Wednesday, December 31, 2008


December 31, 2008

The crazy week of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights continues on New Year's Eve as RU welcomes third ranked Pittsburgh to the RAC. Rutgers played No. 1 North Carolina on Sunday night and have Connecticut, currently ranked No. 2, on the schedule for Saturday. Rutgers lost the first leg of this three-game stretch 97-75 to UNC.

Pittsburgh has not played since December 21st when they won a tough, physical match-up at Florida State. It was the Panthers first true road game of the season and they got the win despite shooting just 33% from the floor and their floor general Levance Fields going just 1-10. Pitt showed they still had tough defense and strong rebounding, with DeJuan Blair second in the nation in rebounding average, but also Sam Young is a difference maker and his two late baskets keyed Pitt's win.

Here are some of the pre-game previews and stories found on the internet about the game:

Pitt Set to Open Big East Play Today (Tribune-Review)
Rosario, Woodall Enjoy Reunion (Tribune-Review)
Boys Hit the Big Time as Rosario, Woodall Reunite (SNY.tv)
Pitt Opens Big East Play at Rutgers (York Daily Record)

it is still hard for me to believe that Rutgers has lost to St. Bonaventure, Lehigh and Binghmpton at the RAC already this season. They have also struggled mightily against 5-9 Marist (winning by two) and 2-13 Delaware State (winning by 5) on their homecourt which is regarded as one of the tougher venues in the league.

With a roster that has added a pair of freshman all-americans in Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique to a line-up that had veteran upperclassmen in Anthony Farmer, JR Inman and Hamady N'Diaye as well as sophomores Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn who had some success individually as freshmen, this was supposed to be a stronger RU club, but something has yet to jive.

The Panthers come into the game with a 12-0 record, a no. 3 national ranking and a RPI ranking of #1. Pitt has a veteran leader at point guard n Levance Fields as well as a senior star in Sam Young. Also, star-in-the-making DeJuan Blair is a menacing rebounding in the paint.

Not forgotten to the Panthers is a stunning 77-64 home loss to the Scarlet Knights last season, an outcome that is likely to be reminded often to his players by Jamie Dixon. Pitt was without an injured Levance Fields in that contest.

Current college basketball odds show the Panthers as a 14 1/2-point road favorite. Rutgers is likely to play with some renewed energy and maybe even a little extra confidence from their game against UNC last Sunday. While the Pitt defense will likely be tougher and the conference atmosphere will mean a more intense game, RU should keep Pitt from running away with the win. The Panthers also must avoid looking ahead to their date with Georgetown this weekend.


Pittsburgh 67
Rutgers 55


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December 31, 2008

The Big East is defying college football odds by starting out 3-0 on the college football bowl season.

So far, South Florida, West Virginia and Rutgers have come up winners and Pitt will look to make it four in a row when they take on Oregon State out of the Pac 10 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso (TX).

So, was the Big East football conference underrated? Or, have they been given favorable match-ups. In all honesty, it is likely a mixture of both, but moreso favorable match-ups in my opinion. The Sun Bowl should be a strong gauge.

Oregon State owns wins this season over USC, Cal and Arizona, a pretty good trio, but they also have some tough losses (Stanford, Utah), including their 65-38 home loss to Oregon to close the regular season.

Oddsmakers have Oregon State between a two and three point favorite in this one, but look for the physical Panther defense and the running on LeSean McCoy to control the pace of the game. The Pac 10 is not as physical as the Big East, so the Panthers could get them back on their heels with some smash mouth football and look for one of the best kickers in America, Connor Lee, to be the difference.


Pittsburgh 27
Oregon State 24


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Monday, December 29, 2008

Big East Journey Begins With Pitt Stop At Rutgers

By Zach Smart

Jamie Dixon has never been one to make an ant an elephant. He knew that the pre-season point guard dilemma was nothing to stamp home about, nothing to fret over or dwell on, and nothing that would interfere with lofty, titanic aspirations.

“You know, nobody’s feeling sorry for us,” said a serene Dixon, one of the nation’s premier recruiters who molds young talent at the same rate that Bob Marley would smoke trees and sing epic freedom-themed songs.

