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July 25, 2012

In case you missed it, Pitt fans got to have a bit of fun on Twitter yesterday.

The Panther faithful hijacked a Twitter thread designed for fans to ask questions of Arizona State coach and former Pitt coach Todd Graham at Pac-12 media day on Tuesday afternoon, Within an hour, the #AskASU hashtag became one of the top trending stories in Pittsburgh on the social website.

Initially set up by the Arizona State social media director to take serious questions for the first-year Sun Devil coach, the #AskASU thread was quickly bombarded with hundreds of “questions” from testy Pitt fans.

Graham, who unceremoniously left Pitt for Arizona State after one year and informed his players by text of his decision, was derided for everything from his high-octane offense to his lack of loyalty.

The hashtag was the No. 2 trend in Pittsburgh on Twitter by mid-afternoon Tuesday, getting upwards of 20 new tweets every minute. There were roughly 300 “questions” in the first hour and the traffic increased rapidly after that, drawing interest from national college football writers.

Deadspin posted on the bit too. A lot of credit should go to the guys at Cardiac Hill, who really led the dog pile of fun then kept it going. Some small factual corrections/background to the story, though, is needed.

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August 30, 2010

Little Views to the West

Filed under: Conference,Money,Non-BCS,Pac 10 — Chas @ 3:35 pm

A couple stories of interest with teams not involved with Pitt and a couple that do.

Really interesting article about Boise State and being able to keep up with the money part of college football. The school has been trying to get a $100 million stadium expansion plan launched so that they can generate more money. This on the heels on $48 million on new pressboxes/skyboxes and a practice facility.

At some point, the Broncos are going to hit a ceiling when it comes to raising money for football.

The Broncos have not found their T. Boone Pickens, an oil tycoon who has donated $400 million to Oklahoma State athletics. Or their Phil Knight, the Nike founder who has showered Oregon with nearly $200 million in gifts.

Boise State does not have a law school or a medical school, two professions that tend to produce wealthy alumni. It is still a young university. The local population/fan base simply may not be big enough to support the ambitions of the program.

And then there is a question of interest. Boise State, in the midst of a 14-0 season, sold out only two games last season. This season, only Oregon State is assured of being a sellout. Do the Broncos really need 53,000 seats, especially when the inevitable 8-5 season comes around?

They have had great success. At the same time the money they keep pouring into it is scary. It reminds me of public boondoggles in Cleveland (and plenty of other cities). Once they start the money flow to a project, the excuse for never stopping — even when it is clear how much of a sinkhole it is — inevitably comes down to, “well we have already put this much into it, we need to see it through and hope for the best.”

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June 3, 2010

It was supposed to be a relatively calm day for expansion speculation. A couple conference meetings. Some speculation that the Big 12 might make an effort to publicly speak of unity.

But, mainly nothing as the Big 11 wasn’t going to do anything right now so Mizzou and Nebraska would hedge for the time.

Well, no one really believed that the Pac-10 would upset things.

Because it appears the Pac-10, which has its meetings in San Francisco starting this weekend, is prepared to make a bold move and invite Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado to join its league, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

And things went really freaky in Dallas at the Big 12 meetings.

[Iowa State President Gregory] Geoffroy declined to address specific rumors. He deferred comments about the Pac-10 report to University of Texas President William Powers. Colorado Athletics Director Mike Bohn told the Boulder Daily Camera his school and the others could receive Pac-10 invitations this weekend.

“Until something firms up it’s all speculation,” Geoffroy said.

Speculation boiled over when Big 12 Conference Commissioner Dan Beebe first delayed then canceled a scheduled news conference to discuss the league’s future. Beebe declined to comment as he walked past a large media contingent and into an elevator.

Yes, Bohn did.

Bohn said CU has not had any contact with the Pac-10 or its representatives and he was not clear on how he came to believe invitations could be forthcoming. But he said Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech could receive invitations possibly as soon as this weekend when Pac-10 officials meet in San Francisco.

“The longer that we were together in Kansas City it appeared that that rumor or speculation did have some validity to it,” Bohn said in an interview with the Camera as he left the Big 12 spring meetings here today.

And then sanity and some sense of what he had said overtook his brain.

