Monday, March 30, 2009

Jamie Dixon to Arizona?

By Chris Dokish

This is the time of year that there is buzz about Jamie Dixon going elsewhere and this year's entrants are Kentucky and Arizona. Don't expect either to happen. Kentucky is closing in on hiring John Calipari, and even if that falls through, they will go after bigger fish than Dixon. As for Arizona, I talked to one of Dixon's inner circle today and he texted me with "No way!!". I also talked to another person with great knowledge of the situation and he said "Everybody I talked to said he's not interested". So rest easy Panther fans. At least as of now there is nothing out there that suggests that Dixon won't be at Pitt next season.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Postseason Q&A

By Chris Dokish

My inbox has been burning up lately, especially since Pitt's season ended a half of a second short of the Final Four, so I will do my best to answer the questions I've been getting.

Q- What the hell happened? I thought this was the year.

A- Just like I said before the season started, the Panthers had two excellent players in Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, and one very good player in Levance Fields. But after that there isn't a whole lot. At least as far as having an elite team goes. I stated back in November that in contrast to past Pitt teams that had a lot of good players, but no great players, this team had basically two and a half great players, but the normally good role players were suspect. At times it looked like Jermaine Dixon could reach a higher level and there was preseason hope for Gilbert Brown, but neither materialized.

Two and a half elite players are usually good enough if you want to go all the way, but that's assuming you have the much easier to attain good role players. But that wasn't the case with Pitt. Look at the Villanova game. If you picked the ten, or maybe even twelve, most talented players from the two teams combined, Young and Blair would be No. 1 and No. 2, in whichever order you want, but of the next eight to ten players, only Fields would be on that list. Villanova had more talent. It was only because Pitt had the two best players that they almost won. If they had even a little help, Pitt is still playing.

I say Fields is a half of an elite player because while he is an excellent floor leader and very clutch, he has serious weaknesses in his game that make him less than elite. Quite frankly, he isn't a great athlete, he isn't a great shooter, and he isn't a great defender. And against the top competition this season, Fields was mostly an atrocious shooter and he usually wasn't much better as a ball handler. That's not to denigrate what Fields has done in his career, but the truth is the truth. He is a very good player. He is not a great player.

But that still would have been fine if Pitt had their usual array of very good role players. But they never really developed this year. Ashton Gibbs was a pleasant surprise, and will have a nice career for the Panthers, but he was not an elite freshman and he really couldn't be counted on for too much because of his youth. Gary McGhee, unfortunately, adds absolutely nothing, and Tyrell Biggs doesn't add too much himself. Dixon disappeared when he was needed most, and while Wanamaker improved from last season, he is still not good enough to make a difference when the games get that big. And Brown did not progress as all this season. I know optimistic fans will defend the likes of Brown, Dixon, and Wanamaker, and let me be clear that I am only talking about how they fare against the elite. Pitt's role players will win a lot of games, but against the elite, they are out of their league. So, bottom line, the big three did what they could and if they had any help at all they could still be playing. But, sadly for Pitt fans, that help never came.

Q- Do you think Blair will be back next season?


A- I don't have any inside info about this because there isn't any inside info. No decision has been made and nobody at Pitt knows what he's going to do. I don't even know if Blair has thought about it a lot yet. But if I had to guess, I would think he would leave. I don't see why he would stay, to be honest. He is considered a potential lottery pick now and I don't see why he would be a better prospect next season. It's not like Jamie Dixon is going to let him work on his outside shot while trying to win games for the school. And with his knees, he would be wise to get the money while he could. Then he has to realize that the Panthers will not be as good next year. You throw all of those things in the mix and it makes sense to me that he would leave. I hope I'm wrong, though. I've known him since he was 15 and I would miss watching him play college ball.

Q- The team doesn't look too good on paper next season. Did we miss our one chance for the Final Four?

A- Well, Pitt may have missed their one and only chance to be that close. It's naive to think that they can easily get there again. There are better programs out there that have had a hard time getting there, so there is a chance that Pitt may not be back there. I would think with Dixon at the helm, though, Pitt will have a chance again. But I don't think it will be for a few years, at least.

If Blair stays, that will make Dante Taylor better, and the rest of the team, along with the great coaching, should lead to another successful season. Not as good as this season, but a top 20 team, for sure. If Blair leaves, though, on paper, it easily looks like Pitt's weakest team since they became a power nearly a decade ago. Like I previously stated, Pitt had two and a half excellent players this season. If Blair leaves, they have zero. I don't care how good of a coach Dixon is, you can't do much with no excellent players. Taylor has great potential and, yes, he could be somebody who could get 15 ppg and 8 rpg as a freshman. But most big men, no matter how talented, are not great as freshmen, especially when they are by far the most talented player on the team, which he would be if Blair leaves. He is not Kevin Durant or Michael Beasley.

If Blair stays, he is the go to guy, Taylor can have less pressure on him, then the rest of the team can hopefully make some strides as role players. But without Blair, the only excellent talent on the team is a freshman. After that, the talent level drops off sharply. Travon Woodall is much more athletic and much better defensively than Fields, and he will probably a better scorer. Physically he is light years ahead of Fields on Levance's best day. But he will need to run the team and that's not easy, even though Fields made it look that way. Gibbs was a pleasant surprise and he should be the least of Dixon's worry. Jermaine Dixon needs to get his game back and Wanamaker and Brown need to progress.

To cut to the chase, I think if Blair leaves, Pitt may be seventh or eight in the preseason conference rankings and it could be hard for Pitt to make the NCAA tournament. There simply aren't any excellent players outside of Blair, and maybe Taylor, but Taylor needs Blair. I know the fans point to the development of past players like Young and have high hopes for players like Brown and Wanamaker, but I don't see it. Young was a top 50 prospect and Aaron Gray was 7'0" tall. Wanamaker and Brown have the potential to be good players, but all-star caliber is a stretch. With stars around them, they could develop into very good role players. But if they are asked to be among the stars, then Pitt may be in trouble for the next year or two.

Q- How is the recruiting coming along? Looks like we could use a serious influx of talent.

A- Well, you're right. The Panthers always have one or two excellent players, and this year with two and a half excellent players, they came within a half of a second from the Final Four. But if Blair leaves, they suddenly have zero. Taylor may become one as a sophomore (please stop the stupid one and done garbage with him, it's not going to happen), and Epps may be one, but he's not coming for two years. In three years, Pitt could have Taylor as a junior and Epps as a sophomore, and they may be ready for excellence again. But it certainly looks like they will lack that super talent until then, if Blair leaves. Pitt will still win a good amount of games, though, I'm sure, because Dixon is too good of a coach.

Q- Any word on Kyryl, Payne, or Barton? What's the chances?

A- I would guess maybe 50% on Kyryl, under 50% on Payne at this time, and too early on Barton.

Q- Is Pitt interested in Stephen Curry's brother, Seth? Seems like a perfect fit.

A- I think it would be a perfect fit, too, and he is very much in demand. He could play for anybody in the country. But Pitt isn't interested for some reason.

----update----Seth Curry is transerring to Duke

Q- Any chance that Jamie Dixon or Tom Herrion will be gone before next season?

