Pitt 2011 Senior Class: Greatest Ever?

[EDIT:  Updated to reflect the final day of conference games.]

Senior day is always an emotional one.  Every player that passes through this program has left his own impact.  I am always sad to see each one bid farewell.

The home finale in 2009 might have been the most memorable ever.  That class was headed for an NCAA #1 seed, beat #1 UConn for the second time that day, and finished as the overall winningest class (112-31) in Pitt history.  Levance Fields is my favorite Panther of all-time.

As fun as that was, your 2011 senior class will likely be the greatest senior class in Pitt history.  Look at the numbers and tell me I’m wrong.

Big East Gauntlet:

In their four seasons, these seniors have collected a 53-19 conference record in the nation’s hardest conference.  The Panthers are tied with Louisville for first in that four-year period.  Pitt had won no more than 13 games before 2009, and this class might collect 15 twice.

In the 2007-08 season, Pitt finished a mere 7th (10-8) in the Big East after losing two starters to injury, and then won four games in four days to become Big East Tournament champions.  The class then followed that up with 2nd place finishes in 2008-09 (15-3) and 2009-10 (13-5).  Having already clinched at least a share of the 2010-11 regular season title, the finale against Villanova will decide it outright.

They had a winning record against 14 Big East teams, with at least one road win against all but Notre Dame and Louisville.

Conference Total
Pittsburgh 53 -19 110 -28
Syracuse 47 -25 104 -35
Louisville 53 -19 101 -36
WVU 45 -27 100 -40
Villanova 44 -28 98 -39
UConn 44 -28 94 -39
Notre Dame 46 -26 94 -40
Marquette 43 -29 90 -45
Georgetown 42 -30 88 -41

History’s Deepest Conference:

In 2010-11, Pitt has lost three conference games (by a total of 9 points) in a league where 11 teams are predicted to make the NCAA tournament.

In 1985, the Big East set a record by finishing 18-5 in the NCAA tournament.  With a possible 11 entrants this year, that win total could be matched.

Home Court Dominance:

The Pete has become famous for its home court advantage.  These seniors have tallied a 68-4 home record in their career, including a perfect 37-0 against non-conference foes.  Their record hosting ranked teams is 8-3, with an undefeated 6-0 against the AP top-5.

Pitt had at least one win against every opponent, and no more than one loss.

The class also picked up a win at Duquesne’s Palumbo Center in 2008, the final win ever in the Civic Arena in 2010, and the first win ever in the Consol Energy Center in 2011.  They finished 7-0 vs Duquesne and Robert Morris.

Kansas 71 -1 98.6%
Duke 65 -2 97.0%
Pitt 69 -4 94.5%
Memphis 73 -7 91.3%
Gonzaga 51 -5 91.1%
Wisconsin 61 -6 91.0%
MSU 56 -7 88.9%

Non-conference Excellence:

The seniors finished 48-4 in total against non-conference opponents.  They defeated #6 Duke at Madison Square Garden in 2008, won the Legends Classic tournament in Newark in 2009, lost to #3 Texas in the CBE Classic championship game in Kansas City in 2010, then avenged that loss a year later by beating Texas in the 2K Sports Coaches vs Cancer at Madison Square Garden.

Complete Season Success:

During each year, Pitt has tallied at least 25 total wins, 11 non-conference wins, 10 conference wins, and a NCAA first-round win, with no more than 10 losses.

Pitt tied the all-time best season record in 2009 at 31-5.  With 26 wins already this year, it is possible they can beat that mark.

The seniors have already moved into second place for career wins at 110-27.  They are also currently in second place behind the 2004-05 class in winning percentage at 80.3%.

They advanced to Pitt’s first modern Elite 8 in 2009 and are aspiring to make the Final Four for the first time since 1941.

Coaching Mastery:

While much of the credit for the four years of success goes to the players, it would not be possible without Jamie Dixon.  It is easy to forget that Jamie has the highest career Big East winning percentage, and is already in 7th place in career Big East wins.

