February 20, 2010

A noon game tomorrow almost assures that any pregame stories won’t make it into the blog. So this and a very special cultural exchange coming later today are the pre-game posts.

Minor bitching note to the Big East for Pitt’s schedule. Villanova and ND each got a week off to prepare for Pitt, while the Panthers are getting no where near that kind of rest and prep time. Thanks.

Solid story from earlier in the week from Louisiana on Chase Adams’ journey to Pitt.

Defensive consistency, low assist-to-turnover ratio and near double-digit assists became the norm for the Baltimore native. He even came into his own as a scoring junior for coach Greg Gary. Adams was set for a solid senior campaign, which would have seen him teaming with fellow senior Jerrald Bonham to lead a young bunch of Gents.

But instead of playing 35 to 40 minutes against the IUPUIs and IPFWs of the world on a team that has no chance at the postseason, Adams is playing nominal minutes for the Pittsburgh Panthers (19-6, 8-4), who went deep into the NCAA Tournament last season and appear headed to there again. Adams is averaging 2.0 points per game at Pitt after averaging 14.6 points per game at Centenary.

“My situation is very unique. The reason why they wanted me was for experience,” Adams said.

“During the early part of the year, they were short-handed because Jermaine Dixon (Pitt’s only returning starter) was injured,” Adams said. “Now he’s back and that’s cut back my minutes. They’re also preparing the next point guard for the upcoming years, so that’s limited my minutes.”

The limited court time doesn’t seem to have changed the demeanor of Adams, who was noted for dancing on the sidelines of Ladies games in the Gold Dome.

“We’re winning and I’m not complaining because at the end of the day I like to win,” Adams said. “I didn’t win a lot at Centenary, but it was still a good experience.”

Like Mike Cook who transferred to Pitt t0 be a cog from being the man on a bad East Carolina team, Adams has willingly taken the role he’s been given because winning is still the better reward.

On the heels of my post after the Marquette game about how great a time this is for Pitt basketball is this from Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News.

You don’t have to be old to remember when Pitt was a coaching graveyard. Tim Grgurich, Roy Chipman, Paul Evans and Ralph Willard — all talented coaches — departed under less than ideal circumstances.

Now, Pitt has perhaps the most admirable program in Division I — and one of the most powerful in the rugged Big East.

Pitt’s impressive road victory at Marquette gave the Panthers 20 wins for the ninth consecutive season. One league victory in their final five games will give them double-figure Big East wins in each of those years. No league member can match that streak.

They’ve done it mostly with players who stayed in the program four years and bought into the culture of selflessness established by coach Jamie Dixon and his predecessor, Ben Howland.

This might rival Gonzaga’s rise to national-power status as the most dramatic transformation for any program in the past 10 years.

Heady times.

While complimenting the job by Coach Dixon this bit gets just plain insulting.

Speaking of which, Pitt’s bigs are no more athletic or skilled than, say Penn State’s. Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee remind you of 14-year-old boys on a middle-school prom dance floor. They flail around devoid of grace. They just play with a lot of thump-thump in the chest. Each altered shots throughout this pivotal run.

What Pittsburgh is doing this year considering what it lost might be the best coaching job in the nation. You lose four guys good enough to attend NBA camps. And still the team is in position for a double-bye in the Big East tournament in a year that’s as tough in the conference as any in memory.

No. Pitt isn’t winning the Big East. Stop being silly. Focus on the game tomorrow.

Yet another interesting matchup: The Big East Game of the Year will be played next weekend when Villanova and Syracuse — both of which currently have a two-game lead on everybody in the conference standings — meet at the Carrier Dome. But there’s no guarantee Jay Wright’s Wildcats will still be tied with the Orange in the loss column by then, because No. 3 Villanova is at No. 19 Pittsburgh Sunday, and the Panthers are 14-1 at the Peterson Events Center with a recent win over No. 9 West Virginia (although, in fairness, it did take them three overtimes).

Jermaine Dixon still blames himself for the Elite Eight loss.

While there was plenty of blame to go around — and even without Reynolds’ heroics, overtime was imminent — Dixon shouldered the blame.

His job? Don’t let Reynolds get behind you.

But with ‘Nova on the verge of a five-second violation, Dixon broke to deny Reynolds. Reggie Redding beat the clock with an in-bounds lob pass to Dante Cunningham, who flipped the ball to a full-sprinting Reynolds.

Like a cornerback who gambled on an interception, Dixon was beaten.

Five seconds later, so was Pitt.

“It was my fault,” Dixon said. “Scottie Reynolds just broke on me. I was in front of him, and he broke on me and got a catch, and he made the layup.”

Speaking of ‘Nova, coming off a loss is the requisite piece on senior leadership — because losing their 3d game of the season is a crisis at this point.

