Friday, February 27, 2009


February 28, 2009

Seton Hall and Pittsburgh meet Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark (NJ) in front of a sellout crowd as the Pirate faithful hope to send off senior Paul Gause a winner in his home finale. In order to do so, they will have to do a first in their history, knock off the #1 team in the country.

While Pitt may be ranked #1, it certainly seems to have been forgotten as the Panthers were stunned on Tuesday night in Providence. The Frairs swarmed a lethargic group of Panthers, closing the first half on a 15-1 run to take a 44-26 halftime lead and held off a charge from Pitt that was too little too late in a 81-73 upset.

While it took Pitt nearly 30 minutes to wake up on Tuesday as they cut a 20-point deficit to five, that lack of focus to begin the game costs them. They will be heading into another charged atmosphere on Saturday night, but you can definitely expect the Panthers to be playing with a little more urgency on both ends of the floor to begin the game Saturday.

Seton Hall is likely to come out and try to push the Panthers into a frantic pace and hope to draw some fouls against the Panthers, especially big man DeJuan Blair. The Pirates are very thin, but they have some offensive talent and could cause some problems for Pitt on defense with dribble penetration and spreading the floor. If they can get Pitt on their heels and able to break down the defense off the dribble, they could challenge Blair and possibly get him in foul trouble.

The other aspect offensively that SHU will hope to have clicking is the three-ball, especially from Jeremy Hazell. If Hazell can knock down a few three’s, it could cause Pitt to go to a smaller line-up to match-up with the Pirates and it will also get the crowd in a frenzy. Hazell has the ability to get on a big time roll from the arc, and if that happens, look out.

Pitt will need Levance Fields to control the tempo and feed Sam Young and Blair on offense. Those two should be nearly unstoppable near or around the basket and SHU will likely have to concede some points in the paint. The dangerous one is Young, when he gets his offense going, his all-around game seems to pick up considerably. If he attacks the basket and knocks down some mid-range shots early, he is tough to stop and opens more room for Blair to dominate the offensive boards. John Garcia will have his hands full against Blair, who is bulkier and more athletic than Garcia.

Seton Hall is likely to put up one of their best efforts of the season in this game. However, Pitt coming off the loss at PC will likely have the Panthers ready to put forth a big effort on their end. While SHU will excite the home crowd at times, look for Pitt to slowly take control and use their depth and strength inside to come up with a win.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 78
Seton Hall 72

Seton Hall Determined to Make Postseason for Paul Gause (Star-Ledger)
Pitt Hopes to Avoid Deja Vu Against Seton Hall (Tribune-Review)
Young, Fields Flying Under the Radar (Tribune-Review)


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


February 25, 2009

It was a big night in Providence Tuesday as the Friars Shock No. 1 Pittsburgh (Pawtucket Times), 81-73, and but themselves in serious position to claim an NCAA Tournament bid.

Things looked bleak for the Friars and their chances for an invite to the Big Dance following a Saturday afternoon 103-84 home loss to Notre Dame. However, in front of 11,887 fans who turned out for 'Senior Night' to honor the Friar seniors Geoff McDermott, Jonathan Kale, Weyinmi Efejuku, Jeff Xavier and Randall Hanke, Pittsburgh never seemed to be into it mentally as the Dismal Panthers Were Held Down by Turnovers (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) and mental lapses defensively right from the beginning, falling behind 15-4 early on. After battling back to within 29-25 on a DeJuan Blair jump-hoop, Providence finished the first half on a 15-1 run to take a 44-26 halftime lead and stretched it to 20, 46-26, in the opening minute of the second half.

With all the pregame talk centered around Pitt sophomore center Blair, PC seniors Kale and Hanke Turn the Tables on the Powerhouse Blair (Providence Journal), especially during the dominant first half. Kale (13 points) and Hanke (10) combined for 23 points and 7 rebounds in 42 minutes of action between the two of them. Blair led Pitt with 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, but committed five turnovers and fouled out in the final moments of the game.

Pitt closed the gap to 75-70 in the late stages of the game, but it was too little too late as Some One-upmanship of the Friars (Providence Journal) turned the tables on the Panthers. Pitt game into the game with the nation's second-best assist to turnover ratio, but PC forced 18 Panther turnovers to just 12 team assists while PC was credited with 18 assists against just 9 turnovers. The Friars also chewed up the Pitt defense for 43 points in the paint, a stat usually reversed when Pittsburgh meets Providence.

Senior Weyinmi Efejuku had a team-high 16 points for PC while junior Sharaud Curry added 15. Another senior, Geoff McDermott, added 11 points and 6 assists in the game.

Pitt falls to 12-3 in Big East play. So, despite their #1 ranking in the nation, they are actually sitting in fourth place in the Big East this morning, a game ahead of 5th place Villanova. The Panthers travel to Seton Hall on Saturday before closing out the regular season at home against No. 10 Marquette and current No. 2 UConn. Then it is on to the 2009 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden where Pitt is the defending champion.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


February 24, 2009

Pittsburgh has reclaimed the No. 1 ranking atop both the AP and Coaches Polls and will but that ranking on the line with a couple of road games this week, beginning with a trip to Providence to take on the Friars.

Pitt's wins at Connecticut and at home against DePaul, along with Saturday losses by North Carolina and Oklahoma pushed Pitt back to the top spot, for the second time this season. Pitt got a pair of monster performances from sophomore DeJuan Blair who tortured UConn for 22 points and 23 rebounds and then produced a double-double just 8 minutes into the game against DePaul before finishing with 20 points and 18 rebounds in just 23 minutes.

Providence suffered a devastating home loss, 103-84, this weekend against Notre Dame at home. The loss followed a 94-76 defeat at Louisville, a game where the Friars led by a point at the half.

PC is now 8-7 in the big East and is still missing a marquee win, something they were hoping for in this three-game stretch, now their backs are against the wall, but opportunity knocks, as a marquee win does not get any bigger when facing the No. 1 team in the country.

Here are some pregame stories and previews found on the internet this morning:

Pitt No. 1 Again in Both Polls (Post-Gazette)
Biggs a Key Component to Pitt's Run to No. 1 (Tribune-Review)
PC vs. Pitt: Friars Set to Face New No. 1 (Providence Journal)
Capsule Preview - Pittsburgh @ Providence (Providence Journal)
Wild Ones for Pitt (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Young can't Stay out of Gym (Tribune-Review)

Pittsburgh's style of physical defense and hard-nosed rebounding has always made life very difficult for Providence when the two two have met in recent seasons. Even with a new coach, the Friars are still playing catch-up to the rest of the Big East when it comes to the physical play of the conference.

With DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and co., the Friars will see more of the same from Pitt. The Panthers, led by Blair, are nearly impossible to keep off the boards and they lead the nation, easily, in offensive rebounding percentage. PC will have their hands full limiting second-chance opportunities and will likely lead to many open shots for the Panthers.