Bohn said at this point Colorado remains a committed and proud member of the Big 12 and he believes the conference has a bright future if its members remain together.

“There is great equity in the Big 12 Conference and currently the financial model and the competitive equity we have as a league is currently serving us well,” he said. “The future television partnership opportunities bodes well for long term financial viability.”

Meanwhile Pac-10 Commish Larry Scott, stifled a laugh and had a statement released of non-denial.

“We have not developed any definitive plans,” Scott said. “We have not extended any invitations for expansion and we do not anticipate any such decisions in the near term.”

Yet everyone seems to think something is up. Even if it is merely the Pac-10 examining such scenarios.

Even if the academic fit of Oklahoma, OK St. and Texas Tech doesn’t seem to match well with the Pac-10.

This is all about money (big surprise).

The thought is the Big 16 (or whatever they decide for the name) would start its own television network that could command premium subscriber dollars from cable providers on par with the Big Ten Network and pay out upwards of $20 million to each of the 16 schools in TV revenue.

Such a merger between the six Big 12 schools and the Pac-10 would build a conference with seven of the country’s top 20 TV markets (Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento). And such a league would likely command attention from every cable system in the country and command a premium rate from every cable system west of the Mississippi.

Those projected TV revenues would double the current payouts of roughly $9 million to Big 12 and Pac-10 members. If the Big 16 reached its projections, the league would also surpass the SEC’s projected payout of $17 million per school reached in a 15-year TV deal with ABC/ESPN and CBS signed in 2008.

What is amazing is that the politics of Texas  may not come into play. It was believed that state politics would force any conference that wanted Texas to also take Texas A&M. Instead Texas A&M seems more interested in going east rather than west.

In Thursday’s editions of the Houston Chronicle, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne was asked if the SEC is an option for the Aggies should the Big 12 break up, and he said, “It might be. You know what? It might be.”

Byrne, the athletic director at Oregon from 1984-92 before going to Nebraska, has been openly critical of having student-athletes travel west, only to return home at odd hours.

Byrne has used the example of when the Aggies had their men’s and women’s basketball teams in Spokane and Seattle for the NCAA Tournament in March and couldn’t get back to College Station until 6:30 a.m. with students having to attend 8 a.m. classes.

It’s no coincidence Byrne’s example included cities in the Pac-10’s dominant time zone.

There is also reason to believe Oklahoma could be enamored with joining the SEC. But that does not appear to be an option Texas officials would be willing to consider. There is a sense among UT officials the academics in the SEC are not on par with Texas.

If A&M and Oklahoma were to splinter off and join the SEC, the Pac-10 would obviously have to revise its invite list.

Yes, they would do back-flips and delete Texas Tech and Oklahoma St. as well from the invites. The Pac-10 would only go to 14 and would still have a huge media presence and impact with the same major markets.

The one thing about all of this that throws me off was how last month it seemed that the Big 12 and Pac-10 were more in the discussions of an alliance for TV deals. Maybe jointly going to form a cable channel. Now the Pac-10 might just pluck them apart.

What astounds me at the moment is how the Big 12 has become the conference most endangered of extinction. Not the Big East.

At least for now.

April 1, 2010

The weird thing that happens when you know a program is coming hard after your coach is you start following that search closely. You almost become invested in seeing how it turns out. This happened to me last year with Arizona. It has happened this year with Oregon. I am totally fascinated by their coaching search — and failure to this point.

Basically, all that has happened to this point is they have helped coaches get raises and extensions.

Two other coaches reportedly on the short list to replace Ernie Kent have gotten raises to stay in their current positions.

Mark Turgeon of Texas A&M is set to get a $250,000 raise, according to ESPN.com, and Pitt’s Jamie Dixon signed a two-year contract extension Tuesday, locking him up through the 2017-18 season.

Meanwhile, Steve Alford of New Mexico told the Albuquerque Journal that he is willing to listen if someone calls but added that he is not looking to leave the Lobos.

Mark Few of Gonzaga, a Creswell native and Oregon grad who has close ties to former Ducks athletic director Pat Kilkenny, told the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., that he does not comment on coaching rumors.

Meanwhile, Tubby Smith might get a small bump at Minnesota and that promised new practice facility is now a priority.

