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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The best thing to do in Dayton? Leave

That’s right. No one here likes this town. The city is terrible, the food is awful and over priced, there is no culture (unless you love chain restaurants), the sports are awful, and there basically no reason to ever come here.

I really don’t see how the NCAA grants Dayton the first round of games. The arena is too small, the views are awful, and it looks terrible on tv. The best part about getting to the arena is that there is only one road that goes in and one road that goes out so that makes traffic really fun.

Am I biased? Sure. The last time I was here I saw Levance fall with an injury that kept him out 2 months and we lost the game to a team we should have crushed. What made it worse were the idiot fans that filled their arena.

I’d like to take the time now to rename Dayton as Morgantown – West.

This year we have the fun of coming back to Dayton for a couple of games. The first against ETSU the second against OK State. Now I get that everyone wants to see the big upset for the 1 vs 16. What I don’t get is all of the Louisville fans rooting for every other Big East team to lose. Maybe they got caught up in the moment and were rooting against us so that ETSU would pull the huge upset. All that means for me is that I will be pulling for Siena to upset Louisville.

A few years ago when we were playing in Detroit, lower seed Bradley was giving us a game. West Virginia was scheduled to play after us. So after hearing all week of how WVU fans were going to root for Pitt, it was interesting to see that all of the Hoopie fans in attendance were pulling for Bradley. Maybe it was a mistake to put conference ahead of personal rivalry, but now I root against WVU in everything whether it is a conference or non-conference matchup.

Now I will add Louisville to that. In fact, it just might be best to say forget about rooting for the conference, just root for Pitt and root against everyone else.

The best part of last night was dealing with all of the arrogant Dayton and Ohio State fans. Most Dayton fans are Ohio State fans, so it was great seeing OSU fall to Siena in double overtime. I guess all of those paid off recruits, goofy Europeans, and guys that couldn’t hack it in the Big East aren’t good enough to beat a team that Pitt had dominated earlier in the year.

Now at the game yesterday I was rooting for WVU to beat Dayton just to mess with the Dayton fans in the arena, but that didn’t happen and I can’t say I’m too upset. I just never feel bad about WVU losing.

Speaking of WVU, there were a bunch of WVU fans at the Pitt game yesterday. Why do they always come to our games? Is it their inferiority complex that they just must be around us all the time? Do they like coming to Pitt events just to mess with us? Either way, it was fun watching them leave yesterday knowing they had just lost to Dayton.

Hopefully tomorrow Pitt dominates Oklahoma State, Louisville loses, and Kansas destroys Dayton.

All three of those would make a perfect day with the perfect ending.

Actually the perfect ending is this, so go ahead and check it out.

Basketball Season’s Not Over Yet

Most people don’t realize we do have another Pitt Panthers team playing basketball, and they just moved into the Sweet 16. The women, lead by coach Agnus Berenato and dynamic guard Shavonte Zellous, defeated Baylor last night 67-59 to move into the first Sweet 16 in program history. The Bears, who were 25-6 on the season, were unable to compete with Pitt’s inside game, even after Marcedes Walker fouled out with about five minutes left in the game.

It’s kind of sad that this team, who’s already won 24 games this season, gets such little recognition from the rest of the University body. These Panthers also overcame a rough stretch in February to make it to the semifinals of the Big East tournament before losing to #1 overall seed UConn (unless you’ve been living under a rock, the Huskies perennially have one of the top women’s basketball teams). However, after defeating the Wyoming Cowgirls 63-58, the Panthers found themselves facing the 12th ranked Baylor in the second round, and managed to pull out a very convincing victory.

The Panthers were ranked 27th in the final poll of the regular season, and should see that number rise no matter what happens the rest of the tournament. Senior Marcedes Walker has had a phenomonal season, averaging 14 points and nearly 10 rebounds as the centerpiece in the Pitt offense. Zellous has also had a great season, scoring at an 18 ppg clip- a number that increases to nearly 20 during conference play. The Panthers have had an unprecedented season, and there’s still time for more magic in the NCAAs. They now advance to face the #4 ranked Stanford Cardinal in the regional semifinal on Saturday at noon. This is another incredibly tough task for the Panthers, but with nothing to lose, this is a very dangerous team.

End of the Road

One thing DPJ said in his most recent post that really hit me was the sentiment that there’s always next year.  I couldn’t help but think about the old Brooklyn Dodgers.  They had the most loyal fan base, people who continually called them bums for not doing as well as they could have.  However, their fans always had hope that they would finally win.  Although the team was comprised of a bunch of no-name “bums,” the fans always said that they were their bums.  The Dodgers finally won the World Series in 1955, but then they moved to LA.

