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January 23, 2017

Fun and Losing Rarely Work

Filed under: Basketball,Fishwrap,Media — Chas @ 9:38 pm

In a way, this 4-game losing streak couldn’t have come at a better time for Pitt. In the midst of the Steelers playoff run. Heck, Pitt probably has another week of being mostly ignored while the venting and recriminations continue.


That’s the way the Pittsburgh media decided to describe Pitt basketball in the first year under Kevin Stallings.

Here’s Kevin Gorman of the Trib right after the Notre Dame game.

Despite his success, fans had grown tired of Jamie Dixon’s stifling style of coaching. They wanted something more entertaining, something less focused on defense and rebounding.

They got that with Stallings, who loosened the reins. The Panthers have been given the green light to shoot 3s, the freedom to play at a fast tempo and have scored 80 points or more seven times.

I have to jump in here, because once more, scoring points has nothing to do with tempo. Pitt is an offensively efficient team. They score on their possessions, and don’t commit as many turnovers

They may be playing at a faster tempo than last year, but they are in the 200s out of 351 teams nationally in terms of tempo. College basketball itself has attempted to up the overall tempo with a shorter shot clock and allowing more freedom of movement. There is no doubt that Pitt basketball is playing at a faster tempo, but the pace is hardly a tremendous jump.

Last year the average adjusted tempo of Pitt was 66.1 (309th nationally with the average adjT of 69.0 for D-1 teams).  This year, Pitt is up to 68.0 (229th nationally with the average adjT being 69.1).

Sorry, finish this.

Stallings hoped Pitt would have a “mature, motivated response” when Virginia visits Wednesday.

“I don’t think that you have any time to wallow in your boo boos,” Stallings said. “You have to get up and be a man and say, ‘What can I do better?’ And get ready for the next one, because there’s 17 more just like that one that are going to come flying at us — and none of them are going to be easy.”

As Stallings learned in his ACC debut, nothing is going to come easy for Pitt. But the Panthers showed promise that, with progress, they could be fun to follow.

There’s the word. “Fun.”

And Pitt had a great response to the loss by beating Virginia in the next game. Prompting a gem from Paul Zeise. Time for the deep dive.

For years, one of the chief complaints about Pitt under Jamie Dixon was that its style of basketball was not fun, not exciting and far too micromanaged. Fans wanted more offense and a faster tempo, which would give the Panthers a better chance to advance deep into the NCAA tournament and attract the top players in the country.

I find this amusing, because, yes there were complaints about Dixon and style of play. But most of that came after the team was not winning the way it was in the first half of his time at Pitt. The exception being the writer of this column. I like Zeise, but he has long been one of the biggest critics of Dixon’s style of play more than anything else. Specifically, the very things he cites in his opening graf. It’s a bit disingenuous to make it seem like the complaints were coming from others — and not him.

If all of that is true, this should be the greatest era of Pitt basketball because Kevin Stallings already has delivered on that front.

Oh, boy….

If you want to tell me Stallings wasn’t an inspired hire, isn’t a better coach than Dixon or you didn’t like the way Dixon was pushed out the door, I don’t know that I agree, but I might listen to some of that. But nobody can deny that Pitt is now really fun to watch, and that, given the personalities of this senior class, Stallings is a much better fit than Dixon was.

A much easier graf to try and push when Pitt was 12-3 and 1-1 in the ACC. Now, with a 4-game losing streak that included a blowout home loss to Miami. A team that practically refused to take a game that NC State wanted to give away — because Pitt no longer does the one thing Dixon pushed: rebounds… Feels like a tougher sell. Stallings may “fit” this team’s personalities more, but is that going to get more wins and/or accomplish more?

Dixon spent the past two years struggling with these players, trying to make them value defense more than they do and trying to get them to buy into his structured offense. That plan worked well with many of his previous teams, but not this group. These players are a bit free-spirited and offensive-minded, and it was a constant butting of heads between players and coach. By the end of each of the past two seasons, it didn’t seem like anyone was really having any fun. Stallings came in and recognized the players’ personality immediately and has given them a green light — and they have, in turn, responded with a 12-3 record, in good position for an NCAA tournament bid.

And followed that up with 4 straight losses. Life comes at you fast.

Stallings told his team at the start he’d give them the freedom to play offense the way they liked as long as they work with him and buy in on some other areas, and it appears as if that’s exactly what happened. This group will never be great defensively, but it at least now has some periods where it looks lucid on that side of the court. Stallings mixes his defenses up enough to keep other teams off-balance at times.

I will give Stallings plenty of credit for getting creative and inventive with the shifting defenses. And when the team actually tries at that end, it doesn’t look bad. But to even think that this team has bought into or worked on the defensive side is ridiculous.

And as, I have been drafting this one for a couple days, Kevin Stallings obliged me with his media session today.

“Right now, my assessment is the only thing it feels like they’ve bought into 100 percent is freedom on offense,” Stallings said Monday. “Well, anybody could buy into that. That’s not a hard thing to buy into. That’s just human nature. Of course I would like to have freedom on offense. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we have to play defensively. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we need to communicate, the way we need to support each other, the way we have to fight when adversity hits. I haven’t been able to get them to do a number of other things yet the way they have to be done with what we have, with the makeup of our team in this league. That part has been a little frustrating.”