One way to hopefully have a chance against Pitt is to get Blair in foul trouble. At times he can pick up a ticky-tack foul away from the basket reaching on the high-ball screen. It looks like Pitt has relaxed some of his hedge responsibilities to eliminate this possibility, but sometimes the nimble Blar thinks he is quicker than he really is and he can pick up a foul against a guard.

The Friars other method of attack will be to launch from the three-point arc early and often. You will likely see Jeff Xavier, Sharaud Curry, Weyinmi Efejuku, Brian McKenzie and Marshon Brooks all launching from the perimeter, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle by the way of the three-point shot and getting their crowd into it.

Of course, that philosophy is also a dangerous one against a strong defensive team like the Panthers. If your not on, Pitt will rebound and, as the country's most efficient offensive team, make you pay by scoring points on the other end.

While the Friars are a dangerous team and the target of a No. 1 team usually steps up one's play, this Pitt team is really looking like they are clicking. Now that they have some previous experience as the No. 1 team, they will look to take care of business on the road. Pitt is an 8 1/2-point favorite, which seems a tad low (almost makes you wonder if there is an expectation of foul trouble by someone). Pitt's rebounding and efficient offense will make life tough on PC, as it has time and time again before.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 81
Providence 71


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Saturday, February 21, 2009


February 21, 2009

Pittsburgh beat DePaul 92-69 earlier this month on the road and on Saturday night, the Panthers look to complete the two-game sweep against the Blue Demons. The pro-Pittsburgh crowd will look to welcome home the Panthers following Monday night’s win at UConn.

In the first meeting against DePaul, DeJuan Blair scored a career-high 32 points. So, his 22-point, 23-rebound performance against Hasheem Thabeet and the Huskies came as no surprise to DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. Expect the Blue Demons to be ready for Blair in this one.

“We have to use two blockers on DeJuan Blair to keep him off our quarterback,” Wainwright quipped earlier this week.

All kidding aside, the veteran DePaul coach knows what his team is up against, and being on the road, it is unlikely to be any easier.

“They’ve built a depth and a confidence off the bench that is really unbelievable,” Wainwright remarked. He continued, “I do believe they have as good a chance to get as far as anybody in the country. I really do believe that.”

With Blair getting all the attention this week, Sam Young’s 25-points and Levance Fields’ clutch shots seem to be almost forgotten. Not quite, according to Big East coaches.

“I do think that DeJuan Blair is playing at an exceptional level right now,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said this week when asked about how good he felt Pitt is. “I think that Levance Fields might be one of the most underrated players in the country [and] certainly a guy like Sam Young can really, really score. They’ve got a very good team.”

So, how will DePaul compete with this deep attack of the Panthers. Well, hoping for a letdown by the Panthers might be their best hope. However, nobody seems willing to give DePaul a chance, at 0-13, nobody wants to be the team remembered as the victim of their first, and possibly only, conference win.

“Everybody comes at us like they would at a first-division team,” Wainwright observed.

Expect Pitt to do the same. They are deep and experienced, DePaul is not. The Panthers still have NCAA seeding and a Big East championship to play for. With a home crowd energizing their Panthers, Pitt will roll, as expected.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 87
DePaul 60

Pitt Favored by Historically Large Margin (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Facing Easy Schedule (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Taking Nothing for Granted as Postseason Prospects Loom (Post-Gazette)


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Friday, February 20, 2009


By Zach Smart

Levance Fields, the Brooklyn native who's adopted the nickname "Mr. Big Shot" from his teammates, canned two titanic three-pointers over Kemba Walker and then Craig Austrie in the final, defining three minutes of their win over UConn.

Fields, a senior and floor general who's operated a number of potent Pitt offenses, had been an arctic 0-for-8 until his two clutch, late-game daggers.

Fields scored 10 crucial points in those three crucial minutes, en route to handing the nation's top-ranked team just their second loss of the season.

The win snaps UConn's 13-game win streak.

"I told Levance to just keep shooting and to be ready to take the big shot when we need it," said Pitt junior Jermaine Dixon, who scored 11 points and handed out five assists in 24 minutes.

"We expect him to come through in the clutch, and he did that tonight."


Dixon, a 6-foot-3 guard, is the younger brother of NBA player Juan Dixon.

Juan Dixon, who had a storied stay at the University of Maryland-leading the Terps to a national championship in 2002-had some advice for lil bro, whom he spoke with via cell phone before the game: "Be ready."

If anyone was ready in this ultra-physical, black-and-blue marked dog fight, it was Blair.

The 6-foot-7 widebody simply destroyed Thabeet, pounding the ball into the paint and permeating the teeth of the defense.

On mano y mano and back to the basket moves, Blair made the highly-touted Thabeet, who's projected to be a top-five pick in the 2009 NBA draft, look D-league bound. During one wild sequence in the first half, he nearly flipped the 7-foot-3 behemoth while wrestling for a rebound. The game was halted, but Thabeet was fine.

After erupting for a near triple-double and swatting nine shots in a win over Seton Hall on Saturday, Thabeet scored a meager five points and was just 1-for-5 from the floor. He registered two blocks, committed three turnovers, and was whistled for five fouls.

Thabeet picked up his fourth foul with 11:20 remaining, prompting an irate Jim Calhoun to scream his lungs out at referee Mike Kitts, whose suspect call instigated a chorus of boos.

Sam Young, he of the patented shot fake, led all scorers with 25 points. Young shot a sublime 8-for-13 from the field, and the offensive pace of Young and Blair seemed overwhelming.

They served as a two-man wrecking crew in the second half, though it was the 5-foot-9 Fields who emerged with the late-game heroics.

"We started calling him 'Mr. Big Shot,' said Young of his teammate.

"Even in pickup games and in practice, he's always looking to take the last shot, the big shot. He's always telling us, 'I'm taking the big shot. At the end of the game, the ball's going to be in my hands.'"

On a colossal stage in easily the biggest game in college basketball this season, Fields lived up to his nickname.


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February 20, 2009

by Ray Mernagh

The most dominating player in the Big East scored 22 points and grabbed 23 rebounds Monday night. It might come as a shock to all the talking heads, and Jim Calhoun, but it wasn’t Hasheem Thabeet. It was DeJuan Blair. Or, if you like, Big Fella (it’s what we call him ’round here).

All Blair does is kill his man, no matter who that highly-regarded guy might be. Every single freaking time. Hibbert, Harangody, Onuaku, Jackson, Thabeet etc etc etc. It’s not a shock around here anymore and it shouldn't be anywhere else in the country either. In fact, Joe Bendel and I talk about it once a week on his radio show. Every Wednesday at 4:25 our weekly hoops conversation inevitably turns to “can anyone stop Blair?” and, “why are people still surprised when this kid dominates others?”


Mick Cronin knows all about it. The Cincinnati coach called Blair — plus Sam Young and Levance Fields — the best players at their positions in the Big East last Saturday afternoon, right after the Panther trio helped dismantle his game Bearcats squad 85-69. He also said that UNC, Pitt, and UConn were his three favorites to win the NCAA title in March.
A lot has been made about how much the 7-3 Thabeet has improved in the last year, and rightfully so. But maybe, if you really think about it, a little too much? Several coaches have jumped on the hype train, including Boeheim at Syracuse and Calhoun himself, in declaring Thabeet the most dominating, game-changing post-presence since some uber-combination of Bill Russell, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq.

