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January 4, 2010

I have been giving serious thought to bagging a liveblog or even open thread after Pitt’s win over Syracuse when I never had a chance to post ahead of it. Yeah, but that is a coincidence (or at least that is what I am telling myself).

Cinci is looking to do something it has never done in the Big East, start out 3-0 in conference play.

A win over the Panthers would leave Cincinnati 3-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2004-2005 season, when coach Bob Huggins’ last Bearcats team opened its Conference USA schedule with wins over DePaul at home and St. Louis and East Carolina on the road before losing at home to Louisville.

The Bearcats followed a last-minute win over UConn with a gritty (read: struggling) win over Rutgers.

For Pitt, this would be a tough road game at any point in the season. To have it happen 2 days after a big road win makes it harder as the young team has to avoid a classic letdown.

Cincinnati has perhaps its best team since the Bearcats joined the Big East five seasons ago. Coach Mick Cronin’s team is led by senior guard Deonta Vaughn and 6-5 wing Lance Stephenson, a New York City phenom who was named the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year.

Pollsters have taken notice. The Bearcats were ranked as high as No. 19 in the AP poll in early December.

“We’ve got to be focused on Cincinnati,” Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said.

Stephenson has started every game and has made an immediate impact as his team’s leading scorer. He is averaging 13 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a team-high 29.4 minutes per game.

Vaughn has struggled with his shot for a good portion of the season but in the last two games has put up 17 points in each. Really, there is no doubt that this is the best team in the Mick Cronin era. It is also the first team to have some depth since the Huggy-Bear demolition. Yancy Gates is strong inside. Rashad Bishop is still there. Cashmere Wright is healthy. Ibrahima Thomas is eligible. Plus players like Dion Dixon (cripes 3 Dixons in one game), Larry Davis and Steve Toyloy.

On top of playing in Cinci, Pitt officially gets a target (beyond the one they have earned in the Big East for being one of the dominant teams of the aughts) for being ranked #23 in the AP poll.

The good news is that while Pitt is still offensively challenged, they have an identity. They are back to stifling defense. And they have a coach that won’t let them use their inexperience as an excuse (even if it is given its own chart for the media to use in the game notes, pg 5, PDF).

“The freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore,” Dixon said Saturday after Pitt upset No. 5 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. “I declared them sophomores over the break. I took that away from them. I advanced them a year.”

It was another subtle reminder that his young players have to perform beyond their years if the Panthers are going to compete well in Big East Conference play. And two games into the conference schedule some of the young players are heeding their coach’s advice and growing up in a hurry.

More love and attention for Ashton Gibbs who takes home Big East Player of the Week Honors, along with ESPN.com’s Weekly Watch’s POY.

Ashton Gibbs should thank UConn’s Kemba Walker for staying home instead of playing for the United States on the Under 19 national team that won gold for the first time since 1991.

Gibbs was tabbed as the starter once Walker decided against returning to the squad for a second summer. Gibbs was the lead playmaker for U-19 (and Pitt) coach Jamie Dixon, and it is paying huge dividends for the Panthers this season.

And this bit about Pitt and Coach Dixon.

…Pitt is 2-0, and if the Panthers win eight more Big East games, assuming a few are against the upper echelon, Pitt is once again an NCAA tournament team. Never doubt coach Jamie Dixon and pick him ninth again, Big East coaches. Never.

Anyways, LiveBlog is around 7pm. The game is on ESPN. I need Pitt to win this game so I can reclaim some bragging rights from my wife.

You can break out the liveblog when you Click Here.

Otherwise it will be below.





against the zone, Pitt was able to get some open looks by good team passing and, more importantly, knocking down a good percentage of threes

Going back to an ongoing discussion on this site during last season, it was mentioned that defense and rebounding is a constant based much on effort … while shooting (especially outside shooting) is not. Against the man-to-man, we may not be able to knock down the shots that we did on Saturday … and it probably a big reason why we will likely experience our share of highs and lows.

But as long as the effort is there, we should be competitive

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 3:41 pm

I will be there, proudly cheering them on in my Oakland Zoo shirt. Let’s go Pitt!

Comment by J 01.04.10 @ 4:39 pm

go pitt….keep it going…do the small things and win this game.

Comment by DRGAGS 01.04.10 @ 5:48 pm

sign Dixon for life. now.

Comment by OntarioLett'sGoPitt 01.04.10 @ 9:25 pm

Wooo!!! Another nice win for the young Panthers.