A- Of course there's a chance. Herrion is from MA and Boston U. would appear to be interested. If I were him, I would wait for something better, though. As for Dixon, I don't think Kentucky will even look him and I doubt Arizona could afford him. He used to be ripe for the picking, but he isn't as cheap as he used to be.

Q- Will Gary McGhee be back next season?

A- I don't know. I hope not, for his sake. He is clearly over matched at this level and I hope Pitt can convince him that he would be more comfortable as a level that suits his talent. And I seriously doubt that he would see the floor if he stayed.


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Thursday, March 26, 2009


March 26, 2009

For the first time in their history, Pittsburgh has won three games in the NCAA Tournament to advance into the Elite 8, which they will be competing in for the first time since 1974.

It has not been pretty at times as the Panthers have had to scratch and claw for the most part to get past 16th seed East Tennessee State, 8th seed Oklahoma State and, tonight, 4th seed Xavier, but the Panthers are now just one win away from a trip to the Final Four.

"I said this was the best group, Tyrell (Biggs), Levance (Fields) and Sam (Young), that we've brought in," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon of his senior trio. "They've lived up to it. They've got the most wins in school history as a group. A huge number, I can't keep track now, and they've won a lot of games."


However, after the first 20 minutes, things were looking all too familiar for Pitt, who has lost each of the four previous times they reached the Sweet 16 in the last seven years. Xavier, coached by former Pitt point guard Sean Miller, took a 37-29 lead into intermission and they were doing their damage on the offensive boards and on defense.

"We knew what they were and they came out and played with tremendous physicality and toughness and aggressiveness," said Dixon. "Probably the most physical team we've seen this year."

"They pushed us around for the first half," added coach Dixon.

That was not going to happen in the second half.

Right from the opening seconds of the second half, Pitt was active defensively and aggressive on the boards and with a pair of buckets by DeJuan Blair and Sam Young each, the score was knotted at 37-all by the 15:38 mark. A minute later, Pitt took the lead on a Levance Fields foul shot as Xavier was 0-9 from the floor with four turnovers before Derrick Brown broke the ice with a jumper to put the Musketeers back on top at 39-38 with 13:46 left.

Over the next seven and a half minutes, neither team could gain much separation as both struggled to score. Each team took turns taking three-point leads as the lead changed hands five times. Pitt finally gained some breathing room with a 6-0 run to take a 52-47 lead with just under 5 minutes to go.

Xavier was not ready to lay down, though. Freshman Brad Redford sparked a 7-0 run with a three-pointer to cut the lead to 52-50 and a pair of BJ Raymond free throws tied it.

After Pitt missed opportunities with Young and Blair near the basket, a Dante Jackson bucket in the paint gave Xaiver a 54-52 lead with under two minutes remaining. The Panthers came up empty again, but were given another opportunity after Derrick Brown could not chase down a CJ Anderson toss toward the XU basket without his heel touching the endline. Pitt did not let the opportunity slip away, Levance Fields saw to it.

"I never get tired of watching Levance take big shots," Jamie Dixon would say following the game. "He's made them year after year."

Fields, just 3-9 from the field in the first 39 minutes, took a step-back three-pointer and the 5'11 spark plug of a point guard used all his mite to get it over the out-stretched arms of 6'5 Dante Jackson. The shot was nothing but net...

"I do have confidence, but especially to have my coach and my teammates to believe in me down the stretch," said Fields following the game on why he feels confident to take the biggest shots when his team needs them.

The Panther defense, which held Xavier to just 18 second half points, came up huge once again. Leading 55-54 with 31 seconds left, Fields came up with a loose ball and scored a fast-break lay-up to give Pitt a three-point advantage, 57-54 with under 30 seconds left.

"It really started with (Gilbert)Brown, pressuring (BJ) Raymond in doing what he didn't want to do," Fields said of the game-clinching defensive play. "I think DeJuan (Blair) did a great job hedging out strong. He got a hand on it. And I happened to be anticipating that and once it popped free, I was off to the races."

And the 'monkey' was off Pitt's back as they advanced to the Elite 8 with a 60-55 win.

"I thought the shot that Levance Fields hit says it all about a senior point guard," said Sean Miller afterwards. "There's a reason they're 31 and 4."

Fields was the hero late in the game and finished with 14 points and 6 assists, but Sam Young kept them in it for much of the game. The senior forward finished with a game-high 19 points, including two free throws with 13 seconds left to seal the win for good. DeJuan Blair added a double-double of 10 points and 17 rebounds after having just 2 points and 2 rebounds in the first half.

"Their three best players statistically did a great job," said Miller. "Sam Young, in particular, is really a handful."

For the game, Xavier managed to shoot just 32.8% from the field, including 24% in the second half. Raymond was their high scorer with 15 and Brown added 14. After Xavier dominated the boards in the first half, Pitt turned the tables in the second half and the rebounding battle finished even, with each team grabbing 44 caroms.

"Really, it was the glass," said Jamie Dixon of the key to the second half turnaround. "They were scoring on second shots and they got a lot of kickouts after getting rebounds, second shots. So that was the biggest thing."

With the Sweet 16 barrier finally passed, Pitt feels a sense of accomplishment, but the Panthers are far from satisfied.

"It definitely means a lot for us as players, the coach and the city," said Sam Young. "It's something that everybody has been waiting for for a long time...But at the same time we feel like we've still got work to do."

Fields echoed those thoughts.

"But we came in expecting to win two games, expecting to win our first game Thursday, and that's what we've done," said Fields. "It was dramatic fashion, but once we finish this media, it's on to either Duke or Villanova."

There is a new March motto for Pittsburgh: 'Survive and Levance'. Do it one more time and it is on to Detroit for the Final Four.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


March 26, 2009

'The Next Step.' 'Winning the Big One.'

In sports, the 'what have you done lately' question is often asked. Fans set their expectations for their teams and the bar to achieve those goals is usually a moving target. For the Pittsburgh Panther basketball program, the question keeps arising of when will they take 'the next step'?

In the last eight seasons, Pitt has reached the Sweet 16 in five of them, a mark only bettered or matched by Kansas and Duke. For a program that went 27 years between 1974 and 2001 between appearances in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament, that is quite an accomplishment of it's own.

"[The] Sweet 16 is an accomplishment", Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon reminded media members Wednesday. "If it was wasn't, teams would have got there more than we have. And there's only two that have been there more than we have the last eight years, Duke and Kansas."

"There aren't any byes into the Sweet 16. I think maybe it's forgotten."


In their four previous trips to the Sweet 16 since 1974, two under Dixon and two under his predecessor, Ben Howland, the Panthers have come up empty. Under Howland they lost in overtime to Kent State and then by three points to D. Wade and Marquette the following season. In Dixon's first year it was Oklahoma State that knocked the Panthers out in the Regional Semifinals and in 2007 it was Howland himself with his UCLA squad besting the Panthers in the Sweet 16. Three of those four teams ended up in the Final Four after defeating the Panthers, who were a three-seed in three of those years and a two seed once.

But, now, the Sweet 16 is not met with a sense of accomplishment to Pitt fans. Mention of their previous Sweet 16 losses and the feeling of a 'Sour' 16 is more accurate as they await the Pitt program to take the 'next step.'

