Thursday, January 29, 2009
After Pitt went ahead by five at halftime, they looked like they should win. But turnovers (17) and foul trouble for Blair spelled doom. Three-point shooting was another factor as the team shot only 3-16 and Pitt won the rebound margin, but only by four.
I don't know - in the beginning of the year, I picked Pitt to lose either the WVU or Nova road game. But it's always hard to see them lose. Blair had a modest 7 points/8 rebounds and while Young led the Panthers with 14, he only shot 6-15.
This really might be the best blueprint to beat Pitt - make Young take tough shots and get Blair into foul trouble. Fields is great, but most nights, he isn't going to be able to pick up the scoring slack that much.
A bright spot was a strong game from local kid Brad Wanamaker. He came right in and asserted himself, shooting 6-7 and scoring 13 points in only 22 minutes.
The women's team also moved up in the rankings, up to #21 in the AP poll and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Like the Louisville game, Pitt started to pull away in the 2nd half. Unlike that game, however, they kept making shots down the stretch and were able to win the game.
WVU just didn't have a great shooting game - hitting only 41% of their shots and 26% of three-pointers. Young led Pitt with 22 points and really was the difference in the game. The team was struggling when he picked up his third foul less than 10 seconds into the 2nd half and had to come out. After Dixon put him back in with about 16 minutes to go, the team started getting on track.
I don't always make a habit of saying that one player makes a huge difference for Pitt as they have a lot that can step up. But the team really seemed to gel so much better with him in the lineup. Blair had another big game with 16/11.
Fields has generally been playing well. However, it seemed he's been turning the ball over quite a bit lately. When I looked at the stats from the past three games, including this one, it confirmed that - he's had 13 turnovers. It took him EIGHT games into the season to get that many. His assist to turnover ratio the past three games has been less than 1.5/1.0. In the seven previous games, it was at greater than 5.0/1.0 - quite a difference.
Let's hope he can handle the ball a little better.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Shavonte Zellous only scored 15 points, but it was still enough to lead the Panthers in scoring.
Pitt has now won three in a row and should move up in the polls after going 2-0 this week winning at Seton Hall and Syracuse.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
This looks to be a huge commit as he had offers from Penn State and West Virginia among others. The 2009 class is slowly looking a bit better - another solid pickup from Gattuso, who recruited Mason.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Pitt women also won a 76-40 rout, beating Seton Hall on the road. Shavonte Zellous, as usual, led all scorers with 29 points. She also added 11 rebounds.
In other news, ESPN.com's latest Bracketology predictions rank Pitt as a falling #8 seed.
"I swear, man, I hope we play Pitt again," Harris said. "I swear. I hope we play them in the Big East Tournament. I swear. If we play them, we're not going to lose. I'm going to guarantee we're going to beat them. I swear to God we're going to beat them. I want them again. I promise."
Now I don't want to say that Syracuse isn't a good team, but to guarantee a win against a top five team? That's borderline lunacy. Pitt could of course lose to Syracuse - let's not forget this last game was at home and the game was fairly close until down the stretch. But a guarantee? Interesting...I swear.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
After the loss, with a home game, I expected Pitt to win this...although not by 18. To be fair to Syracuse, it was a fairly close game with Pitt pulling away late. However, to be fair to Pitt, it didn't seem like the outcome was ever in doubt when they go ahead by about 7-8 in the 2nd half. The lead didn't grow for a while, but you could tell they just felt more comfortable.
The key was strong games by Pitt's big three of Blair (20 and 12), Young (game-high 22 points), and Fields (15 points/6 assists).
Even though Pitt fans may have been focusing on the improved shooting from the Louisville game, Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette has a nice article about Jermaine Dixon's defense.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, Pitt fell three spots to fourth in the rankings. I'm a little surprised that rampant homerism didn't push UNC of the ACC ahead of Pitt (even with two losses). I expected them to fall another spot or two, so I was pleasantly surprised.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
He also mentions Jonathan Baldwin as the #7 potential star for the Big East in 2009 if the QB can find a way to get him the ball.
I agree - if they can get the ball in his hands (and that's a huge if based on the quarterback play this year), he could really have a breakout year and really be one of the top offensive threats in the league. With the departure of Shady, they'll probably be relying a little more on the passing game.
Let's just hope we see more quick slants and mid-range passes rather than those questionable fade passes down the sideline.