The truth is that Thabeet changes games when the players on the other side allow him to. When they submit to him, witness Samardo Samuels earlier this season. Sam Young went right at him, drawing Thabeet’s 3rd foul on a dunk attempt that had Thabeet’s eyes bugging out of his head even as Young attempted it. Blair kept him glued to the ground for most of the evening with an array of solid post moves that all had one thing in common — a combination of quickness and power unmatched by anyone in the college game this side of Blake Griffin. Blair went right through him.

On this night, Thabeet was the uncomfortable one, the one unsure of not only what to do but how to do it. He didn’t respond so well to the challenge of the 6-6 Young flying at him, or the 6-7 Blair controlling him like an x-box joystick. Young and Blair are grown men that treated Thabeet like a teenager. Yes, the fourth foul was bogus, but did anything about Thabeet's posture suggest he was suddenly going to exert his will on this game? Bogus fouls happen all the time in this league, last night it was just Thabeet's turn.

Maybe that will change on March 7th when UConn comes to Pitt. Maybe Thabeet, and the rest of the Huskies, will be more ready for the physical challenge and skill that Blair, Young, and Fields bring to the battle than they were last night. Maybe the 7-3 giant will stay out of foul trouble. And don't let Jim Calhoun's post-game posturing fool you for even one minute. He knows the refs didn't cost him this game. His comments are made with the hope that they'll help his team get a quick whistle -- preferrably on Blair -- come March 7th. In fact, he might be hoping his comments will help him on the first Monday night in April, the night of the National Championship. Because honestly, like Cronin, I strongly suspect both teams are more than capable of being there. Calhoun's strategy is straight out of the Pat Riley playbook circa 1989.

Before any of that happens though, Thabeet will face — and maybe put up big numbers — against South Florida, Marquette and Notre Dame. If and when that happens, let’s just try to have a little perspective about it. Let’s wait to see what he does against Pitt in the rematch. See if he’s any more prepared for the challenge.

One things for sure — Big Fella will be ready.

Just like always.


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Thursday, February 19, 2009


February 19, 2009

by Doug Ferguson

Team Draft Preview- Pitt

In today's installment of team by team draft analysis we look at one of the most dynamic players in the Big East and begin to get a peek into the prospects from what looks to be the league's top team (for now at least).

Sam Young/SF-PF/6-6/Pitt

Don't be scared when you roll into the arena to see a Pitt basketball game. That isn't the Incredible Hulk sporting a number 23 Panther jersey and he is not going to run into the stands and harm your children. That's just Sam Young and the only person he's there to dominate physically is the player across from him.

Young is the perfect example of a Pitt player with one glaring exception. Unlike most Panther recruits, he is dynamic on the OFFENSIVE side of the floor. He set a Pitt single-season points record as a junior which he has followed up with a strong senior campaign offensively in which he looks to set more benchmarks for future Pitt players.


His skill set is very unique to his position. He has developed the jump shot he needs this season to become a seriously coveted offensive weapon for NBA teams. His form is somewhat awkward, but it sets up his unorthodox pumpfake which has been touted as one of the deadliest moves in the college game this year. When he is hitting his shot, it makes biting on the pump fake irresistable to even the best of defenders.

Sam's Adonis-like upper body enables him to finsh at the rim in traffic and in transition. If Pitt fails to make the Final 4 this year, he would be a preliminary favorite for the college dunk contest. His offensive skills were put on display in Pitt's biggest game to date on ESPN's Big Monday vs. Connecticut in front of several NBA scouts.

The question marks surrounding Young's pro transition are real, but in my opinion are far outweighed by his strongpoints and upside. Among his weakpoints are the fact that he is undersized height-wise and becomes a liability in certain defensive matchups. Some say he is almost more well equipped to guard NBA power forwards than he is the 3 spot, however he simply doesn't have the verticality to guard a Kevin Garnett or Rasheed Wallace. With that being the case the question becomes can he keep pace night to night with a LeBron James or Paul Pierce?

My answer would be probably not. However, my next question would be who can? The bottom line is that offensively he can make an immediate impact offensively and defensively he should be able to stay with more players than he can't. Henceforth, his stock has risen just slightly this season despite his numbers making a minor dip.

2009 Stats- 17.9 PPG 5.8 RPG 2009

Draft Projection- 1st Round (21st-26th overall)

NBA Comparison- Antione Walker


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Pitt All-Time Basketball Team

By Chris Dokish

I received a few emails today about Bob Smizik's list for Pitt's All-Time Basketball team and I was asked who I would have on such a list. So, just for fun, here would be my list. Since I was born in 1968, I will only list players from the 1970's on.


Front court-

Billy Knight- Consensus pick for the best Pitt player in at least the last 50 years.

Charles Smith- Extremely versatile big man and Pitt's best player in the Big East Era. I recently ranked him the No. 16 best player in Big East history.

Brian Shorter- Absolutely tragic that Pitt fans don't give him more credit. He beat out Alonzo Mourning and Billy Owens for Rookie of the Year in the Big East and was nearly averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds over his first two seasons. Was a Prop 48 victim as a freshman and had a devastating illness as a senior. If it wasn't for that he may have ranked higher than Smith. Even with those problems, I have him as the No. 26 best player in Big East history. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News recently told me that Shorter was "the most powerful low-post scorer I've ever seen".

Back court-

Brandin Knight- Want to know why Pitt players buy into the system rather than just be your normal individualistic egomaniac? Well, it started with Knight, who bought into Ben Howland's team first approach before anybody. Once he swallowed his pride, every Panther since followed his lead. Oh, and he was a damn good player, too.

Sean Miller- I know there is a lot of love now for Levance Fields, and rightly so, but Miller was one of the best combination of three point and free throw shooters in college basketball history. He was just as good of a quarterback also. In Pitt's current system, Miller would be deadly.



Front court-

Clyde Vaughan- Another tragically underappreciated player, Vaughan proved he was not just an Eastern 8 player when he came over to the Big East and lit up Georgetown teams with Patrick Ewing, and St. John's teams with Chris Mullin. When some of the best teams in Big East history doesn't have a chance in stopping you, then you know you're good.

Larry Harris- Excellent scorer who averaged over 20 ppg for three straight seasons.

DeJuan Blair- Yes, he may not be done yet, but is there any doubt of this guy's excellence? If a miracle happens and he stays all four years, he will be a first team selection.

Back court-

Jason Matthews- An unreal three point and free throw shooter. It's hard to imagine that he and Miller played in the same back court, and both would hit nearly 50% of the their threes as well as about 90% of their free throws.

Carl Krauser- Unfortunately he took some garbage from some Pitt fans, but any mistakes he made on the court was because he was trying too hard to succeed, and you can't blame a player for that. The only guard in recent Pitt history that was capable of taking over a game with his scoring. Plus, he was an excellent defensive player.


