the past two: When we scrimmage, everything will be live. There will be no restrictions on quarterbacks. I want to find out who can sack a quarterback, and I want to find out which quarterback can make some plays under pressure, on his feet and with his mind. Both quarterbacks are similar. Billy has a little more experience and is an accurate passer. They both understand the offense. Kevan is more athletic and has the stronger arm.

Unserious, snarky thought about letting the QBs be “live.” He wants one or both hurt early so Bostick can come in and get the job. That or he just wants one hurt so he can make the easy choice and go with the one not hurt as the other will unfortunately fall behind on practice and learning the system.

It also mentions that Shane Murray is moving to Linebacker. Elijah Fields is being called out. No practices at high schools this year.

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