March 25, 2008

I hate to waste time on this sort of thing, but Bob Smizik’s usual column about how unimportant the Big East Tournament is, has come out. Honestly, I have a hard time getting worked up about most of what Smizik writes. Recycling the same columns, themes and just changing names has been his M.O. for years at this point.

Let’s give Smizik props for sticking with the position he has advocated before. At least he isn’t always a weather vane. He may have not said a damn word if Pitt had gone further, but that’s just human nature. Apparently playing well in the Big East Tournament is only bad for Pitt. G-town went to the Final Four last year after winning the BET. UConn won national champs in two of the three times it won the BET.

For Pitt, though, it is overemphasized because they had nothing left for the NCAA Tournament. Really, if Smizik was going to recycle a column, I would have expected his 2006 complaint about Pitt not being a good shooting team. You know, because they were too focused on defense and rebounding. He couldn’t complain about it in 2005, because Pitt lost in the first round of the BET. Don’t worry, he doubled it up in 2004, with focus on the unimportance of the BET and the regular season title, but then complained about how flawed Pitt was after losing the BET.

His theme this time, was that Pitt should have not played the 7-man rotation so much in the BET, even if it meant losing.

Gary McGhee, for example, did not get on the floor in the Big East tournament. That’s ridiculous. McGhee, a 6 foot 10 freshman, should have been part of the rotation, giving a rest to either Sam Young or DeJuan Blair so those two valuable players would be at their best for NCAA play and not possibly fatigued. Not only does it help Young and Blair, it gives McGhee valuable playing experience.

Brad Wanamaker, a player who might be starting next season, played a total of 16 minutes in the Big East tournament and did not get on the floor in the final two games. Wanamaker should have been used to spell Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields to keep them fresh for the more important games ahead.

As it was, Ramon and Young averaged 38 minutes and Fields 36 in the four Big East tournament games. Allocating those kind of minutes to a secondary tournament is poor coaching.

No one can be certain fatigue was the reason Ramon and Fields shot a combined 1 for 9 from 3-point range against Michigan State or that Young was 4 for 12 from the field. But it might have been, and that possibility should have been enough for Dixon to keep his players fresh instead of overextending them.

So, let’s say McGhee and Wanamaker got 10 minutes in each of those two games. Here’s the problem with that idea — I mean beyond the minimal actual impact on minutes.

It assumes the substitution is an individual occurrence. That the team doesn’t make adjustments to the rotation on hand. Like, having to help more inside with McGhee who is a step slow and not as sure inside. Or the other players having to work harder on offense because there is more pressure on the other 4 while McGhee is out there. The same can be argued for Wanamaker. He’s a solid defender, but his offense has been a non-factor and turnover risk in his freshman year.

I have high hopes for both. I think both will show marked improvement next season. That doesn’t mean you put them out there in these situations, and put these games at risk. To say nothing of the possibility of damaging their confidence if they make big mistakes in these situations.

I think the important point Smizik makes is Pitt has lost to a lower seed in the tournament quite often during our recent run.

2008 #4 Pitt loses to #5 Michigan State
2006 #5 Pitt loses to #13 Bradley
2003 #2 Pitt loses to #3 Marquette
2002 #3 Pitt loses to #10 Kent State

People will say that seeding doesn’t matter, but that’s malarkey. Anybody who tells you otherwise is regurgitating lame coach-speak.
The point is Pitt has overachieved in the BET and underachieved in the NCAA tournament. Are the two linked? That can’t be proved either way.
Is it a fact that Pitt has disappointed in the postseason? Yes — in the starkest sense of losing to lower seeds in four out of seven trips to the NCAA tournament.

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.25.08 @ 11:40 am

I don’t know how many times I can post this….and I have sent it off to Smizik as well…original credit goes to CardChronicle, where this post originated:

Three of the four national semifinalists a year ago were conference tournament champions. UCLA – which lost to California in the Pac-10 quarterfinals – was the lone exception.

There were 12 conferences that sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Of those 12, only three (WAC, A-10, Pac-10) had a team that didn’t advance to its conference tournament championship game advance further in the NCAA Tournament than a team that did. Of those three teams, only UCLA won more than one game.

All six BCS conference tournament champions advanced to the Elite Eight last season. The other two quarterfinalists were Memphis – which won the Conference USA Tournament – and UCLA.

The combined NCAA Tournament record of the six BCS conference tournament champions in 2007 was 24-5. Of those five losses, only one (Kansas’ Elite Eight loss to UCLA) came against a non-fellow BCS conference tournament champion.