Different “f-” word from Coach Stallings.

By the way, this is why the local media, especially guys doing a lot more radio, are happy to have Kevin Stallings as the coach. He’s very candid. Very open about things.

If you are in the media, Jamie Dixon was as vanilla as they came. Even in recent years when he had relaxed more with the media, he still hewed to certain talking points. Rarely ever being negative about the players or what was happening. At times, getting defensive.

Stallings hasn’t done any more or less media than Dixon did. He has just been a much more *ahem* fun interview subject.

Pitt has two players — Mike Young and Jamel Artis — who can combine for 45 to 50 points on any given night, meaning the Panthers have a chance to win on pretty much any given night. Both occasionally take shots that give even Stallings indigestion, but he understands he has to live with some bad shots because Young and Artis are capable of hitting them. Those two are surrounded by four others — Ryan Luther, Sheldon Jeter, Cam Johnson and Chris Jones — who can hit shots and, more importantly, also have a green light to shoot when they’re open. That makes them really tough to guard.

And once more, Pitt can score with anyone. But they have yet to show they can defend anyone.

I understand why there have been some awful crowds this year. I understand why there is a backlash among a certain segment of fans who are still loyal to Dixon and why some people have taken a wait and see approach. Now that people have seen this team play, I suspect we will start to see bigger crowds again and a better atmosphere at Petersen Events Center. If we don’t, I’m not sure what people want because Stallings has delivered a fun brand of offensive basketball and has the right players to pull it off.

Wins. Wins help a lot more than a “fun” style.

I don’t think there is any backlash by fans loyal to Jamie Dixon with regards to attendance. It has a lot more to do with diminished expectations. Pitt is like just about any other program. People show up when the team wins. When they are struggling, it is much easier to skip the game.

Pitt has struggled in the last couple years compared to what the program had been doing. No surprise, that that was when the attendance started dropping and grumbling about style of play,

Wednesday night was the first time this season that Petersen Events Center felt like the good old days, with a large and rowdy crowd watching Pitt score 88 points against the best defensive team in the country, Virginia. But the arena still wasn’t full and the box office was still trying to sell tickets to it right up until tip-off.

“The good old days?” Like last year?

Make no mistake, Virginia had no answer for Pitt’s offense. The Panthers spread the Cavaliers out and scored in so many ways that their vaunted pack-line defense was rendered useless. Dixon never beat Virginia, and one reason was he tried to beat the Cavaliers at their own game, grinding out possessions. That approach is a recipe for disaster.

But Dixon sure could beat Syracuse.

And those Virginia teams were arguably better teams. I don’t really know where to begin. If all it took to beat Virginia was to space the court better, I think more teams would have better success. Pitt had an ungodly good shooting night from outside against Virginia. 13-21 on 3s. That had a lot more to do with scoring and being able to open up the court than the actual strategy. Hitting the damn shots makes any strategy look smart.

Pitt will do what it did last night to a lot of teams, not just because they have a lot of guys who can shoot but because they are all allowed to shoot. That freedom breeds confidence. Stallings said as much after the game last night when he was asked about Jeter taking two 3s to open the overtime: “He could miss 18 in a row and I’d tell him to keep shooting them because I know he can make them.”

Or, that could have been the high point. I have and still maintain that Pitt can beat anyone and lose to anyone in the ACC this year. Not because of the “freedom” and “fun” of the offense. But because their effort for 40 minutes on both ends of the ball has been inconsistent as hell.

I don’t know where this team is headed, how good they can become or where they will finish in the ACC. Only time will tell us the answers to those questions.

Way to hedge after declaring “Pitt will do what it did to [Virginia] to a lot of teams.”

What I do know is that the Panthers play an exciting brand of basketball and are a really fun team to watch right now. That’s something I’m not sure I’d ever say given the style they had played for almost two decades.

Yes, that dark and dismal time period for Pitt men’s basketball — that was previously referred to as “the good old days.” Why, oh, why did people show up to the Pete at all?

Oh, yeah. The winning.

I have heard and read local media when talking about Pitt basketball, speak glowingly — at least up until the last 2 weeks — about the style of play. About “fun.” As if that will be the panacea for all that ails.

*Pitt’s recruiting has been weak: fun style of play and freedom to shoot will bring the kids.

*Attendance dropping: fun and free flowing offense.

*Players unhappy: fun and open system.

Bull. It’s about the wins. Everything else is window dressing. 10 of the top 40 teams in KenPom have adjT in the top 100. 13 teams have adjT in bottom 100. Aesthetics only matter when you aren’t winning.

I guess that’s why this emphasis on “fun” bugs me. It just seems like a cover being offered for a team that isn’t that good. And honestly, it probably hurts Stallings in the long-run more than it helps him with the fans when that is the focus.

Instead of trying to talk about the issues with recruiting. The real deficiencies on the team, you get a sideshow talk about the way the team plays. Even if it is the media talking about it, it gets imputed to Stallings.

Stallings has very shallow support from the general fanbase. Perceiving him as just a guy who plays “fun” but not to win will get him no where.