Front court-

Ricky Greer- Just an excellent player who at a burly 6'5" and 225 pounds, could score in the paint or from three, played good defense, and could rebound better than most players much bigger than he.

Sam Young- Sometimes Sam goes bye-bye in his head, but more often than not, he is an excellent player. In high school he was a scrappy player in the paint, but much to his credit, he expanded his game exponentially. If Pitt goes to the Final Four, he will be come a legend, and quite frankly, he deserves it because he could have left early for the NBA.

Jerome Lane- An All-American and one of the most impressive rebounders in NCAA history. Even if a lot of his rebounds were his own misses.

Back court-

Levance Fields- I'm sure a lot of fans will not like seeing Fields so low, but Miller, Matthews, Knight, and Krauser were all better offensively, and Knight and Krauser were light years ahead of him defensively. But if he takes Pitt to the Final Four, I will have to skyrocket him up the list all the way to first team over Miller. And with the ice water he has running through his veins, that just may happen.

Vonteego Cummings- A great talent and top 20 recruit, but despite the big numbers he put up, he still always seemed to be an underachiever. With the way Pitt runs their program now, he may have been a superstar. All he needed was somebody to harness his massive talent.


Front court-

Sam Clancy- A demon as a rebounder, despite being only 6'6". He would even star on the Pitt current team.

Chevon Troutman- What Pitt fan will ever forget Troutman's second half dismantling at UConn when he scored 25 points in the second half to take the Panthers from a 17 point first half deficit to a 10 point Pitt win?

Aaron Gray- Some may be ultimately disappointed that Gray did not take Pitt further than he did, but the truth is, he was already one of the biggest overachievers in Pitt history and he deserves huge credit for willing himself into an All-American caliber player.

Back court-

Jerry McCullough- Quick as a cat and maybe the best defensive player on the list. Plus, he was a good scorer, either driving into the lane or shooting a three.

Jaron Brown- Yeah, I'm cheating by putting him on here since he was mostly a small forward, but he was also a little power forward and a little shooting guard, too. Hell, he was even a little point guard. And no list of all-time Pitt greats would be complete without the player that probably best personifies what the program has become.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pitt Basketball Notes

by Chris Dokish

As I'm sure most, if not all of you, know by now, Dante Taylor has been selected to play in the McDonald's All-American Game. I got the word shortly before it was announced and not long after I broke the news on the phone to a member of the Pitt staff. Needless to say, he was extremely happy to hear the news and thinks it will help recruiting even more. Interestingly, even though it was rumored that Taylor had made the team, and the staff thought he deserved it, they expressed doubt that it was going to happen. A lot of that may be because, according to those close to the situation, Taylor was promised that he would be selected to the Jordan Brand Classic, and was not.

There are also rumors that J.J. Richardson has been suspended, and those rumors are true. I was informed a little bit of the situation, but since it wasn't Richardson himself who told me, I will not repeat it at this time. However, I can say that it is not a criminal matter, and quite frankly, a suspension in this situation seems a little harsh. But I admit that I also don't have all the facts yet. As for any rumors that will undoubtedly start about Richardson's future at Pitt, I can tell you that I got the opportunity to ask Tom Herrion about it and he said, "he will be at Pitt next year and you can quote me on that". The coach thinks Richardson is a great kid and is very surprised that he finds himself in this situation. And regular readers of this site will no doubt remember that I have also mentioned a few times what a great kid he is. Bottom line, he acted up a little, it wasn't that big of a deal, and he is still on target to be at Pitt next season.

In recruiting news, one player to keep an eye on is 6'4" SG Doron Lamb. The NYC native, who is currently playing at Oak Hill Academy, is a big time scorer and one of the top 20 prospects for the 2010 class. Lamb is starting to drop Pitt's name a lot recently, no doubt due to the fact that Pitt is getting major buzz now. Pitt is looking to capitalize on that by turning up the heat up not only on Lamb, but also 6'4" wing Will Barton and 6'9" center Adreian Payne. Barton and Payne are also top 20 prospects.

For more on Lamb, check out the Primetime Shootout Players Evals; Class of 2010 at NBE Basketball Report, which also updates his recruiting.

Jamie Dixon showed up in Florida today to check in on '09 big man Kyryl Natyazhko. The 6'10" Ukrainian is an offensively skilled post player that Herrion has been watching a lot lately. The fact that Dixon made a point to see him shows that the Panthers interest is very strong. Word is that since Dixon was in Bradenton, he wanted to quietly sneak in and see the Pirates in spring training. But when you have one of the marquee teams in the nation, sneaking is no longer an option, and he was immediately surrounded by cameramen.

Lastly, one name that recently came up with Pitt, since Herrion was spotted watching him play, is 6'11" junior college center Jarrid Famous. But word is, Herrion was checking out local high school players in the area so he took the opportunity to see Famous, too. However, the big man would only be an option if DeJuan Blair left early for the NBA, and by the time Blair's situation is known, it's expected that Famous will be out of play.

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Monday, February 16, 2009


February 16, 2009

Super powers collide on Big Monday as Pittsburgh travels to Hartford (CT) to take on Connecticut in a battle of a pair of teams ranked nationally in the top five. Connecticut, riding an impressive 13-game winning streak, puts that streak on the line in one of two match-ups with the Panthers down the stretch. These two teams will square off once again to close the regular season on March 7th in Pittsburgh.

The Huskies were a preseason favorite to win the Big East and be a leading challenger for a national championship. Even some roster upheaval has yet to slow them down as they are sitting at 24-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Prior to the start of the season, freshman wing Nate Miles was expelled from the school. Freshman recruit Ater Majok was not cleared academically by the NCAA and will not be eligible to play for UConn until December of 2009. Sophomore JUCO transfer Charles Okwandu has been declared academically ineligible and is not going to play the rest of the season. Even with those expected contributors not suiting up, UConn has rolled along to a 12-1 mark on conference play and has not lost a game in 2009 as their last lost came on December 29th in the Big East opener against Georgetown.


However, their latest personnel matter might deliver a weakening blow to their chances of a Big East title and a run to a national championship. Starting shooting guard Jerome Dyson was injured in the early minutes of the Huskies 63-49 win over Syracuse last Wednesday. Dyson suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and is scheduled to have surgery on Monday, a procedure that could end his season. Dyson had been averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and led the team with nearly 2 steals a game. Dyson is often their emotional leader and, even though his all-out play could sometimes be out of control, his aggressive nature would inspire teammates. He was also a strong perimeter defender, the type of player that would ‘hold you together’ according to UConn Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.

Last season, without Dyson, UConn beat Pitt in Hartford, 60-53 as the Huskies outscored the Panthers 9-2 in the last 2 ½ minutes of the game. Pitt led much of the second half, but AJ Price hit the big shots down the stretch, finishing with a game-high 21 points.