On a final note, it's good to see Larry Fitzgerald have success in the NFL. He's turned into arguably the top wideout in the league and today, he tied the conference championship record for TD catches and also broke a long-standing record held by the best of all-time, Jerry Rice. Congratulations Fitz.
This one was kind of a shocker - at least to me. Going in, I thought it would be a battle. But after Pitt hung with Louisville in the first half even with Blair and Young missing considerable time due to foul trouble, I figured they'd pull it out. When they went up by ten with more than half of the second half done, I thought it was in the bag. But Louisville kept scrapping away and found a way to win.
The press really seemed to kill Pitt. Some may think it's a blueprint for other teams to follow, but I don't know how many teams can press as well as Louisville does.
I'm a little disappointed - not because I thought they could go undefeated, because the conference is just too tough. But because it almost seems as if they let up a little after they pulled ahead in the 2nd half. When Pitt goes out and punches someone in the mouth late in the game, they don't usually have to worry about teams punching back...they usually just die.
You have to hand it to Louisville - their press worked extremely well in the first half and even when it wasn't effective in the 2nd half as players started fouling, it still kept the pressure on the Panthers.
The story for this one was the two things that will kill any team - turnovers (20 - 6 of which were Fields') and poor shooting (under 35%). Yuck. While Young is getting a lot of blame, which he should, for a 6-20 shooting performance, the turnovers just killed Pitt.
The secondary story for me is the tale of two players - Brad Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon. Wanamaker really seems to have turned the corner this year, but he simply was overmatched. The press seemed to really get to him and while he did okay, he never was able to get into a rhythm offensively, scoring only 2 points (both free throws) in 19 minutes. It seemed he was too hurried just handling the ball that he never got a chance to focus offensively.
Dixon on the other hand has looked amazing these last two games. I'm hesitant to say that it's all credited two Juan Dixon and that post-game shooting session they had together that's mentioned a lot - I don't know if one session like that could bring about such a change. But I will say that the confidence he's getting is only making him better. He's shooting more and shooting better. He had a high of 19 points for Pitt and shot 3-4 from three-point range.
At any rate, Pitt doesn't have much time to get organized with a game on Monday against top 10 Syracuse. At least it's at home.
Regarding the rankings, I think they'll probably drop to #5-#6, but we'll see.
Zellous had a game-high 27 points. I was shocked to find that she is the third-leading scorer in the NCAA averaging 23.6 ppg and she's only .9 behind the overall leader. She's definitely looking like a first-team All-American and maybe even a potential candidate for Player of the Year.
With losses by a few teams ahead of them in the polls, they should be back in the AP top 25 this week and possibly have a chance to get back in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I know that lots has been made of the fact that the running back situation is in good hands next year. But it's still hard to lose an all-world talent like McCoy. He would have been a legitimate Heisman candidate next year and could have really cemented his legacy as a Panther with another great year and could have, in my opinion, had his number retired if he stuck around. I don't think there's a chance that happens now since he only stayed two years.
All in all, it was a fun ride and you can only hope that Pitt lands more players like him.
Monday, January 12, 2009
For those hoping he comes back, this can only be good news. It was reported last week that he basically had made up his mind to declare. With this delay, it appears he's really considering coming back.
Frankly, I expect him to leave. I think he probably feels at least somewhat bad about saying he was coming back. I really feel that everyone including family and friends are probably pushing him in that direction and that he just wants to make sure it's really what he wants to do. I think the idea of being a Pitt legend intrigues him, but I also think that he wonders how successful the team might be - even with his return. If he knew they could get to a BCS bowl, I believe that he would be back.
Do I have any inside information? Not at all...just my opinion.
For a while, it looked as if the first No. 1 ranking in school history would last one week. That's how badly Pitt played for stretches of the first half of its Big East Conference home opener yesterday against St. John's.
Eventually, though, they wore them down - winning their first game with the #1 ranking. St. John's coach Norm Roberts may have said it best when he described the game-changing player:
"A Mack Truck," he said. "DeJuan Blair is an absolute beast. It seems like his mindset is, 'I'm going to get the ball.' We got physically worn down."
I'm not going to overload this post with a bunch of comments - I pretty much did that yesterday. But this was a strong win over a conference foe with an 8-day layoff - all in all, a nice victory...even though we did manage to turn the ball over way too much.
Surprisingly, afterwards, Pitt held onto its number one ranking in both polls...although Wake Forest managed to seemingly get the remaining UNC votes from both polls. *cough* Homerism *cough*
In real news, guard Jania Sims is out for the season after playing in only the first game and forward Kate Popovec will be out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle. Sims will apply for a medical redshirt.