I wasn’t wild about Stallings hire. I accept it, and want him to do well, simply because I root for Pitt. Being constantly negative and seemingly hoping for his failure because it wasn’t the ideal choice is a miserable way to be.

I’ve said from before Stallings was even hired, that things (especially next year) will get worse before they have a chance to get better. We’ve seen how poorly abruptly shifting coaches every year or two can be for football.

As much as things can change quickly for a program with the right hire and a couple good recruits, it can get just as even worse much faster when there is constant churn with the coach and recruiting.

Forget the fun, just find the wins.

March 16, 2014

How You View Reality

Filed under: Basketball,Fishwrap,Media — Chas @ 2:00 pm

I’m not fixated on the no-call on James Robinson’s score with 11 seconds left. Really. I am merely interested in how the moment is viewed.

Pittsburgh media:

Robinson scored despite drawing contact from Virginia forward Akil Mitchell that knocked Robinson to the floor to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to one point with 10 seconds left. To the protest of Pitt fans, whose chorus of boos echoed in Greensboro Coliseum, officials didn’t call a foul.

“What can you do? What can you do?” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Everybody saw it.”


December 2, 2013

Fine I’ll do this quickly. The column by Dejan Kovacevic is a classic, “I’m just asking questions,” thing. It is meant to provoke debate and little else.

“Wow, that’s a hard one. Not sure how to answer,” Jamie Dixon was telling me Sunday after practice at the Pete. “I mean, what we have going is smaller and quicker, and it does change how you play. And some guys individually have stepped up. But Steve’s a great player. I don’t know.”

Hmm. So maybe the notion isn’t all nuts.

Right. Because Coach Dixon was going to say something that would denigrate the present team by saying he wants another player. Of course not.

Would Dixon take Adams back now? He simply smiled at that. Of course he would.

But he quickly followed up, “We loved having Steve, but you move on. I like this team we have. I like it a lot.”

That’s about as far as you will get from Dixon.


September 28, 2012

Bad Headlines

Filed under: Fishwrap,Football,Media,Recruiting — Chas @ 1:59 pm

Today is National Drink Beer Day. As such, it might explain the headline in the Post-Gazette in proclaiming: “Recruit Report: Buckeyes are poaching on Pitt’s turf.”

The first thought at seeing that headline, “Oh, crap, Meyer got Dorian Johnson!” Then when you read it, you realize that it is merely an article noting that Ohio State is trying to recruit top players out of Western Pennsylvania, including Johnson and Robert Foster.

Because that has never happened before Urban Meyer showed up in Columbus. Jim Tressel totally ignored top players in the area. The only competition in Western PA came from Penn State and West Virginia. This is something totally new.


March 22, 2012

Local Coverage Skips CBI

Filed under: Basketball,Fishwrap,Media — Chas @ 7:28 am

Guess it sums up the CBI. Both the Trib and P-G did not bother sending their beat reporters to the Pitt-Butler game. So, the articles from each paper were written by Indiana-based freelancers.

March 2, 2011

Crud. I wanted to focus on basketball today and for a little while. That went out the window with the SI/CBS News freakout piece on Criminal Records in College Football. I still would have ignored it as being yet another piece without a lot of context, but plenty of scary numbers and implied accusations.

But there’s a problem. Pitt got to be the poster-boy for this.

Few football programs had a more difficult season in 2010 than the University of Pittsburgh. Led by running back Dion Lewis, a Doak Walker candidate, the Panthers were the preseason pick to win the Big East and go to a BCS bowl. But things quickly began unraveling — on and off the field.

In a span between mid-July and late September, four players were arrested for four separate, violent crimes.

Before this rash of arrests, Pitt had no procedure for screening football recruits for past trouble with the law. But after Knox’s arrest Pitt’s athletic department implemented a new policy requiring coaches to seek more detailed background information on potential recruits.

“This evaluation is not a legal criminal background check,” the school said in a statement. “Rather, it is a checklist of questions that attempts to gain greater knowledge of the behavior and citizenship of an individual prospect from a variety of people.”

It’s a good first step, but doesn’t go far enough. An unprecedented six-month investigation by Sports Illustrated and CBS News found that Pittsburgh had more players in trouble with the law (22) than any other school among SI’s 2010 preseason Top 25. The joint investigation involved conducting criminal background checks on every player — 2,837 in all — on the preseason rosters of those 25 teams. Players’ names, dates of birth and other vital information were checked at 31 courthouses and through 25 law enforcement agencies in 17 states. Players were also checked through one or more online databases that track criminal records. In all, 7,030 individual record checks were performed.

Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson declined requests for comment, but the school issued another statement, which said, “We have publicly acknowledged the unacceptable number of off-the-field incidents involving members of our football program during the past season. We have addressed these with the appropriate sanctions and spoke out against such behavior.”

And if you believe the undercurrents of rumors/message boards with the subtext of AD Pederson’s comments after Wannstedt’s firing, then you know part of the way it was addressed.


June 1, 2010

The first batch of preview mags are out. Athlon and Lindy’s came out just before the Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to pick them up until today. So, this is just a cursory bit on them.

No, they aren’t the “bible” that is Phil Steele — next week — but they are a light snack.

