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March 22, 2014

I can’t be home for this one. I mean I could, but I am a little too tense to be home watching the game while the kids are bouncing about the room. Better to be in a bar with strangers who will not see me again.

I don’t know who the Florida homer they gave a press pass to, but you have to believe the same guy who went around asking Pitt players if they were intimidated at the prospect of playing Florida was at it again on Friday.

A reporter asked Cam Wright if there was a “gosh, wow thing, where you go [Florida] just looks incredible and there’s no way we can compete with them.” Wright, baffled by the question, answered “Next question, please.”

Wait. What? It wasn’t a Florida homer. Dejan, Dejan, Dejan

I asked Wright if, in watching video of the Gators, he had any gosh-wow, no-way-we-compete-with- those-guys sense, and he hesitated awhile before answering beautifully.

“Um, next question?”

Man, I don’t even know anymore. Spin the column and the question anyway you like, but that was some first-class troll bait.

I was sure it was trollin’ Mike Bianchi asking these inane Florida-centric questions. But no. Bianchi is keeping his trolling focused on the Florida fanbase. Any way he can. I guess there is an odd comfort in knowing ESPN has a replacement for Skip Bayless someday, continuing to hone his skills down in Orlando.

The players know what is at stake. It’s the NCAA Tournament. If it was a lower seed, the situation would not be different. It’s win or go home. But this is a big match-up. It’s the first game of the second round. No other games to split attention at the start.

“These are the games you grow up dreaming about and working out for. You want to play in these scenarios,” Pitt fifth-year senior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “Florida is obviously a great team. Everyone wants to beat them. We want to beat them. We’re going to give them our best shot.

“It comes down to who wants it more. Florida is a great team, but I feel like we’re a great team, also. They have that No. 1 seed, so they have the accolades and we’re sort of just reaching what we have potential to be.”

“I don’t think we have any pressure right now,” [Talib] Zanna said. “We really have confidence going into this game. A lot of people are already counting us out. We’re just going to use that as motivation, to stay hungry.”

“That’s kind of in the back of our minds, if at all,” Pitt point guard James Robinson said. “This is a good opportunity for us, a time to show what we were capable of doing all season. We’re playing our best basketball right now, so what better time to put it on display?”

Sounds good to me.

And just for good measure a bit of a redux from Cam Wright.

Pitt wasted no time in tweeting a photo of Wright with his quote: “The University of Pittsburgh is never intimidated by anyone. Not in academics. Not in basketball. Not in football. Not in anything.”

“It’s trending (on Twitter), so it’s a remarkable feeling to see the love and appreciation coming from our support system within the Zoo, the staff and students,” Wright said.

“If we were scared to play against anybody, we shouldn’t be in this tournament. That’s definitely not the case. You can’t look at an opponent and be fearful or you’ve already lost.”

It’s the second time in a week Wright has become the poster boy for Pitt athletics. The business-marketing major, who will graduate this summer, was the recipient of the ACC’s Skip Prosser Award for top-scholar athlete in the basketball conference.

“I didn’t know how huge the award was,” Wright said. “My mom (Cheryl), she was astonished and extremely happy for me. To see my mother as proud as she was, that made my day, made my year.”

I’m assuming any wishes for him to transfer from last spring are long gone.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan and point guard James Robinson are familiar with each other from the FIBA USA Basketball squads the previous two years.

“They’re really intense. Both want everything to be as close to perfect as they can,” Robinson said. “I remember playing for Coach Donovan, even though we were beating a team really bad, he still wanted us to execute and play sound. That’s the same things that Coach Dixon wants.”

The difference, Robinson said, is in their sideline methods.

“Coach Dixon will yell straight onto the court or stomp his foot to get our attention. Coach Donovan whistles. That’s how he gets his players. It’s going to be a lot of fun going up against him,” said Robinson, who also was a teammate of Florida guard Michael Frazier II.

“(Donovan) expects his point guards to run the team, really, be the leaders on the court, make plays when it’s there. I think I have a pretty good feel, watching their games and playing for him the last two summers.”

Donovan was complimentary of Robinson’s play at the point, calling him a “winner” and crediting his “great IQ for the game.”

As for the actual game. Pitt is preparing to be pressed. Not in the Louisville or VCU Havoc style. But in a way to take the offense out of its comfort.

Florida wants to speed teams up but also make them work hard to get the ball across the half-court line and shorten their shot-clock time.

That’s why, as Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin explains, the Gators press can be effective even if it doesn’t generate a single turnover. “We try to let our defense create some offense for us, but if the other team does a good job of taking care of the ball, there’s not too much of that,” he said. “Our motto is to try to wear teams down with the press and eventually grind them down with our depth and just the pressure that we put on them.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan said that Pitt is such a good passing team he doesn’t expect the Gators to be able to turn them over much.

He also said the Gators use a variety of presses and defenses, so the ability to mix and match them and change them within the context of a game also makes it difficult for opponents.

“Pittsburgh is an outstanding passing team,” Donovan said. “But [pressure] is disruptive, it is something you have to deal with every single possession. I think there’s other things you can get out of the press. It’s our style of play. It’s kind of what we do.

“There are times we change and don’t trap as much. We play full-court, man-to-man and sometimes we pick up [zone]. Pressing for us is a part of it. Ideally, yeah, you’d want to turn teams over a lot but if you don’t, for us, we’re getting nine players in the game.”

This is the thing. Florida, despite the pressing is not a team that really pushes tempo. Heck, per KenPom.com they have a slower adjusted tempo than Pitt. They are trying to disrupt the opposing team’s offense. Make them burn a  lot of clock just trying to get set, or get out of a comfort zone by trying to go faster than they should.

