I went to New York and all I got was this lousy Big East championship

I, without a doubt, had the best spring break.  I had friends who went to Mexico and I had friends who went to Florida and I’m sure they will say they had a great time.  Maybe it’s because I hate sand, but being in New York for those four days was amazing.  All I did was watch basketball and walk back and forth from the Garden to the bar that Pitt fans commandeer on an annual basis.  That defined my perfect spring break.

Our team played great, Jamie coached his tail off, and our fans were unstoppable.  The traveling Zoo got shout outs on multiple occasions as the loudest group of fans at any game and the rest of the Pitt contingent showed up big time as well.  There weren’t many of us, but the ones that were there were loud making it clear to our players that we were there to support them.
That brings me to my one actual point.  Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown, and many other traditional powerhouses have a ton of fans that have no connection to that school other than their interest in the sports teams.  This was never more clear to me at the championship game.  There were a lot of fans rooting for Georgetown that went there or knew someone who did, but there were even more people wearing the grey and blue who would never be able to get into a school like Georgetown.  Pitt fans however are Pitt fans because they went here, they go here, they know someone who is connected to the university, or they live in the Pittsburgh area.  That is why when we lose, our fans really feel the hurt and when we win, the celebration is so sweet.  The band, which was great, came out to the entrance of the Garden and played the fight songs and other tunes after our big wins.  The place was packed with Pitt fans jumping around, dancing, and hugging each other.  It was awesome.
I’ve got nothing more to say right now.  I leave tomorrow for the first round in Denver and I’m pumped for that.
I love Bob Knight on ESPN, not because of the picks he made, but because he just does not care what anyone thinks.  He also makes Digger look like a fool.  Keep rockin’ the sweaters Bobby.
Hail to Pitt

Huge Recap

Well, if you hadn’t heard by now, Pitt is the Big East Tournament Champions, thanks to a beautiful run through the tournament that included victories over Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown. Sam Young was named tournament MVP after being named All Big-East First Team and Most Improved Player before the tournament even began. He had himself a decent showing in the tournament, finishing with the 2nd-highest point total ever in one tournament. The wins catapulted Pitt from an 8/9 seed in the NCAA tournament to a 4 seed, with a matchup with Oral Roberts looming in the first round on Thursday.

This was a phenomenal team effort from the Panthers, especially on the defensive end. Fans of past Pitt teams had been accustomed to seeing teams that fought for every rebound, every loose ball, and played tough, physical defense. That seemed to be lacking near the end of this season, but the Panthers really found their identity and their stride in this tournament. Even though we only beat Cincinnati by 6, those of you who watched the game witnessed a tremendous performance from Cinci guard Deonta Vaughn. Vaughn was nearly unconscious for a short time in the 2nd half, scoring 20 straight Cinci points and keeping them in the game.

Louisville and Marquette were both revenge games for losses this season, and the Panthers played complete games in both of them, getting to the boards against Louisville while drawing Marquette into serious foul trouble, preventing both teams from really playing the games they wanted to play. Pitt’s best strategy this year has been a physical brand of basketball that is slightly adjusted each game to really limit the opponent’s strengths, as opposed to only playing to our own. This team is versatile enough to change defensive strategies yet still force turnovers, get blocks, and really still play Panther basketball. It continues to be a beautiful thing to watch.

The Georgetown game was the best of all, not only for the revenge from last year’s loss in the Big East final, but in terms of sheer basketball domination. Even though we only won by 8, we went to the free throw line an incredible 44 times (imagine if we’d hit 30 of them, that’s already a 16-point victory). We outrebounded the Hoyas by 14, had five players in double-digit points (Young, Ramon, Fields, Blair, and Brown), and got the Hoyas in serious foul trouble by bringing the ball down low and making them play physical basketball.

Sam Young got the tournament MVP, and he was easily the biggest player for Pitt this weekend, but really the whole team deserved a combined MVP. One of the best parts of the tournament was seeing Gil Brown really come into his own- a beautiful block against Louisville, great defense throughout the tournament, as well as a very solid tournament in terms of shooting the ball and limiting offensive mistakes. I can’t wait to see Gil in the NCAA tournament, as both he and DeJuan have avoided the jitters that often comes with playing on such a national stage. The Duke and Georgetown games were both nationally televised, but there is an intense amount of pressure to perform night in and night out in the Big East tournament, and neither player disappointed. Levance Fields was brilliant, as usual, with a turnover ratio well north of 5-to-1 and tenacious defense throughout. Ronny Ramon continues to nail key shots at will, it seems, going trey-for-trey with Deonta Vaughn in the Cinci game and making huge baskets at key times in the Louisville, Marquette, and Georgetown game. I can’t wait for Thursday night’s game against Oral Roberts, and a preview of the tournament will be forthcoming.