While trying to look past the sadness I was feeling (coupled with severe exhaustion from flying back from Denver in the middle of the night) I realized that the Pitt Panthers are a bunch of bums.  We have no star players. (Sam Young has come on in this past year, but he hardly gets enough national attention to be considered a huge star.)  Instead we have guys who play with heart and pride.  We have become attached to this team because we have felt their terrible lows and their extremely high highs.  That is why it hurts so much when we know what they are capable of.  Inconsistency has been so frustrating this year maybe more so than in years past.  But without it we wouldn’t have these types of emotions.  
At the end of the day, Ron and Keith, Mike and Levance, Sam, DeJuan, Gil, Tyrell, Gary and Brad, Cassin, Maurice, Austin, and Tim are bums because they miss open shots, fail to grab an offensive rebound, or miss freethrows (except on Saturday).  But they’re our bums.  They’re our team and they worked their tails off to win the Big East tournament.  This loss hurts because we know what all of those guys are capable of.  It also hurts because we all invested so much time into this team that now there is a huge void that only football (which is 4 months away) can try to fill.
I feel like I’m rambling so I’ll wrap things up.
There are great memories of this season, but the one that sticks out the most to me is when Jamie ran to the aid of Mike Cook when he fell at MSG against Duke.  It showed that at the end of the day it’s not about how our team does on the floor, it’s about family.  This might sound cliche, but go with me here.  When we landed in Pittsburgh early yesterday morning (6 am I think) I walked over to the baggage claim and I saw Coach Dixon hugging his daughter and son.  I also saw Ronald walking with Dick Groat and reminiscing about his time at Pitt.  But even before we got home an interesting thing happened on the plane.  When the team got on the plane, Maurice handed his iPod to a flight attendant and asked her to put the headphones up to the PA microphone.  Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” started playing.  The band and the cheerleaders and anyone else that knew the lyrics sang along with the team.  It was fitting and poignant.  Although it was over, although the seniors had played their last game, and although a heart-wrenching season had finally come to a close, it didn’t matter because everyone on that plane felt the same thing.  I don’t know what that thing was exactly, but it was some combination of sadness, fatigue, and a knowledge that everyone on that plane grew throughout the season.  Even the band and the cheerleaders could say that, because they were all there for every up and down this team went through, just like all of the fans (the loyal ones at least).
As the chorus from “End of the Road” says
‘Although we’ve come to the end of the road
Still I can’t let you go
It’s unnatural, 
you belong to me, 
I belong to you.’
Despite the fact that we feel like the end of something great has come, we will always have Levance’s step back 3 against Duke, Ronald’s insane winner against WVU, and the sight of Ronald, Mike, and Keith accepting the Big East Trophy on the same floor where we felt our worst and our best all on the same night back in December.
I love this team, I love this university, and I love this phrase…
…HAIL TO PITT

Panther Country

Being part of a school during March Madness is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I know that’s just freshman inexperience talking, but really…this is going to be a magical run, whether it’s Sweet 16 or Final Four. I was walking down Forbes Avenue tonight and one of the bars had painted “You’re in Panther Country” in the window. I then looked up and saw the University of Pittsburgh logo lit up on the bridge to Lawrence and Posvar, and I think at this point more than any other in the last few months, I felt an extreme amount of pride in my school and my team. I really feel bad for my friends who are at schools with inferior sports teams (my friend Andrew at Northwestern comes to mind) who really just don’t get to experience this same sort of emotion. I really felt like a Panther more than at any other moment, and watching this team really instills in me that same emotional mix of pride, joy, and love.

Now that I’ve gotten my emotions out of the way, today’s game was a complete joke. Oral Roberts was completely overmatched, and today’s game showed us absolutely nothing about the Panthers, other than that we’re taking this tournament seriously. Great 18-0 run early in the first half, and really just put it in 3rd gear and cruised the last 25 or so minutes. The only concerns were fouls on the big men- DeJuan, Tyrell, and Sam all picked up at least 3 fouls, but I think a lot of that was due to the small statue of the Oral Roberts frontcourt. While they were tall, none of them really had any bulk, so a small shove by anybody in our frontcourt sent them sprawling to the floor. Saturday’s game against MSU, a much more physical team, will be a different story. If they’re going to call those fouls on us, they’re going to certainly call a similar sort (and amount) of fouls on the Spartans, and the game will go much more smoothly.

Great job by the Panthers to not really relax in this game, but it was even greater that we didn’t have to overexert ourselves like another Louisville- even though the starters played a good deal of minutes, they weren’t exhausted by the end, and should be in great shape for Saturday. Game ball today goes to Levance for putting on an offensive show, but I also have to give great props to Gil Brown. It seems like he’s going to be our “x” factor for this tournament- if he plays well, we have a great ceiling. I wish I could have seen more from Brad today, just to get the “First NCAA Game” jitters out of the way, especially up 20 points, but i’m sure Jamie had a reason to not play him. This team is clearly ready to play, and I feel bad for the team that Michigan State has to play on Saturday. This could really be the year. We’re in Panther Country now.

Live from Denver, it’s Wednesday afternoon

This trip to Denver was very last minute, but I am sure glad I came.

We flew out with the team Tuesday afternoon and their spirits were high.  Obviously, they just came off an amazing Big East Tournament.  They seem to have a lot of confidence right now, but they are not confusing that confidence with entitlement.  They have come out today ready to practice.  Jamie started them off with 5-man weave drills up and down the court and then split up the big men from the rest of the team.  DeJuan certainly talks a lot.  He’s calling out shots, “Baseline,” “Elbow,” “The bank is open.”  DeJuan, so far the bank is still closed.
I’ve observed two things so far.  1) If no one is guarding us, we can make all of our threes and 2) everyone on our team, except Tim Frye, can dunk.  Fields gets rejected by the rim most of the time, but I’m pretty sure he made at least one.
Jamie is a smart man, we just started free-throw drills.  I’m hoping these drills go on for at least 3 hours (keep in mind each team only gets 45 minutes).
For those of you interested in uniform information, the players and staff have gotten another set of swanky warm-ups.  It’s clear that Adidas is our sponsor, the huge 3-stripe logo takes over the entire back.
I love the way we end practice.  The half-court shot contest is a great way to get the crowd involved and to relax the players.  Bummer today – no one made a shot.  It was a good practice overall though.  The team looks loose and happy, but like I said earlier, they know what they have ahead of them.
I’ll try to post some practice pictures later.  For now that’s it.
Hail to Pitt, all the way from Denver.

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