At the time, there was a question mark surrounding point guard Levance Fields. Fields aggravated an injury to his left foot and was the most experienced, dynamic staple of the Panther backcourt. When Fields is delivering pin-point passes and sticking momentum-rolling threes, Pittsburgh’s college basketball odds of winning increase.

Dixon was going with walk-on Ryan Tiesi (Travon Woodall was out with a concussion as well) and callow freshman Ashton Gibbs in practice, and it looked like an indicator that the mighty may have fallen.

Not so fast.

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Fields has played in every game this season, leading the undefeated Panthers to their zenith while averaging 10 points and 6.4 assists.

With Sam Young (20.1 points, 5.8 boards) establishing himself as one of the country’s elite scorers and 6-foot-7, 265-pound behemoth DeJaun Blair patrolling the paint to the tune of 14.7 points and 13 rebounds per game, Pitt assures you they’re for real this season.

They’ve eaten up the meat of the nonconference schedule in shark-sized bites, going 12-0 while shellacking opponents by an average of 20 points per game.

Prior to their recent 56-48 triumph over Florida State, no team Pitt faced was able to pull within 12 points of them. Dump off and dump off, the Panthers have vaulted into the top chamber of the nation’s most talented teams. They are ranked third and one of four unbeatens, sitting alongside an elite group in UNC, UConn, and Oklahoma.

One player who has come in and forged his imprint is guard Jermaine Dixon. The Baltimore product is the younger brother of NBA guard and University of Maryland standout, Juan Dixon.

For Jermaine, who was raised in the hardscrabble streets during trying times for his family (both of his parents succumbed to AIDS), viewed one as a father figure.
He was essentially raised by his brother and he shoulders that same savvy that Dixon brought to Maryland, when he won coach Gary Williams a national championship over Indiana (that was back when Jarred Jeffries had game) in 2002. Jermaine Dixon has displayed an aptitude for taking cats off the dribble and finishing strong at the cup.
Entering Big East play Dec. 31 at Rutgers, the bullseye is centered on the Panthers’ back.


-In order to make it a close game, the Scarlet Knights must clamp down on Young, who loves to snake along the baseline and get free for jumpers.

-Rutgers has clearly been downgraded to the low-rent district of the Big East after dropping games to St. Bonaventure, Lehigh, ad Binghamton—all teams which lack the personnel and essential ingredients to tred water in the Big East Ocean.

-Sunday’s game at top-ranked UNC, one of the four unbeatens in the NCAA, should help prepare the Knights for the athletic and more intimidating, physical brand of ball that Pittsburgh employs.

-The battle on the boards will be a major component of this Big East opener. With boardsmith DeJuan Blair, the Knights will have their hands full. Super-sized bigs Gregory Echenique and Hamady N’Dyiaye, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11, respectively, need to become more aggressive and crash the boards. If they want to make it a game, they cannot let the 6-foot-7 Blair outhustle and outstrength them. Echenique has become a presence patrolling the paint, averaging a team-high 9.5 boards per. N’Dyiaye, a Sudan native who’s still sushi-raw and a work-in-progress, has been active on the glass with 7.1 RPG. The task of boxing out Blair and keeping him in check, however, is about as easy as attempting to put toothpaste back in the tube.

-Rutgers has apparently undergone a metamorphosis, with J.R. Inman playing a much lesser role. His minutes have dipped, significantly, while his offensive production has dropped like the flailing economy. With Echenique and N’Dyiye providing a towering tandem that Rutgers hasn’t had in quite some time, the writing’s pretty much on the wall.


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Pitt Basketball Q&A

By Chris Dokish

New questions from Pitt fans about the state of the basketball program.

Q: DeAndre Kane? What's the deal? Did he commit to Seton Hall?

A: Good question. Seton Hall people claim he committed to them. He told the Pitt coaches that he didn't commit to anybody. He does make it interesting. I think if Pitt was sure that they wanted him, then he would have committed to them by now. But from what I can piece together, it seems that, while they think he can be a nice addition to the team, no other guards look like they want to leave the program. Of course, Pitt could always tell one of the current guards that they may be better off somewhere else, and if it was Dominic Cheek or Durand Scott, that probably would have happened. But it's something Jamie Dixon has always tried to avoid. He did it with Cassin Diggs and Diggs didn't go as quietly as was hoped. Bottom line, they aren't sure Kane is worth upsetting what they have. He's a good, not great prospect at this time and Pitt is merely letting it play out for now to see what will happen.