Already, this has been a season of new heights and 'next steps' for Pittsburgh. The team led by the star-studded trio of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields have achieved the first #1 ranking in the school's basketball history as well as securing the program's first #1 seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Will another first be tackled tonight when they take on Xavier at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston?

Pittsburgh has reached the Sweet 16 with wins over East Tennessee State in Round 1, 72-62, and a victory over Oklahoma State in the second round, 84-76. After a 15-3 Big East regular season, the Panthers finished up with an overall record of 28-4 heading into this year's tournament as the #1 seed in the East Regional. While many have questioned the play of Pitt in the opening two rounds, point guard Levance Fields fully understands there are no style points this time of the year.

"We look at it [that] we survived," said Fields. "No game is guaranteed in the tournament. Being No. 1 seed, everyone is gunning for you."

The next team gunning for Fields and his teammates will be fourth-seeded Xavier.

The NCAA Tournament committee certainly knows how to draw up some drama along the way as they put Xaiver, coached by former Pitt point guard Sean Miller, in their bracket. Also in the East, although eliminated in the second round by Villanova, was UCLA.

"I think obviously he's a proud alum, and we're proud of him at the University of Pittsburgh," coach Dixon said of Sean Miller and the story of former player trying to knock off his alma mater. "So he is a good friend and I think...once we put the ball up in the air, I think everybody knows that both teams are going to be thinking only about trying to take care of business."

Miller echoed many of Dixon's sentiments on the matchup with his alma mater.

"Pitt has a special place for me," said Miller. "I was a student athlete there many years ago now, '87 to '92. I've watched them with a lot of pride over the last eight years."

In many ways the teams that Xavier and Pitt will put on the floor will resemble one another quite closely. Xavier's strength is their size and ability to defend at every position on the floor, much like the reputation of the Panthers.

"Their size," Fields responded when asked Wednesday what concerns Pitt the most about the Musketeers. "They're really tall at every position. So we've got to do a great job of boxing them out and not giving them second chance opportunities."

Fields would be correct in the similarities between Pitt and Xavier, and they have not been developed by accident.

"Alot of the things their program has become known for we, too, try to take great pride in what we do at Xavier; physical play, tough defense, trying to be a solid rebounding team, trying to develop players," said Miller of the Xavier blueprint.

One missing ingredient from his blueprint is DeJuan Blair. The 6'7, 265-lb 'Grizzly Blair' is a relentless beast under the boards for the Panthers. Xavier has size, with Jason Love and freshman Kenny Frease in the post, and 10 fouls to use against Blair. Their hope in slowing Blair is to try and smother him inside with the 6'9 Love and 7-foot Frease and also draw an early foul or two on the 'big fella'
with his penchant to gamble for a steal or two away from the basket.

Blair dominated in the opening round win over ETSU with 27 points and 16 rebounds.

The other difference in this Pitt team with some of the previous editions is the presence of a dynamic offensive talent in Sam Young. In the past, Pitt has been victimized by big individial performances in the NCAA Tournament by offensively talented individuals like D. Wade and Tony Allen, Young looks to be Pitt's answer.

Against Oklahoma State, Young showed a vast array of offensive arsenal, scoring on mid-range jumpers, drilling three-pointers, attacking the rim following his devastating ball fake and finishing off a play with a rim-punishing tomahawk jam off an alley-oops while scoring 23 points...in the first half!

Xavier will hope that senior CJ Anderson, who is physically similar to Young, can get into him defensively and slow Young down. Young can be frustrated by excellent team defense and prone to forcing the issue and committing turnovers against good defense, or, if he gets going early, he can be flat-out dominiating, as Oklahoma State found out and UConn learned, twice, this season.

The other match-up to watch is at point guard. While Pitt has the ideal floor general in the senior Fields, who scored 13 points, dished 9 assists and committed just two turnovers against the pressure defense of the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. Xavier lacks the true point guard as Dante Jackson and Terrel Holloway split the time running the show.

Xaiver will rely on their offensive output to come largely from wings BJ Raymond, a junior, and sophomore Derrick Brown. Both players are capable three-point shooters, especially Raymond who has made 42% of his 197 attempts on the season. Both players have excellent size on the wing and are effecient scorers.

In a season of firsts for the Panthers, look for them to get that first trip to the Elite 8 since 1974. That '74 team was led by local All-American product Billy Knight. Now, in 2009, 25 years later, local All-American product DeJuan Blair looks to take his turn at leadeing the Panthers to new heights. He will have help as well with Young and Fields, the senior duo, doing what they need to in order to get the job done and stamp their Pitt legacy in the process.

The Panthers, according to the college basketball betting lines are the 7 1/2-point favorite. it seems to be a match-up that this year's Pitt panthers have turned the tables on their Sweet 16 opponent.

"This team is different than any other team," Jamie Dixon said of the 2008-2009 Panthers compared to the others that came up short in the Sweet 16. Tonight is the night they show it.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 74
Xavier 65


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March 25, 2009

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is Backing the Panthers in the Tourney (Tribune-review). The Super Bowl winning head coach, who is seen often attending games at the Peterson Events Center, called Pitt coach Jamie Dixon to wish him well this week.

The Panthers have to buck prior history to get past the Sweet 16 and #4 seed Xavier. Despite being a 7-point favorite, the Panthers have never beaten anyone better than a 6-seed since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979. Ouch!

In order to pass that hurdle, Pittsburgh will have to get past a familiar opponent as the Panthers See Themselves in Xavier Upfront (Post-Gazette) as both teams are mature with football-sized big men ready to battle in the paint.

Xavier might have raised some eyebrows with some curious A-10 losses in the latter part of the season. However, Xavier raised its stock outside its conference, having beaten Memphis, Missouri, Auburn, Cincinnati, Virginia and Louisiana State in the regular season, something certain to be brought to the attention of their next opponent.

After starting the postseason against West Virginia in the 2009 Big East Tournament and ETSU in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament with a couple uncharacteristic performances, Pitt Point Guard is Back to His Old Ways (Tribune-Review) as Levance Fields made the key plays against Oklahoma State.

'Survive and Levance'

While this current Pitt team certainly has an uptick of talent offensively, Defense Remains Pitt Hallmark (Beaver County Times) and the Panthers dusted off that trait in the second half of their win over Oklahoma State. After allowing 49-first half points, Pitt held the Cowboys to 27 in the second half, with nine of those coming in one 1:33 run by the Pokes.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Duquesne coach Ron Everhart are both very familiar with Pitt and Xavier, having played each this season. According to Everhart, whose team beat Xavier last month, DeJuan Blair and Sean Miller are Keys to Xavier-Pitt Matchup (iht.com). Cronin Expects a Great Game (Cincinnati Enquirer) and feels Xavier can matchup physically with Pitt better than most.


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Monday, March 23, 2009


March 23, 2009

It has been anything but easy, but Pittsburgh will take it and move on to their fifth Sweet 16 appearance in eight years after a 84-76 win over Oklahoma State.

The Panthers struggled past 16-seed ETSU in round one and survived a hot-shooting Cowboy squad that made a late run at Pitt in round two.

"I was proud of how our guys responded to their barrage, really, as I called it afterwards, of the three- pointers in the first half," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon told the media following the game. "This was not a game they lost it. We had to find a way to win it and we did it by gutting it out and outrebounding them and making big plays."