He already broke the record for most wins in his first eight seasons, and doesn’t look like he is ready to stop.

His team was predicted 9th a year ago, and got them to 2nd and earned a NCAA #3 seed.  With roughly the same squad, they entered this season in the AP top-5 and are poised for the school’s second ever NCAA #1 seed.

Any Doubts?

It wouldn’t be Pittsburgh if we didn’t have doubters.  If anything is better than what this class has already accomplished in four years, it could be what they do this month.

Go ahead and doubt them, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Brad Wanamaker was a walking turnover in his freshman year.
Gary McGhee picked up three fouls in one second in his sophomore year.
Gilbert Brown was labeled a bipolar scorer in his junior year.

But now as seniors?  Go ahead and doubt them one more time.  They’ll get one more opportunity to prove you wrong.

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Ronald Ramon Ticketed For Inciting A Riot


It has been a recurring topic for debate during the past several years that Pitt fans never storm the court. Last night, Ronald Ramon sent the Zoo, and from what I can see in the videos, nearly the entire Pete, into a riot like which the arena has never seen.

We have had some close victories, but part of our allure is that our home court advantage tends to help us get some big wins in great fasion (e.g. beating #5 Georgetown handily). This is the first game ever decided by a buzzer-beater in Petersen Event Center history.

The closest atmosphere I can remember was an overtime victory against Notre Dame a few years back. What this win more resembled was the blur of emotion following Fields’ game-winner this year over Duke.

Having seen both the high of that Duke win and the low of the turnover at Villanova, I am certain that Ronald Ramon and our Panthers are a much improved team since then. I think our record is deceptively poor at the moment. The losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers are inexcusable, although Cinci is actually still holding up fairly well. The loss at UConn was a tight one. People are now really taking notice to the surging Huskies, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them play pretty well this post-season. The loss at Villanova can be almost entirely blamed on lack of chemistry at that point in our season. Ronald was not ready to be the leader, or the point guard, or the last second shot taker. I think last night he showed that he has matured in each of those roles.

Our remaining games are all pretty big matchups. We still have a rematch with Cinci at home. We have a resurgent Louisville at home. We have Notre Dame and Marquette on the road. Our next contest is a very winnable game against Providence at home. They are only 4-6 so far. It would be another good win to lift us up in the standings.

For those of you that are interested in taking some of that intense hatred of WVU on the road, there will be a bus trip to Morgantown on March 3. Details are still being worked out, but tickets will be available for $25. The price includes a ticket and the transportation to and from WVU. This will be the third consecutive year that Pitt has provided us the opportunity to invade Moutainqueer country, but this time a lot of the preparation has been done by your Zoo leaders. Make sure to let them know you appreciate their effort and mark your calendar and stay tuned for more information.

Vanilla-nova

For those of you that don’t know, the above nickname is what ‘Nova’s known as on the Main Line, and I think it’s a cute little moniker. Doesn’t really describe the basketball team too well, though- they did drive to the hoop and take on our big men fairly regularly. Anyways, good win for Pitt against a desperate team in the Pete on Wednesday night. Villanova was just as desperate as we were, and a convincing win really shows a lot about the Panthers- they didn’t just have to squeak this one out.

On the previous post, a lot was being said about Tyrell Biggs, and I would like to throw in my two cents’ worth. I really think that Tyrell has stepped up his game in the last month or so, and I’m going to go so far as to say that he is this team’s Mike Cook- while he doesn’t always put up huge numbers (though 14 points and 4 boards in 26 minutes against the Wildcats was solid), his contributions are much more than just stats. He really makes smart passes, and- while he does take the occasional ill-advised shot- makes good decisions on both offense and defense. Pitt certainly benefits from having him in the game, and I wouldn’t say that any of the bench players we put in are “minus” players at this point. Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee are definitely learning on the fly, but remember that DeJuan was getting into foul trouble early on and is still learning how to control himself around the basket and avoid stupid fouls. Don’t be too hard on Gary, he’ll learn a lot this season and should be a very solid backup center.