Q: Why didn't Kane commit when he visited and was offered?


A: I know a lot of fans were expecting that since Cheek chose Villanova that same weekend, that Kane would immediately commit to Pitt. But that wasn't really the plan. Kane was just off of school for that time so he visited Pitt. And the Panthers did not push him to commit for reasons that I explained in the previous answer.

Quite simply, Kane falls into the category of good local prospects who over the years have kind of had "half offers", if you will. They were never really given a flat out official offer, but it was kind of understood that if they wanted to come to Pitt, they were more than welcome because they were in fact good prospects. The thinking being, if you can get a good local player from time to time then it's in Pitt's interest to do it. But the truth is, there are better prospects out there who may fit the program even better. But those players are harder to get. Don't get me wrong. Kane is a good prospect and he could do well at Pitt. But he's not so good that Pitt is in any rush to toss somebody aside for him. Right now the only school really pursuing Kane hard is Seton Hall, so there is no hurry. If he commits to the Pirates, then so be it. Pitt will move on. He was far from a must get. If he waits, then Pitt can also wait to see what plays out. Maybe a guard on the team leaves or maybe Kane develops even more and Pitt feels they have no choice but to add him.

Q: If Kane does go to Seton Hall, does that mean that Pitt can now land Kyryl Natyazhko?

A: One has nothing to do with the other. If there is movement in the front court, then Pitt will pursue Natyazhko. They like him, and will monitor him closely, just in case an opening occurs.

Q: Do you think DeJuan Blair would be drafted if he came out after this season?

A: Yes. I think he would be a first round draft pick. I know fans try to bring up any perceived weakness he has to convince themselves that he won't be good enough, but I'm afraid that's just wishful thinking. His only real weakness is his lack of height,but his extremely long arms makes that only a minor weakness. He's a 265 pound manbeast with amazing hands and excellent agility. Just how many people like that do you think exists? I'm not saying he will go, however. Nobody at Pitt was told one way or the other by him. But they're not stupid. They know it's quite possible.

Q: You were very high on Lamar Patterson, but I saw him on TV recently and wasn't very impressed. Did he just have a bad game?

A: I saw the game in question and that wasn't the Patterson I saw last year. I think he is getting used to playing at an entirely different level. The kid can be a player, though. I know Tom Herrion likes him a lot and has said that he could be a "lights out shooter" eventually. In fact, Herrion just went to see him play today and word is, Lamar looked very good. He's a bull of a kid, who is an excellent passer and could be an excellent shooter. He is a decent athlete, but his lack of truly elite athleticism may prevent him from being a star. Bottom line, he should be a good player for Pitt if he shoots like Herrion says he can.

Q: Has any of Pitt's prospects looked really good this year?

A: They have all looked good. The Pitt staff knows what they are doing. But I said it once and I'll say it again. Talib Zanna could be special. He is filling out and he already had great length and athleticism. He's coming on like gangbusters and by the time he comes to Pitt he may have gone from sleeper to genuine top level prospect.

Q: Do you think Jamie Dixon will go to Arizona?

A: Dixon almost left before and was very close to leaving for Arizona State. I know this for a fact because I was talking to a mutual friend and confidante of ours who told me this, and a lot more that I don't need to get into. It was close enough that the Arizona State athletic director was devastated when he re-signed with Pitt. She thought it was a done deal. But the reason he almost left wasn't because he didn't love Pitt or because he was enamored with the state of Arizona. It was because he wasn't getting paid much by Pitt at the time and when somebody offers you a lot more money, then you have to seriously look into that. Deep down he wanted to stay at Pitt, but he was prepared to leave if they didn't step up to the plate. Well, they did.

From people I talked to, Dixon, while still not among the top paying coaches, got a pretty sweet contract to keep him away from Arizona State, and from Pitt's side a pretty substantial buyout. So to answer your question, I think any coach would be stupid not to listen (or as it is in most cases, get their agent to listen so they can pretend like their innocent), but it would take Arizona a lot of money to get him away from Pitt. And from what I was told by those close to the situation, Arizona doesn't have that kind of dough, especially in today's economy. So unless he secretly dislikes something going on at Pitt, which I haven't heard of, I don't see him going to Arizona.

