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February 26, 2009

It Was One Loss

Filed under: Basketball,Players — Chas @ 12:26 pm

Dear god, I think some of the local sportswriters have lost their mind.

The Trib’s John Grupp speaks to a sports psychologist to confirm that being #1 was an impact and effect on the team against Providence.

“It is inevitable,” Dr. Todd Kays said, “that you are going to be aware of it.”

Pitt, which has thrived in the underdog role in recent years, fell at Providence, 81-73, on Tuesday night, one day after being voted as the No. 1 team in the nation.

That means the Panthers are 23-1 this season when someone is ranked ahead of them and 2-2 when they’re the team to beat.

Kays, president of the Athletic Mind Institute in Columbus, Ohio, said the best intentions are overwhelmed by the pressures of being No. 1. There is virtually nothing an athlete can do to neutralize it.

“As much as athletes say they want to stay humble, you can’t help but get exposed to that,” Kays said. “Everyone (is telling them) they are No. 1. On campus, in the newspapers, on the Internet, on ESPN. As much as they try to get away from that, they inevitably can not. … It’s an external factor over which you have no control.”

Doomed. Doomed do you hear me. Then he lets loose with the nugget at the end that he expects Pitt will be much better Saturday night. Geez. I actually think sports psychology can be incredibly helpful and works for individuals. This is just generalities that any armchair analyst would toss out, dressed up with a Ph.d.

Speaking of cliched generalities, how about another article about how Blair needs to stay out of foul trouble.

In Pitt’s three losses this season, sophomore center DeJuan Blair averaged 11.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 24.3 minutes a game.

Compare that with Blair’s season averages of 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 26.4 minutes.

Blair fouled out in 30 minutes in Tuesday’s 81-73 upset loss at Providence, and he needed only 20 minutes to foul out in a 69-63 loss at Louisville last month. He racked up four fouls in 23 minutes in Pitt’s 67-57 loss at Villanova.

You can rationalize Pitt’s three losses ad infinitum, but even good teams are capable of playing bad games.

If Blair can stay out of foul trouble, there’s no telling how far Pitt can go in the NCAA Tournament. With Blair in the lineup, the Panthers can win it all.

Former sports journalist Dave Heeren has written several books based on his Tendex point-per-minute rating system, and he has scouted for half of the teams in the NBA. He’s the Bill James of basketball.

Heeren ranks Blair as the third-best player in the country, behind Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin and Arizona State sophomore James Harden.

“Pittsburgh has a good chance to win the NCAA Tournament,” Heeren said. “The Panthers are very similar to Oklahoma, with one great player and a lot of good complementary players. However, Blair is going to have to start playing big minutes down the stretch. If Blair averaged 32 minutes, as Griffin has been doing, he’d be averaging 20 points and 16 rebounds per game, with more than seven offensive boards.

“Do I think Blair is as good as Griffin? Griffin is the target of every defense, plays many more minutes than Blair, has a better handle and more shooting range. Even so, Blair is a heck of a rebounder, should be right up there with Griffin and Harden. It’s hard to deny Blair should be No. 3 behind these two.”

Really what that says is that it isn’t the minutes Blair plays in a game, it’s the impact while he is in there. Against Providence, he played poorly. Five turnovers, with three of them coming early in the game and creating visible frustration that took him completely out of his game.

To repeat, he played 30 minutes in the game. He had only 1 foul in the first half. That first foul came in frustration and led Dixon to yank him for a bit to try and settle him. Blair played a bad game. It wasn’t fouls, it wasn’t the officiating. It was Blair being completely unfocused. The most disturbing sight came when he went for a shot fakes by Kale out on the perimeter. Kale has attempted only three 3s this season and missed them all. Yet, Blair jumped. As a player would if it was Blair, you let them take that shot if they dare. If he makes it, so be it, but you take that chance rather than give him a passing lane or simply an easy move to the basket.

Blair, simply put, had a lousy game and let himself get frustrated by it. The cheap fouls (and yes the non-contact foul) happen (just ask Hasheem Thabeet and Jim Calhoun about that 4th foul).  Of course teams are going to try and go at Blair to draw fouls. Some of that is on Blair to be in better defensive position, and some is on his teammates to do a better job of keeping attacking guards and forwards from getting past them to go right into Blair.

The latter is very important. Just look at UConn a bit. Thabeet doesn’t get in foul trouble because he does take good positions and the UConn perimeter defenders don’t let the attackers get right past them. They funnel them and keep them from getting at a bad angle on Thabeet most of the time.

To DeJuan Blair’s credit, he seems to be acknowledging that his own play in the game was a big problem.

“I learned that if you’re selfish and don’t play defense and don’t play hard, then you’ll [lose],” sophomore center DeJuan Blair said.

The 81-73 setback was unlike the first two losses of the season at Louisville and Villanova. Pitt played well in those two games and led before foul trouble forced the Panthers to play in a different manner.

Pitt never had a lead against Providence. For the first time this season there were no easy excuses to explain away the outcome. Foul trouble had nothing to do with Pitt trailing by 18 points at halftime. The officials had nothing to do with Providence easily solving Pitt’s defense or the Panthers’ carelessness on offense that led to 18 uncharacteristic turnovers.

Riding high after ascending to No. 1 in the polls for the second time this season, the Panthers were delivered a wake-up call from the Friars. A loud and authoritative wake-up call.

“Hopefully, this is the loss we needed going into March,” Blair said.

From start to finish it was a thorough beating, and the only finger-pointing by the Panthers afterward was inward.

“We didn’t play well and they did,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “As I told our guys, the score was very indicative of that. We got beat. It was on us. We take responsibility.”

Just regroup and get ready to take some frustration out on the Pirates

Defy History

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 7:47 am

If you know your Pitt basketball, then you know that Pitt has never won more than two games in the NCAA Tournament. In modern parlance that has meant not getting past the Sweet 16. In the early-70s, Pitt couldn’t get past the Elite 8.

Well, Pitt Blather made it into the Elite Eight of the Pittsburgh Sports Blog Tournament. I’m not optimistic as Blather goes against the strongest #1 seed out there in Mondesi’s House.

I’m not claiming any relation or tie-in to how deep the Pitt basketball team will go in March, but does anyone want to really take that chance?

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