Pitt did not have two very key players in last year’s game that they have now: Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon. Fields was out with a broken foot and Dixon was playing at Tallahassee Community College.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has termed Fields play of late as ‘unbelievable’ as the senior point guard is averaging 13.3 points and 8.3 assists in the last seven Big East contests, reaching double figures in scoring each time. What has been the most incredible part of Fields’ play, in those seven Big East games, he has turned it over just 14 times. Even more impressive, in his last four games, Fields has 49 assists and just 6 turnovers.

Dixon has quickly developed into one of the best on-the-ball defensive stoppers in the conference, something Pitt really has lacked the last two seasons. On Saturday Dixon had the assignment of silencing Deonta Vaughn and did so, holding UC’s leading scored to just three of seven shooting and nine points in 37 minutes. He has also made Jonny Flynn disappear for about 36 minutes of their earlier contest with Syracuse and, because of the Dyson injury, Dixon will draw the assignment of guarding AJ Price. Dixon is athletic and taller than any guard Pitt has recently had. Coming off the bench behind Dixon is sophomore Brad Wanamaker (averages 7.8 points in Big East play) and the defense does not fall off very much. Gilbert Brown is another wing sub and he, too is a top defender. Brown was a starter last season when Pitt met UConn, this time he is the 7th man in the rotation, showing that Pitt is a deeper club this year.

In the match-up last season, Sam Young scored 18 points and DeJuan Blair had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Hasheem Thabeet, who is coming off a 25-point, 20-rebound and 9-block performance in a 62-54 win over Seton Hall on Saturday, had just six points, seven rebounds and five blocks in the meeting. However, he was clearly on the Panthers minds as Young and Blair combined to shoot 12-35 from the floor with many of the misses coming inside.

Thabeet also had 8 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks in last week’s win over Syracuse and he has anchored a defense for the Huskies that has sparkled of late, allowing just 55 points a game in their last seven contests, with nobody scoring more than 61. Even more impressive is the fact that UConn has allowed just 0.80 points per possession in that timeframe, which would easily lead the nation if it was done for the entire season.

In a true match-up of offense versus defense, it is Pittsburgh that enters the game as the nation’s most efficient offense, averaging 1.243 points a possession according to www.kenpom.com and has done so against the nation’s 19th toughest schedule (UConn’s schedule is rated as the 29th toughest). Usually defense wins out, but will the absence of Dyson knock the UConn defense down a peg or two?

Connecticut is listed as a 3 ½-point favorite. If there is a team in the Big East that is not intimidated by UConn it is Pitt. While the duo of Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will win their share of battles on the boards and swat some shots, Pitt will keep coming at them. The biggest fear for Pitt is a too-hyped DeJuan Blair and that could lead to him finding himself in some foul trouble. If that happens, Pitt will be in trouble because they are not nearly the same rebounding team with him off the floor. One good thing for Pitt, though, is Thabeet is not always that active setting screens and forcing Blair to hedge and show on the perimeter, a spot where he tends to pick up some cheap fouls. With that being the case, I think Pitt pulls this one out in a meat-grinder type of game. The Husky team has been through a lot the last 11 months, and it might just catch up to them a little in this game.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 65
Connecticut 61

Here are some pregame stories and previews linked from around the internet:

Blair to Test Improved Thabeet (Hartford Courant)
Pitt Hopes to Knock Off No. 1 (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Clash With Pitt Could Decide Big East (Norwich Bulletin)
High Stakes for Huskies With Pitt in Town (Connecticut Post)
UConn Men’s Gameday (Connecticut Post)
Blair, Pitt ready to Take on UConn (FoxSports.com via Post-Gazette)
Pitt Shifts Focus to UConn (Beaver County Times)
Dyson Cautious About Return (Waterbury Rep-Am)


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Saturday, February 14, 2009


February 15, 2009

The Pittsburgh Panthers took care of business on Saturday afternoon, beating the Cincinnati Bearcats 85-69 at the Peterson Events Center. In doing so, Pitt matched a school record by shooting 67.4% from the field and guarantees that their meeting with UConn on Big Monday will be a battle of top 5 teams.

Pitt had five players in double figures, led by Sam Young's 18 points. DeJuan Blair added 17, Jermaine Dixon 14, Gilbert Brown 12 and Levance Fields added 11 points while orchestrating another flawless floor game, handing out 13 assists without turning the ball over. As a team, Pitt was credited with 21 assist on their 31 made field goals and had just six team turnovers.

While the Pitt defense allowed UC to shoot 52% themselves, Pitt did an excellent job on the two Bearcat stars, Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates. Vaughn was hounded by the JUCO transfer Dixon and sophomore guard Brad Wanamaker the entire game and finished with just nine points in 37 minutes. Gates was just 2-8 from the field, scoring 4 points in 28 minutes.

Pitt's 6'7 Blair, the nation's leading offensive rebounder, was quiet on the boards today as Cincinnati did a good job limiting second chance opportunities, of course, when a team missed just 15 shots the ENTIRE game, there aren't many rebounds available, so next time, Mick Cronin would probably prefer his players to make Pitt miss AND prevent the offensive rebounds.

Pitt will now turn around quickly and head to Connecticut for Monday's titanic Big East showdown. It should be a good one!


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February 14, 2009

On the football field, they call this one the River City Rivalry as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, linked by the Ohio River, battle for possession of the River City Rivalry Trophy. Apparently ESPN believes this is a rivalry on the hardwood as well as the Panthers and Bearcats will meet in the Steel City at 4 PM for an ESPN televised clash during the Rivalry Week celebration.

The Panthers are 9-2 in Big East play and 22-2 on the season and playing for NCAA Tournament seeding here on out. Pitt is coming off a 70-59 win over rival West Virginia on Monday night to kick off Rivalry Week and now will look to cap off the week against Cincinnati, ahead of the ‘Big Monday’ match-up against No. 1 Connecticut.

Before Pitt can begin thinking about UConn, they better have their full attention centered on Cincinnati as Mick Cronin’s club has won seven of their last nine games and are now 7-5 in the Big East and have their own thoughts of the NCAA Tournament.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on the game:

Newcomers Giving Panthers Boost in 3’s (Post-Gazette)
Young Fueled by Brother’s Plight (Times Leader)
Guru’s Bracket Excludes UC (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Defense Still Part of Pitt’s Repertoire (Beaver County Times)
Pitt Focused on Cincinnati (Tribune Review)
Pitt Not Surprised by Cincinnati’s Success (Tribune Review)
Pitt Needs More Consistent Young on the Court (Post Gazette)

This is not a particularly good match-up for Cincinnati. While the Bearcats are deeper and bigger in the frontcourt than previous editions in the Big East, they really do not have any one area they stand out in over Pitt in their match-ups. While Deonta Vaughn torched the Panthers last season in the Pitt wins, he will see a variety of defenders coming at him and it happens to be their strongest defenders (Jermaine Dixon and Bran Wanamaker) that will be getting the call most often. The duo has more size and are likely to match up athletically with Vaughn, making it tough to believe Vaughn is going to be able to beat Pitt by himself.