Also, as expected, the women's team fell out of the rankings after a week that saw them lose two games. They settled in just outside the AP's top 25 at #26.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Tyler Hansbrough - 22.6 ppg
Kevin Durant - 25.8 ppg
JJ Redick - 26.8 ppg
Andrew Bogut - 20.4 ppg
Jameer Nelson - 20.6 ppg
T.J. Ford - 15.0 ppg
Jason Williams - 21.6 ppg
Shane Battier - 19.9 ppg
Kenyon Martin - 18.9 ppg
Elton Brand - 17.7 ppg
Further, Ford's 15.0 ppg is the lowest total for an award winner in the past 20 years.
Is it possible to take the Naismith without scoring at least 18-20 ppg in a season? Sure - as evidenced by Ford and Brand. But there would probably have to be exceptional circumstances where there would be a very limited number of quality candidates. That isn't the case this year. I think the chances are slim that he could win the award. Other than the big three of Hansbrough, Griffin, and Curry falling off the face of the earth, three things probably would need to happen:
1. His scoring average would have to get up to 16-18 per game
2. Sam Young's numbers would really have to drop to establish that Blair is the clear statistical leader
3. Pitt would have to have such an outstanding year to get more notice for Blair
The toughest barrier might be that he may not even be the best player on his team.
At any rate, it was PITT, not Rutgers who landed Epps. Scouting services vary on his ranking:
Rivals - #8 PG
Scout.com - #10 PG
ESPN.com - #16 PG
Rivals and Scout both have him listed as a four-star recruit.
If it sticks, this looks to be a solid get for the team. Even if Gibbs and/or Woodall work out, they'll both be Juniors at that time, Epps could have two years to learn before taking over as the starter. All of this assumes quite a bit, but it looks like a good fit for now. Congratulations to Pitt on the first recruit for the 2010-11 season.
1. Really down games by Young and Biggs were overcome by strong games by Dixon (career high 17 points) and Blair (23 points / 15 rebounds).
2. A few statistical anomalies including four turnovers by Fields and 82% FT shooting by Blair.
3. The thing that kept them alive in the first half was getting all of those turnovers. St. John's ended the game with a whopping 24 - that really helped Pitt take control.
4. Wanamaker is really starting to come into his own. Frankly, even though he was a freshman, he looked so lost at times last year that I thought he might be buried on the bench for the rest of his Pitt career or even a transfer candidate. But his play has been really solid and he's not only now a strong bench player, he could start for lesser teams in my opinion.
5. I always panic when I see starters still in there late in the game. With about three minutes left and a 23 point lead our starters were still in. I would really have liked to see them come out at about the 5 minute mark. I understand if the lead starts to evaporate, they might have to come back in. But really, it's starting to look like an injury is one of the few things that could derail this team.
All in all a 23-point win over a conference foe after an 8-game layoff - can't argue with that.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Shavonte Zellous had another strong game with 26 points, but the Lady Panthers (11-4) are sure to fall out of the rankings with two losses this week. Pitt will have a week off before hosting South Florida next Saturday.
Doug is back at his anti-Pitt sentiment again, trying to somehow explain how Pitt shouldn't be ranked #1. The funny part is that in the beginning of the column, he takes a strike-first approach, noting that Pitt fans may think he is out to get them. Yes, Doug - actually, that's exactly what we think.
Anyway, I don't disagree with the sentiment that many basketball fans (even some Pitt fans) would say that UNC may still be the best team. But as I pointed out in a post in the comments section of that article, the rankings are not necessarily indicative of the best teams...rather, the teams that are PLAYING the best. If it was about the best teams, then whenever a team lost, many times they might not drop at all. The voters understand this and that's the way it works.
Even so, it's not hard to make an argument that Pitt is the best team. They have no losses (UNC has 1), they have the #1 RPI (UNC is #12), their Strength of Schedule is #2 (UNCs is #85), and they murdered a top ten team on the road that had just beaten the #2 team.
It almost seems like Gottlieb does this sort of stuff now on purpose, playing the heel role.
Friday, January 9, 2009
"Nothing is final. We just talked about the whole issue," McCoy said while walking out of the South Side facility after meeting with Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt for 11/2 hours. McCoy's parents and his brother accompanied him to the meeting.