‘Nova plays a lot of guys. To Jay Wright’s credit, he’s really done an amazing job of balancing this.

His third-ranked Wildcats are 22-3, heading into Sunday’s game at No. 19 Pittsburgh. They have five former McDonald’s All-Americas. All 11 scholarship players are averaging at least 10.5 minutes a game. Leading scorer Scottie Reynolds (18.9 ppg) is at 29.6, which is about 3 less than last season when he helped get them to a Final Four. And that has made him an even better player. How many top-whatever teams give that many guys so much time, and their top gun so little?

Last season Wright used at most an eight-man rotation, because that’s all he had.

Nine different guys have started for these Wildcats. A nonstarter has scored 10 or more 17 times. Wright has four true freshmen, one redshirt frosh and a sophomore (Taylor King) who was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Duke for, among the reasons, lack of playing time.

Teams like Texas never figured it out despite all the talent.

Will Pitt win tomorrow? Depends on who you ask.

Will it last? The winning streak is likely to end Sunday with an angry Villanova team coming to the Petersen Center, but after that the Panthers will definitely be in play for a top-four finish and the resulting double-bye in the Big East tournament. That would be huge for Pitt, which can’t afford to hit the snooze button in New York like it did a year ago if it’s to get a protected seed in the Big Dance.

Unfortunately, Seth Davis — who predicted losses in the last week plus for Pitt against WVU and Marquette — is going with Pitt.

So, did UConn expose Villanova on Monday night? Well, sort of. It’s hard to detect a pattern when a team has only lost three games, but it’s worth noting that in all three losses, the Wildcats were beaten by a hot-shooting guard: Temple’s Juan Fernandez (33 points), Georgetown’s Austin Freeman (25) and UConn’s Kemba Walker (29). Pittsburgh has a guard who can do the same in Ashton Gibbs, who tied his season-high with 24 points in the triple-OT win over West Virginia last Friday. That, combined with the home-court advantage, should be just enough to put the Panthers over the top in this one. I know Villanova doesn’t want to lose two in a row, but that’s not going to give them that much motivation. The tournament is still a few weeks away, and the Cats will have to slog their way through.

Yeah. One of the other issue has to do with their depth. They play aggressive defense — and foul a lot. Kemba Walker scored 14 of his 29 at the charity stripe.

The Wildcats are a team with a spectacular offense and a so-so defense. Within that defense, every area of their performance has actually been better than average during conference play. Field goal defense on both sides of the arc, defensive rebounding, forced turnovers–you name it, Villanova has been above-average. Except for the fouls.

It’s true that the ‘Cats get to the line quite often themselves–and if they’d just stop hacking so much on defense they’d see much more bang for their buck from all those fouls they draw on offense. I can’t think of another improvement that a nationally-ranked team can make that would be a) so easy to implement, and b) so effective. If ‘Nova gets the memo and simply stops putting opponents on the line, look out.

It’s a concern for Villanova. Especially when Antonio Pena gets in trouble. The one area that has remained a weakness for the Wildcats has been depth inside.

Fouls have burned the third-ranked Wildcats in their two February losses. The Cats committed 30 fouls against the Huskies, who shot 44 free throws and outscored Villanova, 35-16, at the line. In a 103-90 defeat on Feb. 6 at Georgetown, the numbers were 38 Villanova fouls resulting in 50 free throws by the Hoyas and a 39-17 advantage in makes.

Pitt will have to take advantage of those kind of opportunities. Villanova is too good and too explosive for Pitt to leave any points on the table.

Villanova has 5 McDonald all americans on their roster.

Comment by Alcofan 02.20.10 @ 4:04 pm

Pitt has been very good at free throw shooting and not so good at times … especially lately.

I’m not so sure that a week off is better than playing with two days rest .. especially playing at the Pete.

BTW, this is junior day for football recruiting and there is supposed to be approx 80 recruits in attendance … including some of the bigest recruits in the east (according to Chris Peak at PantherLair.)

Comment by wbb 02.20.10 @ 4:28 pm

North Carolina has about 7 McDonald All Americans on their roster. They’ve got their fingers crossed for an NIT appearance this year.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 02.20.10 @ 5:09 pm

It’s not the size of your Big Mac…

Comment by Chas 02.20.10 @ 6:28 pm

I’m not saying that this or any other game has been circled since the schedule came out…but if any game “means” something extra, it’s this one. Jermaine & Brad should be ‘psyched’ to play well!

Comment by stanley schweiger 02.21.10 @ 7:42 am

IMHO We match up better with Nova this year. Better perimeter defense and no Dante Cunningham who killed us in both games. If we play D like Friday, we win.

Hail to PITT!

Comment by TampaT 02.21.10 @ 12:00 pm

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