The other way UC can try and beat Pitt is by getting DeJuan Blair in foul trouble. While it worked on Monday for WVU, getting Blair in foul trouble, Pitt seemed more comfortable playing without the big ‘fella’ than they did in the past and won by double digits over a good WVU team with Blair playing just 16 minutes.

Pittsburgh really is beginning to look like a team that potentially has any answer for any type of team. While they will still be susceptible to foul trouble on Blair, they can still get by with senior forwards Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young logging the minutes in the frontcourt. If Blair is not in foul trouble, nobody has really been able to challenge Pitt this season. In their two losses (at Louisville and at Villanova) and their closest wins (by 8 at Florida State, by 6 at Rutgers and by 11 vs. WVU), Blair averaged just 18 minutes and seven points and 8 rebounds, well below his season averages (15 points, 12.6 rebounds and 26 minutes). In the other 19 contests, nobody has come within 12 points of beating the Panthers. Sure, tougher tests may lie ahead to challenge that theory, like Monday night, but in this one, it is likely to follow the same pattern.

Still, expect a spirited effort from UC and Pitt possibly looking ahead just a bit. But, as Levance Fields gets control of the game and Blair and Young start to do their thing, Pitt will pull away.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 74
Cincinnati 61


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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


By Chris Dokish

It's been awhile so may as well answer the questions I've been getting.

Q: How much does it help that Dante Taylor is a McDonald's All-American?

A: If it's true, it certainly couldn't hurt. But neither he, nor his coach at NCA, nor the Pitt staff has heard that he was in, so as of this moment, it's unconfirmed. Not saying it won't happen, it just hasn't been confirmed by any of the parties involved yet. And, yes, even though he is considered a 5th year senior, he is eligible to be selected. Don't ask me why because I didn't get into it, but that's what I was told.

Q: Any visits planned?

A: Will Barton and Adreian Payne are in talks to come in and visit soon, along with some younger guys. Kyryl Natyazhko should be at the end of the season, as of now.

Q: Any chance that they could add another player for 2009, even though they are at their limit?

A: Yes, Natyazhko. Tom Herrion went to Mississippi last week to watch him play and they like him.

Q: What's going on with Tom Droney? Is Pitt still involved?


A: In a way. They would love to have him, and he would love to have them. From what I'm hearing, Notre Dame didn't really appeal to him and he wants to be a Panther. But there's no room right now and it doesn't look like anybody is leaving. But Pitt obviously doesn't want to say no because you never know if somebody does leave and they really do want him. They really like him as both a player and a person. I don't see any backcourt players leaving. If one frontcourt player leaves, and they can get Natyazkho, then that's who they will likely get because they have to replace that player. But if for some reason two of them leave, then there will be a spot for him. And if one player leaves and Natyazkho goes elsewhere, then there will be a spot for him.

Q: Is this the last we see of DeJuan Blair in a Pitt uniform?

A: He hasn't talked about it yet with the staff, but they know he will think about it, and they think he should think about it. But they will also tell him that there aren't many 6'6" centers in the NBA and right now that's what he is. My guess is that he will be back next year. Staying all four years, however, would surprise me a little. And I would not be shocked if he decided to not come back this year, but I would be surprised. You never know what's in a player's head, but there are enough questions about him that he should at least stay and get some of them answered. He's not going to get any taller, but he could expand his game more next season, and that will help his draft status even more.

Q: What is the biggest surprise this season for Pitt and the biggest disappointment?

A: The biggest disappointment has to be Gilbert Brown. The talk of some fans about him going pro early before he was even a starter last year was obviously ridiculous because he was never that kind of talent. On the other hand, he is better than he's showing right now. He seems out of sorts and doubting himself. He will be needed a lot next year so hopefully the light bulb goes on before then.

As for surprise, it has to be the outside shooting of Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker. The Pitt staff always considered them to be "inconsistent shooters", which is coachspeak for they didn't think they were very good at it. At best, I don't think they thought both could shoot as well as they have recently, and certainly not this early. To say that they are surprised that they are this good, and that they did it so quickly, is probably an understatement.

Q: I know a college assistant coach who says a lot of assistants give offers and even get commitments from players before the head coach even sees the kid play. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

A: It happens more than you know. That's why you need great assistants. The head coach gets the glory in recruiting, but it's the assistants who are making a lot of it happen. I know for a fact that over the years it has happened at Pitt and I'm sure it has happened everywhere else, too. But, hey, the head coach gets credit for hiring an assistant he can trust that much, too, right?

Q: Do you think Blair could be named Player of the Year in the Big East and be an All-American this year?

A: He definitely has a shot at Player of the Year. I'd say right now it's between Blair, Hasheem Thabeet, Luke Harangody, and Jerel McNeal. But there are plenty of games left to shake things up or to move ahead. If Pitt wins the league and he is getting double-doubles the rest of the way then he will be hard to look past.

As for All-American, he has an outside chance at 2nd Team, but I doubt it, unfortunately. You know that, right or wrong, Thabeet, Harangody, Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague, and James Harden will be ahead of him at that's seven right there. Throw in Evan Meeks, McNeal, Terrance Williams, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, and everybody who puts on a Duke jersey, and the competition gets tough. But he deserves it. And who knows? He just may get it if he finishes strong.

Q: I've got to see Lamar Patterson play some this year. I can't quite tell what kind of player he is and if I like him or not. Can you help?

A: He's a typical Pitt player- all heart, muscle, and brains. He is not an above the rim athlete, but he's slightly better than average. Very good passer, great instincts, tough as nails, all out hustler, plays in your face defense, and "has the ability to be a lights out shooter" (Tom Herrion's words). It's that last thing that could turn him from a solid college player to a very good college player. Time will tell.

Q: Can this team win it all?

A: Yes, as long as Blair stays out of foul trouble. He is the one player in the Howland/Dixon Era that is good enough to take a team on his back and go all the way. The same can't be said of Sam Young, who is 8-33 in the two losses when Blair got in foul trouble. A wonderful player, don't get me wrong, but few can really take a team on his shoulders and Blair is that kind of player.

Q: What do you see the starting lineup as next year?

A: Tough to say since this season isn't even over yet, but if you made me guess:

PG- Travon Woodall- Only true PG on the team and must come through.
SG- Jermaine Dixon- Much better than anybody thought he would be.
C- DeJuan Blair- God willing.
PF- Dante Taylor- No brainer.
SF- Gilbert Brown/Brad Wanamaker- May the best man win.