And, big plays they made.

Following a 9-0 blitz over the course of 1:33 where Oklahoma State wiped out a 71-63 Pitt lead to take a 72-71 lead with just 3:47 left on a pair of Byron Eaton free throws following a Pitt turnover, the Panthers answered with a big play.

Running the shot clock all the way down to the end, senior Levance Fields found classmate Sam Young for a clutch three-pointer to regain the lead at 74-72.

After a Marshall Moses put-back knotted the score at 74, Fields scored five straight, including a corner three following a Pitt time-out in which Young returned the favor.

On the game, Young was spectacular, showing his full arsenal on offense while scoring 32 points. Fields added 13 points, 9 assists and just two turnovers against the OSU pressure.

"[I] can't tell you how proud I am of our three seniors and how they've led us through this one," Dixon said.

Oklahoma State got out of the gate quickly on offense as they were unconscious from beyond the arc, hitting eight of their first 12 and 10 total in the first half alone. But, Pittsburgh did what they do best, out-rebounding the smaller Cowboys 41-21 in the game and holding them to 27 second-half points, with 9 of those coming in that one blitz.

"They were in there scrapping and clawing and doing everything possible they could to rebound," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said of his team. "It was just we would go up 10 feet and Blair and Young would go up maybe 11 feet.

I thought our kids did everything they could to rebound the
basketball. We blocked out. We did some good things, but Blair and Young seemed to come up with good plays when they needed them."

Pitt now moves on to Boston as they look to advance to the Elite 8 for this first time since 1974. In their way is a familiar face, former Panther point guard Sean Miller who brings his Xavier Musketeers into the contest.


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Saturday, March 21, 2009


March 21, 2009

After a very shaky first round performance in a win over 16-seed ETSU on Friday, Pittsburgh will look for an improved effort in their second round game on Sunday. If they can't dig a little deeper, Oklahoma State is unlikely to let the Panthers off the hook like the Buccaneers on Friday.

Pitt saw the tables turned on them as ETSU outscored Jamie Dixon's squad 25-7 with second-chance points and saw Pitt make numerous careless mistake which led to 18 turnovers. The Panthers pulled away late for a 72-62 win, with sophomore beast DeJuan Blair accounting for 27 points and 16 rebounds.

Round two opponent Oklahoma State is a familiar foe with the two programs splitting regular season match-ups the last two years, with Pitt winning 85-68 last season in Pittsburgh. They also met in the NCAA Tournament in the 2004 Sweet 16 in a contest won by the Cowboys on their way to a Final Four.

This year's version of Oklahoma State is much smaller than in year's past. They will look to run and push the tempo with a fullcourt press and use the three-point shot as a big offensive weapon to compensate for their lack of inside game as they are unlikely to use anyone taller than 6'6 in the game.

Head coach Travis Ford definitely brings a Rick Pitino style of play to the game and will hope the Panthers are as careless against the OSU press as they were against ETSU.

"We've handled press well throughout the year," said Jamie Dixon. "And, again, we handled it better in the second half [against ETSU], much better in the second half of the last game."

Point guard Levance Fields is nursing a few injuries, including a sore groin which kept him out of practice for nearly two weeks, but he is back practicing now. He seemed a step slow at times on Friday, but Fields insists he will be ready at full speed against the Cowboys.

"Not at all," Fields responded to a media member question if he was still feeling the effects of the injured groin. "I told you yesterday I'm 100 percent, so
I'm 100 percent today (Saturday)."

If Pittsburgh can get the ball into Fields' hand more against the Oklahoma State pressure they should have better success in handling the basketball and limiting turnovers. They are also unlikely to see the kind of all out assault on the offensive boards from the Cowboys as ETSU put on them Friday. While Blair should have another big game, assuming he stays out of foul trouble against the perimeter-oriented OSU attack, the key for Pitt is finding Sam Young for some chances at the rim and his mid-range game to click. He hit four three's in the first round win, so that shot will need to be respected, and Young will use that to go at the rim.

Pitt is an 8 1/2-point favorite according to the college basketball odds. In a fashion similar to Memphis, who bounced back Saturday from a scare to drill Maryland, look for Pitt to do the same as they have too much muscle inside for the Cowboys and will lead to too many easy baskets. Once they get some easy shots to go down, the rest of their game will open up.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 83
Oklahoma State 72


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March 21, 2009

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, no 16-seed has ever beaten a #1 seed. While Pittsburgh never trailed ETSU in the second half of their first round match-up on Friday, the Panthers were definitely ripe for the picking in this one as 2009 March Madness looked to claim its largest victim yet.

ETSU had the ball, trailing by just two at 59-57 with 4:14 remaining after a Sam Young turnover. The Buccaneers failed to convert and Pitt went on an 8-2 run in the next three-minutes, capped by freshman Ashton Gibbs’ three-pointer to match Pitt’s largest lead of eight points, 67-59, and finally allowing Pitt to breathe easy as they won 72-62.

DeJuan Blair was a monster inside, scoring 27 points a grabbing 16 rebounds, to lead Pitt to the opening round win, but they had to fight hard to avoid being the first victim of a 16-seed upset.

“Every team is going to give us their best,” Blair said following the game. “We just have to keep playing, and we just are going to have to find ourselves and we're going to come out strong this game.”

Sam Young added 14 points and 13 rebounds as Pitt held a 47-44 rebounding edge in the game. However, it was ETSU that gobbled up second-chance points, outscoring Pitt 25-7 on the strength of their 20 offensive rebounds.

“The next game, when we come out we've got to bring a little more effort to make sure that don't happen again,” said Young.

That next game will be Sunday, against Oklahoma State, a 77-75 winner of Tennessee earlier in the day in Dayton.

A key to the Pitt win on Friday was the bench production. The Panther bench outscored the ETSU subs 22-4, with freshman Ashton Gibbs scoring 10.

“He played, obviously, very well. 10 points, didn't miss a shot, [and] two assists,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of Gibbs’ contribution in the win.


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Thursday, March 19, 2009


March 20, 2009

It was 15 months ago when Pittsburgh last visited Dayton. It was a trip they wished never happened. Not only were the Panthers blown out of the building by the Flyers, but Levance Fields went down with a broken bone in his foot that would keep him out of action for 12 games and the side effects would linger into this season.

In a season of firsts for the Panthers, including a No. 1 ranking (twice) this season and the #1 seed in the East, they are hoping to have a better trip to Dayton this weekend and use it as a springboard to their first Elite 8 or better since 1974, but to get there, they must survive a weekend in Dayton.

Up first for the Panthers is the Atlantic Sun tournament champion and the East region's 16-seed, East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers finished the season 23-10 and earned impressive wins over Belmont and Jacksonville to take their conference tournament. Their reward, a date with Pitt.

"We know they're a great team, they're the No. 1 seed," said junior forward Mike Smith. "That pretty much explains it all. They're a physical team. They've got some great athletes."

As of Thursday morning, ETSU had not looked at film on Pitt as a team, instead they have been worrying on what they are going to do in their gameplan. Maybe coach Murry Bartow wants keep from allowing his team to get too much of a glimpse of what they are up against, because it could be intimidating.

