The Statement Game

A Tha-beat down

Merry Christmas!

Some pregame insight for when the #4 UConn Huskies come to play our #6 Pitt Panthers on Monday Night.

One of the biggest factors for this game (and for any of Pitt’s games, in fact) is that this game is being played at the Pete. The Panthers have won 47 out of their last 48 games at the Pete, with the loss in that stretch coming last year to Georgetown. More importantly, UConn hasn’t won a game at the Pete since Feb 26th 2005. That was the year of the worst (being a relative term) team record-wise under Jamie Dixon. The Oakland Zoo should be bumping for this game. It goes without saying that you will sorely be missing out if you miss this game.  It also turns out, that this game is a gold-out, and fans will receive a free, gold “This is Our House” t-shirt. You now have no excuse not to come if there is a free t-shirt involved. Maybe the Crying Calhoun towels will also be making a comeback?

Crying Calhoun Towel

To the expectations of the game:

Pitt’s biggest concern is also the most obvious: Kemba Walker. The 6’1 junior guard is the primary reason the Huskies have surprised everyone this year on their way to a top-5 ranking. He averages 26.5 pts per game (2nd in the country) with a decent 42.1% from beyond the arc. He’s quick, smart, and doesn’t turn the ball over a whole lot. If Pitt can limit his production, it will go a long way towards a victory, considering he scores about a 1/3 of the Huskies’ points each game

The second concern is that this may be the first team that’s as good at rebounding the ball as the Panthers are. Pitt is #2 in the country at crashing the boards, while UConn is #4 with Alex Oriakhi leading the Huskies at 9.9 rebounds per game. The Panthers have 5 different players that pull in at least 5 rebounds per game being a little more balanced, while Oriakhi pulls the majority for the Huskies, with 3 others over 5 rpg. The Panthers are best in the country in terms of assists, however, with Brad Wannamaker leading the team at 5.6 per game. The Panthers have to keep distributing the ball well, and being patient on offense. As always, grind the other team down. Pitt has such great depth, and should be able to hopefully wear the Huskies down as the game progresses as they’re are a fairly young team. Walker will kill the Panthers if they allow him to take the tempo too high. Pitt does also have a terrible problem of not stomping out teams early, though. They never seem to go for the neck to end an opponent’s chances. This seems to be linked to Pitt being able to finish around the rim. Layups, layups, layups. Guys like Nasir, Talib, and Dante do a good job of getting to the rim, but have to be able to finish.  I’m also hoping the Panthers take some extra free-throws this weekend, because they are a woeful 65% from the line (I’m looking at you Gary, Mr 42.5 %. Gibbs makes a higher percentage of 3’s (44%) then McGhee does free throws)

Finally, this will be a huge statement game for the Panthers. I still think the Panthers are a top-10 team, even after the loss to Tennessee. I feel a lot better about that close game with Texas in MSG after they just romped Michigan State Wednesday night.  Overall, this team is more balanced than the Huskies are, and if they play the way they did against teams like Texas, they can win this fairly comfortably. If they come out slow with no fight, however, this could very easily be another Tennessee game. This will be the beginning of a brutal (but favorable) schedule for the Panthers in the Big East. Pitt, UConn, Syracuse, Nova, and Georgetown are all in the top-10. with Notre Dame and Louisville bringing up the rear of the top-25. If Pitt wins this game, they are legit a top-5 team and can set themselves up for a nice run in March.

One step at a time. Hail to Pitt

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Pitt vs UConn: A Brief History

Pitt vs UConn might not be the Big East’s longest, most storied rivalry, but these two teams have fought an all-out war over the past decade.  This will be the 10th time in 8 seasons that Jamie Dixon has seen a Pitt-UConn game where both teams are ranked.  Pitt has managed to win the last three games in the series, including two over a #1 ranked UConn squad in 2009.

December 27, 2010 #6 Pitt #4 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 13, 2010 #15 Pitt 67 57 #16 UConn XL Center
March 7, 2009 #3 Pitt 70 60 #1 UConn Petersen Events Center
February 16, 2009 #4 Pitt 76 68 #1 UConn XL Center
February 2, 2008 UConn 60 53 #18 Pitt XL Center
January 16, 2007 #6 Pitt 63 54 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 31, 2006 #1 UConn 80 76 #9 Pitt XL Center
February 26, 2005 #17 UConn 73 64 #18 Pitt Petersen Events Center
January 22, 2005 #21 Pitt 76 66 #16 UConn Harry A. Gampel Pavilion
March 13, 2004 #9 UConn 61 58 #6 Pitt Madison Square Garden
February 15, 2004 #4 Pitt 75 68 #5 UConn Petersen Events Center
January 19, 2004 #4 UConn 68 65 #8 Pitt XL Center
March 15, 2003 #5 Pitt 74 56 UConn Madison Square Garden
March 2, 2003 #8 Pitt 71 67 UConn Petersen Events Center
March 9, 2002 #19 UConn 74 65 #7 Pitt Madison Square Garden

Pink the Pete

Tomorrow at 2pm, your #18 women’s basketball team will take on the #2 UConn Huskies in the inaugural “Pink the Pete” event.

