Gettin’ Dirty on Syracuse

It’s here. Big Monday.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

I think I speak for a few Pitt fans when I say I’ve been looking forward to this game since the final buzzer of the Connecticut game. The Syracuse Orange have been perfect so far, rolling to 18-0 on the season. That’s the best start in Syracuse basketball history. Syracuse has been the team Pitt has been compared to all season. When asked, “Who is the best team in the Big East?”, most experts would say it’s a toss up between the two. Some would pick Pitt, a few more might pick the Orange. After Monday, that won’t be the case. Pitt will show the country that it’s a true Final Four contender this year. The Pete is our house. 144-11. 8-0 against top 5 teams. “Where top-5 teams come to die”. No current Syracuse player has beaten Pitt, let alone beat Pitt at the Zoo.
Pitt has been playing some of its best basketball of late. Bob Knight called the first half of Pitt’s game against Georgetown “the best half of basketball I’ve seen by any team all year”. Even when its offense has not be gelling as it wasn’t against Seton Hall, Pitt still manages to scrap for rebounds and second chance opportunities to still win by 21.

The last time Cuse came to the Pete, an 18 pt loss for the Orange

For stat analysis, Pitt is top 20 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and field goal percentage. They’re top 5 in rebounding and assists, being the top team for the latter. This might be one of the most balanced teams Pitt has ever had. Against Seton Hall, only two players scored in double figures, but 9 total players scored at least 5 and 8 had at least 4 rebounds. Syracuse is top 20 in assists per game and field goal percentage. The Orange are led by 6’7 junior forward Kris Joseph at 14.6 pts/game. Unfortunately, Joseph slammed his head falling back onto the floor against Cincinatti on Satuday and will not play against Pitt on Monday. While I would like to beat the Orange at “full strength”, injuries and staying healthy are part of the game.  You know what is also part of the game? Being physical and playing aggressive. Welcome back to the Zoo, Scoop. (p.s. how can anyone from the team that had Eric Devendorf on it call another team dirty?)

While Jardine is Orange’s 2nd leading scorer, I think Rick Jackson will be a bigger key to the game. He averages a double-double per game with 13.2 pts/game and 11.7 rebs/game. What really stands out to me is he plays almost 34 minutes a game. For how big a guy he is, that’s impressive. Pitt’s McGhee averages about 20, splitting most of his time with Dante Taylor. Put McGhee and Taylor together though? 35.7 minutes per game, 14 pts/game, and 12 .6 rebounds/game. Together they put together a solid performance at the center position. Taylor will have to step it up on the defensive end to handle Jackson though.

This may be the first team Pitt has faced this year that has as much depth as the Panthers. They have a talented group of players, followed by a good but young group off the bench. ‘Cuse fans will point to the “development” of freshman Fab Melo during the Cincinnati game as another positive sign for depth. I’ve never seen a kid get such pre-season hype, and simply not deliver as much as this kid has. Another aspect of this game that is synonomous with Syracuse is the 2-3 zone. It brings about sheer offensive ineptitude for just about every opposing team the Orange face, except Pitt. Perhaps it’s Pitt’s patience when running its offense, or how they distribute the ball around the court getting the ball to the right spots, but Pitt has not been fazed by the zone under Jamie Dixon. They just get it. The Orange are the Big East’s best defensive team in terms of opposing field goal percentage. They force their opponents to take bad and/or contested shots. Their best advantage, however, may fall flat against the Panther’s patient offensives schemes.

Syracuse hasn’t lost yet this year. This is an advantage to Pitt the way I see it. Pitt was dealt its first loss by a hot Tennessee team, and does not have that burden of remaining perfect. For Syracuse, they haven’t been down and been challenged this year. Coming to the Pete with the Oakland Zoo is a terrible place for Syracuse to figure out if they can survive a game like that.

For this game, the Zoo should be at its absolute best. The building will be packed. This game is prime time for the country to see how Pitt basketball is played, and to see the Zoo. The Panthers will be wearing the white versions of their Nike Hyper Elite uniforms. Every possession matters in this game, and the Zoo should treat it as such. As I said, the Pete is our house, and we should not let them walk away being the first Top 5 team to beat us at home. Be loud, be obnoxious, be animals, even if you’re not in the Zoo. The fans in the rest of the stadium are just as important to this team. Nobody’s perfect, and Syracuse should be reminded of that on Monday…just like last year

The last time Pitt and Syracuse played. (credit:Mike Tam)

Hail to Pitt.