It does seem curious that Baylor’s Scott Drew is not being pursued. Memphis showed interest in him last year, but that was it. This despite an astounding job rebuilding Baylor after the Bliss scandal — and in a rather deep Big 12. I suppose it has something to do with a less than perfect reputation. There have been rumors that he tends to the shady side in recruiting efforts (or at least has stepped on other Div. 1 coaches’ toes in the process). Given the number of other coaches that do that and no one seems to mind, though, I can’t believe that is the only reason.

With all the other rejections Oregon has had, they might be waiting to see about Butler’s Brad Stevens after all.

Stevens’ style is not frenetic. It’s defense-first, with a fairly deliberate offense. But all this talk about pace and having to have an entertaining style is bunk, anyway.

Just win.

Oregon wants to be about glitz and glamor. Maybe it sounds good to say the Ducks will run up and down the floor. Maybe that’s in keeping with the desired image.

But winning provides the ultimate positive branding, doesn’t it? The Bulldogs have 88 wins since Stevens was promoted to head coach, which is a record for anyone’s first three seasons.

Considering Mark Turgeon and Jamie Dixon were high on their list, yeah, claiming to want a coach that runs and “entertaining style” of basketball is definitely bunk.

Here’s something that seems to have escaped most of the Duck fans and people covering Oregon’s search. Or at the very least, seems incredibly minimized. Mike Belotti screwed Oregon.

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March 13, 2010

While Ernie Kent’s time at Oregon is almost over — just a matter of seeing if the NIT bothers — the obvious next step is getting his replacement. Unlike Arizona and USC fans and media, there seems more realism that getting a new coach won’t be a simple matter of throwing bushels of Nike green at someone.

This one might be a most pessimistic take.

In the Pac-10, I’d put it about seventh.

UCLA and Arizona are the best gigs — don’t worry, we’re getting to Arizona. USC is about to get hammered by the NCAA, but at some point, well, there’s a reason (beyond the alleged payments) O.J. Mayo thought he could raise his Q score by playing in L.A.

Washington’s a better job because of the decent recruiting ground in the Huskies’ backyard. Ditto for Stanford and Cal. Arizona State sits in a big-time pro market.

Argue if you’d like, and slide Oregon ahead of one of the above, or maybe two; it’s how I got to seventh. But if you’re looking for consensus, the gig ranks for sure ahead of only Oregon State and Washington State.

I think he is overvaluing Stanford and Cal, but he is not far off. As far as attractiveness, the Oregon job is middle-of-the-pack for the Pac-10. He makes an even better point, that even the “name-brand” basketball powers don’t have the easiest time filling the gig — using Arizona as an example. That buckets of cash alone are not enough.

Surprisingly enough, despite the Nike bucks and the sucess of the football program. Guess what? Oregon’s athletic department struggles to make ends meet. Actually posting a small loss.

Still, there are the claims of interest from Coach Dixon.

I’m told that University of Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is interested in the job, and that there’s some mutual interest coming from Camp Swoosh. Remember, this decision will be run through the Beaverton sneaker company. Dixon’s contract runs through 2012-2013 at Pitt and he’s taken the Panthers (24-7, 13-5 Big East) to an Elite 8 already so I’m not sure if he’s posturing here to get some leverage (Read: extension) or if he believes he’s done all he can do at Pitt.

And even that seems tepid in belief. With good reason. I’m impressed with some rather clear thinking from those writing about Oregon basketball.

There is no real downside to Jamie Dixon except that there’s almost no chance he’d leave Pittsburgh, that I know of, for Oregon. Really? Why would he come to Oregon? He’s set financially. He’s successful in a much tougher basketball conference. Doesn’t need the challenge of building something back up.

Add in the fact that he rejected both USC (twice) and Arizona with offers of more money and better longterm situations than Oregon. To say nothing of the fact that he had seniors leaving and Pitt was supposed to be rebuilding this year.  I can’t see anything happening with this other than maybe another extension.

I have no fear of Auburn coming calling.

The only job Coach Dixon seems to have taken an interest in, is where he was once an assistant and met his wife.

Word buzzing around M?noa is that Jamie Dixon, head coach of 16th-ranked Pittsburgh, called the University of Hawai’i to discuss the Rainbow Warriors’ head basketball coaching job.