This isn't entirely a surprise. Even when the stories broke yesterday that he was leaving, while it looked that way, nothing was ever confirmed.
I don't know, I almost don't really want to comment on this until something happens either way. But I will say this -
I'm pleasantly surprised at the lack of backlash that seems to be out there among Pitt fans. I'm glad they are looking at the situation as a whole and not really bashing him...at least from the talk show callers and message boards I've seen/heard. Even though Shady did say he wasn't leaving, this is an entirely different situation from Ben Howland going to UCLA. Many Pitt fans (including myself) think that Howland could have handled his departure better and were especially upset when Howland seemed to deny any interest in leaving before taking the job.
Ben Howland was a full-grown adult. While Shady is technically an adult, he's still a kid. You can't take the same stance against him and say, "he went back on his word." Did he? Of course. But people realize that if he can reasonably be a first-round pick, it's not a bad move. Really, he has to do what's best for himself. If he wants to come back for another year because he loves college, there's no harm in that - despite what people calling for him to go to the NFL might say.
The bad news for him is that so many top running backs are declaring for this year. But while we can project what will happen next year and say there may be fewer quality backs, we'll never know. Right now, there are some sophomores out there that will have breakout years and consider leaving early. No one can tell how many.
Being selfish, of course I'd like to see him back. But if he doesn't, I'd certainly understand.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Looking more and more like it's a done deal - McCoy to the NFL. The 'no comment' in the story makes it look like he's leaving.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
For some unknown reason, I was wondering how Marcedes Walker ended up in her rookie year last year with the WNBA's Houston Comets....I know, slow day. Anyway, I didn't even realize she was waived by the team back in June after averaging 0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 5.5 minutes of action. Even the Houston residents didn't seem to think this was big news (scroll to the bottom to see comments). Looks like she's back to her old form playing in Europe.
And in the "I knew she was good, but didn't know she was THAT good" category, I stumbled upon an ESPN.com article mentioning that her younger sister, Markel, who had committed to Pitt, backed out of her commitment last year. Now I heard she was a good prospect, but had no idea she was the #6 ranked player in the nation.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
But McCoy's mother said Monday that the family is awaiting a report from the NFL Draft Advisory Board before making a final decision.
"LeSean does love being there. He loves Pitt and loves the football team. I know he wants to be there," Daphne McCoy said. "But he's 20. At 20 years old, you don't always know what's good for you.
Certainly no reason to think he won't be back, but it also doesn't look like the guarantee it sounded like yesterday. I guess reports of him kind of backing away from the guarantee have some merit. From what it sounds like, I'd be surprised to see him go. But does that change if the report projects him as a high first-rounder? That might be too hard to pass up.
With the fast start, I have to be honest. I don't know if that would satisfy me. This team is built to win it all:
Solid inside presence? Check.
Smart point guard play? Check.
Star one-on-one player? Check.
Balanced team with offense AND defense? Check.
Two things remain that are enough to knock this team out of the tournament early (and most Pitt fans know what they are) - Perimeter shooting and frontcourt depth. The team is nearly impossible to beat when they shoot well. Heck, they're hard enough to beat when they don't. But keeping Blair out of foul trouble is definitely a necessity. McGhee hasn't shown enough consistency, despite looking very good at times. Without another big man, Pitt's best option might be to play small if Blair does happen to pick up quick fouls. While moving Biggs to Center is not ideal, a frontcourt of Biggs, Young, and Brown is probably more formidable than McGhee, Biggs, and Blair. Brown is so talented - in my opinion, after Young, the player most able to get a quality shot off by driving to the hoop.
Can Pitt win without shooting well or Blair in foul trouble? They've already proven they can. But against a high-quality opponent? That's yet to be seen.
Going back to the point of this post - with so many pieces in place, it's hard not to get downright excited about the possibilities with this team. A Final Four at this point might be the only acceptable finish to the season. This team can clearly play with anyone in the country, including North Carolina. Final Four or Bust.
Monday, January 5, 2009
For starters, it appears both Shady AND Cavanaugh will be back. Many fans might take this as a 'good news / bad news' situation. Obviously, McCoy back can only be seen as a huge positive:
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said today during his season-ending news conference that he expects standout tailback Lesean McCoy to return for his junior season next year. Wannstedt said McCoy and his family had contemplated him leaving school early and declaring for the NFL draft but that all parties decided the best thing would be for McCoy to return to school for at least one more season.