"I'm not sure I love the matchup, but I love our team," Bartow said of the NCAA Tournament experience. "We've really got what we call the Big 3 that are playing incredibly well for us. And, obviously, they'll have to play great tomorrow for us to have a chance."

That 'Big 3' includes Smith, who at 6'6 and 225 pounds, leads the team in rebounding at 7.7 a game and added 15.5 points a game. Senior guard Courtney Pilgrim added 17.6 points a game, surpassing 2,000 for his career, and led the team in assists. But, the star of the show is 6'4 senior Kevin Tiggs. The Flint (MI) native who came to ETSU via Mott CC averaged a team-best 21.5 points a game this season while shooting an efficient 54% from the field. The three veteran point-producers will make this a dangerous 16-seed.

Pitt, of course, has their own Big 3, led by the 'Big Fella', 6'7 sophomore center DeJuan Blair and seniors Sam Young and Levance Fields. However, the Panthers also have more depth as Jermaine Dixon and Tyrell Biggs are more than just ordinary role players and Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker have both shown they can contribute off the bench on both ends of the floor.

"Obviously DeJuan Blair inside is an incredibly hard matchup for us," coach Bartow said. "When you look at the stats, their plus 10 rebounding margin on the glass in the Big East jumps out at you. We'll have to try to hold our own there if we can. Sam Young's a pro. He's a great player. Levance Fields is one of the best point guards in the country."

"We're not going to show them a 15 minute highlight tape of Sam Young," Bartow stated on the lack of tape shown to his club. "I'm not sure we want them to see that."

While the broken foot Fields suffered last time through Dayton is behind him, a sore back and groin has kept him out of practice for a couple weeks, but did not prevent him from playing against Connecticut and West Virginia. The groin now seems to be an injury that he has moved past as he has been back on the court in practice leading up to the NCAA Tournament 1st round contest.

"I'm fine," Fields told reporters today. "Whenever I'm on the court I'm 100 percent.
So the extra days (of rest) was very helpful in getting more treatment and we just have to move on. Unfortunately, we didn't go far (in the Big East Tournament), but I'm good health wise."

ETSU looks to be easily the best of the bunch among the 16 seeds and probably the 15 seeds as well. They have a very effective 'Big 3' and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows who they have to stop in this one.

"They're playing their best basketball right now," Dixon said of ETSU. "Coach Bartow has really done a great job with them. And I don't know if there's any other team in the country that has three guys that scores at the rate that these three guys do."

The question will obviously be, can three guys beat the team that is Pittsburgh. Maybe if the Panthers are looking too far ahead, but with three senior starters, including Young, Fields and Tyrell Biggs, Pitt knows this is it and they will not take anyone lightly in the tournament.

"No. No, not at all," Young said when asked if Pitt would be taking a look at Louisville while in Dayton for a possible meeting in the championship game. "We did that way too many times. We're way too mature to make a foolish mistake like that again. I think we're going to take one game at a time, and we're going to worry about the team we play tomorrow and then the team we play the next day, and then we're going to take care of it like that."

So, with their undivided attention on the Buccaneers on Friday, Pitt should be able to post a solid win. The Panthers are 20-point favorites according to the latest college basketball odds, but a team like ETSU will make some runs and make some shots and might be able to keep it in the teens with a late run.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 85


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Blair named 1st Team All-American

Panthers sophomore center DeJuan Blair was today named 1st Team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers of America. Blair was the first Pitt player to be named a 1st Team All-American since Billy Knight in 1974. Also named to the First Team were Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Stephen Curry (Davidson), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), and James Harden (Arizona State). Named to the Second Team were Hasheem Thabeet (UConn), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), Sherron Collins (Kansas), Jodie Meeks (Kentucky), and Jeff Teague (Wake Forest).

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


March 12, 2009

Round three of the 'Backyeard Brawl', Hoops Style, is set for tonight and the location does not get any better as Madison Square Garden in New York City plays host to the intense rivalry.

Normally it is Pittsburgh bringing the local flavoer back home to NYC, but the Mountaineers have also dipped into the 'Big Apple' market with their freshmen trio of Devin Ebanks, Darryl 'Truck' Bryant and Kevin Jones. WVU opened their 2009 Big East Tournament play with a 74-62 win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night. As the tournament's #2 seed, Pitt had a double-bye for rounds one and two and they are now hitting the court at MSG for the first time this season in the quarterfinals.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's game:

Ruoff Bounces Back in Big Way (Times West Virginian)
Vesatile Ebanks Big on the Boards for WVU (Five Boro Sports)
Solid Defense Carries WVU To Win over Notre Dame (Charleston Gazette)
Panthers Feel at Home in MSG (Beaver County Times)
WVU's Win Sets Up Third Meeting with Pitt (Post-Gazette)
Pitt's Dixon Closing in on Mark (Tribune-Review)
Pitt finds Comfort in Big East Routine (Tribune-Review)

West Virginia overcame some cold shooting, just 36% from the field, by dominating the boards and hitting their three's in the ROund 2 win over the Fighting Irish. NYC native Devin Ebanks had 18 rebounds and 'Truck' Bryant, another NYC-bred performer had 17 points and 4 assists. While their performances were key, it was the WVU stars that shined the brightest last night on Broadway as Alex Ruoff scored 25 points and Da'Sean Butler added 20.

The WVU stars will have to bring their game again tonight if they are going to match the talent of Pittsburgh. The Panthers took both games of the season series this season, handily, winning 79-67 in Morgantown and 70-59 in Pittsburgh. Sam Young averaged 21 points in the two prior meetings.

The one area that WVU has continued to struggle with inconsistency is their shooting, but in many games, they have been able to make up for it on the boards. However, that will not be easy against Pitt, one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. Motivated by playing their rivals, the effort on the boards by WVU should be very high.

One question surrounding this game is the health of Levance Fields, the fantastic Pittsburgh point guard. Fields was a gametime decision against UConn last Saturday with a severely bruised tailbone he suffered in a win over Marquette the week before. Fields played an excellent floor game against UConn, but has not practiced since. With a #1 seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament virtually assured, resting Fields could be a possibility if he is not yet at 100%. However, missing his last chance to play in front of his friends and family from NYC might not sit well with the tough NYC point guard.

The other factor that could lead to a quarterfinal upset is the psyche of the Panthers. They have once again become the popular 'it' team among the media and they have said all season long their focus is past the Big East Tournament. Coming off the emotional high of Senior Day and a two-game sweep of Connecticut, will the Panthers be 'up' for this one right from the start? You know WVU will be as they have been beaten by their rivals twice already this season, and Bob Huggins will not let his team strike out against the big, bad Panthers without a fight.

It should be a good one in MSG tonight. Once the lights come on, I expect Pitt to focus on the game in front of them, but they will certainly have a fight...with a potential date with UConn ahead of them for Friday night in a game EVERYONE seems to want to see, maybe that is the opening that WVU needs to get the Panthers off focus.

The college basketball betting odds have Pitt listed as a 4 1/2-point favorite. For a team with a pair of double-digit wins over this very team, maybe it should be higher. So, we will do the obvious...look for the upset!