Seven of the last ten national champions have won their conference tournament. North Carolina in ’05, Syracuse in ’03 and Maryland in ’02 are the exceptions.

Ten of the last 16 Final Four teams have been conference tournament champions, and three of those six teams that didn’t win their league title played in the same conference as the fellow semifinalist which did.

Comment by Maz 03.25.08 @ 11:52 am

An impressive collection of statistics. It think we could put this issue to bed if we had empirical evidence that proved playing four games in four days in your conference tournament had no ill effects on your NCAA tournament performance. Has any team ever won the NCAA tournament following such a performance in their conference tournament?
Then again, if you’re playing four games in four days in a conference tournament you’re either (A) not very good or (B) inconsistent. I vote B for this iteration of Pitt basketball and suggest that our NCAA seed was too highly weighted by our excellent performance in the BET.

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.25.08 @ 12:00 pm

From the pittsburgh trib this past weekend:
link to

“Pitt was trying to accomplish the rare feat of reaching the Sweet Sixteen after winning four games in four days at a conference tournament. Since 1997, it has happened only once, Xavier in 2004. The Musketeers won the Atlantic 10 Tournament without a first-round bye and then beat Louisville, Mississippi State and Texas to reach the Elite Eight. ”

I proposed that winning the Atlantic Tourney in 1997 is not the demand that winning the Big East is. There may be something to that wearing out – maybe the issue is not winning the conference tourney, but having to go 4 games to win it. 3-game winners might fit Maz’s formula better.

Comment by Kevin 03.25.08 @ 12:24 pm

So let’s say Dixon subbed the way Smizik suggests. And let’s say we lose to Marquette or L’ville. We wind up an 8 or 9 seed, with terrible matchups from the start of the tournament. And then we go out, one and done. What would Smizik say then? Fact is, we were playing for seeding in the BET. We got it, and then couldn’t beat MSU. Smizik’s column makes no sense.

Comment by velvil 03.25.08 @ 12:24 pm

Smiz is right. “F” the BET.

Comment by alcofan 03.25.08 @ 12:41 pm

How many lower seeded teams has Duke lost to in the last 10 years? Fact is Pitt has been seeded pretty high in the past 7 years on average. They lost to some mid-majors, but the last couple of years they have lost to legit programs from legit conferences. When Pitt does finally get to the last weekend, they probably won’t beat a bunch of teams that are seeded higher than them either. It’s a lot easier to make the final weekend when your seeded 1 or 2.

Smizik’s argument is retarded this year. If Pitt didn’t win the big east, then we would have received a low seed and probably suffered the same fate.

Comment by Omar 03.25.08 @ 1:10 pm

You think my smell had anything to do with losing out to OSU for Pryor?

Comment by JoePa's Poop 03.25.08 @ 1:20 pm

I agree that Smizik’s column is ridiculous. I was thrilled to win the BET. It was the best 4 days of BB I have seen all season. I don’t think that anyone really thought, at least before the BET, that Pitt would make the Sweet 16 anyway. Especially not as an 8 or 9 projected seed before the BET.

Comment by matt 03.25.08 @ 1:43 pm

Bob Smizik is a moron.

Comment by Joey D 03.25.08 @ 1:56 pm

ok let’s say for shits and grins Smizik’s premise is right? Well let’s say Pitt loses in the second round of the BET tourney…

What’s that make em…an 8th seed? a 7th seed?

that means facing a a #1 or #2 seed on the second round of the tourney.

Would this Pitt team have beaten UCLA, Memphis, Stanford, Texas–to name a few.

It’s a stupid premise…Pitt earned anywhere from 3 to 4 spots for that run. And to be honest that was where Pitt wanted to be facing a #5 seed in the second round.

And again, at 2:00 minutes left if Ramon can go 1-9 from 3-pt range its a 2 point game with 1:55 remaining instead of the 7 point game (fastbreak layup).

Honestly, I would rather have the BET championship and out in the second round than a second round loss in the BET tourney and a loss to a #1 or #2 seed any day…but that’s just me.


Comment by DaveD 03.25.08 @ 2:13 pm

JoePa’s Poop,
Get off this website. You were the biggest asshole on PSI and I’m disappointed you are now on this site. Grow up and give quit calling the shit poop!

Comment by Chuck 03.25.08 @ 2:21 pm

Smiz & Cook both throwing stones at PITT. I believe that programs have arrived when the local press lobs these incite the fans articles. These guys have to write to get recognized and sell papers. If our football and bball teams were irrelevant, they would not take the time to play devil’s advocate to the obvious. This obvious is that our Men’s Fball & Bball programs are doing quite well and appear to be even getting better.