Well, relax. He called to recommended Hawaii look into hiring St. Mary’s assistant Kyle Smith.

June 9, 2009

I had the same reaction that Omar had upon the news that Tim Floyd had submitted his resignation. Here come the Jamie Dixon to USC rumors — again.

“As of 1 p.m. today, I am resigning as head basketball coach at the University of Souithern California. I deeply appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the university, as well as the chance to know and work with some of the finest young men in college athletics. Unfortunately, I no longer feel I can offer the level of enthusiasm to my duties that is deserved by the university, my coaching staff, my players, their families, and the supporters of Southern Cal. I always promised my self and my family that if I ever felt I could no longer give my full enthusiasm to a job, that I should leave it to others who could. I intend to contact my coaching staff and my players in coming days and weeks to tell them how much each of them means to me. I wish the best to USC and to my successor.”

Realistically, those rumors will have no truth. Even if, for the sake of argument, that Coach Jamie Dixon was interested/attracted to the USC job when it appeared Floyd was leaving for Arizona in April. The situation has changed. Beyond the potential sanctions looming over USC Athletics, no coach with the reputation and talent that Coach Dixon has earned would leave for a new job in June.

Especially when you consider that Dixon will also be involved in coaching the USA U19 team next month. He just does not have the time to even consider a move.

Right now, USC is screwed. Most likely they will have to go with promoting one of the assistants as interim coach for this coming season. No coach of any quality will go near the job until the NCAA violations are resolved. Couple in the fact that it is the second week of June, and there just aren’t many candidates out there.

Right now USC basketball is a sinkhole, few coaches would touch.

June 4, 2009

Several little things to get out.

A story on incoming freshman Talib Zanna’s journey from Nigeria to the United States. Go figure, it was not an easy thing. Even coming from a well-educated family, Nigeria is a mess and his father passed away this past year.

A nasty mess brewing at the Kiski school where 2010 verbal commit Isiah Epps might prep (unlikely now).

A coach hired to take the basketball program of an Indiana County private school to national prominence sued Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming he was forced out for recruiting too many black players.

Anthony Cheatham, 31, of Edgewood claims administrators at The Kiski School told him they would not tolerate fielding an all-black lineup.

“He was told to recruit scholastic, highly talented basketball players,” said Cheatham’s attorney Sam Cordes.

Cheatham was an assistant at Robert Morris and also trains future and present NBA players including Sam Young. Messed up stuff.

I really don’t think Coach Dixon is sweating his annual NCAA Recruiting exam.

“You can’t recruit until you pass it,” Dixon said hours before the Erie Chapter of the Panthers Club’s annual sports banquet at the Kahkwa Club on Tuesday.

With college basketball coaches being able to start summer recruiting next month, passing the test now is a must for them.

“I’ve never failed the test,” said a smiling Dixon, whose team won a school-record 31 games in reaching the Elite Eight last season before losing to Villanova.

Dixon said the coaches have 90 minutes to take the test and must score 80 percent.

It’s an open book test, but the rules are lengthy and not so easy to figure out.

“Open book” being the key aspect.

To help pass the time of the offseason, one of my colleauges at FanHouse has prepared a list of the top-25 college basketball coaches.

He places Jamie Dixon at #17. I only quibble that Dixon should be about one spot higher, because he has overrated Matt Painter of Purdue. Painter is good and may merit being up there in a few years, but not yet does he rank #14.

By the time the Tim Floyd and the USC mess is finished, the Trojan job will be one of the most unattractive spots out there. Thus making the inevitable rumors that will occur after Floyd is fired regarding Dixon just silly. Really, shedding players and recruits at an epic pace. Floyd just seems clueless to his culpability.

“Kansas has two players who would have been NBA lottery picks, Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, and they are returning to school,” USC Coach Tim Floyd said late Monday night, only hours after hearing about Johnson. “Good for them.

“Our guys get an offer from Islamabad and they’re gone.”

Let’s see. Collins and Aldrich are at Kansas where they have a shot at winning the national championship in 2010. They are on a stable team with a coach that has won and put players in the NBA.