NBE Blogger Prediction:

West Virginia 69
Pittsburgh 63


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pitt Against the Elite

By Chris Dokish

The NCAA tournament is on the horizon, and if the Pitt basketball team wants to be successful, they will have to beat some of the other elite programs in the nation. That's why it's important to see how the Panthers did against tough competition.

The Panthers played nine games against teams with an RPI in the top 30- UConn (2), West Virginia (2), Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Florida State, and Villanova. In that group, there is an even more elite group, with UConn, Louisville, and Villanova all having an RPI in the top 10.

The following analysis is how well the Panthers top seven players have done both in the nine tough games, as well as the four games against elite competition.

Levance Fields- While the senior point guard has a reputation of a big game player with ice water in his veins, the facts say that sometimes looks can be deceiving.

In the nine tough games, Fields has made only 35 of his 97 FG attempts (36.1%), 10 of 38 three point attempts (26.3%), and 20 of 29 free throws (69.0%). In the four games against elite competition, Fields' shooting is even more atrocious. In those games, he is shooting 26.5% from the field, 23.8% from three, and 66.7% from the free throw line.

Even more amazing is that Fields, nearly legendary as a dependable ball handler, has had an incredible 3.1 TO/game in the nine tough games and an even more amazing 3.8 TO/game against the elite four teams. To put that in perspective, only six players in the Big East had more than 3.0 TO/game this season and the league leader had 3.3 TO/game. The leader for Pitt, Sam Young, averaged 2.4 TO/game. In the other 22 games, Fields averaged 1.4 TO/game.

Of course this is not to suggest that Fields will flop in the tournament. He has proven that he can have big games when it counts, as evidenced by the fact that in the last two games of the season, he accumulated a staggering 22 assists against Marquette and UConn, and last season beat Duke at the buzzer. But the truth is, Fields is not a great athlete and throughout his career he has sometimes had trouble handling the ball against very athletic teams. The massive amount of trouble Fields has had against top competition certainly has to be a concern if the Panthers get deep into the tournament and face elite teams.

DeJuan Blair- Another surprising fact is that Blair, often considered to be a "big game player", had had trouble in most of Pitt's big games this season.

From the field, Blair shot 56.0% from the field in the nine tough games and 52.8% against the big four. In his other 21 games this season, Blair shot 61.0%. In addition, Blair averaged 13.8 ppg and 11.3 rpg against the top nine, and 11.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg in the four toughest games. In his other 21 games, Blair averaged 16.4 ppg and 12.9 rpg. Just seven times this season Blair did not score in double figures and four of those times were in the top nine games. In another he scored just ten. So that means in only four of the nine toughest games did Blair score effectively. In the four toughest games, Blair deservedly got a lot of publicity for his 22 point, 23 rebound effort against UConn. But in the other three toughest games, he had 9 points and 10 rebounds at Louisville, 7 points and 8 rebounds at Villanova, and 8 points and 8 rebounds in the season finale against UConn.

Sam Young- By this time you are thinking that obviously a player will produce less against top competition. Which brings me to Sam Young. In the nine toughest games, Young has made 51.1% of his shots, which is a hair higher than he was on the season. In the four toughest games, he made 46.5% of his shots, still a good number against such tough competition. From three, Young made 35.9% of his shots which is exactly the number had had on the season. Against the top four teams, Young was even better making 37.5% of his shots. The most impressive number, however, may be at the line where Young, who made 71.6% of his shots on the year, made 77.3% against the top nine and an incredible 81.8% in the four toughest games.

The better shooting helped him score even more in big games than he did the rest of the season. In the top nine games, Young averaged 20.8 ppg, and against the four elite teams, Young averaged 21.0 ppg. In the nine games, Young scored 20 or more points in six, and 18 in another. The only two bad games he had, against Louisville and Villanova, the Panthers lost.

Jermaine Dixon- The surprise of the season did not miss a beat in the biggest games, with averages nearly identical to the rest of the season. Against the top nine, Dixon is shooting 45.1% from the field which is only slightly lower than he shot in the rest of the games. From three, Dixon shot a very respectable 35.3% in those games. Against the top four, Dixon's numbers dropped to 41.9% from the field and 30.8% from three, but as he's the fourth option and the competition is tough, his numbers are not horrible.

Showing his consistency, Dixon averaged 9.8 ppg against the top nine and 10.0 ppg in the four toughest games. In his other 22 games this season, Dixon averaged 8.9 ppg, so he actually produced more in big games. Dixon also showed he steps up his defense in the big game as he averaged 1.9 spg against the top nine and 2.8 spg against the top four (thanks mostly to getting 6 steals at Louisville). Against the rest of the schedule, he averaged 1.3 spg in 22 games.

Tyrell Biggs, Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown- All three have pretty poor numbers in the biggest games of the year, but in their defense, they are not going to try to do too much in a big game, and will instead let the top players do the work.

Against the top nine, Biggs made 42.4% of his shots, including 30.8% from three. At the line he made 6 of 10 for 60%. He averaged 4.3 ppg and 5.0 rpg. In the four games against the elite, Biggs made only 4 shots in the four games, out of 14 attempts, for a 28.6%. He averaged just 3.3 ppg and 4.8 rpg.

Wanamaker made 41.5% from the field in the nine toughest games, as well as 31.3% from three and 55.6% from the line. He averaged 3.7 ppg and 2.9 rpg, but showing a problem he had had all year, he also had 1.9 TO/game, a very high number for the amount of minutes he played. In the four games against the elite competition, Wanamaker's numbers actually got better in most categories thanks mostly to good games at Villanova and at UConn. Wanamaker made 44% of his FGs and 5 of 7 free throws for a 71.4%. He also averaged 7.3 ppg.

Brown was a disappointment in the big games, as he has been for most of the season. In the nine toughest games, Brown made just 35.4% of his shots, including 2-11 from three, a 18.2%. From the line, he only went twice, making one. He averaged just 3.0 ppg and 2.4 rpg in those nine. Against the four elite teams, Brown was even more ineffective making just 2 of 11 FGs for 18.2%. He averaged just 1.5 ppg and 3.0 rpg. Brown scored 6 points against Villanova, but was held scoreless against Louisville and in both games against UConn.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009


March 7, 2009

By Zach Smart & NBE Staff

After suffering from 'Blaired' vision and virtually disappearing during the Huskies" 76-68 loss at the XL Center in Hartford back on Feb. 16, Hasheem Thabeet and UConn will look to exact revenge on Pittsburgh.

Top-ranked UConn closes out the regular season in dramatic fashion, heading to the Peterson Events Center to try to avenge an earlier loss against Pittsburgh (27-3, 14-3). The stakes are raised, significantly as the game has regular season title implications. The prospect of grabbing a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament could present itself to the winner, regardless of what happens next week in the 2009 Big East Tournament.

UConn will have to get an efficient account of itself, meaning 6-9 forward Stanley Robinson will have to play the hungry, possessed way he played against Marquette. Hasheem Thabeet will need to provide a presence on the blocks and not turn in another Houdini-like performance he did at Hartford.

The Huskies must have the fortitude and composure to withstand any late game run Pitt reels off. That's a litmus test in its own. The fans can blow the roof off after a wild, pulsating Pitt run and disrupt the flow of the visitor's comeback.

Pitt owns a gaudy 18-0 record at the PEC this season and have won 20 straight at home dating back to last season.


