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.

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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.

Sam Young is not good

He is not just good, he is by far the best player on our team.

To those of you who seem to be incessantly complaining about him, he is the first person you need to look to tonight to see why we won the game. Sure, some others had big contributions, but if Sam hadn’t been the only player doing anything productive for a while, things could have gotten out of hand.

His dunk tonight was, I think, the best he has had in his career. He was almost horizontal and jumped from almost the free throw line.

Another 20 win season is under Jamie’s belt, and he needs two more conference wins to get his annual 10 Big East victories too.

I hate to make predications based on how the past few weeks have gone, but we usually play very well against Syracuse. We have a good history against them the past few years, and hopefully we can stop them again this weekend.

Tonight’s attendance was again lower than it should have been. I think people tend to forget that “fan” is short for “fanatic,” which implies great interest in something. We have only 9 conference home games, and we are going to finish with abysmal attendance in the final 3. You should be ashamed.

Both our men and women play on the road on Saturday, both are coming off good home wins, and both need another notch in the win column to get some good seeds for the upcoming tournaments.

It is a good time to be a Panther fan.

"How about that game y’all?"

Agnus, you warm my heart…

Congratulations to the women’s team tonight on their defeat of WVU. WVU came in having blown us out in Morgantown, now ranked at #13. A hard fought game to say the least, each team scored 34 points in both halves, sending the game into overtime at 68-68.

The Panthers held a lead for nearly the entire OT period and held on during the last few possessions and came out with the biggest upset in Petersen Event Center history.

The final score of 77-75 will give us one more number to hold with pride when we invade WVU next Monday.

Limited tickets are still available from the Zoo, so if you are interested please try to get in contact with a Zoo leader tomorrow night at the Cinci game.

Now that the ladies have broken our long losing streak, our men can go out and crush Cinci and make up for that lousy game we played on the road earlier this season.

Pitt loses 9th game at the Pete

Yesterday’s loss to Rutgers lowered Pitt’s all-time record at the Pete to 91-9. I have attended 8 of those 9 losses, and I think it is unquestionable that yesterday was the worst loss of them all.

The deficit of 13 points matched the loss last year to Louisville as the biggest defeat in the building. However, Louisville was a respectable team. Rutgers is the worst team in the conference, by far. I said in the pregame note that if the game was even close, Pitt had something to worry about. Well we do.

Jamie Dixon said in his radio interview that the loss could not be attributed to lack of preparation, because although the game was close in the first half, Pitt pretty much led or dominated in every statistical category, save their ridiculous 3-point percentage. When a team with a season average of 30% from deep manages to hit 75%, there isn’t much to do.

Obviously without two starters, people claimed they would be happy if Pitt was able to go .500 the rest of the year. Pitt proved to us that wasn’t good enough. But these losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers are just unacceptable. The inconsistency is really going to haunt them the rest of the year. Sure, good teams lose bad games sometimes. They go on to keep winning and then the losses don’t really matter too much. This conference isn’t going to allow that though. Every team is battling for every win it can get, and dropping an easy win at home to the worst team in the conference, right before a game against a ranked opponent who beat us earlier in the season, that is just plain disappointing.

As much as I like Jamie Dixon, I have always felt that he was too easy on his criticism in games where the players didn’t play well. Yesterday, however, he said that they did just about everything wrong in the second half. He said it was the worst half of basketball his teams have ever had. I’m glad to see some honesty and accountability.

The Panthers have to shake it off and get back to work. The only thing that is possibly sadder than Pitt and its fans after yesterday is Villanova, who has now lost two in a row, one of which was Rutgers’ first conference win.

Avoiding Another Dayton in Ohio

At first, the comparison between Dayton and Cincinnati doesn’t really compute- Dayton is 14-2, ranked in the top 20 of the country, with quality wins against Pitt, Louisville, and Rhode Island, a team that seems destined for a high seed in the NCAAs. Cincinnati is 8-9, losing to UAB, St. John’s, Illinois St. and Belmont all by double-digits. However, look a little more closely and this contest isn’t as easy at it would first appear. Cinci has played #2 Memphis to within 10 points, and has home wins against Louisville and Villanova, and both teams are led by a high-scoring, sharpshooting guard- Dayton’s Brian Roberts and Cinci’s Deonta Vaughn. Not only that, but in both of our trips to the state of Ohio, the Panthers were coming off of tough, emotional victories against top-5 teams in the country in Duke and Georgetown.

However, I’m not going so far as to say that this team will play us like Dayton did. At the time of that awful loss, we had just started to play without Mike Cook, and Levance Fields went out with what turned out to be a broken foot. Ronald Ramon had to get used to playing the point full time and struggled, shooting 0-8 from the field. The Panthers were outhustled and outrebounded by the Flyers, another thing I don’t expect to see this afternoon. The Bearcats average only 65.9 points per game, 15th out of 16 in the Big East, while also ranking 15th in field-goal percentage (41.8%) and rebounding (35.6 per game). We’re now a team that knows their roles, with Keith and Ronny really having stepped up the last three games to prove that this Panther lineup is one that can still beat any challenge the Big East will throw at them. I expect Pitt to own the glass today on both ends of the court, for DeJuan to completely dominate soft Cincinnati center Adam Hrycaniuk, and the Panthers to continue their roll through the Big East with a solid road win today.