Floyd and USC recruit hoping the glamor and location will get the kids, and the main promise seems to be that they will be able to get a future paycheck for playing basketball. The team has little shot at even contending for the Pac-10 next year.

Then there is that whole NCAA investigation hanging over the program; a coach that nearly bailed for Arizona — after previously telling a recruit that he wouldn’t like it if the recruit looked at other schools after giving a soft verbal; to say nothing of that the kids that want to bail ASAP were the ones the coach recruited and presumably knew what they were looking for.

December 31, 2008

I don’t know if the Beavers themselves are going to play as if the Sun Bowl is a letdown after being one game from the Rose Bowl. I do know it is a media obsession for the local coverage.

The 24th-ranked Beavers may in fact be excited to play No. 18 Pittsburgh, but it’s hard to dismiss a loss that figures to resonate for years.

Oregon 65, OSU 38. Beaver Nation wishes that was a misprint.

A 27-21 upset of then-No. 1 USC on Sept. 25 — the Beavers were 25-point underdogs — altered the landscape of OSU’s season. A third straight 2-3 start was followed by a six-game winning streak, and the Beavers were one win away from their first Rose Bowl game in 44 years.

OSU took momentum and home-field advantage into the Civil War on Nov. 29. What followed was a defeat that ultimately dashed the Beavers’ Rose Bowl dreams and sent them to El Paso, Texas, for the second time in three years.

More of that “what might have been” stuff. The coach and players say they have moved on and there should be no whining. There doesn’t seem to be much buying of it.

The Oregon State fans sure are treating the game as a letdown (though, it doesn’t help that this is the 2nd time in 3 years that they are in El Paso).

T here seems to be a feeling among some Oregon State fans that the Sun Bowl isn’t quite good enough, which goes to show if you live long enough anything is possible.

Ten years ago, Oregon State was a college football punch line. The Beavers had wrapped up a 28th consecutive losing season. Mike Riley, considered some sort of miracle worker for guiding Oregon State to five wins in 1998, jumped at the opportunity to coach the San Diego Chargers.

The day Riley bolted, the idea of Oregon State ever being successful enough to reach a mid-level postseason game such as the Sun Bowl seemed as remote as a trip to the moon.

Then came Dennis Erickson, the Fiesta Bowl romp over Notre Dame, Riley’s return and four consecutive bowl victories. Now, this whole late December in west Texas thing seems sort of anti-climactic.

Two years ago, the Beavers brought somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 fans to El Paso for a memorable Sun Bowl victory over Missouri. This time there might not even be 1,000 Oregon State fans in the stands, if you don’t count the band members, the athletic department employees and their families.

If that underwhelmed feeling carries over to the football field, this could get ugly fast, because Pittsburgh is making its first bowl trip since the 2004 season. The Panthers want to be here.

Oregon State fans, meet Rutgers fans that feel offended that at 7-5 they had to go to Birmingham after years of not even sniffing the possibility of a bowl game by late September.

December 10, 2007

Hilarious quote from Ryan Appleby after finding out the shot came too late.

“From where I was sitting, if I was the ref, I would have called it good,” said UW guard Ryan Appleby.

Replay and evidence be damned. To be fair, I think he was referring to the initial call. Not actually that the refs should have called it for the Huskies on replay.

No Huskies strongly disagreed. No one said they were robbed. But that didn’t stop the sting.

“It’s like somebody stepping on your chest,” Dentmon said. “You figure that you’ve done something good, and you’re happy. The moment they take it away it’s like everything went bad – everything.”

The Huskies did make progress from where they had been, even as they fell short and are in deep s**t with regards to making the NCAA. There was the claim that UW made defensive progress. Afterall, Pitt didn’t finish with 50%+ shooting. Reality was something different. Pitt started out with poor, poor shooting — 7-25 — but then hit 7-8 to finish the half. Plus Pitt shot nearly 61% in the second half (14-23).

Obviously that replay was the dominating theme of stories on the game.

December 8, 2007

If you think I’m going to bitch about Pitt managing to get a 1 point win on a trip to the Pacific Northwest against a team with potential and just doesn’t lose at home — especially in non-con games — then you are crazy. Washington may not be a great team, or even a ranked team. They are, however, a good team and got back their sharp-shooting 3-point threat in Ryan Appleby who helps stretch any defense to free up Brockman and their front court.