The Huskies will need to be able to respond to any long range shot by Levance Fields, who buried two crucial threes down Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker's throats that turned out to be real daggers.

Fields scored 10 crucial points in three crucial minutes, helping the Panthers pad their lead and run off with a victory that catapulted them to No.1 in the country.

Fields, however, is questionable for this game after a hard fall on the Panthers’ previous game against Marquette and is reportedly very sore as a bruised tailbone leaves his status in doubt.

Last year, Pitt and UConn met in Connecticut with the Panthers missing Fields and UConn without Jerome Dyson then as well. AJ price hit the key baskets down the stretch, similar to what Fields did in their earlier match-up this season, to pull out the win. The Panthers were 8-4 (7-4 in the Big East) last year without Fields.

The Huskies will need to put the clamps on DeJuan Blair, who bulldozed his way to 22 points and 23 rebounds and destroyed Thabeet in virtually every aspect of the game on the 16th. Blair, the 6-foot-7 homegrown product and Player of the Year candidate, backed Thabeet down and penetrated the teeth of the UConn frontline at will. Both Blair and Sam Young, he of the trademark shot fake, were a two-man wrecking crew.

Young is averaging 18.4 points and 6.0 boards. He's shooting the rock at a 50 percent clip.

Back in mid-February, he started off sizzling and never relented. He hit jumpers and got free for alley-oops, cooking UConn to the recipe of 25 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting.

Pitt won the battle on the boards, 43-36 in a game that left the Big East leaders in a black-and-blue battered condition the following morning. With muscle-bound mammoths like Jeff Adrien and Blair going after it and employing an ultra-physical brand of ball, it was what one would expect.

Jim Calhoun, at the helm at UConn for 23 years, was even overwhelmed by the aggression of the game and the nature in which it was called. Calhoun said he hasn't seen a game like that in 15 years.

"If the game's going to be called like that, let us know before hand," he said, venting his frustration at referee Mike Kitts, whose suspect call on Hasheem Thabeet with 11:20 remaining resulted in Thabeet's fourth foul.

Calhoun also said his peace following the game and look for the Hall of Fame coach to be working the officials early and often on Saturday. It was in Pittsburgh back when their bruisers like Chevon Troutman and company would test the mettle of Emeka Okafor and Calhoun got T’d up during the opening tip-off, it could happen early tomorrow as well.

If the cajoling of the officials leads to a few fouls on Blair, then coach Calhoun has done his job and it will be up to his players to finish their job.

Pulling off a win in such a hostile environment will be trying for the Huskies, a real test of their manhood and hunger. Calhoun has called them out for not wanting it bad enough twice this season, in losses against Georgetown and Pittsburgh.

In order for the Huskies to win the battle in the backcourt, A.J. Price and Craig Austrie can't shoot a paltry 8-for-25 the way they did at the XL Center. With Jerome Dyson out, Kemba Walker has filled some of the scoring void. He's gone to the basket more. Adrien, who was sublime in his 25-point, 11-for-15 explosion against Notre Dame, has also helped cushion the loss.

Thabeet, who Blair virtually flipped over in the first half, knows he will be the center of attention. He isn't exactly embracing the role of the player who all eyes will be pasted on.

"It is not about Hasheem against Pittsburgh," he told the Hartford Courant Thursday. "It's about UConn basketball."

Calhoun knows his 7-foot-3 beanstalk will need to make up for the lost time last game.

"He now is going to be thrust into a pivotal position as the pivotal guy on our team. And if he were to be deserving of player of the year or All-American, or all those kind of things, well ... "

He's got to avoid slipping into the body of a 5-foot-10 walk-on. He's got to avoid getting pummeled on the glass, getting backed down to the basket, and suffering from 'Blaired' vision this time around.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on the game:

Game Night: #4 Pittsburgh vs. #1 Connecticut (CollegeHoopsnet.com)
Blair, #3 Panthers Read for Another ‘Celebrity Death Match’ (Washington Observer)
The Moment is Now for AJ Price and Connecticut Basketball (Chicago Tribune)
UConn Men Play for Big East Title (Hartford Courant)
UConn-Pittsburgh Saturday (Hartford Courant)
Blair, Pitt Try to Dislodge UConn Again (AP)
Thabeet in Spotlight Against Pittsburgh (Hartford Courant)
Panthers Await UConn, Another Shot at No. 1 (Post-Gazette)
Clash May Decide Big East Player of the Year (Norwich Bulletin)
For UConn, Formula is Easy, the Game is the Hard Part (Norwich Bulletin)
Clash of the Titans (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
UConn Men’s Gameday (Connecticut Post)
Officiating Talk a Backdrop to UConn-Pitt Match-up (Post-Gazette)
Pitt, UConn No. 1 Rivalry and Just the Ticket for Fans (Post-Gazette)

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 71
Connecticut 66

The prospect of Pittsburgh playing without Levance Fields definitely worries me as the Panthers would be very vulnerable to aggressive defensive pressure in the backcourt with some inexperienced ball-handlers. However, the atmosphere and energy of senior day has carried many a team to a special win...


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Friday, March 06, 2009

Visit Update

By Chris Dokish

As promised, I did some checking to see who will definitely be visiting this weekend for the UConn game and verified to attend thus far are Dante Taylor, Talib Zanna, Tom Droney, and Kyryl Natyazhko. Isaiah Epps, Adreian Payne, and Sterling Gibbs have also been invited.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fields injury update

By Chris Dokish

Despite rampant rumors that the injury to PG Levance Fields is worse than reported, a source close to the situation tells me that Fields is questionable for Saturday's season finale against UConn, but that at this time there is no diagnosis that would keep him out for a longer period of time. According to the source, "he is just sore".

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By Chris Dokish

With a huge regular season finale being played this Saturday against UConn, the Pittsburgh Panther coaching staff is using the opportunity to try to get some of their top targets in for the game.

Expected to be attending are 6'8" McDonald's All-American forward Dante Taylor of National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, MD and 6'9" forward Talib Zanna of Bishop McNamara HS in Forestville, MD, both of whom have already signed as members of the class of 2009. Also, 6'5" class of 2010 wing Tom Droney of Sewickley Academy, just outside of Pittsburgh.

According to those close to the situation, there is also a 75% chance that 6'10" 250 pound center Kyryl Natyazakho of IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL will visit. Natyazakho, a 2009 prospect, is a native of the Ukraine and rumor has it that seeing a Ukranian flag or two will go a long way in making him feel comfortable. Sounds like a job for the Zoo (hint, hint).

Also possibly attending, though still unsure because of possible game conflicts of their own, are 2010 verbal commitment Isaiah Epps, a 6'2" PG from Plainfield (NJ) HS, 5'10" PG Sterling Gibbs of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, NJ, and 6'10" center Adreian Payne of Jefferson HS in Dayton, OH. Gibbs, the brother of Pitt freshman Ashton Gibbs is a 2011 prospect. Payne is a top 15 prospect in the 2010 class and is seen as a possible replacement for DeJuan Blair.

Check back sometime on Friday for an update to see who actually made it.


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March 5, 2009

For Pitt, a Knight to Remember (Post-Gazette) as Pitt Retires Brandin Knight's Jersey (Tribune-Review) in a surprise ceremony before Pittsburgh hosted Marquette in a Big East conference game with post-season and Big East regular season implications.