Anyways, now my thoughts about the actual game. I was worried in the second half that this might become a Rutgers- after getting that layup and the foul to put the ‘Cats up 39-38, Scottie Reynolds looked like a man ready to take the game over. I think the luckiest thing is that he missed the free throw- this prevented Villanova from using their energy in a press defense, instead allowing the Panthers to get the ball up the floor and re-take the lead for the last time. Big game also from Sam Young- he only scored 15, but he didn’t let a slow shooting first half stop him from making better decisions in the second half and ending up with 15 points. Pitt as a whole needs to work on shot selection a bit- both in the shots we take and the ones we don’t. There’s been a few times in the last few games when Gil Brown and Brad Wanamaker have been out on the perimeter, alone, and hesitated long enough to let the defender come to them. Unless they’re in a situation where we’re down by 1 point with twelve seconds left, I’d actually like to see them take the open shots- they need to work on their confidence. On the flip side, it seems sometimes we’re rushing shots when we DON’T have the open look, especially on second chances. Pitt’s a team that works the ball around for the open shot, and we need to be more consistent in that factor. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement before the UConn game, and a preview of that will be up shortly.

Consistency

Well, for the first time this season, Pitt plays an opponent for the second time, and we know this is a very winnable game. We only lost by one at Villanova, which is a tough place to play to begin with, and we get them at home after suffering one of the most embarrassing home losses in recent memory. This is a huge statement game against a struggling Villanova team- a loss today would put some serious doubt in those who said the Panthers could make a deep run into the playoffs. I still think this is an NCAA-tournament quality team, and every team is gonna have their bad game, but the Panthers need to step it up and put together a quality stretch of basketball.

The most shocking thing about the last game was the lack of effort displayed in the 2nd half of the Rutgers game- the Panthers appeared to be overconfident in their ability and just stopped playing the quality of defense that they’ve become known for, and the rebounding dropped severely off as well. I know that Jamie Dixon won’t stand for that sort of thing, and I would imagine practices this week weren’t exactly fun for the team, but I guarantee their focus will be like that of a Big East tournament game today.

We need to get our inside game working again- Blair and Biggs need to have great games today, and they’re certainly capable of it against an undersized Wildcat team. The ‘Nova guards have shown their quickness and penetration ability against Pitt, we just need to do a good job of containing whoever gets the hot hand and stopping the others. Last game it was Malcolm Grant, this game it could just as easily be Scottie Reynolds, the super soph for the team from the Main Line (my hometown, coincidentally). I would hope that the Panthers have too much pride to come away from the Pete today with anything but a win, and today’s game will say a lot about a young but talented team.

Pitt loses 9th game at the Pete

Yesterday’s loss to Rutgers lowered Pitt’s all-time record at the Pete to 91-9. I have attended 8 of those 9 losses, and I think it is unquestionable that yesterday was the worst loss of them all.

The deficit of 13 points matched the loss last year to Louisville as the biggest defeat in the building. However, Louisville was a respectable team. Rutgers is the worst team in the conference, by far. I said in the pregame note that if the game was even close, Pitt had something to worry about. Well we do.

Jamie Dixon said in his radio interview that the loss could not be attributed to lack of preparation, because although the game was close in the first half, Pitt pretty much led or dominated in every statistical category, save their ridiculous 3-point percentage. When a team with a season average of 30% from deep manages to hit 75%, there isn’t much to do.

Obviously without two starters, people claimed they would be happy if Pitt was able to go .500 the rest of the year. Pitt proved to us that wasn’t good enough. But these losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers are just unacceptable. The inconsistency is really going to haunt them the rest of the year. Sure, good teams lose bad games sometimes. They go on to keep winning and then the losses don’t really matter too much. This conference isn’t going to allow that though. Every team is battling for every win it can get, and dropping an easy win at home to the worst team in the conference, right before a game against a ranked opponent who beat us earlier in the season, that is just plain disappointing.