There was a bit of deja vu in watching Washington when they would play their game. Especially watching Brockman kick it out on a double team to an open shooter on the perimeter. Thankfully Pitt was able to take them out of that game in the second half by getting them to play too fast.

The first half was painful. It simply looked like Blair, Young and Biggs were just tossing the ball up around the basket. Not actually taking shots. Way too many wild shots, by getting trapped too far under the hoop and looking for calls to bail them out. I’m not complaining about the officials. I think they had it right not to call those. Slightly more personal fouls may have been called on Pitt (16-13), but Pitt still got to the line more (20 to 10 on attempts).

Late in the first and through most of the second half, Pitt played and shot a lot better. Their selection improved and they really worked the ball better to the open man — even as they increased the tempo. The pace/tempo by Pitt to this point has been great to watch. Not because they speed it up, but because so far they have shown an ability to play at any pace — when they can’t impose their own on the opposition.

As bad as Fields played in the Duquesne game, he was excellent in this one. He shot well and made a lot of good decisions. Ramon is definitely missing the old style and having Aaron Gray to free him up for spot-up threes. He’s still struggling with that change.

September 6, 2007

I didn’t do this last week, but I’m hoping to make this a weekly thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Middle Tenn. St. vs. (8) Louisville, 7:00 pm EDT
MTSU gave up over 400 yards in last week’s loss to Florida Atlantic, while Louisville’s offense picked up 655 over Murray State. Brian Brohm will tear this defense apart.
Pick: Louisville

Oregon St. vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 pm EDT
Oregon State’s running back Yvenson Bernard looks good this year, and although Cincy beat up on Directional Missouri, I’m not completely sold on them.
Pick: Oregon State

Friday, September 7, 2007

Navy vs. (18) Rutgers, 7:00 pm EDT
ESPN’s Friday night game is an interesting one for Pitt fans since we play both teams. Rutgers beat up on Buffalo while Navy beat Temple 30-19. I have Rutgers for the win because of their evolving, multi-demensional offense.

While Ray Rice rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns, the Scarlet Knights showed there is more to the team than just their senior running back – who’s rushed for 2,914 yards in his previous two seasons. Junior quarterback Mike Teel was 16-for-23 for a career-best 328 yards and two touchdowns, and junior receiver Tiquan Underwood caught 10 passes for a school-record 248 yards and two TDs.

Pick: Rutgers

Saturday, September 8, 2007

(3) West Virginia vs. Marshall, 11:10 am EDT
Five words: Pat White and Steve Slaton.
Pick: West Virginia

Grambling State vs. Pitt, Noon EDT
Watching Michigan lose to a I-AA (or whatever they call it now) team puts the smallest slice of doubt in my mind. In reality, I expect us to win by at least 3 touchdowns — even with Smith or Bostick starting under center.
Pick: Pitt

Maine vs. Connecticut, 7:00 pm EDT
UConn quarterback Tyler Lorenzen (any relation to Jared?) threw for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Duke. In my book, Duke and Maine are comparable.
Pick: UConn

Syracuse vs. Iowa, 8:05 pm EDT
The ‘Cuse managed to make people feel embarrassed for them last week. Iowa, while not amazing, managed to receive one vote (one whole vote!) in the AP poll. If the Orange manage to keep the loss to 16 points or less, we’ll call it a moral victory.
Pick: Iowa

South Florida vs. (16) Auburn, 9:00 pm EDT
Everyone’s Big East sleeper team will have a tough test playing War Eagle on the road. One guy who can make a difference for USF is freshman RB Mike Ford, a former Alabama recruit. Meanwhile, Auburn’s ground game was nonexistent (62 yards) against Kansas State. Matt Grothe and his great passing accuracy helps the Bulls knock off the ranked Tigers for the upset.
Pick: South Florida

Track the scores here.

(Rankings used are from the BlogPoll.)

March 24, 2007

Let me start by saying this is nowhere near a full recap. It’s just some random thoughts. Some of them from before the game, some from after. I just got home and haven’t read what the Pittsburgh papers and UCLA blogs have said.