What a week…

I have been to the last four tournaments. I saw a one-and-done loss to Villanova. I saw two straight tourney final losses. I saw a blowout of #2 Villanova. I saw an annihilation from the hands of Georgetown.

Now I have seen a championship.

To see the sheer joy on the face of Ronald Ramon walking off the court will make me graduate with only the happiest of memories from my four years in the Zoo.

If ever there was a group of players that deserved a win in this tournament, it is our team. With the hardships endured this year, this victory can only taste that much sweeter. They didn’t get a bye. They didn’t get credit. They won with three straight upsets.

This is our house.

Enjoy this one, Panther fans. I know you guys like to criticize, but this is one to savor.

Big East Tournament

So, Pitt finds itself the 7th seed in the Big East tournament, with a matchup against #10 Cincinnati tomorrow and a possible matchup against #2 Louisville looming just a day later. Pitt’s played Cincinnati twice, splitting the home-and-home with the host team winning each time. The Panthers have had a very good record lately at MSG, getting all the way to the tournament final last year, as well as beating Duke there this year (anybody remember that game? Ah, the memories of what could have been). Anyways, the key to the game tomorrow night is rebounding, and shutting down Deonta Vaughn. See my last Cincinnati post for more.

At this point, with an RPI of 24, SOS of 38, and quality wins against Syracuse, Duke, OK State, Washington, and Georgetown, the Panthers are a near lock. I would like to beat Cincinnati so that we don’t have to sweat it out, especially with what’s been going on with the mid-major conferences. For those of you who don’t know, there’s been quite a few upsets going on- San Diego State beating Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, among others. These victories will take away bubble slots, meaning teams like Syracuse, Villanova, and maybe even WVU find themselves needing a few wins to get into the NCAA tournament. I’m in Colorado right now, so hopefully the internets will cooperate enough for me tomorrow night to write about the first day of the Big East Tournament.

Thoughts On The Last Two Days

Sorry everyone for the lateness of this article operating off of about 20 hours of sleep for an entire week isn’t condusive to writing articles. Overall, New York was an amazing time and I got to see some great basketball at the Garden. Two of the best games I’ve seen Pitt play live on Thursday and Friday, then on Saturday night the worst game I’ve ever seen us play live. Everyone who watched the Georgetown game knows why we lost so me saying it is just piling on. Sitting in the Garden watching us get trashed isn’t a feeling I want to feel again. Give the Hoyas credit though they are by far the best team in the Big East and a legitimate national title contender.

The #3 seed in the West bracket is not good at all. We are staring down a match-up in San Jose with UCLA. I’ve wanted to play UCLA since the day Ben Howland lied to us and said he wasn’t going anywhere but not in California. A neutral court in a tournament that is supposed to be played on neutral courts would have been nice but what can you do. At least we aren’t a #9 seed playing Michigan State like Marquette or a #6 seed who gets to play a great Winthrop team like Notre Dame. The Big East was not given favorable rankings except for Georgetown who could walk right into the Sweet Sixteen with little effort.

As for our opponent in the first round Wright St., they don’t really have an unique look or anything that can put pressure on us. Gray is going to get to tower over their inside guys, so look for him to bounce back a little in the warm-up game. Second round everybody is looking forward to the Duke-Pitt matchup but I think Duke-VCU might be a little closer than everyone expects. VCU was by far the best team in CAA (where last year’s shocker George Mason plays) and they have a good backcourt. If the Dukies don’t play well we can look at VCU in the second round.

I’m not making any predictions as of yet as to how we will play in the tournament because I don’t know which team to expect. The team that played Marquette and Louisville is going to be dangerous but the team that played Georgetown is one and done. My advice just enjoy the ride don’t worry about if we are finally going to get past the Sweet Sixteen. March Madness is one of the best sporting events in the world and every game has something interesting about it.

Antonio Graves Is My Hero. Not Really But He Played Great Last Night.

What a game and what a night. The first minute and a half of the second half was the best experience of my life. Down double digits at the half and we completely blew the lead away. Great performances by every starter with Gray on the bench.

40 minutes from the tournament title.

Marquette Recap

I usually give a statistical perspective of the games but last night doesn’t need any stats to back up the game. We played our best offensive game of the year and did enough on the other end to shut down James. Fitzgerald killed us but it wasn’t enough to get Marquette over the hump. Gray and Fields played great last night but so did the entire team.

Hearing “LETS GO PITT” resonating through Madison Square Garden was an experience that I will never forget. The 50 or so students made a ridiculous amount of noise the entire game. Every chant extended through the entire shot clock on both ends. The Zoo really showed up even in a smaller form.

Tonight is Louisville and if they played like they did against WVU we can beat them. I watched the entire Louisville-WVU game and save the first 10 minutes Louisville didn’t look all that impressive. If we can play good basketball early we can jump out to a lead and put this game away.

New York is great and I’m having the time of my life.