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.

RedHawk Recap

I would like to start off this recap by noticing that UCLA was only able to beat Miami (OH) by 5 points, and yet the Panthers were able to defeat them by 29. I’m not going to say that the Panthers would beat the Bruins by 24, but it certainly looks good to voters that we were able to dispatch of an inferior team. It definitely adds a little kick that on this day, the voters actually dropped Pitt in the AP poll to number 6, and this win shows those voters they are wrong–the good teams always beat the teams they’re supposed to soundly, and Pitt has done that very well so far. I would also like to say that I was dead on with my Musings, and normally I’m not one for bragging, but it feels good to be right sometime. 

On to the game–I was most impressed this game with Jermaine Dixon. I feel like he’s going to be the unsung hero of the Big East, and could challenge for newcomer of the year (though Samardo Samuels and Greg Monroe will have something to say about that). It’s clear very early on that Dixon is one of the best JUCO recruits this Pitt program has seen in a long time, and his two years here will be incredibly valuable. The backcourt of Dixon and Fields (13 points, 12 assists, ONE TURNOVER) is going to be one of the tops in the Big East, and bring an athleticism and toughness needed to win in this conference. Brad Wanamaker has been slower in his development than we hoped, so it’s fantastic that Dixon has played as well as he has, and has earned himself major minutes. DeJuan Blair had himself another monster game, and those two fouls he picked up early on would not be called in a Big East game. He’s still got to avoid the dumb fouls, but impressive showing in the second half.

Akron is the next game on Friday, and we’ve got some interesting material that will be coming out during the week for the Akron game, some new Zoo material that has not yet been attempted in the long and glorious history of this blog. Also, I’ve got interviews with Jamie Dixon and Agnus Berenato that will be up at some point this week, ahead of the big Pitt sports weekend (two basketball games and a semi-important football game) that will have us all occupied.

Knights Recap and Zoo Thoughts

Sorry I’ve been a little behind on the recap of Friday’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson, I spent this weekend down in the enemy territory of Morgantown, proudly wearing a Pitt shirt and getting many nasty looks. That being said, I was extremely impressed with the Panther’s performance on Friday night. Sure, the final score was a 23-point win, but this is a team that was up 32 points and cruising before emptying the bench one final time, and could have easily pushed the score up past 40 if they tried for the last 5 minutes of the game.

The Panther faithful learned a lot from this game: first off, the Zoo is going to come out in force this season, but I’ll talk about that more in a bit. Second, Dwight Miller will most likely be redshirting this year (assuming no injuries), as he was the only scholarship player not to see the court in a game where a non-redshirt player most certainly would have. I think this is a good move, as Miller’s depth in the frontcourt is not needed this year, and he’ll certainly benefit from the extra year under Dixon’s coaching. Also, the freshman this year will be huge contributors to the Pitt squad, and I think they will be more than ready to handle the Big East conference. Jermaine Dixon, with two years of college basketball experience, is going to be a huge asset to this team with his defense and poise, and the young trio of Woodall, Gibbs, and Robinson will all add energy and talent to the bench, and give the Panthers a strong 2nd unit to give the starters a rest.

Levance Fields actually played. I can not believe I am writing that sentence. Not only did he play, but he scored 15 points and added 8 assists with zero turnovers. Not a bad game for someone who hasn’t really played at full strength in 11 months, and I hope that he continues to get stronger without any setbacks for the rest of the year. Final thought on the game: DeJuan Blair will be the MVP of this team. Yes, Sam Young is incredible, but his scoring will go down this season as other options emerge, but DeJuan’s presence under the basket is undeniable. He lost 10 pounds this offseason and looks much more fit around the hoop, adding in a short jumper to his arsenal of post moves, and he will average 15 points and 11 rebounds per game this year, Big East included, and could be All-Big East and possible All-America mention by the time this season is over. He’s got things to work on, but trust me on this.