Comment by Ironhead 03.25.08 @ 2:24 pm

This was a Pitt team that NEEDED to win the Big East tournament to have a shot in the NCAA’s. Does Smizik think the team was going to gell the way they did by sitting around and watching game film for the last 2 weeks? It felt all along like Pitt needed to prove to themselves that they were one of the best teams in the country, they certainly showed it during the BET run. Again, that wasn’t going to happen in practice.

Smizik is the Jay Mariotti of Pittsburgh. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten through and article of his without thinking “damn, maybe the Pens/Panthers/Pirates/Steelers/Dukes make the wrong decisions every time there’s a decision to be made.” Then I realize this is the ramblings of an angry man (who doesn’t tip valet’s). Chas is right, this guy wrote 5 articles about 10 years ago and he’s just been changing the names ever since. What’s it going to take to get a good, young, knowledgeable sports writer into the Post Gazette.

Comment by Pat 03.25.08 @ 3:18 pm

These nerd sportswriters who never played competetive sports or forgot what it’s like to play competetive sports have to believe that sports are some sort of equation that they can make perfect sense of. They aren’t. You play to win. I wonder how the players would’ve felt about Coach Dixon if he sat Fields, Blair and Young with the Big East Championship on the line.

What, Bob- if Ramon had 5 more minutes on the bench during the Louisville game, would he have been 2-4 from 3 against MSU? What if he only played 20 minutes against Louisville- the kid might have gone 4 for 4! Smizik is an idiot.

Comment by Dan35 03.25.08 @ 3:33 pm

Forget, for a second, that Smizik is making the foolish argument that winning the BET was a bad thing. His point is, were we too tired/worn down?
We played seven games in 14 days at the end of a brutal BE schedule with a short seven-man rotation. The final two games were played at elevation, which the players readily admitted was a factor after the ORU game.
I think it’s obvious that we just didn’t have the horses. We may have won the battle (BET), but we lost the war (NCAA). Expectations and reality aside, those are the facts.
I’m not defending Smizik, because I think the way he conveys his argument is silly. But I won’t discount the premise that we get worn down by the regular season and BET.
The fact remains that we’ve never played our best basketball in the NCAA tournament. It has always been a disappointing effort that has led to our elimination.
Of course, 339 other teams face the same disappointment each year. However, if Pitt talks openly about winning titles, as Dixon has intimated, then something has to give.
On the other hand, we could accept the possibility that chance plays a much greater role in deciding the outcome of these games that we’d like to admit 😉

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.25.08 @ 3:51 pm

I read Smizik’s column, and there are some interesting follow-ups on this blog, but given the premise, how do you explain the remaining three Big East teams in the NCAA tournament? All of them were one and done in the BET. Louisville is a #3, but Villanova is a 12-seed. What do they have over what Pitt had? Why can’t we play well at the big dance?

Comment by Colt Convert 03.25.08 @ 3:56 pm

WVU wasn’t one and done- they lost in their third game.

Comment by Dan35 03.25.08 @ 5:06 pm

Good questions Colt.
Louisville used 13 players in its win over Oklahoma and 12 in its win over Boise State. Both admittedly blowouts — but I’m not sure Pitt even has that many players on its roster.
Villanova used 10 in its win over Clemson and 12 against Siena. But is basically using an eight-man rotation.
WVU played eight against Arizona and 11 against Duke. The Mountaineers are essentially running a nine-player rotation.
Michigan State used 10 players in their win over us. They had played only four other games during the previous 14 days compared to our six.
Pitt got everybody in against ORU and only played seven against MSU. They ran only seven for the final two weeks of the season – turning to Brown and Biggs off the bench with Wannamaker and McGhee only getting rare calls.
These other teams, like Pitt, probably shortened their bench in the tournament. What they didn’t have to deal with, was playing with a short bench for three consecutive months. I think that probably has more to do with it than four games in four days at the BET.

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.25.08 @ 5:13 pm

I know that everyone likes to define their season by the NCAA torney but isn’t it a little crazy to define the success of your season by how you do in a single elimination tournament. Aside from the national champ, the NIT winner and any Ivy league school who wins it’s last game, the season is going to end in failure for every team. Overall wins is probably a better measure of a team’s success but that aside, as fans we should just enjoy the best stretch of basketball when it comes and for us this year it was the BET.