The end of the season kills me. The cause of all of this might be the fact that the end of basketball season is a bit harder than football. The end of football means the beginning of another year at the Pete. The end of hoops leads to a few months of nothingness.

The Sweet Sixteen is the exact type of talent this team has. We’re certainly not a top 5 team (and how can you be without an amazing recruit?) but we are a top 25 team. I didn’t expect a national championship out of these guys. I do, however, expect players on a top 25 team to make layups. Point blank shots. Tip ins. They lost at least 10 points through missing those type of shots and along with losing those points, it probably end up costing the game too.

Gray (as well as much of the rest of the team) is careless with the ball. He needs to treat it like gold and doesn’t. When you get double teamed, you dish it back outside quickly. Instead, he held it for a while, let the defender get physical with his, and then toss it across the court.

There are all kinds of stats that I could look up for you that involve UCLA really overcoming their season averages. The most obvious one seemed to be free throw shooting. Coming in, the UCLA folks said they weren’t great foul shooters and Pitt fans know that we certainly aren’t. UCLA was 23-26 from the line. Good teams find odd ways to win sometimes — scoring a third of your points from the line is one of those.
Finally, the Dixon-Howland handshake, if you even want to call it that, was incredibly quick. Not sure about what went down.

Expect more breakdown on the ins and outs of Thursday’s game coming over the next few days.

March 21, 2007

Had a great time at the Pitt-Tennessee women’s game last night. Great crowd (the place was about 80% full) and the actual gameplay is really solid. Candace Parker is the top player in the country, no doubt. The fact we were able to hang with a team like the Lady Vols was impressive and this Pitt program has a good future ahead of it.

Moving to tomorrow though. There’s actually going to be a basketball game played between all of the Howland-Dixon hype. Just as I wanted to play Duke, I’m also excited to play UCLA — a perennial and historically great program.

ESPN Insider (subscription…and what on ESPN.com isn’t subscription anymore?) breaks down the Bruins.

Offensive Preference The versatile Bruins are excellent in the halfcourt, with two guards who can score at the end of the shot clock. But they also pick their spots and run effectively, especially off turnovers.

Defensive Philosophy The Bruins’ success starts here with solid man-to-man defense. They rebound well, do not give up easy shots and have not allowed more than 75 points in a game all season. During one eight-game span, no UCLA opponent topped 62 points.

Secret Strength The Bruins led the Pac-10 in steals at nearly eight per game, a 50% increase over last year, indicating a more aggressive mindset on defense.

Achilles’ Heel The Bruins do not have great depth, and when Darren Collison was sidelined by injury at West Virginia, the thin bench cost them. Also, UCLA’s big men are poor foul shooters, which often forces them off the floor late in games.

Will Lose When … Through their first 29 games, the Bruins shot 50.4 percent in their 26 victories, just 41.1 percent in three defeats. With their defense, if the Bruins make shots, they win.

By the way, and I’m just gonna throw this out there, UCLA’s Lorenzo Mata is the ugliest player in NCAA hoops.

March 15, 2007

Somewhat uneventful day today, at least in the afternoon games. All of the better seeds won and by pretty large margins. You probably knew that already since most people are like me — get to a TV or computer as often as you can.

Pat Forde gives us the best and worst case scenario for each team. Pitt’s includes the best case of making it all the way to Atlanta while the worst case would be losing to Duke.

PITTSBURGH (3)
Best case: Panthers finally break through the Sweet 16 ceiling, riding their punishing defensive style to a validating Final Four. UCLA cannot handle Aaron Gray in the regional semis, and Pitt outmuscles Kansas in the regional final. Push to Atlanta lessens the Iron City dread of another oncoming Pirates season.

Worst case: Pitt team that lost three of its last six grinds to a halt in the second round against Duke. Gray is outplayed by the more skilled Josh McRoberts, and nobody can hit a key perimeter shot. Media vows to keep Panthers out of the Top 10 until they can prove something in March.

We can’t lose to Duke if they don’t even make it though. They hold a 40-38 lead at the half in what has been basically what we expected…a close one.

In the Western Pennsylvania market we can’t see the Marquette-Michigan State game but so far MU has looked really bad. Took them almost 10 minutes into the first half to put points up. UCLA was challenged by Weber State for about 10 minutes before breaking that one open at the half.

