As reported in the Post-Gazette, Fields has told reporters today that he hopes to be back in playing shape by Valentine’s Day, which means he wants to play at Marquette on February 15.
I have known for a while now that his injury status and expected date of return were a bit overestimated, and was told that Fields is so eager to return that he claimed he wanted to play versus Georgetown. Obviously his doctors laughed at him and said no.
What this means is that the much publicized misfortune of Pitt’s 2008 tournament hopes were grossly exaggerated. I am obviously a harsh critic of sports reporters and this is no exception. Jamie Dixon has notably changed the way he is preparing the players in response to the injuries, and the players are obviously buying into it and excelling.
For Pitt to be playing as well as they are right now, with the expectation of Fields to make a return in just about a month, every Pitt fan should smile. As long as the Panthers can grind out the next seven games, they should be in excellent shape to enter the Big East Tournament.
Pitt has two road games that they should be able to handle. Cincinnati is a big question mark in my mind. I watched them on TV against St. John’s and they both looked awful, yet somehow Cincinnati has put together an impressive conference record so far. I would expect them to play with some real heart at home this weekend. Pitt has a habit of following up a big win with less than expected intensity (Duke and Dayton, for example). I’ll be traveling back to Ohio to see it, and I don’t foresee anything resembling Dayton, hopefully I am correct.
St. John’s on the road is always a game that challenges Pitt. I had long been of the opinion that our players suffered when playing in front of a close-to-home audience. Now that Pitt has a lot fewer New York natives, that variable should not matter as much. The only win St. John’s has in the conference is Cincinnati. I have a feeling that, barring a slip-up this weekend, Ronald and Keith will have settled into their roles as much as they ever will, and this game should be far less trying than in the past.
I am predicting that this weekend we see Sam Young bounce back from his only game without 10+ points so far this year. I also believe that Jamie will try to get Gary McGhee into some action as well. I was very excited that he got some minutes against Georgetown, but with such foul calls, obviously his time would be cut short.