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March 16, 2007

I took it quick and superficial before crashing on an AOL post last night. Just noting some easy, thoughtless similarities between last year’s NCAA Tournament and this year for Pitt. Do not panic.

Ever see old Damon Wayans stand-up? Where he talks about playing snap as a kid? Basically it would be fine until someone decided to mention his club foot. Then he would just go off and ream them verbally. That seems to have been what happened to Wright State after trying to horse-collar tackle Aaron Gray.

The Panthers saw a 13-0 lead morph into a 22-22 tie before a turning point occurred with 6:41 left in the first half, when Wright State freshman Todd Brown threw Aaron Gray to the floor and drew an intentional foul.

Bad move.

“That kind of re-ignited us,” Gray said.

Pitt proceeded to score 21 of the next 30 points to take a 43-30 lead into the intermission. The bench provided a major boost, outscoring Wright State’s, 20-9, in the first half and 36-19 overall.

After that, it seemed that Pitt just said, “Oh, you want to make it real do you, Seymour?” It wasn’t like Pitt already had a size advantage or anything. No the Wright State players wanted to have Pitt fired up while playing the rest of the way. It impressed no one for Wright State to go punk.

Fifty seconds after Jordan Pleiman — WSU’s only true post player — was called for his second foul, Todd Brown threw together an audition for WWE that seemed to wake some sleeping giants. Brown was called for an intentional foul on 7-foot Aaron Gray with 6:41 left in the first half and the Panthers responded with a 19-7 run.

A balanced offensive scoring effort with 5 players in double figures and shooting more than 50%.

“If we knock down shots like that, we’re going to be a tough out in this tournament,” said junior guard Keith Benjamin, who added six points off the bench. “That was the best we executed on offense all year. We did a great job of executing. We’ll be hard to beat if we play like that.”

Pitt’s defense also played a big part in the victory. Antonio Graves did a fine job of guarding Horizon League player of the year DaShaun Wood. Wood, who averages almost 20 points per game, was held to 13 and shot 4 for 12 from the field.

Except for that frustrating stretch in after getting out to a 13-0 lead where the team just went playground to give Wright State hope and make every Pitt fan go insane, it was the kind of performance that you want to see.

Coach Dixon talked about being and praised the team for being 9 deep, and Pitt got to do that last night. Only Levance Fields played 31 minutes. After that it was Ramon, Gray and Graves with only 26 minutes. That’s important when you know that VCU will be pushing and pressing Pitt on Saturday.

Even the Wright State partisans couldn’t help but notice that the depth of Pitt took a toll and the size difference was very visible.

Forward Jordan Pleiman stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 240 pounds, but next to Pittsburgh’s 7-foot, 270-pound Aaron Gray, he looked like a calf standing next to a steer.

Even the guys of similar size looked big in Pittsburgh uniforms, which eventually caused the mismatch that was Pitt’s 79-58 victory over the Raiders, whose most successful Division I season came to a sudden close.

“We were gun shy early,” WSU coach Brad Brownell said. “I think the bright lights got us. I was really proud that we came back to tie the score, but that took a lot out of us to do that, and then they delivered another blow.”

Still, Wright State had a fine season and did play hard. Pushing Pitt at points. Plus, their fans showed some great loyalty to the team at the end.

That’s why the some 400 Raiders fans who made the trip to Buffalo stood and filled the arena with a proud chant near game’s end:

“We Are …Wright State!”

“We Are …Wright State!”

I said loyal. Not original.

Interesting statistical comparison of Pitt and VCU from USA Today:

link to

Note how well VCU turns over their opponents (.7 A/TO ratio). They are way above average in this area. Pitt, meanwhile, is excellent at protecting the ball (to my surprise). They have a team A/TO ratio nearing 1.5 The national average is actually less than one. What does that say about the state of fundamentals in college basketball?
Ironically, teams have shot the ball relatively well against the Rams this year. VCU does a good job on the offensive glass, yet they are relatively weak on rebounding the ball on the defensive end. Maybe that will translate into a lot of second-chance points for Gray, Kendall and Young. It will also help us slow the pace of the game if we’re not shooting the ball well (get the offensive rebound and kick it back out with a fresh 35).
To win, we’ll obviously need to protect the ball. Our interior players, who are much bigger than VCU’s, can probably expect to be swarmed when they catch the ball. They’ll need to be smart, recognize the double team early and dish back outside for what we hope is an open jumper.
Of course, this means we’ll have to hit some outside shots early to loosen up the interior of VCU’s defense. Gray has not played well when teams have packed it in on him this year. Here’s hoping he turns it around.
Should be a great challenge. I’m excited to watch the game tomorrow! Go Pitt!

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.16.07 @ 4:15 pm

Dave – I would bet the A/To stat says less about fundamentals and more about being selfish – more players doing their own thing instead of passing.

Comment by Kevin 03.16.07 @ 8:08 pm

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