Comment by Jimbo Covert's my Dad 01.04.10 @ 9:27 pm

I hope that Dixon has somebody following Brown to class and then sitting down with him to make sure he is keepingh his grades up.

Comment by JIM 01.04.10 @ 9:32 pm

another good win and an Ontario Lett reference — does it get any better?

actually it does — just heard on the radio that Jaron Brown was behind the bench and in the locker room (probably came up from Lexington)

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 9:32 pm

Terrific Win…this team is playing with maturity, and they are playing as a team…actually, I like what Jay Bilas said, “PITT doesn’t have team, they have a program”….PITT is IT!

Hail to PITT!
-al-

Comment by Oregon_Panther 01.04.10 @ 9:34 pm

I think Jamie Dixon is praying that Dante talyor can be atleast have the player Blair was so he can sit mcGhee’s sorry ass on the bench…Not gonna lie I didnt see this team winning 20 games but so far it seems like Im wrong…Gibbs and Brown are playing out of there minds…Wannamaker is still too damn inconsistent…Woodall needs more mins too…

Comment by Jeremey 01.04.10 @ 9:37 pm

we need minutes from McGhee .. Taylor is a work in progress and no doubt will be a very good player next year. I do like the fact that Taylor has been in crunch time these past 2 games .. but this team will as be as dominant underneath as we have been used to this decade. Note that Yancy Gates had 14 rebounds tonite to go along with his 14 pts .. and I don’t believe he started

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 9:44 pm

that was a really solid win. both the cuse and the bearcats looked terrible against Pitt and I can only attribute that to some solid defense and not many easy buckets.

they just took very few bad shots the whole game. wanamaker’s airball finger roll and Gibbs’ last baseline drive are the only ones that pop to mind, and that’s great for a whole game. give the coaching staff credit for that offensive discipline.

the obvious difference I notice is with Gibbs. he was playing one on one a lot in the early games and he’s just not a generate-your-own-shot type of player. he’s now letting the game come to him and of course he’s got more support now that Dixon/Brown are back.

2-0 with two wins on the road.

Comment by hugh green 01.04.10 @ 9:44 pm

Guard play was key tonight. Defense on the wings in the second half, clutch free throws, timely threes… nice win… GB saw the light tonight. His demanded the ball and delivered.

I didn’t see Jaron Brown behind the bench, but if so, gotta love it!

Where’s the Doomsday Express? 3 down and 7 to go. Like I said, no reason why this team cannot go .500 in BE ball with their full compliment of players. As Andy Katz said…don’t ever doubt a Jamie Dixon Coach team…ever…

Comment by Pauly P 01.04.10 @ 9:46 pm

Jamie obviously saw something on film and had Pitt trying to fast break, up tempo and dribble drive all night. Bearcats looked exhausted in the final minutes. Far from a perfect game for Pitt but improvement every single game. A pleasure to watch this team. Dare we think UConn upset?

Comment by Dan 72 01.04.10 @ 10:08 pm

in the two losses this year, we were pretty even with Texas and Indiana until crunch time, but then couldn’t answer when they both went on a run. This is where I believe Dixon and Brown has really helped. In both games, there were a number of time when the Cuse and Cincy made pretty good plays to tie or close the game, but Pitt never waivered .. they just kept grinding and running their offense, and got the good shot and made them.

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 10:12 pm

Not much to add – I thought the defense was not quite as sharp tonight as on Saturday, but got better as the game went along. McGhee gave the team some very good minutes. Taylor got into foul trouble early, but played well down the stretch. Cincinnati has some good big guys and these guys, along with Richardson, did a nice job.

Stephenson is a beast, but over the course of the game Pitt’s defense really frustrated him. He threw up some really bad shots down the stretch.

It’s strange to have a 9 day layoff at this point, but I can’t wait to see what the coaches come up with for UConn…One thing is becoming clear – this team is not going to be a pushover for anyone.

Comment by Pantherman13 01.04.10 @ 10:20 pm

Stevenson is an unbelievable talent but i thought he was sulking towards the end of the game. Dixon and Brown rally bothered him and he folded…which was awesome

Comment by Peteunit 01.04.10 @ 10:24 pm

I actually hate to see this layoff … it’s like a bye in football when you’re playing well. I can see being idle until the weekend .. but 9 days? But maybe the practice time will be a plus

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 10:27 pm

Did anyone notice how awesome that gibbs-gil brown pick and roll on the sideline worked? It was terrific all night, especially since Gil can drive, and showed an ability to knock down the open look. I would love to see more of that.