During the past two weeks there has been a national push to promote breast cancer awareness in women’s basketball. Many teams across the country have had similar events. Last Sunday, Pitt donned pink uniforms in their game at Notre Dame. Notre Dame was too cool to wear any pink for their own event, but tomorrow we will see the Panthers dress in new white home jerseys with pink accents against the UConn women in all pink road jerseys.

The Oakland Zoo has made 3000 pink breast cancer ribbons for the event. Some ribbons were sold earlier this week to raise money for breast cancer research and the rest will be donated tomorrow and handed out to all fans in attendance.

Everyone is encouraged to wear pink and students will be given free pink t-shirts by the athletic department to commemorate the event.

Even if you haven’t seen a women’s game yet this year, or ever, come out tomorrow and see two of the top 20 teams in the country battle. Agnus has really grown Pitt an awesome program in her time here and they have been ranked as high as #14 this season. They have really held their own in a tough Big East conference that at one point had 7 of the top 20 teams in the RPI.

Pitt narrowly lost to Rutgers at home, who then beat UConn for their only loss of the year.
Pitt won substantially at home against Syracuse, who gave UConn one of their closest games of the year.

Husky Wrap-Up and Hoopie Preview

Everybody hates to dwell on losses, so I’ll try to keep the negative part of this posting to a minimum. We couldn’t ever get our offense going against Connecticut, shooting only 32% for the game- not the way to win in the Big East. Pitt runs a motion offense, involving a lot of passing, screens, and jump shots, so if the shots aren’t falling, we’re going to have a tough time winning. Pitt does have the ability to drive to the hoop, but against the leading shot-blocking team in the country, that just wasn’t going to happen. We needed to shoot well to beat the Huskies, and we failed to do that. The good thing is, we know this was going to be a streaky Pitt team, and we only lost by 7 points on the road in a tough UConn atmosphere.

This team really needs Levance back. I know we have a very solid rotation in the 8 players we’re using now, but they really miss his ability to drive inside and kick out, as well as his passing into the post and really just the way he runs this team. Ronald Roman has been a great backup point guard, and Keith performed very well until late (possibly having something to do with the injured shooting hand) but Fields’ presence makes us an Elite 8 team, not just a tournament-worthy one. It’s being said that Marquette is looking less likely, though he is back on the court practicing, so maybe we can hope to have him back against the Louisville Cardinals on February 24th.

Now let’s try and focus on some positives: firstly, the Hoopies are coming to town. The last time Pitt and West Virginia met in a rather important game, the Panthers came away with a slightly memorable win on Milan Puskar field- and don’t think that game won’t be in the Mountaineers heads when they take the court at the Pete. That was a huge shocker and embarsassment for that school, and I think revenge will definitely be in their minds. Luckily for us, the Hoopies are just as streaky as the Panthers- they set some new marks in futility by going 1-22 in three-point attempts in an embarrassing home loss to the Bearcats 62-39, and good thing for the Panthers that we weren’t the bounce-back game.

The good thing for Pitt is that WVU’s roster consists of mostly large jump-shooters, guys who have the size to take it down low but are comfortable shooting from the outside, and are a little soft around the boards. Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, and Tyrell Biggs HAVE to take advantage of this softness, and- like I’ve said in posts before- we need to win this game. Of course it seems like every time I say that, someone gets in foul trouble, but hopefully we can avoid that tomorrow night. Hopefully the Panthers can regain the shooting touch and confidence we had against Georgetown, Seton Hall, and St. John’s, and keep pace with the top teams in the Big East. This is a team that deserves to be ranked, and I really think they can play like it on Thursday night.

Panthers enter heart of conference season

After finally coming home with a victory from St. John’s, the Panthers face Big East bottom-dweller, Rutgers, who are playing off a surprising upset of Villanova.

This week will be a key week for Pitt, who is currently 4-2 in conference. Today really should be an easy win against the worst team in the conference. It will be our first home game in a while and the team seemed to click pretty well in New York. I don’t see why there should be any trouble today at all, if there is, we should worry.