Lindy’s — which disturbingly enough still uses the circa 2003 logo for Pitt — has Pitt at #14 nationally. Their Big East preview was done by Tom Luicci, who writes for the New Jersey Star-Ledger ( Pitt is picked to win the Big East.

Athlon, puts Pitt at #18 nationally. They also have Pitt winning the Big East.

Sporting News’ preview should be out today or sometime this week. At least I have reading material to start distracting me for a little while.

I’ll have some more on these mags and content later in the week.

April 9, 2010

From What Little Is Known…

Filed under: Fishwrap,Football,Media,Practice — Chas @ 1:48 pm

I know it is beating a dead horse about the poor coverage from two dailies, but it is frustrating. For Scout and Rivals, it is tremendous. Providing more reasons why people should subscribe. For the record, I hold no involvement or paid subscription to either site, primarily to avoid any conflict or accusations that I am scraping their premium content.

While the Post-Gazette appears to be moving (probably smartly from a business standpoint) to putting more of its sports coverage into the “Plus” paywall, they are setting it up for disappointment with regards to Pitt. What enticement is it for Pitt fans to pay when clearly they are not putting much effort into covering spring practices? They made the strategic decision to put Pitt football beat writer, Paul Zeise, onto the NCAA Tournament, and has generally skipped having anyone else do much with the spring practice.

As for the Trib. I don’t know what to say. They don’t have that excuse but new guy Pat Mitsch hasn’t filed much. Not sure if Grupp is b-ball only now. Gorman was a good beat writer, but almost as important, he was ambitious. That produced more material. He provided great infodumps in his blog.

So, even though there is a week of practice left, very little has been learned without having a paid subscription to PantherLair or PantherDigest.

Well, I’ve vented. On to what there is.

PantherLair’s Chris Peak tosses some free content out there. Tristan Roberts is healthy and definitely improves depths and could be a help on passing downs.

Roberts missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury.

“I missed all of last season, so I felt like I was kind of little out of it,” Roberts said after practice Thursday. “Then when I first came back, I was definitely a little out of it. I had to get back into making all my reads and hitting people and getting used to my shoulder.”

Roberts began spring camp working as a backup on the weak side, but the combination of Williams dealing with a minor injury and Roberts improving his own play has led to first-team work.

“Greg Williams is limping a little, so I’ve been getting some of the reps; we’re kind of going back and forth to see who’s more consistent, I guess,” Roberts said. “After the scrimmage they said I was doing good and they wanted to see what I could do with the first team because it’s always different playing behind a different d-line.”

Several years ago, Roberts was the subject of much hype, both from the coaches and from camp observers. But the promise and potential he showed never materialized to the extent that he could win a starting job, and the shoulder injury further side-tracked his career.

I admit, I had almost forgotten about Roberts, yet here he is a redshirt junior and still with time.

Other guys, while not likely to be starting barring injuries, are looking to make sure they get rotated in at the defensive end spots are Shayne Hale and Brandon Lindsey.

“When Jabaal’s not in there and we’re limiting Romeus, we need Brandon Lindsey and Shayne Hale to come on,” Wannstedt said. “We really do.”

Both Lindsey and Hale were linebackers in high school, Lindsey at Aliquippa and Hale at Gateway, and both were moved to defensive end after starting their Pitt careers at linebacker. Now that Pitt is holding Sheard out of contact drills, the two are using the extra work to try to stand out.

“I know I got a real good opportunity in front of me,” Lindsey said. “But I just got to try to get better every day and not let there be too much of a drop-off from when Jabaal’s in the game.”

Jabaal Sheard has a cracked bone in his hand, so he is limited to non-contact drills only.

New cornerback Saheed Imoru started out strong in spring practices, but is now struggling a little.

“The positive is that everything that we saw him do on tape at the junior college, he’s done here,” head coach Dave Wannstedt said during the first week of spring practice.

Lately though, Imoru has cooled off a bit, and now he hopes to battle through his slump and elevate his game.

“The first couple of days I was doing real good, and then this last week has probably been my worst week here. And I need to pick it up a lot,” Imoru said.

Adjusting to defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s system and playing with more emotion are two of the necessary improvements that Imoru noted.

Having to go at it with Jonathan Baldwin most days — while great practice — has to take a toll on the confidence and how good you look.

Over on the offensive side, Mike Shanahan is considered the possession receiver in the offense. This despite his size, speed and athleticism. In part because that is how almost every white WR gets labeled. The other and just as important reason is that compared to Baldwin, that is what he is.

Shanahan’s role in the offense might be labeled as a “possession” receiver because, as Wannstedt notes, Shanahan has the ability to hurt teams that underestimate his athleticism.

“He’s a big guy who, because of his basketball skills, can position you,” Wannstedt said. “If they’re going to double-team Baldwin and leave Shanahan one-on-one, the guy covering him is going to have to go up and be able to make a play on the ball, or [Shanahan] is going to beat you.”

Even though he excelled in the role of short-yardage receiver last season, Shanahan does not like being labeled a possession receiver. He said offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has a plan to use all of his skilled receivers.

“It turned out last year that I was making third-down conversions. The big plays were going to Jon,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s just how it worked out. Coach Cignetti knows our strengths and weaknesses. He will utilize us the best he can. If it works out like that again, it will. If not, I’ll be making big plays, too.”