Bench: Ashton Gibbs may be slightly too limited athletically and with his skill set to ever be an ideal starter at the point in the Big East. Yes, Levance Fields isn't a great athlete either, but he makes up for it with extreme amounts of savviness. Gibbs was always looked on to at least be a designated shooter. But those types often don't pan out. This one did. He can flat out shoot. And in a pinch, he can play the point, much like Ronald Ramon did. You preferred Ramon didn't start at the point, but if he had to, he could be passable for the most part. Same with Gibbs. And if Woodall doesn't grab the position next season, Gibbs will have to. It might be tough for Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson to see time next year because, unless they beat them out, they will have Brown and Wanamaker ahead of them. Gary McGhee is just over matched so unless he turns it around dramatically, he may see even less time next year. He's a great kid and a hard worker, though. Dwight Miller or Talib Zanna will back up Taylor, and my guess would be Miller, who is a hard nosed rebounder. I don't think JJ Richardson will see much, if any, time next season. So that's your top eight if I had to guess- Woodall, Dixon, Blair, Taylor, Brown, Wanamaker, Gibbs, and Miller. But I couldn't guarantee that Robinson, Patterson, or Zanna couldn't sneak in there, too. And if Blair leaves for the NBA, things could change dramatically because they will need to find a way to replace some of his toughness in the paint. And nobody on next year's roster is even in the same league as him.

Q: The team seems to have so many players that play different positions. It's tough to know how the team will project into the future because I don't know who is playing where.

A: I don't know if that was a question or a cry for help, so let me say that I ran it by one of the coaches and asked him for a breakdown, so you won't have one. Since he hasn't signed yet, the staff can't talk about Isaiah Epps, but I talked to him and his coach and Pitt told him what position they wanted him for. This breakdown could always change, of course, depending on who is added or subtracted from the roster. The first number is what the primary position is and the second number is a position where the player could also see time.

Travon Woodall 1
Isaiah Epps 1-2
Jermaine Dixon 2-1
Ashton Gibbs 2-1
Brad Wanamaker 3-2
Lamar Patterson 3-2
Gilbert Brown 3
Nasir Robinson 3
Dante Taylor 4
Dwight Miller 4
Talib Zanna 4
JJ Richardon 4-5
Gary McGhee 5
DeJuan Blair 5


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February 11, 2009

It was quite a contrast on Monday night when West Virginia head coach looked down his bench for some relief as his starters racked up some early foul trouble and did not find a suitable answer while across the way Jamie Dixon did not hesitate calling on his reserves as Pittsburgh made a run with DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields saddled with two fouls.

With Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs emerging in their reserve roles and Gilbert Brown being a steady bench contributor, Pitt's Reserves Don't Miss a Beat Spelling Foul-Plagued Starters (Post-Gazette) Monday. Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee also saw minutes of action in the game.

While the common denominator in both of Pitt's losses (at Louisville, at Villanova) was DeJuan Blair missing significant portions of the game with foul trouble as their opponents went on runs to wipe out Pitt leads, Pitt Was Fine Defending Withouth Big Man Blair (Tribune-Review) in the 1st half and went on a game-clinching run when he went to the bench with personal fouls three and four (via a 'T') in the second half. It was a question on the Panthers that needed to be answered before March against a good team (they also were able to do it at Rutgers earlier in the season).


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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


February 10, 2009

ESPN kicked off Rivalry Week with a Big Monday match-up between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Pittsburgh Panthers. It was the 177th rendition of the 'Backyard Brawl' on the hardwood.

From the beginning, the game had little flow as constant stoppages for whistles, usually fouls called well away from the basket, had the game stopping and starting often as the Officials Put Themselves in the Game (Times West Virginian) and the Refs Cost the Fans a Good Game (Post-Gazette) between two Big East rivals.

While niether team was whistled for an absurd amount of fouls or sent to the line in any one-sided or over of abundance, the fouls impacted DeJuan Blair (just 16 minutes of action), Da'Sean Butler (just 18 minutes before fouling out) and Alex Ruoff (24 minutes before fouling out with over 7 minutes left) the most, leaving WVU in a Foul Mood After Another Loss to Pitt (Daily Mail).

As an Upsetting of a Loss (Times West Virginian) as it was because of the foul frustration, the Lack of Offense is Killing the Mountaineers (Post-Gazette) in big games. Last night, WVU shot just 40%, 21-52, for the game in the 70-59 loss as Pitt handles WVU (Charleston Gazette).

Getting Blair in foul trouble has been a recipe that Villanova and Louisville have used to defeat Pitt in their only two losses. Blair played just five minutes in the first half before sitting the remainder of the half with two fouls. He did not pick up #3 until 11 minutes into the second half, but #4 came with it as his frustration over a foul led to a technical foul. After Alex Ruoff made one of two free throws, Pitt led 52-41, nearly an identical situation to the loss at UL where Pitt saw a 10-point second half evaporate when Blair went to the bench with four fouls at the 8-minute mark.

However, this time, Blair Sits and Doesn't Foul Up the Panthers (Observer-Reporter) as Pitt quickly went on an 8-2 run extending the lead to 60-43 and Ruoff fouled out in the process. The run was sparked by Levance Fields, the Panthers brilliand 'Fields' General (Beaver County Times), scoring on a lay-up and then drawing the fifth foul on Ruoff. Fields finished the game with 13 points and 7 assists despite sitting much of the 1st half because of an early two fouls.

On a Busy Night for the Whistle Blowers (Charleston Gazette), one star was able to stay on the floor and make his presence felt throughout as Sam Young scored a game-high 20 points as Pitt Survives With Victory over WVU (Tribune-Review), sweeping the pair of games from their rivals from the south. Young also finished with 7 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Pitt flexed their impressive rebounding muscles, out-boarding WVU 39-23 in the game.

Blair finished with just eight points and nine rebounds in his 16 minutes. Butler was just two for 10 from the field for WVU, finishing with four points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists in 18 minutes. Ruoff led WVU with 17 points and freshman Devin Ebanks scored a career-high 16 in the game.


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Monday, February 09, 2009


February 9, 2009

The 'Backyard Brawl', basketball-style, heads to Pittsburgh tonight for an ESPN Big Monday showdown between the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers. The two rivals just 90 miles apart will square off in a key Big East conference game at the Peterson Events Center on the Pittsburgh campus. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM with a national ESPN television audience set to watch.

If you subscribe to the Pomeroy Ratings as being the best indicator of team's strengths and weaknesses, then this game should be a dandy as the Panthers are #4 in the current Pomeroy Ratings and West Virginia is a surprising #7. It is also surprising, based on the perception of the two teams, that Pitt is rated that high because of their offense, currently the best in America according to Pomeroy with an effeciency of 123.1, which means they score 1.23 points per posession. The Panther defense is rated #36, with a 90.8 rating. The Mountaineers are #5 in the nation in regards to defense, with an 85.8 rating.

However, if you adjust the WVU numbers for Big East games, in which they are 5-5, WVU has an offensive effeciency of 1.06 and a defense of 0.97 and in road games in the Big East they have a 1.00 on offense and a 0.99 on defense.

Pitt, meanwhile, has an offensive effeciency of 1.17 in league games and a defense of 1.01. At home, in their four Big East contests in the Peterson Events Center, their offense is cranking at an unreal clip of 1.27 and their defense is 1.02, not quite Pitt-like, but with that offense, it more than gets the job done as Pitt has an extremely low turnover rate and is off the charts in terms of offensive rebounding, led by DeJuan Blair.