Finally, the Zoo’s got some heat for some of the things that were said on Friday night’s game. This was a non-conference game, and yet the Zoo filled to capacity and THEN some, adding standing room only students, which is unheard of for a non-conference Pitt basketball game. They were loud nearly the entire game, also new territory for a student section that has (at times) gotten quiet when the Panthers are up by 30 points. I understand, it’s tough to yell and scream as much when the other team is getting beat into submission, but I was really happy the way this crowd reacted tonight. There’s been some heat on a few messages boards about the “50 sucks” chants that occured, but I have no problem with them. Isn’t the point of every chant to insinuate that the player is in some way inferior? If we chant “airball” we’re trying to remind that player that they missed a shot horribly, trying to get into his head. What are we supposed to chant? “Nice try?” “You’ll make it again next time?” This is college basketball, not high school, and these kids should be prepared to go against opponents who will try to get into their heads. As long as the Zoo does not get vulgar or lower ourselves to petty homophobic insults, I will support anything they chant. It gives the Panthers an incredible home-court advantage, and those alumni who bash the Zoo should think about if they want the reputation of their school to be a place where opponents can just waltz in and play a quiet game with little jeering OR cheering. This is our house!

Another Close Exhibition Game

Well, this was a close one all game, but La Roche took a late surge to win by twelve in a thriller yesterday at the Pete. Oh, no, I’m not talking about the final score, but the fact that Sam Young, for a good portion of the game, was outscoring the entire La Roche team (when he was finally taken out after 20 minutes of play, the score was SY 18, LR 17). There is really nothing to gauge from this game other than that these Panthers are bored and ready to play some real talent. La Roche was nowhere near able to match the talent, size, athleticism, or basketball know-how that Pitt was putting on the floor. Jermaine Dixon had a solid game with 11 points, 7 assists (to only one turnover), 5 steals, and 3 rebounds, and I would presume he’ll get the starting spot on Friday over Brad Wanamaker. Quite a few players on Pitt’s side made some poor decisions on the offensive end, but I believe that comes more from toying around with a vastly inferior opponent than lack of basketball skill or knowledge. I know a lot of the Zoo gets very antsy watching their team win by 50, and I know we’re all happy that a decent team will be coming in on Friday, but I’ll have more on Fairleigh Dickinson later this week.

We’ve got some exciting stuff coming soon on the blog- interviews have been conducted with both Agnus Berenato and Jamie Dixon, so those will be published shortly, as will a short season preview and some more news and updates from your Zoo Blog staff! Remember, if you feel like emailing us about anything Panther Basketball: TheZooBlog@gmail.com

Beatdown at the Pete

Ok, so, not a shocker, Pitt beat Seton Hill by a whopping score of 102-51. Tough to gauge too much from a blowout game against an incredibly inferior team. A lot of people were ready to panic because Seton Hill kept it close early (VERY early) but that happens in almost every game against an inferior team where they think they can run with Pitt for about 4 or 5 minutes, but it always goes downhill from there. Three-point shooting for the Panthers kept them out of it a little early, but Pitt shot 7-for-12 from beyond the arc in the second half, and it looks like long-distance shooting will be, if not a strength this year, certainly not a glaring weakness.

Surprise for the Panthers in the lineup department- Ashton Gibbs started at point guard, along with Brad Wanamaker at shooting guard. I wouldn’t take too much from this, as Ashton started because of the defense that Seton Hill ran, though it might say something about the Panthers having a fluid starting lineup. Like I said before, Jamie has a very good problem in finding minutes for everybody, but one or two players who saw significant minutes yesterday will be left out of the main rotation for the majority of the season. Ashton and Travon did very well jobs running the point, though they both lack the ability of Levance to drive and kick–however, Jermaine Dixon drove the lane and dumped off at the last minute quite a few times, a dimension that sucked the Griffins defense in and allowed for much better second half shooting. If Jermaine can keep that up, he’ll find himself playing quite a few minutes this year. I was also very impressed with Jermaine’s perimeter defense and I don’t think he’s going to be anywhere close to a bust this year for the Panthers.