Cavanaugh, however, is kind of a different story...although Wannstedt was quick to point out that he is solidly behind him:
Wannstedt also said there will be no changes on the coaching staff and fully endorsed the job which was done by embattled offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, particularly with regards to his work with the Panthers quarterbacks.
"Matt has forgotten more about coaching quarterbacks than most of the other guys out there will ever know," Wannstedt said. "And you can quote me on that one."
You can tell he was dying to get that last line in. I don't know. I'm sure Cavanaugh through his playing career and coaching career alone has learned quite a bit. However, his showing in the Sun Bowl certainly didn't help an already rough relationship with fans. He may know quite a bit, but it would be hard for even his strongest supporters to fully support his play calling this year. McCoy saw far too few opportunities in the first half of the bowl game and when Stull struggled on the deep balls and fade routes, it looked like more quick/screen passes might have helped...anything to move the ball. It's hard to be an expert just watching the game on tv, but to score zero points in a bowl game against a suspect defense is borderline inexcusable.
Other tidbits include Stull remaining the starter heading into the Spring, but it will basically be an open competition:
"Tino Sunseri is going to get a hard, hard look this spring, and so is Pat Bostick and so will Billy. We're going to be more demanding at that position than we've ever been because I think we all know that for us to take the next step, we've got to be more productive there and it's going to take a bigger commitment on my part, a bigger commitment on Matt Cavanaugh's part and a bigger commitment on our players' part for that to happen."
I don't think the QB news surprises anyone. Wannstedt clearly isn't too high on Bostick right now. However, it appears the futures of Kevan Smith and Greg Cross may be up in the air for now.
TE Nate Byham (shoulder) and CB Jared Holley (arthroscopic knee) will also apparently undergo surgery while Tackle Jason Pinkston will have an MRI to determine if he needs shoulder surgery.
The emphasis from news outlets obviously was that it was Pitt's first #1 ranking in the school's 101-year history.
As I pointed out earlier, this is monumental for the school. Championships aren't won until the end of the year, and rest assured, if Pitt fails to crack at least the Elite 8 this year, the season will be viewed by many as a disappointment. However, a #1 ranking is the kind of resume-builder the school needs to be considered a truly elite program.
Funny that Coach Dixon seems to play down its impact:
"It won't mean much to our players. We've been consistently good, but at the same time we haven't won a national championship, so nothing changes."
While Blair thinks the opposite:
"We're excited," sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. "It means a whole lot for us. But we need to stay focused and keep our heads in it, stay humble."
I wonder which is right.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Several reports/rumors have come out stating that he's having second thoughts. Who really knows - not much has been said since his November interview. With the season officially over, Wannstedt is probably checking into his draft stock as much as he can to offer the most information he can, while trying to get publicity for his seniors.
If he's back, I believe the football team would probably be ranked somewhere between #10 and #20. If not, maybe around #20 - #25.
Reports I've seen seem to place him as one of the top handful of running backs available, suggesting he could be a 1st or 2nd round draft pick. If he seems to be a lock for a 1st round pick, it would be hard to see him back. But it looks as if he really enjoys college life and Pittsburgh in general. Plus, I think he would love to get Pitt to a BCS bowl and really cement his legacy here. If he's back, Pitt will in all likelihood do what it can to promote him early on for the Heisman.
Zellous led the Panthers with a 34-point effort. Not sure what her WNBA draft stock is like, but you'd imagine she'd be seen as a high-round draft pick. She gets a nice article from Mechelle Voepel at ESPN talking about how she wasn't highly recruited:
"Only one Division I college had expressed any desire to bring in Shavonte Zellous when she was in high school in Orlando, Fla. It was in the spring of her senior year, and she figured maybe that's where she was headed: South Carolina State.
Then again, maybe not. She wasn't sure what was going to happen. Most of her fellow seniors across the nation by then had long since made their college plans. Zellous, a 5-foot-11 guard, had been the MVP of her state high school hoops tournament. She was also a track standout. But it didn't seem as if any college was really all that interested in her."
Not so fast...
With unranked Boston College's upset win over No. 1 North Carolina, Pitt is likely to move up to the top overall spot in both national polls - a first for the University. While the team has been ranked No. 2 in the polls, most recently in 2006, it has never held the top ranking.
Make no mistake about it - while it's the regular season, this is a true milestone for the school. In terms of recruiting and overall prestige, it's a big step. With a win against unranked St. Johns at home, the team could hold onto the ranking for two weeks...if not longer.