Pitt and Wright State in about an hour and a half. Have fun.

February 18, 2007

So, how’s Aaron Gray? That’s the question locally.

“I thought it was pretty bad,” Dixon said afterward. “He’s had ankle problems in the past. But he went down pretty bad on this one. I think this one could be worse [than the other sprains] from what I saw. I hope I’m wrong.”

Gray limped off the court after the injury and did not return in the final 10 seconds. He gingerly made his way to the locker room and will be re-evaluated today before determining whether he can play in the game at Seton Hall tomorrow night.

It was unclear during the game about what happened. The announcing and camera focus made it seem more like he took a nasty bruise to the shin, cutting it a little and leaving a knot. Given that it was under 12 seconds left, taking him out for the rest of the game seemed reasonable regardless of the severity.

Of course, it seems with Pitt, any loss seems to herald the sky is falling. Last year a desperate Seton Hall team contributed to that storyline by upsetting Pitt at the Pete, as Pitt lost 3 of its last 4 before the Big East Tournament (of course that included losing at Marquette and WVU). Pitt is only 3-3 versus the Hall the last 6 meetings (PDF, p. 12) — so there can be no taking Seton Hall lightly.

In the cup half-full, view Pitt did not lose despite not shooting particularly well and not rebounding. They found a way to push through for the win.

Pitt (23-4) held on for a 65-61 victory over Washington to scrub out some of the bitter aftertaste of its humbling loss to Louisville.

“After how we lost on Monday,” Levance Fields said, “we were definitely looking forward to this game.”

Whether it was a Sam Young layup off a Mike Cook assist, a Ronald Ramon running jumper, a Levance Fields 3-pointer or a Gray bucket, Pitt repelled every Washington advance during the pivotal second-half stretch.

“We made some very good decisions at the end of the game,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was a great win for us.”

Cook broke out of his three-week scoring slump with a game-high 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

Fields scored 14 points, going 8 for 8 from the line, and added four assists. Ramon (11) and Sam Young (10) each came off the bench to score in double figures.

Let me say something now. This is the final season to talk of how a game goes back to the “Ben Howland era.” I’m beyond tired of it now. Gray and Kendall are the only recruits left on this Pitt team that were signed when Howland was the HC.

This isn’t to rip on Howland or denigrate any of those teams that mean a hell of a lot to me. But,there is this twisted feeling about how the present team needs to play like the team under Howland with Brandin Knight, Jaron Brown and Julius Page — players recruited by Ralph Willard — while at the same time talking of how Pitt needs higher calibar, elite players.

It’s just, even when intended as a compliment, there is no winning that comparison.

Mike Cook was vital for the Pitt win. He had been in a bit of a slump. Seems slightly exaggerated for the length, but it has been a couple weeks  since his last good game. Even so, it seems Coach Dixon expects more.

It was bad enough for Cook having to look Dixon, Gray, Fields and the others in the face after his 1-for-7 shooting night at West Virginia and his 0-for-7, zero-point night at Villanova.

But those darn cell phone calls …

“My family and friends would call and ask, ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you playing better?’ ” Cook said.

You might guess the next line.

“I’m looking forward to those calls tonight,” Cook said, grinning.

..

“When you’re not shooting well, it’s going to affect you no matter how confident a player you are,” Cook said. “It really took its toll on me. I just tried to stay aggressive. Everybody kept telling me the shots would start to fall.”

Surprisingly, Dixon wasn’t effusive when asked about Cook. Maybe it was all those things that Pitt didn’t do well, including its 4-of-15 shooting from 3-point range and Washington’s 42-32 rebounding advantage. Or maybe it was Gray’s situation. More likely, though, it was that he realizes how much ability Cook has and he expects so much more from him.

“We need more rebounding from that spot,” Dixon said. “He had four offensive rebounds, which is good. But he had no defensive rebounds. We need to improve in that area.”

I know that there’s a lot of complaints that Dixon doesn’t publicly rip his players more — but that’s never been his style. He’s not needed to, generally, because I think it has as much to do with knowing his players and whether they need or respond to public challenges. No matter the pressure, these are still kids, not professional players. It appears, that maybe he’s determined that Cook responds best when the challenge is made known to all.

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