Praise continues for Greg Cross and his conversion to WR. Still a big question mark as to whether he will ever get on the field.

Bad news from the same article is that Aundre Wright, who converted to cornerback from WR because of depth issues hurt his knee and will have surgery.

Meanwhile Todd Thomas has officially been cleared academically to go to college. He will be enrolling for the summer session in May. The Cat Basket wants him immediately converted to safety.

January 14, 2010

After the win over Cinci, one of the themes from the losing side was that Cinci was closer than they had been but were still not there as a team putting things together. Unlike Pitt.

That theme repeats itself with UConn.

They are everything UConn isn’t right now. They are tough, physically and mentally. They are patient. They are specific in purpose. They are high energy and low panic. They play as a team. They are learning to finish what they start.

Not quite

UConn has become an almost team.

Yet again the Huskies showed Wednesday that they’re almost good enough to win a tight game against a ranked team.

They’re almost talented enough to overcome their mistakes.

Almost isn’t good enough. Not in the fiercely competitive Big East Conference.

No. 15 UConn’s shortcomings sent it to a damaging 67-57 loss to No. 16 Pittsburgh at the XL Center. It was the Huskies’ first home defeat this season and third loss in five games overall.

“We aren’t putting the package together right now the way we should,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “Obviously, I have great concerns like any coach would. … Everybody is playing pretty well against us, it seems. We’re responding almost enough.

“Almost enough doesn’t get you anything.”

Seems to be the impact of a team that not only exceeds expectations but exposes what the other team isn’t doing.

“I have a problem with 40 and 35 … 40 full minutes and 35 seconds (of offense),” Calhoun said. “I’m not used to games coming down to an end and seeing the other team grab control the way Georgetown and Pittsburgh has these last two games. Very disappointing.”

Why this continues to be a problem for the Huskies almost halfway into the season not only has Calhoun scratching his head in wonder, but also apparently has him so frustrated that he can’t even explode. Maybe it would have been better if the coach had come into the post-game full of emotion, screaming that you’ll never see that type of lethargy from one of his teams again, and that practice was going to be a living hell.

But he didn’t. It’s almost as if he can’t believe what’s happening himself.

“It all goes back to executing our offense, even versus Harvard and some of those other teams, we didn’t execute our offense and make them play defense,” Calhoun said. “We haven’t done that except for maybe one or two games all season.”

I think the Connecticut media is just as befuddled. Calhoun has been — calm isn’t the right word — subdued after these losses. He is likely frustrated, but not actively sparring with the media, implying that the refs cost UConn.

He seems genuinely disappointed with his team, and dare I suggest that he is realizing that he has made some mistakes with the coaching and teaching.

The Huskies inability to adjust to anything other than playing up-tempo, transition game is making a lot of games tougher than they should and costing them against some of the better teams that either play slower or can change tempo.

Lots of problems.

So what’s wrong with the Huskies?

Just about everything.

Their half-court offense is predictable and ineffective.

Their rebounding is an ongoing issue.

Their free throw shooting is shaky (6-for-13 Wednesday).

Their defense is solid but suffers breakdowns at the worst time.

Their desire and toughness came into question against Pittsburgh.

Here’s an interesting quote from senior Stanley Robinson: “They basically out-toughed us and out-played us.”

That’s a bad sign.

And Brad Wanamaker said as much.

“That’s what the Big East is about, out-toughing the other team,” said Wanamaker. “In the second half, I think we did that.”

After being out-rebounded by four in the first half, the Panthers easily won the battle of the boards over the final 20 minutes, 26-13. Pitt (14-2, 4-0 Big East) finished with 19 offensive rebounds – 12 of them in the latter half – as it spoiled some strong UConn defensive stances with second-chance points.

“We’re not playing with a sense of toughness,” said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. “At times, we stopped them stone, cold dead … and then we’d give them a second chance.”

The near misses has the fans and media wondering if UConn is more than simply a little overrated.

And has nothing to show for it. It all boils down to primarily one thing: horrible half-court offense. The Huskies simply have no idea how to score in the half-court set. It usually devolves into Jerome Dyson or Kemba Walker getting to the basket and then hoping. The same happened again Wednesday night.

It is so unlike Jim Calhoun’s teams that this one is almost unrecognizable. The only conclusion that can be made right now is that the Huskies aren’t that good. They are likely headed toward a major battle to make the NCAA tournament.

Overstatement? Not likely. The eyes don’t lie.

Media recapping will continue in a bit.

November 19, 2009

He’s just asking questions.

Joe Starkey penned what may be one of the laziest, craptacular, most regurgitated column I’ve read in some time — and yes I am saying it is worse than anything written this year on booing Bill Stull.

Let  me put it this way. This column would be derided as deluded fan ranting from a message board if a columnist had to respond to it.


October 30, 2009

To just simplify all stories regarding Bill Stull for the rest of the year. The theme is redemption. The obligatory aspect is that Stull was booed in the opening game.

As Pitt fans, we may be tired of the storyline. We may feel it has been beaten into the ground. We may feel that it is being overplayed and exaggerated. That’s irrelevant. This is the story and by god it will be run into the ground by each and every sportswriter that chooses to write about Stull at some point.

