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February 8, 2009

Everyone does realize that Matt Cavanaugh still hasn’t departed for the Jets as QB coach, right? Sorry, have to remind myself as well, there is still no official or even unofficial word. It has been a whispered immenint departure since last week and still no comments.

That means it is still speculation and some dreaming.

Q: Here is the perfect opportunity for Dave Wannstedt to go out and get a REAL “college coordinator,” someone with vision and an aerial attack. I’m thinking colleges like Boise State, TCU, Tulsa, Houston. Thoughts?

Zeise: This is a question I’ll answer very simply with another question — in four years of observing Wannstedt, have we seen anything — anything at all — which would make you believe that there is any chance at all of a spread, read-option, option, five-wide guy being hired by him? He even said it the other day: The Panthers will run a pro-style offense, period. So while fans are getting all giddy because their favorite whipping boy Cavanaugh is leaving, I’m thinking I am not going to go too far out on a limb when I say whoever gets hired will be very similar in philosophy to Cavanaugh. Now, the play-calling might change a little, but I just don’t see it changing dramatically.

I’m not expecting that. I am expecting a little creativity and just possibly using both tight ends at the same time on some plays.

As the names continue to percolate, the OC of the Chicago Bears rises.

One name that has surfaced is Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who preceded Cavanaugh as Wannstedt’s offensive coordinator with the Bears from 1993-96. Turner, like Harris, played at Pacific and was head coach at Illinois from 1997-2004 before returning to the Bears in ’05.

Turner is the brother of San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner, who coached alongside Wannstedt with the Dallas Cowboys. Turner is also the uncle of Pitt graduate assistant Scott Turner, who is Norv’s son.

It is not a prospect that has Bears fans living in fear.

This certainly only counts as rumor and speculation at this point, but Turner has to be feeling the wind blowing in his direction as the Bears OC.  If he was offered the job, maybe he’d consider it his escape hatch.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but “Bring it home, Wanny!”

Yeah, that’s not promising. But Turner’s agent is not considering an escape hatch when the money is not right.

“Ron hasn’t called or anything or talked about anything like that,” [Frank] Bauer said. “It’s untrue. There’s no way unless Pitt wants to pay him a fortune. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where that is going to go.”

Yeah, I’m filing this one in the “Wannstedt connection-speculation” file.

When you score 1/3 or more of your team’s points it is significant. In college when it happens, and the team scored 90+ it is very significant. Make it a double-double and, well, that is just a little scary. It also makes for the easy choice on story lines. Blair, Blair, Blair.

There he was, DeJuan Blair, just like his days at Schenley High School, playing handball with himself off the backboard glass.

Two times Saturday, Blair pulled down multiple offensive rebounds — off his own misses — while surrounded by DePaul players in a cruel version of keepaway.

Then, in scenes reminiscent of a City League blowout, he softly banked in a layup over his swatting, waving foes.

“I did that in high school,” Blair said, “but I didn’t think I could do it in college. That’s something cool for me, padding my stats.”

Blair, a sophomore center, finished with a career-high 32 points, and added 14 rebounds in No. 6 Pitt’s 92-69 victory over last-place DePaul at AllState Arena.

It’s been a strong week for Blair.

“If DeJuan is playing like this, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Fields said.

The book on the Panthers is that they are susceptible when Blair is in foul trouble. The flip side of that, of course, is that they are literally unbeatable when he is not. Pitt has two losses this season, and both happened when Blair spent large portions of the game on the bench because of fouls.

Playing undeterred with only one foul on his conscience yesterday, Blair was his usual dominating presence inside. He had nine offensive rebounds and raised his NCAA-leading total to 136 offensive rebounds.

“There’s an amazing statistic from this game,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “They missed 30 shots and they rebounded [more than] half of them. That’s an amazing statistic. [Blair] is an exceptional offensive rebounder. He reminds me of Moses Malone. He almost gets the ball to get it on the glass and then he goes after it again. He has an exceptional combination of long arms and big hands. He really doesn’t even jump that much.”

Let’s hope Blair keeps it going as he wants. I also hope he doesn’t try to do too much on Monday night.

DeJuan Blair said there will be some special guests in attendance when Pitt returns to the court to play West Virginia (15-7, 4-5) on Monday at Petersen Events Center.

“There are going to be Steelers in the building,” he said. “They are going to be in there. It’s going to be packed. It’s going to be a big night.”

It was a slow start for Pitt. It briefly gave DePaul hope.

”We knew DePaul would be hungry for a win,” he said. ”I’ve seen them in some close games, and they haven’t pulled them out. We got what we expected in a barn-burner to start.”

The Blue Demons had the flame flipped on high for 15 minutes, racing past the Panthers for baskets, forcing seven turnovers and giving 9,814 fans plenty to cheer.

But the fire was doused in the last 25 minutes, the Panthers regrouping with a 19-4 run to close the first half and set the tone for a second-half pounding that led to their 92-69 victory. The turn-around came not just because of Pitt’s burly senior duo of DeJuan Blair (career-best 32 points, 14 rebounds) and Sam Young (10 points, 10 rebounds). It also was sparked by senior point guard Levance Fields, who finished with a career-high 16 assists, 13 points and six steals.

”It starts and ends with Vance,” said Dixon, whose team moved to 21-2 and 8-2. ”That’s a huge amount of assists. He was out 11 months (with injuries), and we were looking at January/February for him to be near full strength. He’s always had a gift. … He knows when and how and delivers at the right spot.”

For all the talk of the importance of ”big men” in the Big East, ”guards run our league,” Dixon said. ”You need to have great point guards to win the league, and we’ve been fortunate to have many — and now with Vance.”

Pitt’s big three all had double-doubles in this game. Pitt’s size, strenght and depth were another factor that Coach Dixon cited for the second half romp.

“Wearing teams down is kind of what we do,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We have a history of depth to finish teams off.”

DePaul doesn’t go deep, and players coming off its bench are mostly freshmen.

At this point, DePaul has lost 11 straght. They have an excellent chance of running the table in the Big East with road games at Louisville, Pitt, WVU and Georgetown. They do have a couple chances with home games with Seton Hall and St. John’s. Not much else Jerry Wainwright can do, but claim to see the positives.

The Blue Demons (8-16, 0-11) built a 6-point lead late in the first half and played with a bit of a swagger – until Pittsburgh reeled off the first half’s final 13 points in just 2:20.

“Obviously, we’re at a point in time where the positives are far more important to us than the negatives,” Wainwright said. “We’ve made really significant improvement, in all honesty.”

During DePaul’s early run, it enjoyed a mix of transition baskets for Dar Tucker (18 points) and Will Walker and set plays that featured center Mac Koshwal.

Koshwal (18 points, 5 assists) would either slash for layups or feed 7-foot-2 freshman Kene Obi (career-high 9 points) for easy shots.

“We were real excited about ourselves and having fun out there,” Tucker said.

And then they were not.

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