Pitt fans should learn to love the CEC

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I’ve read a lot of negative feedback from Pitt fans about the decision to play the City Game and possibly one other non-conference game per year at the Consol. My response to these people: “Get over it.”

A lot of the frequent critics of Pitt basketball love to point out that Pitt isn’t quite up to the level of UNC, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, etc. Well, part of being on that level is playing games away from your cozy campus floor.

The best game of the year so far was Georgetown at Mizzou on a semi-home Kansas City (Sprint Center) court.

Duke is preparing for the National Title rematch against Butler in Newark.

Michigan State is thinking about playing on an aircraft carrier.

That’s what good teams do. They don’t fear change. They embrace it.

Pitt has played only one ranked non-conference opponent at the Pete since it opened. It is pretty obvious that we struggle to draw marquee matchups. If we can do that at the CEC, how is that a bad thing?

Regarding the City Game, I don’t see how there is any argument against the neutral site. It is a game that dates back to the 1930s and has seen good Pitt teams and terrible Pitt teams, as well as good Duquesne teams and the current terrible Duquesne team. That is what a rivalry is. Just like Pitt fans will always detest Penn State for ending their football rivalry, having Pitt refuse to play this as a neutral game would be just as arrogant. If Pitt is better than Duquesne, then we should go to the CEC every year and beat them. That seems like fun to me.

An obvious fact that seems to be getting overlooked in this discussion:
Pitt played 9 non-conference home games last year. Pitt is playing 9 non-conference home games this year. Playing Duquesne downtown did not “sacrifice” a home game. Jamie Dixon stated that he wants to play one other non-conference game per year at the CEC, but that is above and beyond what they need to have at the Pete. If the schedule doesn’t allow for it, I doubt you’ll see one that year.

Of course, the highlight of the Consol opportunity is that Duquesne will host the 2012 NCAA First and Second Round games in Pittsburgh. Assuming Pitt is highly-rated enough at the time, Pitt would have a nice 19,000 fan contest.

Keeping Duquesne and Pittsburgh happy might mean this happens every few years. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

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It’s Been A While

Well, Thanksgiving weekend happened and I found myself in dire need of some internet in order to post again, and so I found myself having to wait until I returned to the cozy confines of Oakland to update everybody on Pitt basketball. With one poll (ESPN/USA Today) already out today, and a suspected match in the AP poll, the Panthers will be the #3 team in the country heading into Wednesday night’s City Game against Duquesne, a Dukes team that gave the Panthers quite a scare last year at the AJ Palumbo Center last year but should be no match for a Pitt team that finds themselves on a new level defensively. 

Some critics have said that the Panthers don’t deserve such a high ranking, having not beaten another top-25 team yet (i.e., Gonzaga, UNC, Oklahoma), yet the facts remain that the Panthers have won every game by 13 or more points. That includes very solid wins over Belmont, Texas Tech, and Washington State, the latter two teams being undefeated before facing the Panthers. I will say this: any time you look at a schedule and say “all of these should be wins” the key word is SHOULD. If you want any further proof, look at Louisville/Western Kentucky last night, or Marquette/Dayton during the week. The fact is, the Panthers have beaten who they have played, and they have beaten them well, and they deserve this ranking.

On a positive note, I did get up to Newark to see the semifinal game of the Legends Classic against Texas Tech, and for the most part I loved what I saw. This is really really tough team. I can tell all season that people are going to find plenty of things to complain about, but this is not the kind of team that will win like UNC does, with 4 future NBA players on the roster. This is a team that will love to win games 57-41 instead of 101-98, a team built for defense and rebounding. Gilbert Brown looked much improved from the Belmont game, and I’m sure he’ll look back to normal this week against Duquesne. Interestingly, it seems to be Nasir Robinson rather than Travon Woodall who loses out minutes due to Brown’s return, though I was hoping it would be the other way around. Nothing against Travon (or Ashton) but we could use the rebounding help down low, especially when DeJuan and Sam Young are out of the game.