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Scoop Jardine vs The Dirty Panthers

Back in the beginning of the season, ESPN The Magazine asked Syracuse douchebag player Scoop Jardine what he thought of each team in the conference.  PantherLair has a summary of the story:

In the college basketball preview issue of ESPN The Magazine, Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine accused Pitt of a nefarious approach to the game.

“They play dirty,” Jardine said in comments that were also published on ESPN.com, “and the refs allow it.”

Naturally, Pitt players disagree.

“A lot of teams may refer to us as a dirty team, but I’d just say that we’re a physical team,” redshirt senior Gilbert Brown said Saturday. “Our practices are predicated on being physical and playing hard-nosed defense. So I wouldn’t say we’re dirty; I think we’re just a physical team.

“Some people don’t like a physical game, but it’s basketball. It’s a man’s game.”

Maybe Scoop is just a wimp, or maybe he has turned into a wimp because his coach is a wimp.  Does any coach in the conference whine more than Jim Boeheim?

In a 2008 game, Pitt trailed Syracuse by 11 points with 3:49 remaining.  The Panthers managed to come back and beat the Orange at the Carrier Dome in a game I like to call “The Meltdown.”  Naturally, Jim Boeheim was in shock and threw a tantrum.

Here’s a clip.

“The Meltdown” was followed by the classic Jamie Dixon quote: “There is no quit in this team.”

That’s because we play “a man’s game.”

Oakland Zoo Turns 10: A (Vegas) Golden Decade

As Pitt prepares to host Seton Hall this weekend, let’s attempt to roll back the clock exactly one decade.  The Pittsburgh Panthers are hosting the hot 15th ranked Seton Hall Pirates at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse on January 13, 2001.  A few students are excited by new coach Ben Howland.  They decide what the upstart Panthers really need is some student support.  They form the Oakland Zoo.

Pittsburgh Shocks No. 15 Seton Hall, 77-65

Freshman Julius Page steps up for men’s basketball, Panthers move to 10-5.

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent under second-year coach Ben Howland. Now that they’ve done it once, they’ll get a lot more opportunities to do it again.

Not only was it the first big win for the Howland-Dixon coaching squad, it was the humble beginning of one of the country’s greatest student sections.  In just ten years, the Oakland Zoo has grown from a handful of kids to thousands of fans. The introduction of the Zoo shirt has made Pitt’s unusual “Vegas Gold” hue a recognizable symbol of the University.

The ascension of the basketball team has come hand-in-hand with the rise of the Zoo.  The fans have always supported the team, and the team has always given the fans a reason to cheer.  When Jamie Dixon took over as head coach, the program didn’t miss a beat.  The team continued to make the NCAA tournament, and the expectation for success has been raised even higher.  Likewise, when Matt Cohen and the original Zoo founders graduated, other students were ready to leave their own mark on Pitt’s student section.  Not content to simply cheer anymore, the Zoo has helped lure football recruits, and been an active participant in local charities.

It seems appropriate for both the team and the Zoo, that in the second year of Nike sponsorship, not only has Pitt been outfitted with the “Hyper Elite” uniforms, but the jerseys proudly sport an Oakland Zoo logo.  Jamie and his players seem to always appreciate the support of the fans, and surely Pitt’s gaudy 143-11 record at the Petersen Events Center speaks to the shared success of the team and the Zoo.

Michigan State’s Hyper Elite features a giant Spartan helmet.  UConn’s features a large image of their husky mascot.  Obviously, it shows what the Zoo means to Pitt to be featured similarly.

The new jerseys are supposed to premiere on Big Monday against Syracuse, in what will be one of the most anticipated games ever at the Pete.  The contest could likely be the deciding factor for this year’s conference title.  Pitt has already sold some standing-room only tickets, so a packed and raucous crowd is obvious.

But…

Before we focus on Syracuse and being elite, let’s remember our humble beginnings.  Let’s make sure to beat Seton Hall.

After all, that’s how this whole thing started.