I have to say that I was REALLY impressed with the ability of the Zoo to show up yesterday. The bottom bowl was nearly full, and that’s saying a lot considering the addition of section 6J brings that lower bowl up over 1,000 students. For those students from that section: on free throws, please do not wave your arms wildly. Watch the rest of the Zoo for help–hold your arms to the left, then fling them to the right upon release of the opposing team’s shot. Also a great job by the Zoo to come up with nicknames for the Seton Hill players that weren’t too insulting: I heard “High school musicial,” “chin beard,” “Awkward,” among others. If we can keep that going without resorting to curse words, that only speaks worlds about the creativity and class of this student section, something we pride ourselves on. Not a great job on the jumping and screaming, but hey, it’s a preseason game. We’ve all got things to improve on, team and fans, and we’ve got another week to gear up for exhibition game #2.

Also, I want to see at least 100 students for the women’s preseason game on Wednesday night. It’s free, it’s at 7pm on a Wednesday, and there’s no reason a lot of you can’t make it out there to see the nationally ranked women take on a team of post-grads, some of whom are playing in the WNBA. Should be a much more competitive game than Pitt-Seton Hill, and we need to give Agnus Berenato that home-court advantage she desperatly wants and needs.

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.

Syracuse Recap

Well, for anybody who read all 42 comments on the last post, mazel tov. Clearly there’s some stress going on in the Oakland Zoo and while I don’t want it to linger, I just wanna give my two cents. This is, above all, a blog. There’s no reason for all the personal attacks. This team is in the stretch run of a really incredible season (the wins, the losses, the injuries, etc) and I know every fan has been riding the roller-coaster with the team, some of us really emotionally. I hope that we can put this as water under a bridge and move on. I know my opinions don’t always agree with everybody else’s, I’m sorry if they don’t, I just say it how I see it. I really don’t mean to offend anybody, and I’ll try and tone it down.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, WOW what a win for the Panthers. A few people said that Syracuse handed Pitt the win, but I really don’t like looking at games like that. The good teams find ways to win games- Syracuse is not so bad a team as to just give up. We finally hit big shots when we needed them, and we might have a new hero in Gilbert Brown. I know a lot of you were shocked when he took that first three late in the game, and I might have been even more shocked when he took the second- and made it. When we went down by 11 late on, I was almost expecting to see us fold like we did against Notre Dame, and I was pleasantly surprised when Keith and Gil started burying threes. I don’t know if the return of Levance has finally kicked in, or if we finally realized we can compete with anybody in the NCAAs, but this win means so much for the Panthers.

Jamie did a great job of preparing his team for the zone, and while there were still some mistakes (some miscommunication on transition defense as well as some passing difficulties later on in the game), the team really knew how to challenge the Syracuse defense. Our own defense still isn’t great, and I’m going to say something my friends have been saying for a while- we need to stop hedging on ball screens. If we continue to do so, the only way it’s going to work is if our rotations are flawless, which isn’t going to happen with so many freshman in the rotation. The Panthers are certainly capable of fighting through screens, and against a team like Syracuse that doesn’t have much post presence, we can’t let them get open inside: if they want to get the ball down low, we should have made them work for it. That being said, I don’t want to concentrate too much on the negative- today’s victory both bodes well for our chances at winning @ WVU on Monday and secures a 7th-straight NCAA berth. This is a feat that is rare in college basketball, and the continued success of this program will continue for many years to come.

My player of the game today goes to Gil Brown. He played great defense, forcing some turnovers, hitting two incredibly key threes near the end of the game, and he plays hard every time he’s in the game. I can’t wait to see him mature through his years, and I feel like he’s going to be extremely special as early as next year, especially if his jump shot continues to improve. I’m interested to see how his shot selection changes now that he’s getting more comfortable with his long-range jumper, I just hope he doesn’t forget the little-used weapon of a mid-range jumper, especially with his jumping ability.