DePaul Preview/Senior Day

Well, after a long 4 months (and then some), the Panthers are finally at the end of the their regular season schedule, hosting the DePaul Blue Demons on Sunday. This will, of course, be Ronny Ramon, Keith Benjamin, and Maurice Polen’s last home game, as well as a chance for the Zoo to say goodbye to one of the most important Pitt players this year, Mike Cook. Once again, however, the Panthers will be playing a team with something to play for. As of right now, DePaul and Providence are tied for the 12th and final slot to travel to Madison Square Garden to play for the Big East Conference title (the regular season title was already won by Georgetown after a close victory at home over Louisville). DePaul does have the tiebreaking win over Providence, who plays tonight against Villanova (edit: Providence lost to Villanova tonight, so DePaul gets into the tournament with a win tomorrow).

To our seniors: thank you for four great years of basketball, the Oakland Zoo has had some great memories at the hands of Mike, Ronny, Keith, and Maurice. The image of Ronny’s three-pointer to beat WVU will resound in that rivalry for years to come, and provided a spark for a faltering Panther team. That shot might have saved our tournament bid this year, and we owe Ronny infinite thanks for his four years of service. Although Mike only played two years for the Panthers, he endeared himself to the Zoo by playing smart, patient basketball on both ends of the court, showing great tenacity under adversity (especially before his injury in the Duke game), and sacrificing himself for this team was also a key part of this season. Keith, although he played only sparingly his first three years, was a huge part of the Panther’s wins this year over Georgetown and Syracuse, sparking the team when we needed it the most, stepping up more than anybody else in Levance’s absence. I, along with the rest of the Zoo, wish them the best in their continued basketball careers, and whatever other ventures they encounter along the way.

At this point, Pitt has secured the 7th seed in the Big East Conference, though their first-round matchup will be determined after Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Villanova all play their final regular season games. If they all win (or lose), then we will face Cincinnati in the first round, a favorable matchup for the Panthers. DePaul has played some really close road games, losing by five @ UConn, eight @ Notre Dame, five @ Syracuse, and eight @ Marquette, so I wouldn’t expect the Panthers to blow out the Blue Demons. I do however, expect a win- I can’t imagine these seniors would want to end their careers at the Peterson Events Center with a loss to DePaul. I know that the whole team will want to get over the loss at West Virginia, and hopefully can play a really strong 40 minutes, which will serve them well going into the tournament in New York City. A win on Sunday and a win in the first round of the NCAAs will most likely give the Panthers a 7th seed, though a 6th seed might be within reach. As soon as tomorrow’s dust settles, I’ll give a preview for the Big East tournament and a look ahead to the NCAAs.

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Last night’s game

Slow-tempo,choppy, half-court basketball. It reminded me of the team 3 years ago. But this team doesn’t have that identity or even need to have that identity. The focus in the national media on this team has been all on Aaron Gray, for good reason too. If Gray isn’t scoring in the half-court set, rebounding, and converting easy buckets Pitt has a tough road to a win. Last night Gray put in 18 points and 7 rebounds but didn’t dominate the game like he is capable of. The win was more of an all-round effort with a solid game from Levance Fields.

What jumped out to me immediately about Levance’s play last night was his poise. Early in the game Levance turned the ball over twice in a short period. Coach Dixon put in Ramon to calm down the sophmore point guard and Levance responded. Ending the game with a team leading 7 assists Fields controlled the half-court set for Pitt throughout the game. His ability to slash past his defender to break down the DePaul man to man was instrumental in Pitt pulling away in the second half.

Two more players who deserve some credit for last nights win are Antonio Graves and Mike Cook. Antonio played the most under control and within himself that I have seen all year. He worked extremely hard on the defensive end and fought to get open shots on the offensive end. More importantly he cut out the turnovers completely and made smart decisions with the basketball. Mike Cook also dropped in 10 points which helped out on offense.

Last night wasn’t a pretty win by any stretch of the imagination but it got us a tough road win in a difficult arena. Looking foward to Georgetown on Saturday Pitt is going to need a better showing from the bench. Ramon and Benjamin had off games and I look for both to turn it around against the Hoyas.

My perdiction for Saturday: Pitt 165 Georgetown 13

Pitt defeats DePaul on the Road

In what was best described as a slow, methodical Pitt style game, the Panthers took the early lead agains the Blue Demons and never let up. The first half was much closer than some Pitt fans anticipated, however Pitt was able to keep the lead for the entire game. Aaron Gray was held in check for most of the first half with much of the slack being picked up by Antonio Graves, Levon Kendall, and Mike Cook. Bothered by a leg injury, Levance Fields had some uncharacteristic turnovers, but came back strong in the 2nd half to help the Panthers move to 3-0 in Big East play. Aaron Gray proved to be too much for the Blue Demons in the 2nd half scoring the majority of his points then including 2 free throws which really proved to put the Panthers over the edge.

Pitt faces off against Georgetown next on Saturday night at 9 p.m. at the Pete following College Gameday live from Pitt and the women vs. St. Johns at 1:30.