Q: Am I the only one that thinks this Pitt team is top heavy in regards to talent?

A: I'm right there with you, actually. Before the season started I was worried that Pitt had two excellent players (Blair and Young) and two very good players (Fields and Brown), but the rest of the team had questions. But then once the season got underway, I was very impressed with Fields and it looked to me like Pitt had three excellent players. And, to me, if you have three excellent players you are a Final Four contender and you college basketball odds increase significantly.

But since then, things have changed again. Fields is not looking too good and is back to just being a very good player. And Brown still hasn't reached the level of a very good player. Tyrell Biggs has done a fine job as a scrappy role player and Jermaine Dixon has been decent. I know a lot of fans love Dixon, but I'm not sure I'm with them on that yet. He is a good defensive player and a good athlete, but he isn't much of a scorer. Despite averaging over 20 ppg in juco, he was not considered a very good offensive player, and he is shooting 40% from the field and 20% from three point range right now. Sorry, but that's not going to cut it. He's never going to be topnotch offensively, but he has to get better than that.

So you basically have two excellent players, one very good player in Fields, and three decent role players in Biggs, Dixon, and Brown. After that, the talent level drops off a lot. Brad Wanamaker is shooting a little better, but he still makes a bad play for every good play, and he is still a turnover machine. Ashton Gibbs has proved to me that he can flat out shoot, but I don't know if he's going to be out there long enough to do much of that this season. Gary McGhee is all heart and elbows, but his talent is limited. And Nasir Robinson and Travon Woodall can't even get on the floor. Woodall has been especially disappointing.

Bottom line, this team is No. 3 this season for two reasons. One, they have two bonafide stars in Young and Blair. I think both are among the top five players in the conference and maybe the top twenty in the country. Second is defense. They still can generate a lot of points in spurts by generally harassing teams to death. They will go as far as those two things take them because that is by far their two biggest strengths.

Q: How devastating of a loss was Darnell Dodson? I saw an article last week about how great he's doing.

A: I swear at this point, you would think the kid was George Gervin. Pitt could always use shooters and Dodson is a good shooter who would have seen time right away next year. There's no question about that. But I can also tell you that the people at Pitt did not all go out and cut their wrists over it. In fact, one person at Pitt who shall remain nameless said that he didn't even think Dodson was that good. I can tell you this, though. Of all the people that Pitt recruited since Dixon has been the head coach, Dodson is not even in the top 20 most talented players that they missed on. He is overhyped. The article in question was written for a Memphis newspaper. And he was not even considered a top recruit until he signed with Memphis. Then he miraculously shot up the rankings despite not playing in a single game, either officially or unofficially, between when he was committed to Pitt and when he committed to Memphis. A fact, by the way, that infuriated some people at Pitt to no end. I think ultimately it was the unfair way that Dodson was lost to Pitt that makes the fans maybe think he was better than he really was.

Q: Is it me or does Pitt look like they could have a big drop off next season?

A: On paper, Pitt may appear quite weak next year. Their two top talents could be Blair and Dante Taylor. But Blair may go pro and Taylor is not a guarantee to star right away. On the other hand, Blair could stay, Taylor could be a nice looking player right off the bat, and Brown may finally turn into a star. It could go either way. But I must say that the future at guard is rather suspect at this point so the frontline must be ready to carry the team. Gibbs can flat out shoot, but he has to develop other parts of his game or he won't be on the floor long enough to shoot. Wanamaker and Dixon just don't have much of an offensive game yet and it's unlikely they will suddenly turn into big time scorers. Woodall was going to be groomed to be the heir apparent for Fields, but has been a major disappointment so far. A lot of these guards are young, but they weren't considered elite prospects either, so it may be naive to think they will eventually turn into big time guards. Of course they will be scrappy bulldogs in the Pitt syle, but if the frontcourt is not dynamic will that be enough? Ultimately, it's hard to say how good, or how mediocre, Pitt will be next year, but considering the fact that Jamie Dixon always seems to get a lot out of his players, nobody should be surprised if he somehow managed to win 25 games again next year, even if he was starting the waterboy at point guard.


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Friday, December 05, 2008


December 5, 2008

The much anticipated battle for Big East supremecy is looking like it could come down to the wire with a battle between the Pittsburgh Panthers and Connecticut Huskies. In Five Big East Questions With...Mike DeCourcy, the national college basketball writer for the Sporting News believes the league title could be decided March 7th when the two programs meet.