Florida, like Pitt is not an up-and-down team. They will try to score quickly in transition, but are just as comfortable running a half-court set.

Finally, a good piece from Ron Cook on Jamie Dixon accepting and ignoring criticisms of failures in the NCAA Tournament.

I say the criticism will stop or at least slow significantly.

Dixon smiled and said otherwise.

“It’s never going to stop. No matter what you do, it’s never enough.”

Dixon gets it. He understands the elevator music.

“The more you win, the more you are expected to win,” he said. “If you make the Final 16, you should make the Final Eight. If you make the Final Eight, you should make the Final Four. Even if you win the national championship, it isn’t enough. Look at [Kentucky coach John] Calipari. He won it all. Do you think there saying in Kentucky, ‘OK, you won one. That’s enough.’ Of course, they’re not. They want more. They always want more.”

Former Connecticut Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun eloquently described that sort of thing a few years ago.

“People stop asking about your win total and start asking about St. Louis or San Antonio or wherever the Final Four is that year. As you build that monster, the monster has to be fed. That’s where Pittsburgh is at right now. It has created its own beast.”

You know what?

That’s a good thing.

That means your program is a great program.

“It is a good thing,” Dixon said. “I don’t blame anyone for wanting us to do more. We want to do more.”

12:15 on CBS. We will see if Pitt does more.





@Dan – can you give us a few examples of coaches who meet your definition of “great” or “elite” – and over what time period you measure – and then tell us how they did (or are doing) this year?

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 9:31 am

BTW – did you know that Pitt is tied for 18th all time in consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (2002-2011)? We’re tied with Cuse. Only active streaks in the list are Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and Wisconsin.

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 9:39 am

@Dan – here’s your “great” list

link to en.wikipedia.org

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 9:40 am

What I may never figure out is how a team like UVA plays ball very similar in style to us in the regular season and then plays at a whole different level last night. They are just one example but there are others. Stanford, Dayton, even Baylor and Tenessee are seemingly playing over their potential the regular season showed.

Is it that one or two elite or near-elite player/s? Is it the coach with x’s and o’s? Is it the coach in how he sets up his kids mentally? Is it the players who just need to take responsibility and achieve/over-achieve under the pressure of the bright lights?

We’ll never know, but looking at the Florida game(again on DVR), I still see early open misses as the key to the loss. Some were contested but some were open even wide open looks. Florida missed too, but then Wilbekin became the difference maker late in the game. Our difference maker was Lamar and he could not do it alone.

For those wanting Dixon gone, you guys must really be depressed and frustrated and will be for a while. If somehow Dixon is replaced, I would first laugh and then pray(not really) the new guy does well. If in the next 3 to 4 years we are stuck in this same mode, maybe I will switch to Keith, Upitt, etal’s camp. But not winning a NC or making it to the FF will not be my bar. There is a lot to love about Pitt’s basketball program that I would not trade away.

Comment by TVax 03.24.14 @ 9:59 am

Think you answered your own question. From about 6 and up, Donavan and up, those would probably be your elite coaches.

??? If you’re going with the length of time angle, then Jamie better get on his horse, this is his 11th year, and only has one.

Doesn’t look promising for the Elite 8 to happen in the next few years either.

Hey, he’s a good coach.

Comment by Dan 03.24.14 @ 12:29 pm

@Dan – I agree with the 6 and up. But none of them are coming to Pitt.

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 12:57 pm

But check this out:

Look at this list and see how many coaches have a better percentage of years in the tournament as compared to years coaching than he does.

link to dbwoerner.com

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 12:59 pm

I agree Pitt Dad. Like I said, I love the fact we’re in the tournament. out of 351 teams, only 19% get in, compared to football where 70 out of 126 go to a bowl, something like 57%.

Never once called for his firing.

I’m just thinking, he needs to do some adjusting in his mind. I’m all for getting some kids for “his” system, but going forward, I think he needs to land some next level up kids consistently to move forward.

We’re very good. Many, many teams and coaches would love to go to the tourney once, let alone 12 out of 13 years.

I just want to make the next step up.

I thought we were already there up until the last couple years. Maybe it’s just a bump in the road, I hope so. He does have some shooters coming in, in a year or two. We’ll see I guess.

Hey, I’m cheering for him, you can tell no one wants it more than him. He’s probably taking years off of his life every season. I hope he can do it.

Comment by Dan 03.24.14 @ 1:17 pm

Just saw your link. Ya, he’s right there, hopefully he’s on his way.

Great links by the way. Excellent. Have looked for something like those before and never found them. Good stuff.

Comment by Dan 03.24.14 @ 1:19 pm

@Dan – Happy to add the links. (Hail to Google?) Any Pitt fan should be pulling for JD. Having met him a few times, he’s a great guy, a credit to the school and I believe one day (soon) he will break through to the next level.

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 1:28 pm

@pitt dad

great or elite coaches have been to multiple final fours. almost making it does not count in my opinion. jd has earned the right to leave on his own terms and not fired especially by sp. however, it is my opinion this program is stuck. the goal of any sports team is to win championships not just make the playoffs. if he never gets to a final four, i guess that’s ok with some, but not for me, especially if he is an “elite coach”

Comment by goalie44 03.24.14 @ 2:35 pm

@goalie44 – here is that list

link to en.wikipedia.org

Note that it includes vacated appearances.

If multiple is more than two, the list isn’t that long.

Comment by Pitt Dad 03.24.14 @ 2:53 pm

Wasn’t calling for JD to be fired. Was just bringing to ‘light’, some of this talk that it took some of these schools, 20-30 years BEFORE they broke thru.

Comment by Emel 03.24.14 @ 3:38 pm

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