Real Fans Wear Gold

Monday night’s game against Syracuse plans to be a huge test for our Pitt Panthers. The students will be out in full force thanks to the efforts of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement (aka we get school off for MLK Day.) In addition, upwards of 2700 student tickets have been requested, some kind of record. So we’ll be there bright and early wearing our Zoo Shirts and ready to blow the roof off the Pete.

For all of those fans not lucky enough to still be in college, we as students ask you to act like us for an evening. We don’t want you to sleep through classes or go rummaging through your attics for your old fake IDs. We just want you to wear a Zoo Shirt, the official gold ones, or some shirt/sweater/blouse/halter top/overalls/poncho that resembles the Vegas Gold that the students wear.

Assuming the weather permits, the Pete will be the place to be in Pittsburgh on Monday. Win or loss, no one should be worrying about the Steelers. You can either mourn the end of the season or celebrate a trip to Tampa, just do it at the Pitt game and do it wearing Gold.

We might be creative and funny with our whiteboards, but we can only do so much.

With just one gold shirt, you can change the life of a Pitt student forever, or at least for a few days.

Hail to Pitt and remember, REAL FANS WEAR GOLD

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.

Big East in the Big Apple

Well, after what could be understated as a disappointing final regular season loss, the Panthers are ready to travel to New York for the Big East Tournament. While a homecoming for some, it is surely an aspiration for everyone.

I have had the pleasure of attending this tournament for the past two years. I was there for the disgust of losing their first round game in 2005, and for the excitement of making it all the way to the final last season. I can promise you that Aaron and Co. are ready and eager to go out there and play hard.

Gray in particular might have something to prove. After being named to the First Team All-Big East, he will be put to the test in the tourney. Last year, if not illness, if not fatigue, something got to our big man. After nothing but boos and jeers from the other Pitt “fans” in our section, I am hopeful that he has learned from his mistakes, and is poised to lead as he has recently (ie West Virginia) proved he can.

As seniors, Gray, Kendall, and Graves should consider this event old hat. They have been there plenty before, and should not let the crowds and pressure get to them. They must lead by example and get the rest of the team to play as they have all season. The fact that they are the three-seed rather than the hoped one-seed should not affect their ambition.

Some might say that our recent few losses are showing weakness in the Panthers, showing that they were overrated. I would argue that a close loss and a close victory are only separated by a few key plays. Those plays are imperative in this tournament. Not only must Pitt fear the Hoyas and the Cardinals, but teams like West Virginia, Syracuse, and others have a lot to prove to the selection committee next weekend. As Syracuse proved last year, a run in this tournament can get you a lot of (possibly undeserved) respect.

All we can ask is that Levance and Ronald go out and play some hard nosed Pitt basketball. If they control the game, control the tempo, Gray and Cook and Young ought to be able to dominate as they have most of the season. If the guards let the opposition push Pitt, and push the tempo, we may struggle like we have against Marquette.

Best of luck to everyone who will be out there braving Manhattan this week, and tune in to ESPN for those of you enjoying your nice warm homes.

WVU Wednesday

Its been a while since there been a new article up so I thought I would give some random thoughts on the game in Morgantown on Wednesday. I’ll be going so I will be able to give an account of the atmosphere. This is my first trip to Morgantown, ever, so I don’t really know what to expect but I’m looking foward to it. A couple thoughts on the game:

  1. Its going to be interesting to see how the team scores against the 1-3-1 zone that WVU employs. Levance Fields has really benefited from teams playing us with a zone. His 24 points against Syracuse and 18 against Cincinatti are the games that jump out at you. Another player that could have a big game shooting over the zone is Ramon.
  2. WVU’s offense is going to be another worry if the 3-ball starts going in. Defensively, the team is going to need to get out on the perimeter and get a hand in the face of the shooter.
  3. Taking care of the basketball is really important against WVU. Limiting our turnovers will cut down on the possessions that WVU has and less chances to put the ball up.
  4. I think Aaron Gray can really have a big day on the boards. I’m not sure if he is going to need to score but his rebounding presence needs to be there. Also he needs to stay out of any potential foul trouble.

I think Pitt has too much for WVU to deal with but this isn’t an easy game. Pitt is going to have to play good, smart, and efficient basketball to come out with a win. Also considering that home Big East teams are winning well over 75% of their games this is an interesting game. With a ten day layoff hopefully the team comes out rested and isn’t rusty. It’s time for the stretch run.