So Kevin Gorman, freshly minted Trib. columnist after his stint as Pitt football beat writer gets his Stull redemption story a little later than most in Western Pennsylvania.

“I’ve kind of become immune to it,” Stull said. “I know if I let that get in my head, if I let that sink into my heart and, most important, if I start buying into what these people are saying, then I can’t play the type of football that I know how to play, that I’ve been taught how to play.”

What Stull can’t help but notice is how the negativity has affected his family. The cascade of catcalls has prompted his parents, Bill and Debbie, to leave their seats and watch games from a rotunda at Heinz Field this season.

Bill Stull Sr. has been so bothered by the booing that he left the Backyard Brawl last year at halftime – after his son threw an interception in the end zone – and walked home to Mt. Washington. He left the Connecticut game Oct. 10 for the same reason, watching the fourth quarter at Bettis Grille 36.

This is the conflict. We can and as fans do split the hairs over whether the boos are directed at the players, coaches and/or playcalling. Parents from their perspective see it as being directed at their kids.

As a fan, I don’t recall much of the booing from the Backyard Brawl being directed at Stull so much as the poor playcalling and the overall ineffectiveness of the offense.

The UConn game was a small surge, but then drowned out by support and cheers. As a parent, though, I can understand the feelings.

Gorman does get Stull and his father on record to talk a little about their feelings regarding it. It’s more candid than done so far.

The piece ultimately fails because Gorman does this in a way that is sure to make Pitt fans defensive about the whole thing rather than willing to think critically about it. All because he preceeded that part with this.

For this, Pitt fans should be embarrassed. To his credit, Stull blocked out the boo birds to become one of the feel-good stories of college football.

Gorman’s bio notes that he is now teaching a sportswriting class at Pitt. Hopefully he focuses on the fact that everything you write gets preserved. As pointed out, Gorman while still a beat writer in training camp was quite honest in writing that Stull hardly looked like he had earned the starting job.

Now, Stull has a 9-4 record in 13 starts. Bostick is 4-4 in eight starts, including victories at West Virginia and Notre Dame. Sunseri has yet to take a snap in a college game, but has the best arm of the bunch. Even so, Stull is the starter, even if he didn’t shine the way a fifth-year senior should.

“Has Billy made the big strides? I would say probably no. But has Billy performed at the level that you would say he’s the starter? I would say yes. I’m just trying to be as honest about it as I can,” Wannstedt said. “He’s got 13 starts under his belt, so he’s our starting quarterback. I feel good about the other guys; I feel good about Billy. I think our quarterback position as a whole is better now than it’s been the past couple years, that’s for sure.”

Stull, however, is going to have to prove that he’s the quarterback of the first nine games of the 2008 season, not the final four. He’s going to have to put the Sun Bowl behind him – and fast.

Now to right a piece that comes off as self-righteous and that Pitt fans should be ashamed of themselves for some vocalizing their feelings over Stull’s performance while ignoring that he wrote about his own doubts from watching in training camp (and yes, I get that since the piece is a news column and doesn’t necessarily allow for expanding on that –but then he still has his blog to do that) makes it seem a tad hypocritical. Heck even Ron Cook has managed to admit he was wrong in between the single sentence paragraphs.

What’s really interesting in light of the Stull stories, is this from the Paul Zeise’s chat today.

Frankie_CigsPack: Can you give us some insight as to what the team thought of Bill Stull at the beginning of the season to where they see him now? It’s a great story in college football this year without a doubt.

Paul Zeise: Yes, a lot of the team wanted Tino to be the guy because they didn’t have much faith in Stull. Now, if you talk to them, most of these guys would run through a wall for Bill because he’s earned their respect, not just as a good quarterback but as a tough guy who is a leader and who wants to prove he is a winner. Respect and confidence from your teammates are two things you must earn and Stull has certainly done that.

So coming out of training camp, even the Pitt players didn’t have faith in Stull. And not just because of the Sun Bowl.

We can go round and round over the booing. The fact is, that Stull has turned things around and stands to change his legacy at Pitt with the way the season goes.

He’s done a lot to this point. Hopefully he keeps it going.

October 13, 2009

Sigh. The trade-off for getting a much needed night with friends in Pittsburgh following the game, is that the crap to do at home immediately piles back and I owe the wife some extra kid-watching. So, Sunday and Monday were essentially lost without any media recap or any detailed review of the UConn-Pitt game.

Now it is Tuesday and it really is time to get focused on the coming Friday night game at Rutgers (and yes, there will be a liveblog full of impulsive declarations and hyperbolic statements as the game takes place).

Still, I can’t just let it go that simply. The Cat Basket has some more thoughts on the game well worth reading. They also make a very good point about the defenses stubbornness with regards to too heavy a faith in the base 4-3.

Media recapping on the Pitt side is covered in good form over at Eye of a Panther.

I think most Pitt fans are still waiting to see if Pitt can play a good game for both halves. On the bright side, it only cost Pitt one game this season. The downside is that the games are getting harder and that won’t fly much longer.

I want to ignore the whole booing Stull thing after he and offense came back on the field following the pick-6, except that from my vantage point the boos were actually short-lived and not widespread. To the credit of the students and a good amount of other fans started cheering and trying to drown out the negativity as much as encourage Stull. It was moronic and had no excuse. It also did not seem that loud to me at the game, though, I don’t know how it sounded on TV.