Comment by snarasi 01.04.10 @ 10:42 pm

54-54 and Gil brings the house down with the dunk and one. That’s the athleticism that was missing early in the year.

Comment by Mike 01.04.10 @ 10:56 pm

wanamaker is awful

Comment by hot sauce 01.04.10 @ 11:23 pm

Wannamker does a few things that doesn’t show on the stat sheet … and without him, we have at least 2 more losses. He and Gibbs practically willed this team to win in the 1st 2 months — remember a few games when those two accounted for about 90% of the scoring?

He certainly has his faults but is playing much more under control, and I assure you will be key in a more than a few upcoming games

Comment by wbb 01.04.10 @ 11:40 pm

I just got done watching the game(DVR is a wonderful thing). It wasn’t pretty but this team has come a long way from that Indiana loss. If they can get a little more help offensively they can beat anyone in the conference. But, this is a team that could lose to Seton Hall or St. Johns too. Always and forever an enigma.

I can live with a UConn loss. I would have been fine going 1-2 in our first three Big East games. Being 3-0 in the conference right now is a huge surprise. Jamie Dixon should get another raise and another extension. Heck, rename The Pete to The Jamie.

Comment by Panthoor 01.04.10 @ 11:41 pm

Hats off to Dixon for an amazing coaching job, but why Wanamaker? He plays totally out of control, and he chokes everytime a foul shot means something. Also, he is a turnover machine.

Comment by ltl 01.05.10 @ 12:15 am

just so proud of this team right now. Fully expected a 1-4 record after the first 5 games–to be3-0 in the BE,WITH 2 ROAD WINS, is ASTOUNDING!! NEVER count out pitt and JaMIE dIXON.
HAIL TO PITT!!!

Comment by pitt60 01.05.10 @ 12:58 am

didn’t get to see the game but it sounds like a real pitt game: somewhat frustrating over the course but in the end a solid W. i’m psyched that we’re 3-0 in the conference and have won the last two games. it kinda feels like we’re playin with house money at this point. no one expected us to beat both syracuse and cincy, especially with cincy acting as a trap game. i don’t expect us to beat uconn, but i can’t count it out. i’ve told my friends (students, like me) that this team will win games it shouldn’t and lose games it shouldn’t, so dropping one to the johnnies or the hall would not be a complete surprise. but this team deserves a lot of credit so far, and if they can manage six or seven more conference wins they can put themselves in the tourney for the eight straight year.

on a side not it speaks volumes about this program that the syracuse game – on the road as an unranked, unnoticed team against an undefeated, top-5 team – was the first time in almost six years pitt was a double-digit dog. jamie dixon may just be the best coach in america.

Comment by Jon 01.05.10 @ 1:18 am

Dixon may be outperforming even the wildest expectations of himself.

HTscriptP

Comment by Cool Hand Nuke 01.05.10 @ 1:59 am

Sleepy will soon be a starter.

Comment by steve 01.05.10 @ 8:18 am

I’ve been impressed with Brown since his return. Despite the lost time, he’s providing toughness and leadership. He wants to take shots that count and his defense is very solid. He’s also been active on the glass despite being undersized at PF — I don’t know what his rebound stats were, but he was grinding on the glass at both ends. I was skeptical given his injury history and academic issues, but I’m happy to see he’s proving me wrong.

Comment by Ghost of Horn Man 01.05.10 @ 10:53 am

Gilbert Brown’s academic troubles had nothing to do with his grades or going to class. He got caught copying a paper for a final. All those of us who never did that please stand up!

Comment by Dan 72 01.05.10 @ 11:20 am

Keep in mind, GB is a redshirt junior. He has all of this year and next to cement his Pitt legacy and showcase skillsets for the next level.

Gilbert Brown can write his legacy in the next two years, IMHO. I have always thought that his body and athleticism would be a matchup nightmare for most teams and would translate at the next level. Injuries, upperclassmen, willingness to play D at JD’s level, and academics have been the roadblock in realizing it.

If he can have that moment where he embraces JD’s expectations, and channels his energy in a positive direction, he really can finish up with a nice career at Pitt.

I seem to remember a certain Pitt Panther that had similar types of roadblocks who is now throwing the hammer down for the Grizzlies….

