March 17, 2007

Here’s a shock, I know. The big key for Pitt will be Aaron Gray. Gray was hoping for Duke to win so that he could make his Uncle Steve choose team or family.

”We had a short conversation,” Gray said Friday during an interview session. ”He said he was going to be here [today], and that he would love to see us play against his alma mater, but that’s he’s just real excited about our team and that he’s said all along that he’s more of a Pitt fan than a Duke fan.”

Uncle Steve can express his loyalty when Pitt (28-7) meets No. 11 VCU (28-6) in the West Regional second-round matchup today. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:50 p.m.

Aaron Gray, before the tournament, also expressed desire to play Duke. His father, Michael, also aspired for the matchup of one storied program in Duke going up against a Panthers team that’s bidding for its fourth appearance in the Sweet 16.

”It’s funny because my dad was he was sitting there hoping for Duke to win, but that at time same time it was so hard for him to cheer for Duke,” Gray said.

It’s always hard to root for Duke. The only exception might have been when they were playing UNLV in the early 90s.

In a brief, somber aside, Gray’s 2003 HS class got a little smaller at the beginning of the month. Yesterday, she was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the guys who will be going at Gray will be Michael Anderson — getting a puff piece from his local paper.

His role, however, could well be altered tonight. Anderson might be asked to match up with Pitt center Aaron Gray, a 7-foot, 270-pound senior. VCU’s other primary post player, Wil Fameni, broke his nose Thursday night against Duke. He was fitted for a plastic face mask Friday, but his level of effectiveness is in doubt.

“If I have to guard Gray, I’ll just try to use my quickness to my advantage,” said Anderson, who has started every game this season for the Rams, averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Using his girth is not an option. Anderson is all of 190 pounds – exactly the build that chased him out of his first love, football, and onto the basketball court in middle school.

Anderson is a decent player and chose VCU over Providence.

As for the game, well Orlando Antigua was responsible for scouting the Rams. As soon as VCU had beaten Duke, Gene Collier had noted that VCU’s win should not have been a huge shock. To many, it wasn’t. VCU was a popular upset pick.

Having said that, everyone locally is writing, yes VCU is the kind of team that gives Pitt trouble and is fully capable of beating them. Having said that, they continue by noting that if Pitt loses, it will be a disappointing thud to end the season.

The Pitt players concede that they really didn’t know much about VCU. No kidding. They do expect a familiar approach from the Rams.

If VCU has an advantage at guard, Pitt most certainly has an advantage at forward and center. The Rams’ tallest starter is 6 feet 7, and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon expects Grant to employ a similar game plan that Wright State coach Brad Brownell did — double down on Pitt 7-foot center Aaron Gray and make the guards knock down outside shots.

“VCU will do the same things as Wright State,” Dixon said. “We’ve done a very good job with it all year.”

If that happens, Pitt’s outside shooters must be able to make shots again. Gray only attempted six shots against Wright State as the Panthers relied on the guards, who made 10 of 21 attempts from behind the 3-point arc. Pitt is shooting 38 percent from 3-point range for the season.

What VCU has that Wright State doesn’t is speed and athleticism at the guard position to recover on a pass from the inside-out to get a hand up in the face of the shooters. I’d love to say I’m confident in the perimeter shooting for this game, but I just don’t know what Ramon, Fields and Graves will do. It has felt like a crapshoot the past month. They have to shoot it, but I just don’t know if they’ll go down.

Gray knows he will get a lot of attention. And that he has to do well.

This will shock everyone. VCU will try to speed the tempo up. Pitt will try to slow it down.

This blog on following VCU in Buffalo is worth reading after a couple beers.

Panther alum Sean Miller’s Musketeers looked good… during regulation anyways…


Comment by Lee in State College 03.17.07 @ 4:21 pm

It would have blow my bracket to Hell but I would’ve gladly traded that for watching Mr. Miller pull the upset of the decade.


Oh well, on to VCU!

Comment by Shawn 03.17.07 @ 4:47 pm

Anyone know if the Pitt game will be shown on CBS in the Philly area? I am hoping not to have to go to the bar.
I know the game is on the same time as BC/Georgetown & Vandy/Wash St.
Any knowledge is appreciated. Thanks. Go Pitt!

Comment by Desmondo 03.17.07 @ 5:14 pm

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