In Pitt's two losses, at Louisville and at Villanova, Blair struggled with foul trouble and the Pitt offense was held well below their normal average. Blair's offensive rebounding ability and his presence in the paint makes all the difference in the world for Pitt. In the 8 wins, Pitt is at an offensive effeciency clip of 1.26 in Big East games, in the two losses, the Panthers struggled at a rate of 0.87! The case for Blair being the most important player in the Big East could probably be made right there!

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's Backyard Brawl matchup:

Mountaineers Catching Pitt at Bad Time (Times West Virginian)
Mountaineers Set for Rematch (Register Herald)
Can WVU Finish the Job (Charleston Gazette)
Playing the Mind Game (Martinsburg Journal)
Pitt Guard Fields Silencing Skeptics (Tribune Review)
Panthers Taking Long Look at Defense (Tribune-Review)
WVU Energized by Offense (Daily Mail)
Big Backyard Brawl Monday (wvmetronews.com)
Porous Defense Angers Dixon (Post-Gazette)

So, with all the Pomoroy number crunching, their site predicts Pitt by 5 points tonight. The latest odds have the Panthers as a 7 1/2-point favorite and when you factor in the numbers looking just at Big East games, that number seems to be very fair.

The two teams met back in January in Morgantown and Pitt used an impressive run midway through the second half to beat WVU 79-67. Sam Young led the way with 22 points, 16 of which were in the second half and Blair added 16 points and 11 rebounds. Pitt torched WVU with a 54% field goal percentage on their own floor.

With Pitt looking to put more of an emphasis on defense, that is not very good news for WVU. The Mountaineers are still a rather young team, and that has shown itself on the road. They were blown out at Marquette and trailed Louisville by 20 at the half. In their latest road game, they were blitzed by Syracuse as their effort and decision making was very inconsistent, traits of a younger team.

Da"Seant Butler had 21 in their first meeting and Alex Ruoff add3ed 16. Ruoff seemed to snap out of his recent shooting slump, nailing six of seven on three's in Saturday's win over Providence, but tonight he will see a lot of Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker, two of the better defensive players on the perimeter in the Big East. Another key for Pitt has been the offense provided by Dixon and Wanamaker, along with freshman Ashton Gibbs, giving Pitt some capable three-point shooters.

With senior point guard Levance Fields running the ship, Pitt has scored at least 92 points in their last three games. Fields has been incredible, handing out 36 assists with just three turnovers in the three games. He has also picked up his scoring, averaging 14 a game in that stretch. A top-notch Fields makes this a top-notch club, expect them to show it again tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 76
West Virginia 67


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Saturday, February 07, 2009


February 8, 2009

For about the first 18 minutes of their game on Saturday between DePaul and No. 5 Pittsburgh, thoughts of Friday night's stunner were fresh in the minds of many watching. DePaul had a 33-29 lead and a frustrated Jamie Dixon burning time outs and his players' ears.

With a game against rival West Virginia ahead on Monday and the 'formality' of facing the Big East's last winless team in conference play, DePaul Was a Test of Pitt's Focus (Tribune-Review) and that focus had a lot to be desired.

However, this Pitt team seems a little different than those of the recent past. In the final 2:20 of the first half, the Panthers ripped off a 13-0 run and never looked back again in blowing DePaul out of their own building, 92-69.

Pitt eclipsed 90 points for the third straight game, this time led by a dominating performance by DeJuan Blair as Blair Hits a Career High in Pitt's Win (Post-Gazette) as the 6-foot-7 sophomore finishes with 32 points and 14 rebounds in the win.

The Pitt effort, as usual, had everyone chipping in. Levance Fields scored 13 points and also added 16 assists while turning the ball over just once. Sam Young had 10 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore Brad Wanamaker scored 13 off the bench.

Pitt held a 42-25 rebounding advantage and continued their improved three-point shooting by connecting on 11 off 22 from beyond the arc.

The performance was impressive, leaving veteran Daily Herald sports writer Lindsey Willhite saying 'I Think I Might Have Seen the NCAA Tournament Champ.'


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February 7, 2009

It does not get any easier for DePaul, 0-10 in the Big East, when Pittsburgh comes to Allstate Arena for a Big East match-up on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers are 7-2 in the conference and will look to get a win ahead of Big Monday’s match-up against rival West Virginia.

DePaul put up a strong effort in a 76-61 home loss to Marquette earlier this week. The Blue Demons were down by 18 before the 10 minute mark of the 1st half and were without leading scorer Dar Tucker. They battled back to be in the game at the half, but they simply to do not have enough weapons with a healthy Tucker and without him, they never were able to challenge the Golden Eagles.

Pitt’s last conference game was a 93-80 home win over Notre Dame. Sophomore center DeJuan Blair dominated the paint with a 23-point, 22-rebound performance as Pitt rebounded from a loss to Villanova. In an out of conference match-up, the Panthers cruised past neighbor Robert Morris this past Monday.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on the game:

Match-up: Pittsburgh @ DePaul (Chicago Tribune)
DePaul Can Fill Void, but Dar Tucker’s Return Still Key (Chicago Tribune)
Four Ways Pitt Can Finish in Top Four (Beaver County Times)

If Jamie Dixon needs evidence to make sure his team is not overlooking the Blue Demons, he can likely point at Friday night’s Big East shocker of South Florida knocking off Marquette. Pitt comes into Allstate Arena with a large bulls-eye on their back and a match-up with rival West Virginia waiting on Monday night. The USF win, handing Marquette their first conference loss of the season, is pretty clear proof that teams need to be ready every night to in the Big East.

For Pitt, they need DeJuan Blair on the floor. The 6’7, 265 pound big man can not find himself on the bench with fouls, when he does, Pitt can struggle as he is their most important player and will be a handful for the Blue Demons in the paint.

DePaul is likely to have Dar Tucker back in action after he missed the loss to Marquette earlier this week with a sprained ankle. Tucker and backcourt mate Will Walker have provided most of the DePaul offense this season and they will have the tough Pitt defense working hard to stop them.

The latest NCAA basketball betting odds have Pitt as a road favorite. Expect the Panthers to win, but…this one might be a little bit closer than anticipated, although Pitt never is threatened.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 75
DePaul 66


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


February 3, 2009

Pittsburgh stepped out of conference and the No. 6 Pitt Gets Win over Robert Morris (Tribune-Review), a local opponent coached by former assistant Mike Rice.

Pitt led 53-33 at the half and coasted home 92-72 against the NEC opponent as Pitt has No Problem with RMU (Tribune Review). Robert Morris had won nine consecutive games before the Colonials Experienced the Heat of the Pete (Post-Gazette).

Sam Young had 23 points, DeJuan Blair 18 in 23 minutes, Jermaine Dixon added 15 and Levance Fields scored 12 and doled out 13 assists against just two turnovers.

The Pitt defense was a little soft, allowing RMU to shoot well over 50% and hang with the Panthers on the boards, looking like the crowd and players were still basking in the glow of the previous evening's festivities surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl win.

Pitt returns to conference action with a meeting at DePaul on Saturday afternoon.


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