Comment by Pauly P 01.05.10 @ 11:23 am

If the hoop polls were like the FB Pools – Syr and UCONN losing to unranked teams (Cincy and Pitt) would have them dropping significantly versus 2 slots. Let’s see what UNC’s loss to CofC does to their ranking.

Comment by markp 01.05.10 @ 11:34 am

I look for Gil to really turn it on now. Dixon said that they ran some sets for him, and that shows he has confidence in Gil. The kid has the skills they just need him to be aggressive, which running sets for him allows.
I really don’t think the game was frustrating or not pretty. In fact I thought Pitt executed very well and shot very well on the offensive end. Sure the D was suspect at times, but Cinci was hitting tough shots. Pullup J’s and turnaround jumpers by their bigs carried them in the first half. These will not and did not continue the whole game and Pitt was able to come away with the V.

Also can we talk about how big of a difference someone like Gibbs is. He can stretch the D so far with his 3pt. shot that it opens up so much for him and his teammates. I think many of us unfairly characterized him as solely a shooter. He is showing us that he has some real craftiness to his game. Whether it be curling off screens and going the whole way to the rack, pump faking and drawing fouls, drawing a second defender and dishing to wide open teammates, this kid can flat out play basketball. He is absolutely tremendous at working without the ball.

Comment by PITTapotamus 01.05.10 @ 11:45 am

@Dan 72

Sorry — I never plagarized for a class at any level. If that was indeed the case, it’s disappointing that Brown made such a bad decision, but I’m actually heartened to see that Pitt treated it as the serious academic offense it was and didn’t bend its academic code for a key player. Many schools have either a zero tolerance policy or an automatic F for the course plus academic probation for a 1st offense (an F could have put him under a minimum GPA requirement for eligibility). There are many software tools available to professors/TAs to detect plagarized work. It’s a lapse by Jamie Dixon to let a key player get in deep enough for this to happen without some tutoring/support, but ultimately Brown is responsible for maintaining academic eligibility and following the universtity’s academic code.

I hope it was just a lapse in judgement and he realizes his potential on the court AND graduates.

Comment by Ghost of Horn Man 01.05.10 @ 12:21 pm

FWIW, our favorite college 90 minutes to the south which granted a bogus MBA to the governor’s daughter who is a VP of a major corp, made two players ineligible for their bowl game — one of them was a key defensive player.

BTW, have you ever noticed on the TV commercial where the AT&T US coverage map is shown in red, that the great state of Hoopies is clear?

Comment by wbb 01.05.10 @ 2:48 pm

Woooooo!

Couple of my friends, one a big UNC fan, the other a big Duke fan, can’t believe what Pitt is doing this year.

Comment by dugdog 01.06.10 @ 12:05 am

Ghost of Horn Man–Not to excuse such an action, assuming that is what happened with Brown as @dan72 claims (I like you never plagarized anything and don’t think it is right to do so); but it is easy to imagine someone with a sports time commitment (counting mandatory and voluntary practice time, games and travel to away games) that may amount to the equivalent of a full time job on top of being a full time student might be tempted to submit plagarized work under the pressure of time constraints. Like you, I am pleased, if @dan is correct, that Pitt had the integrity to academically suspend for a semester.

Comment by pitt1972 01.06.10 @ 9:25 am

@pitt1972

I agree that Div I athletes have tremendous demands on their time, but they also get support way beyond what a typical student receives. They often take the bulk of their courseload outside of their main sports season (summer/fall in Brown’s case) and take minimal credits during the season.

I know this is a young team, but all of Brown’s teammates maintained eligibility, and it’s been years since I can remember a Pitt basketball player suspended for academic reasons.

I’m glad to see Brown back in the fold and hope it’s behind him.

Comment by Ghost of Horn Man 01.06.10 @ 1:04 pm

Ghost of Horn Man–I know you are absolutely correct about how they arrange their schedules and I am confidant they get all the tutoring they want. Nevertheless, I believe they must take a minimum of 12 credits (typically 4-classes) each semester. However, during the basketball season that can be a pretty heavy load, relatively speaking, especially with a long post-season run, since a ton of classes are going to be missed due to travel. In my mind, basketball players probably ought to attempt to avoid classes with major research paper requirements (particularly ones where it isn’t feasible to start and finish the paper early in the semester) during the January-April semester so as to avoid “temptation.” I know I would try to not take such courses in-season if I was in their situation. Football players have a similar problem in the fall.

Comment by pitt1972 01.06.10 @ 2:41 pm

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