Now from the UConn perspective things get interesting. This is the second game the Huskies have lost this season and both came with double-digit leads late. As we all know, it was frustrating to see Pitt blow a double-digit lead in Raleigh a few weeks back. So imagine how it must feel to see it happen twice. Especially when the Huskies have been outscored 40-10 in the 4th in 1-A games. As to the why? The UConnBlog tries to break it all down and comes up without a unified field theory to explain it.

All are plausible, but there isn’t one that seems to be the true issue holding them back. Maybe it’s all of them? Maybe it’s one no one’s mentioning? Maybe Pitt simply had the talent to overwhelm them when it stopped shooting itself in the foot? Who knows. Regardless, nothing explains why all these things happened all at one time three times in a month-plus.

Coaches, players and pundits will probably eventually fall back on old, nonsensical coach speak, saying the Huskies need to have more want-to and have-at-it. But there were no actual answers, nothing the team can try to work on in practice this week. Meaning these fourth-quarter questions might be lingering over them all season.

But the one answer they did find Saturday was one they’d hoped to dispell in September: A team desperately searching for some sense of direction, some of kind of identity, may have found it in the art of the choke.

Not that they are bitter. No one ever thinks of the bunnies.

Of course there follows the rational discussion after a bitter loss when fans start asking whether their coach can take them to “the next level.”

Overall, a “C” effort from UConn, and the team really can’t tell you what happened.

Finally, while there have been complaints (that have diminished) about Stull at QB this year, compared to UConn’s issues at the spot it is all good. So much so, the Husky beat writer came away impressed.

September 8, 2009

Really not much to say about it.

Dion Lewis was the stud. It may have been against 1-AA competition, but it was impressive with gaudy numbers of 129 yards and 3 TDs. A great debut for the freshman.

The offensive line had no problem with run blocking. Pass protection, however, was a different issue.

“We have work to do. When we had to throw the ball, I wasn’t happy with the passing game on third down from a protection standpoint.”

Said Pinkston, “They brought a lot of fire-zone blitzes, but we’ll be better at it next week. We missed a couple of calls. It’s something we have to work on, but we’ll pick it up next week.”

YSU still has not scored a TD against 1-A foes, as the best they could do was a FG.

Pitt’s D-line gets the credit for stuffing YSU all game. Especially not letting the YSU QB get outside the pocket to create or do much of anything. That’s the goal all season.

Before the game, an article about how Pitt would use screens among other things.

…but fans who are expecting big changes in either scheme or philosophy surely will be disappointed.

Cignetti said he and Cavanaugh share a lot of the same ideas about offense, and the changes he has made have been subtle.

“There might be some different formations and some different shifts and motions,” Cignetti said. “And maybe there is a little more wide-open approach in terms of screens and deceptives, but the foundation is the same. Make no mistake, the foundation that Matt Cavanaugh built here in the run game, protection system and passing game is the same.

“You will see some wrinkles that our offensive staff put together.”

Cignetti said he comes from the same mold as Cavanaugh and has always favored a pro-style offense which is centered around a solid run game and uses multiple-personnel packages and gives opposing defenses a variety of looks.

And he also made it pretty clear that the offense he installed had to first receive a stamp of approval from his boss, head coach Dave Wannstedt.

The screens were there, but the most noticeable thing to me was that they were not slow developing screens that relied on deception or overuse of the bubble screen. Instead, they were quick and fairly crisply executed. Get the ball out there and let the athlete do what he can. This definitely works well with a player like Dorin Dickerson.

There was also that bit of foreshadowing about it is still a Wannstedt team. So, as usual there are always questions about the coaching and decisions.

* The passing game is not ever going to be dominant. I think we all can see that the deep ball is never going to be a strength of Bill Stull’s. But once the game was in hand, say at 21-3, I’m not sure why this wasn’t worked on more. Yes, it is nice you can line up and knock a I-AA team off the ball and run it at them and it is nice that your receivers could make their corners miss on those wide receiver screens. But a game like this enables you – almost like an exhibition game in the NFL — to work out some kinks and I’m not sure Pitt did any of it. Instead, they proved what we already know — that they can beat a physically inferior opponent by running the ball and playing defense.

* I’m not sure what was worse — the fact that there was a mix-up with putting Bill Stull back in the game or the fact that Dave Wannstedt admitted as much. Luckily Stull didn’t get hurt or throw a pick six or something because someone would have had some explaining to do had something bad happened.

I don’t think there was any way that Wannstedt could plausibly deny the mix-up occurred. Stull was out of the game. He had a baseball cap on. Sunseri was holding his helmet on the sidelines. It was clear to anyone watching the sidelines that Stull was done for the day — until he wasn’t.

Still don’t know how that could have happened, but as far as inexplicable Wannstedtian coaching brain farts go, this one was of little harm other than some booing the action and creating this hand-wringing over booing. I, however, find this explanation highly plausible.

September 2, 2009

Bummer for Pitt football coverage.

This is my final day as the Pittsburgh Trib’s Pitt football beat writer, as I’ve been offered an opportunity to move into a new role within the sports department that includes writing a weekly column.