Knight, who wore uniform No. 20, is Pitt's all-time leader in assists (785) and steals (298) and scored 1,440 points from 1999-2003 and is the player widely considered by Pitt followers as the key to the programs resurgence of the last eight years. Knight is also a member of the NBE Big East All-Time Top 50 Players and a current Panther assistant coach under Jamie Dixon.

All that and a game as well as No. 3 Pitt Runs Over No. 13 Marquette (Tribune-review), 90-75, before a Peterson Events Center sell-out crowd of 12,508. It was the 20th consecutive home win for Jamie Dixon's club and a school-record 14th Big East win in a season.

After taking a 43-36 lead at halftime, Pitt forgot there was another 20 minutes to play as the Golden Eagles stunned the Panthers with a lightning quick 21-5 run in under four-minutes to take a 57-48 lead. Pitt answered...and asnwered again...and again...leaving Marquette Feeling Down and Out (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) after their third loss in a row as they have played without injured Dominic James in all but four minutes of those three games against Pitt, Connecticut and Louisville.

Pitt quickly knotted the score at 57, with a 9-0 spurt of their own that took all of two minutes. After a Lazar Hayward three-pointer gave MU a lead at 60-57, Pitt them embarked on a 28-5 run over 10 minutes to give them an 85-65 lead with 3:20 remaining and chants of 'We Want UConn' echoed through the 'Pete' as fans began to look forward to this Saturday's showdown with the No. 1 Huskies.

All told, after Marquette's run to take the 57-48 lead, Pitt responded by outscoring MU 37-8 over the next 12:40 of the game in a barrage as impressive to see as it sounds. DeJuan Blair (23 points) scored inside, Sam Young (18 points) scored in transition, Levance Fields (17 points, 10 assists, 2 turnovers) orchestrated the attack with key buckets by Gilbert Brown (11 points) and Jermaine Dixon (13 points) came when necessary. Besides the five players who scored in double figures, Pitt managed to shoot 63% from the floor and owned a sparkling 2:1 (22 to 11) assist to turnover ratio.

The Panthers Win May Secure a Top Seed (Post-Gazette) or at least the Big Win Moves Pitt closer to No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament (Post-Gazette) ahead of the showdown with UConn this Saturday.


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March 5, 2009

By Matt Whitfield

Raymond Graham was Northern New Jersey’s most recruited Running Back this past season. Despite being a dual sport athlete, having played basketball since he was 4, Graham chose Pittsburgh over several other big time schools including Michigan State, North Carolina State and Maryland.

“When I went there I just felt at home, I felt comfortable, I felt comfortable there. Not to say other schools weren’t great or nothing. I visited Maryland, Connecticut, [and] Rutgers, [and] all those schools were great but I felt Pitt is where I needed to be at,” Graham told NBE while competing at the recently 2009 Primetime Shootout basketball tournament in Trenton (NJ) with his Elizabeth HS teammates.

Graham plans to arrive on campus in early July, the weekend after high school graduation. Graham stated to the NBE Basketball Report that he is going to be ready because there is early playing time available.

“With Lesean Mccoy leaving it opens up a lot of doors for a lot of freshman, there’s good running backs there [in] me, Dion Lewis and Jason Hendricks, and we all got to work hard because somebody’s got to take that spot,“ Graham said.

While Graham is still in basketball mode right now, Pitt fans can expect a full strength RB with 4.5 speed come July.

“After basketball season I’m going to get in the weight room real heavy with my old high school team, and get in the weight room and work hard, then get on the program[Pittsburgh] gave me and go hard, [and] summer time get there [and] go all out," said Graham.

Though he has yet to step foot in his dorm room, Graham hope to bring championships and lots of touchdowns to the Pittsburgh program. As Graham put it, “[I’m a] very humble, hard working person, just a person that would like to get things done.”


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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


March 4, 2009

Pittsburgh looks to stake their claim to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and this week could decide that fate. The Panthers will host Marquette tonight and UConn on Saturday at the Peterson Events Center on the Pitt campus. At 13-3 in the Big East and 26-3 overall, the Panthers could set a school-record with their 14th Big East win in a season tonight.

Marquette has lost four of their last seven games since starting out the Big East season 9-0 in conference play. The last two were played predominately without Dominic James, who was lost for the season four minutes into their 93-82 home loss against UConn one week ago tonight. While the shock of the realization that James' college career is over at Marquette, the remaining Golden Eagles vow to fight on, led by seniors Jerel McNeal and Wesley Mathews.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's contest:

Former Great Sees Plenty of Potential (Tribune-Review)
Panthers Land in Enviable Position (Post-Gazette)
Pitt Readies for Short-Handed Marquette (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Panthers close Out Regular Season at Home (Tribune-Review)
No James, But Plenty of Fight (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Last Sunday, Marquette began to pick up the pieces after James' injury with a game at Louisville. Marquette fought hard, losing 62-58 on the road, but the absence of James was very clear, especially on offense. The Golden Eagles managed just seven assists as a team (James averaged over 5 a game himself) and shot just 34% from the floor. Jerel McNeal, the all-time leading scorer in the history of Marquette basketball, seemed to try and take too much onto himself and was just 3-19 from the floor against the Cards. The loss of James certainly puts more onto the shoulders of McNeal and Wesley Mathews, as well as junior forward Lazar Hayward as they lack depth of productive players ready to contribute at the highest level of the Big East.

Pittsburgh got their own injury scare on Saturday night as DeJuan Blair banged knees with a Seton Hall player and was in obvious pain and limped off to the Pitt locker room. Blair had two major ACL injuries in high school, but the good news in this instance was a hyperextended knee and the 6-foot-7 Big East Player of the Year candidate should be close to full speed for tonight's game.

The Panthers have a clear advantage with Blair and Sam Young in the frontcourt and their depth off the bench in the backcourt also could play a big role in this contest. Marquette will try and counter the Panther strengths by applying constant ball pressure against Levance Fields and his backcourt mates with Maurice Acker, James' replacement, McNeal and Mathews extending their pressure and being aggressive on defense, trying to force turnovers and convert the extra opportunities into points. Pitt turned the ball over 18 times in their loss to Providence last week and 23 more times in the win over SHU, so that is something to keep a close eye on.

While Marquette will look to turn Pitt over for extra chances, Pitt will pound the offensive glass for their extra chances. If Pitt can get into their offense they will be very tough to stop. Their offensive rebounding prowess, easily the best in the country, has made Pitt one of the top two most-efficient offenses in the country, despite not being a great shooting team. it is almost a case of just getting shots up to the rim for Pitt might be part of the offensive plan, because they rebound nearly 40% of their misses and should be able to control the boards against a small Marquette line-up.

The other factor is foul trouble on Blair that could put this game into jeopardy for the Panthers. Marquette is likely to try and draw Blair away from the basket and hope he picks up some ticky-tack fouls trying to stay with the smaller and quicker MU players.

The NCAA basketball betting odds have the Panthers as a 10 1/2-point favorite to pick up conference win #14 tonight at the expense of the short-handed Golden Eagles. While MU has plenty to play for, they are likely to come up short in this one on the road.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 71
Marquette 60


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