Next game after today is Wednesday versus Villanova. This will be an important rematch of our first conference game of the season. As one of only three teams that Pitt will play twice, it would really hurt us to lose to Nova twice. The Wildcats are still going to be a good team in the conference and we can’t afford to drop two games to them in the standings. Having been at the first game, I can say that I think we have a very good chance at winning this game. I feel that Ronald and Keith have definitely solidified their games since then and Pitt should be able to feed off the home crowd.

Next weekend Pitt travels to UConn. Just announced is that Jim Calhoun, the UConn coach, has suspended two key players indefinitely for “breaking team rules.” Indefinitely is a hard word to judge, but I think it usually means more than one week, so we have that in our favor. UConn definitely isn’t the national champion of a few years ago since they have struggled mightily for the past two seasons. They did however take Georgetown down to the wire only to lose to a Hibbert 3-pointer, which is just about the worst way to possibly lose a game. This game would be a close one, maybe not as close as the Villanova matchup though, except now that they have two players out of the lineup. I think Pitt will be able to capitalize on that and bring home another important road-win.

There are just under three weeks remaining until Fields’ expected return at Marquette. This will be a pretty huge week for how the Panthers will end their season. Standing at 4-2 in a highly competitive Big East isn’t great position. If they manage to go 3-0 this week, rising to 7-2 without Levance, they will be in excellent condition heading into the Big East Tournament. As we have been able to see, there are going to be a lot of teams fighting for the byes on the first day, and starting 7-2 is a great way to get one.

Don’t forget to collect 4 loyalty points tomorrow for the women’s matchup against Louisville. Agnus and the women are playing a heck of a season. After losing to Duke on a last second shot on December 8, the Panthers have won 9 straight games. They are currently tied for their highest ranking ever at #19 and have already won at St. John’s this week. They have a few games coming up in the next few weeks including next weekend against #5 ranked Rutgers.

UCLA Shuts Down Panthers

I’ll be the first to say it: that game was awful. While Ronald and Levance combined for 23 points with 7 3-pointers, the rest of the team went 12-40 (.300) and 0-6 from 3. The sad part is that Pitt had MORE field goals than UCLA, as well as MORE 3-pointers. The difference was that UCLA hit 23 free throws.

Pitt was in the game down to the final minute, but you wouldn’t ever have guessed by watching them fail on every possession. Missed shots and rebounds were more abundant than I’ve seen for a long while.

Looking at the stat sheet, Pitt did better than UCLA in almost every single category, except free throws and fouls, which obviously go hand in hand. Had Pitt not wasted so many possessions, this should have been a very easy victory. This UCLA team we played tonight is not the one that might be a title contender. This was the UCLA that went down to the wire to beat Indiana last weekend.

I think that Jamie Dixon, the entire Panther squad, and each of us fans should be disappointed with this loss. However, the season is now over. Aaron Gray will (hopefully) soon get drafted to the NBA. Levon, Antonio, and Doyle have put on their uniforms for the last time. The next time we will get to see this team suit up, it will be quite a different squad. The inside big men will be gone. We’ve got some good talent coming in. We have Gilbert waiting for his true debut. We shouldn’t forget that we also have those two guards who hit seven triples tonight returning.

What Pitt fans should take solace in tonight is that although we missed the Elite Eight once again, its not the first time we’ve been in this position, and you have every reason to believe that Pitt will have its chance again next season. That, and at least you aren’t a UConn Huskies fan.

Pitt Women Bury Bearcats

The temperature is below freezing. There are several inches of snow on the sidewalks of Oakland. A steady drizzle falls, which gives all of the parked cars a nice coat of ice.

Sure, it wasn’t the best night to come out to see the women play a 4-7 Cincy squad. But those of us who were in attendance got to witness the Panthers reach the 20 win level for the first time since anyone in the Zoo was born.

Shavonte Zellous scored 25 points to help the Panthers cruise most of the second half. She is averaging over 20 points per game, leading Pitt to a 20-5 (8-4) record. They are currently tied for fourth place in conference. Their next game (Saturday) against conference leader UConn will be one of their toughest contests of the season.

Although currently unranked, the women’s team was just out of the AP poll this week. After a brief stint on the list earlier in the season, the ladies suffered some disappointing losses, dropping them back just out of range.

It has been quite a season for them so far, and hopefully the rest of their season (and post-season) will be as pleasing. It is important to remember that when the women make the NCAA tournament, they are assured of playing at the Pete.

As long as there aren’t 6 inches of snow and ice on the ground, I hope to see you there.