City Game Wrap-Up

Well, I can’t say I was too surprised about the way the Duquesne game went, but it almost happened in reverse. While I expected the Dukes to stay with us early and then for Pitt to pull away near the end, we instead started off with a high-energy 14-0 run and allowed Duquesne to catch up to us. I was rather concerned with a few things in the City Game, but my #1 concern right now is Levance Fields. While it was great to see him hit key shots at the end of the game, for the most part his offense was rather terrible. You could see him getting frustrated, especially in the second half, when he was trying to force floaters that just weren’t falling. I really hope that Krauser isn’t getting into Levance’s head- I was really upset that he was called for a five-second penalty, and it seemed that once he got the ball past halfcourt, he was trying to do too much by himself. We needed to keep the flow of the first few minutes when we were moving the ball, finding open shots, and playing with energy.

That all being said, Duquesne is definitely an underrated team. They weren’t hitting many of their shots, but Shawn James is a real baller. A junior who redshirted last year after getting shot before the season, James really disrupted Pitt’s inside game, finishing with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks (which is still 4 blocks below his season average). When he fouled out near the end of the game, it was a huge boost for Pitt and helped us win. Speaking of fouls, the officiating of this game was awful- Pitt was called for some terrible defensive fouls, and Duquesne got away with a few double dribbles and a carry or two. Props to Duquesne for hitting many of their free throws in early part of the game, it really kept them in it until their shots started falling. It was good, however, that Pitt never lost the lead in this game, and that they stayed in it to pull the victory out at the end. I think we should see a great bounce-back game against Washington, but I would keep an eye out for Levance in that game to see if he tries to spread the ball around again.

Duquesne Notes

Keith already mentioned some of the Pitt-oriented notes for tonight’s game against the Dukes, but I wanted to make sure that people realize this is not the Duquesne team that Pitt has won six straight against. For the first time since 1993, the Dukes come into the City Game with a winning record, having won their first six games before losing their last to Drake, 77-73. Duquesne has a roster with ten players averaging double-digit minutes, with coach Ron Everhart frequently substituting all five players on his bench to keep his team fresh. He loves to employ the full-court press, forcing over 24 turnovers per game, and relies on F/C Shawn James to defend the post- James is averaging a nation-best 9.5 blocks per game.

I think that Pitt should be able to beat the press- Levance and Brad’s ball handling and passing abilities will be able to get Pitt down the court, and we should be able to out-run Duquesne over the course of the game. Don’t be surprised if the Dukes are in this one for a long stretch of time, as this is a team capable of putting up big offensive numbers- four players are averaging double digits, and they put up a school-record 129 points in their season opener against Howard. Duquesne does have a tendancy to turn the ball over- their starting backcourt duo of Kojo Mensah and Aaron Jackson have combined for 55 turnovers in their last six games. For a Dukes team outrebounding it’s opponents by seven and creating turnovers, this should definitely be a step up from the last few games, and the sold-out Palumbo Center should make this game a fun one to watch. I expect a high scoring contest where Pitt’s chemistry and experience allows them to pull away in the second half.

Pitt finally goes on the road

Tomorrow will be Pitt’s first road game of the season. There has been quite a discussion so far about what the Panthers should expect from Duquesne. While I don’t think it will be that close, I think Duquesne is the perfect stepping stone for the next set of matchups that Pitt has to look forward to. With Oklahoma State, Washington, and Duke fast approaching, it is about time for Pitt to try out a decent, if not good, opponent.

There have been times this season that the Panthers have struggled. Tomorrow night, DeJuan Blair can not afford to get into early foul trouble. I think he and Biggs can share the time and be able to handle everything that the Dukes have.

I have faith that Levance will rebound from his awful shooting performance last time, and that he, Ronald, and Mike Cook will be able to play their tempo. Mike, particularly, showed some great energy in the last game, and I expect him to be just as into the game tomorrow.

Hopefully lots of you Zoo fans will be at the game. We will be bringing some Zoo News from the last game so that anyone who wants one can hold it up during Duquesne’s intro. See you there.