So, a bit of possibly very exciting news today, but I’ll hold off until later to tell you what it is- nothing like suspense in a blog post. So, after that incredible ending to the WVU game, the Panthers find themselves at 6-4, just a game out of a bye the in Big East tournament, but heading into the toughest part of the Big East Conference schedule. We do get a bit of an easier game tomorrow night against the Providence Friars, but this is still not a team to be taken lightly. They have posted impressive wins at UConn (77-65) and home against then-number 18 Arkansas, 67-51. They are also 4-7 in the Big East, a mark that would knock them out of the tournament if the season ended now, so this is a team desperate for wins.
Luckily for us, the Friars are not at optimal health. Manhattan transfer and starting guard Jeff Xavier is playing through some pretty bad pain in his foot, which has him wearing a boot similar to Levance’s anytime he’s not on the court. Hopefully this will affect his dribble-drive ability and keep him out on the perimeter, where he’s only a 37.1% shooter. He’s had quite a few double-digit scoring effors in the last few months, but most of these come either against bad teams or on less-than-stellar shooting nights (6 for 17 against Seton Hall, for example). Another player capable of putting up points for the Friars is G-F Geoff McDermott, a junior out of New Rochelle HS in NY, who’s had 11 games in double digits this season. He also is injured, with fluid building up in a sore in an undisclosed location, perhaps contributing to his only scoring 10 or more in two of his past ten games. He does, however, average 8.3 rebounds and 5 assists a game, so it’ll be up to Sam and Tyrell to keep him off the boards and limit his passing.
One player who doesn’t look so impressive on the stat sheets but has improved over the course of the season is 6-11, 240 pound center Randall Hanke. He started his first game on December 9th, and while he only averages 8.4 points and 3.1 rebounds on the season, those numbers are very deceiving. Still not much of a rebounder, he has put up 18, 21, and 16 points in his last 3 games in addition to putting up 20 and 23 in earlier games. He’s also added 7 blocks in his last 4 games while shooting at a high percentage from inside. I would imagine that DeJuan shouldn’t have too much of a problem with Hanke, but he could get in there and alter some shots, similar to a shorter Hasheem Thabeet. However, because of the low rebound numbers, I’m not overly concerned about his effectiveness under the basket. In other restricted Friar notes, last year’s starting guard Sharaud Curry is out for the year with a stress fracture in his foot, and previous starter/key reserve 6’8″ forward Jonathan Kale has been suspended indefinitely by coach Tim Welsh, and his return has not been stated.
Alright, now to the slightly exciting news for today. I know I’m going to get some comments about this, and how it’s unlikely to happen- so before you say anything, I know that what’s upcoming is unlikely, but it’s possible.
Levance Fields has been cleared for full practice with the team, has been running on a treadmill, and participating in full 5-on-5 drills. Coach Dixon has said that Levance’s return is now completely dependent on pain tolerance and conditioning- and I would think that by Levance’s mad dash across the court at the end of the WVU game, pain tolerance is the least of Levance’s problems. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but I would love to see Levance get put in for a very small amount of minutes against Providence- if nothing else, to get the crowd excited- but hopefully he’ll be able to play some solid minutes against Marquette, which would be incredibly important to Pitt’s chances in that game.
I stand corrected. -Keith McBride