As much as I like Jamie Dixon, I have always felt that he was too easy on his criticism in games where the players didn’t play well. Yesterday, however, he said that they did just about everything wrong in the second half. He said it was the worst half of basketball his teams have ever had. I’m glad to see some honesty and accountability.

The Panthers have to shake it off and get back to work. The only thing that is possibly sadder than Pitt and its fans after yesterday is Villanova, who has now lost two in a row, one of which was Rutgers’ first conference win.

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.

New Year, New Team

So I know it’s been a while since there’s anything been posted here, and that’s really been mostly my fault. Since my last post, the Panthers lost by one at Villanova (64-63), then traveled to South Florida and defeated the Bulls 79-66 before opening up the Big East home season yesterday at the Pete by downing the Seton Hall Pirates 84-70. Tomorrow night is the big challenge of the Big East schedule- the Georgetown Hoyas come to Oakland, but I’ll touch on that later on.

When Levance went out with his foot injury, a lot of people feared that Sam Young would regress a bit in a slowed-down offense, but he has proven that this is really his breakout year, especially with 28-point, 8-rebound performance against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. He displayed some great ability to make his own shot in a half-court set, pulling up on jumpers in the lane and passing the ball to the open man when necessary. It was great to see Sam have such a high scoring game without too many fast-break points, though I would like to see him concentrate a little more on his free throw shooting, especially late in the game.

Not too surprisingly, Dejuan Blair has really stepped up his game in conference play, averaging 14.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg while picking up 5 steals and 6 blocks in his last three games. He’s really been great for Pitt all year, but it’s even better to see him respond so well against conference opponents, and his maturity and energy on the court continues to be a huge positive sign for this Panthers team. It’ll be interesting to see how he matches up against Hoya All-American Roy Hibbert, a sure first-round pick in next years’ NBA draft, who he gives up 5 inches to. Blair is said to have the wingspan of a 7’2″ player, so now we can see how he’ll match up against the best big man in the conference.

Ronny Ramon and Keith Benjamin have both really stepped it up in the last few games as well, with Keith averaging 16.8 points in over 34 minutes per game while shooting 11-19 (57.9%) from beyond the arc and helping run the offense in the four games since Levance’s injury. Even after a cold start against Seton Hall, he really picked it up in the second half, and that kind of maturity is also going to be a huge asset in the conference. Ronny’s had a solid few games as well, compiling a 2.8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while also shooting over 50% from 3.

The dark horse has really been Tyrell Biggs. Watching the game against Seton Hall, I feel like he’s about to become this team’s Mike Cook- our player who doesn’t fill out the stat sheet, but makes smart passes and hustles on both ends of the court. He hasn’t had the great games that Cook had, but I feel like he’s really hitting the potential that was seen coming out of high school in 2005. He’s stopped taking unnecessary 3s, and instead has focused more on crashing the boards and providing another big body down low.

The Panthers do have a lot to improve on, and I worry that tomorrow night’s game is going to expose quite a few of those- namely backdoor cuts, defending against screens, and guards that can drive to the hoop. Dejuan did a good job of staying out of foul trouble for most of the Seton Hall game, but against a quality opponent that’s not always going to happen. For those of you who don’t know, Georgetown runs a version of the Princeton offense, a slow-moving offense that emphasizes ball movement and waiting for the open man, as well as passing to backdoor cuts for open layups. Watch for the Panthers to double team up top and then be exposed down low for easy baskets. Pitt is definitely a team that can make adjustments at halftime, I just hope that we’re not down by too much at the 20-minute mark. However, as shown by the Villanova game, this is a team that can still compete with a top-20 team, even on the road, so I expect the Panthers to put up a good fight against the Hoyas on Monday night.