Wait...that is in basketball! While many around the Big East is geared up for an exciting basketball season ahead, there is still the matter of a few football games this weekend around the Big East, each with NCAA Bowl Game Implications, including when the Panthers travel to Storrs to take on the Huskies, on the football field.

Pittsburgh, after a late rally, comes into the game on the toes of a 19-15 victory over arch rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. Panther star LeSean McCoy rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter, to give Pitt the win.

McCoy's final TD came in the games last minute following a Pat White interception as WVU tried to ice the game with a couple first downs.

On the other side, UConn relies on their star running back, Donald Brown, to lead their attack. Brown has amassed 1,633 yards this season (compared to 1,308 of McCoy) and 16 touchdowns on the ground (compared to 20 for 'Shady'). The Huskies are 3-3 in the Big East and 7-4 overall, both putting them one game behind the Panthers in the standings and bowl pecking order.

Current NCAA Football Odds have the Huskies listed as 2 1/2 point home favorites. Neither team has been setting the world on fire with their play from under center, as both quarterbacks have struggled lately. That usually means a little trouble for the road team, and, coming off the emotional victory over their rival, a let down is certainly possible for the Panthers in this one.


Connecticut 20
Pittsburgh 16


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Monday, December 01, 2008


by Ray Floriani

NEWARK, NJ – Pitt captured the Legends Classic defeating Texas Tech in the semifinal and Washington State in the championship. The tournament, played at the Prudential Center , not only gave the Panthers another trophy and legitimized their ranking , but drove home a crucial point, they can beat you at your pace or theirs.

Facing Texas Tech, Jamie Dixon’s club went up against a team that pushed the ball and had the green light on three point attempts. Washington State , on the other hand, favors a slower half court pace and is much more methodical. Pitt handled both challenges in impressive fashion. A tempo free look at both contests:

Texas Tech..........................67.................88
(76 possession game)

Washington St.......................43...............73
(59 possessions)

The tempo free breakdown gives a graphic illustration of the difference of Pitt’s opposition game plans in the two games. One thing that was consistent was the Panther defense. Holding an opponent under 100 is good. Under 90 is outstanding and will increase anyone's college basketball odds of winning exponentially. Another point to consider is Pitt faced quality teams on both nights. As Jamie Dixon said after the final,” I would be really surprised if any of these teams were not playing in the NCAA tournament in March.”

An individual note on the Panthers:

Sam Young – Earned tournament MVP honors. Scored a team high 24 points in the semifinal and a game high 15 points to go along with 8 rebounds in the final. Young showed his versatility by taking the ball to the basket or hitting the perimeter shot. A constant threat for opposing defenses both nights.

DaJuan Blair – Simply a force in the paint. Had a double-double (15 points 11 rebounds) in the semifinal. Blair followed up with a workmanlike 7 point 10 rebound effort in the championship. Was the other Panther to join Young on the all-tournament team. Blair was a handful for opponents to say the least and a major reasons Pitt owned the backboards both nights.

Levance Fields – The senior guard didn’t shoot the ball very well over the two nights. Fields did score 14 points in the final. A significant point total and boost to the offense in a game where points and possessions were at a premium.

Tyrell Biggs – Provided a good inside presence on both nights. Proved that if you give too much defensive attention to Blair and forget about Biggs, he can take up the slack.

Jermaine Dixon – Shot the ball better against Texas Tech (8 points). The junior guard did pull down 5 rebounds and go 5 of 6 from the line in the championship.

Bench – solid. Jamie Dixon even went with an all freshman backcourt of Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs midway through the first half to give his starting duo (Fields and Dixon) a breather. The frosh did a good job in relief.

Jamie Dixon on the tournament: “I think the second night we played smarter. We definitely got better this week. I think we came away from here with a better idea of how we wanted to execute our offense and guard people.”

Washington State coach Tony Bennett – “We were dog tired at the end. Pitt does not give up any easy stuff (On defense). Our kids reached a new level of fatigue.”

Final note: Pitt forced 15 turnovers against the cougars. “In a game with fewer possessions those 15 turnovers are huge,” Bennett said. “Especially since they led to 17 points (off turnovers).”


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