Lets just put aside the fact that if we lost before the finals we probably wouldn’t have been in a better position to make the sweet 16 with a lower seed. Did anyone else get goosebumps watching Ronald and Keith as seniors cut the nets dowin in their hometown? That was special and lets not loose sight of that because of one bad shooting night in Denver

Comment by Paul 03.25.08 @ 6:02 pm

Let’s not forget that the Post Gazette isn’t allowed to criticize the Steelers or Penn State, and usually not the Penguins, especially when Lemieux was there. That leaves little else. Smizik takes turns either ripping the Pirates, the local radio shows that won’t put him on the air, Catholic high schools, or Pitt sports.

That aside, the column is obviously retarded. Worse than that, I’m afraid I have to disagree with Chas that Smizik is consistent. I’m old enough to remember when he and all his breathren ripped Pitt to shreads for having a decent season but not doing well in the BET. At that time, our futility at MSG was a running joke in the local media. It was used as withering criticism against Evans and Willard. We could win 20 games and share the Big East title, but if we went 1 or 2 and done at MSG, we were jokes. Nobody, especially Smizik, EVER praised those guys for wisely keeping their starters in reserve for the NIT or NCAA.

Comment by geeman2001 03.25.08 @ 7:27 pm

Smizik just can’t help himself. He can’t give Dixon credit for taking Pitt to the NCAAs and winning the Big East. He and Cook love to be negative. That’s why he’s writing for the PG and not coaching some sport. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that Pitt looked tired Saturday night. What should JD have done, tank the Big East tourney to shoot for an 8 seed? Bull Shitting is easier than coaching.

Comment by The Hagen 03.25.08 @ 10:28 pm

Florida won the tourney 2 years in a row playing no more than 7 main guys, after winning their conference tourney.

We lost in the first round of the BET tourney of 05: how’d that turn out.

If he wants to bitch that we’ve never had a consistent SG, be my guess. The rest is garbage, and the editor that allowed it to come out is garbage.

Comment by Stuart 03.25.08 @ 11:39 pm

Those Florida teams had three players chosen in the top nine picks of the 2007 draft and five players selected overall. That is a ridiculous amount of talent — which Pitt does not have.

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.25.08 @ 11:47 pm

Dixon should play his best players. He played the best 7 guys. It’s not like the difference between the 7th guy and the 8th guy was small. It was a very large drop-off. The Big East Tournament is not an effing exhibition tournament. The games count on your record and they affect seeding. Smizik doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about.

Comment by Omar 03.26.08 @ 9:21 am

Why are you anti-poop Chucky-boy?

Comment by JoePa's Poop 03.26.08 @ 12:29 pm

Dave in orlando–IMO, you can toss out Pitt as a #4 losing to #5 and as #2 losing to #3 from your thesis. The seeding difference there is essentially meaningless, especially when you consider how the committee may slip a team up or down a seed or two in order to distribute teams to balance the brackets. The point of losing to a much higher seed in the other two cases for Pitt does lend support for your argument, however. Nevertheless, upsets and near upsets in the form of losses to much lower seeds happen to everyone in the NCAAs including programs like UNC, Duke, and Kansas so even citing these other two Pitt losses, without additional context for comparison, may not be a very strong argument.

Comment by pitt1972 03.27.08 @ 8:56 am

After I sent this email to some friends, I realized that others may also enjoy reading it…


Explain to me again why we are supposed to be so excited about and happy
for and proud of WVU after they choked again last night in the Sweet 16
…but no matter what Pitt does they are always a disappointment to Smizik
and Cook…

I can’t wait to read Smizik’s article ripping on Huggins for (1.) NOT
having his team ready for last night’s game (pathetically falling behind
28-10) and then (2.) not having anything left in the tank to hang onto the lead
and win in both regulation and OT…(3.) fatigue and Huggin’s negativity
obviously played a role in Alexander’s missed FT… (4.) after Wellington
left Ramon at the Pete to give up the winning 3ptr how could Huggins play
him in a similar situation last night where he again left his man to give
up the clinching 3ptr…(5.) Why couldn’t Huggins take advantage of a
Musketeer team that had two starters fouled out and on the bench? …
Bad coaching, bad game management, bad use of personnel…More evidence
that being a Great Recruiter does not make you a great coach…with a dozen
NBA players at Cincy-Huggins only reached the Final Four once…and his
teams are always just an NCAA investigation away from probation…can’t he
just leave for Michigan now?…

Of course I’m just being a jerk and an article like that will never be
written…because this is Pittsburgh and we only tear down the local teams
(except for the Penguins) … teams away from Pgh are always vastly
superior … just ask the duds at the P-G…

Comment by jaygeekray 03.28.08 @ 10:36 am

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