The new Pitt football beat writer is John Grupp, who has done an outstanding job covering the Pitt men’s basketball team the past three seasons and I promise will do the same with the Panthers in football. John also is one of the nation’s leading writers on horse racing and covered high school sports here for about two decades.

The Trib also has a new addition to our staff, Ralph Paulk, who started Monday and will join John in providing coverage of the Pitt football and basketball teams. Soon, they are expected to set up a Pitt-centric blog to continue the intensive coverage to which you’ve become accustomed.

I’d like to express my sincere thanks to all the readers of this blog who have passed along kind words. The pleasure was all mine.

This sounds great for Kevin Gorman. A definite step up in the food chain. I wish him luck and will miss his fine work.

Selfishly, I’m bummed about losing a quality writer that did solid reporting and provided fine observations on his blog. The Trib’s Pitt football coverage has been well done for some time. There was Joe Bendel before Gorman. The fact that both have moved up the chains does indicate some solid people in the spot.

I’m going to be curious about Grupp taking the football side. He’s been decent in basketball, but I can’t say outstanding. In his fill-in posts for the Gorman blog, they were rather devoid of any opinion. We’ll find out I guess about whether he’s comfortable to express his own opinions about what he sees.

Now for a little shameless note of getting love. From’s Big East writer, Brian Bennett’s chat today.

Jack (PA)
Are there any Big East bloggers that you would put on your Big East Message board MVP’s? (Most Valuable Posters) If so, who?

Brian Bennett
The ones I read the most are Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, Bleed Scarlet, Card Chronicle and Pitt Blather. For what it’s worth.

[hyperlinks added.]

Can’t fault his choices. These are the ones I read regularly in the Big East blogosphere.

August 19, 2009

Other Things Besides QBs

Filed under: Fishwrap,Football,Media,Recruiting — Chas @ 5:16 pm

Quick thing, in reference to my prior posts about the end of the QB controversy — at least as far as the beat writers are concerned. They aren’t going to stop covering the performance of the QBs in camp, and who takes snaps with which groups.

I took their statements to mean, that barring any injuries or something really changing, they are not going to be writing about it through the prism of a QB competition — of whether Stull stays as the starter or whether Sunseri has or should be the starter. And where Bostick is in all this. That is far different from ignoring it.

Beat writing is tricky. Push too hard and be too aggressive and you get accused of having an agenda, being out to get the team/coach/player, or hating the same. Plus you find access and information dries up on you and there is little you can provide beyond official statements.

Go too soft and/or get too close, then you are accused of being nothing but a cheerleader or shill or apologist for the team/coach/player. You may get the access and information but not end up sharing it because you don’t want to hurt someone.

I’ve said it before, I think Pitt fans are lucky to have two newspapers that cover the team with very, very good reporters. Both Paul Zeise and Kevin Gorman do fine jobs. Some things may bother me or be flawed by them, but overall they are very good at their jobs.

Now on to other items.

Almost silly to be written, but a whole piece on AD Steve Pederson saying that the script and old colors aren’t coming back. Duh. Pederson is a good AD, and for both good and bad he is extremely stubborn.

He’s the one that got rid of the old colors and script before. One of the first things he did after returning was quietly pulling the dinocat and restoring his own preferred panther head blob. This is the guy that gave Callahan an extension at Nebraska after only one good season and was fired when he wouldn’t acknowledge his guy wasn’t working out.

An AP article about Pitt’s depth at linebacker. Especially with Adam Gunn’s backstory and Dan Mason surging. While Pitt is strong and stout on the defensive side, if Dan Mason doesn’t see action early that might be a bigger issue to Coach Wannstedt’s inflexibility than the QB.

So far, the 6-foot, 225-pound Mason hasn’t looked like a freshman, and he’s making Pitt deeper in what already is one of its strongest positions. Murray, for example, is a former starter, yet he is currently backing up Max Gruder at weak side linebacker, while sophomore Greg Williams starts at strong side linebacker.

“Physically, Mason is ready to play,” Wannstedt said. “But every day is a new learning experience as we continue to add plays. I will be interested to see him a couple of weeks from now, and after three games. I could see him getting some playing time.”

Wow. That sounds sincere.

Justin Hargrove has apparently found a home at Nose Guard.

The transition to nose guard has been smooth for Hargrove, who also is capable of playing defensive tackle. Gattuso called it a “very pleasant surprise” and credited Hargrove’s combination of flexibility, strength and leverage for his early success in training camp.

“I played nose guard. Trust me, if there’s an easier position in all of sports, I want to see it,” said Gattuso, a starter on Penn State’s 1982 national champion. “Playing nose guard is about as simple as it gets. There’s less thinking; just get off the ball and play. It’s been a good move. I told him the other day, ‘I think you’ve found a home. I think you can compete in here.'”

While he took advantage of his repetitions with the first-team defense in the absence of Gus Mustakas (rest day) and Caragein, Hargrove knows that the real payoff might not come until next season, when the Panthers have to replace starters Williams, Mustakas and reserve Craig Bokor on the depth chart.

One of Pitt’s earlier local commits, Aaron Donald at Penn Hills is looking for a big year, and gets a profile in the P-G.

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