Monthly Archives: November 2009

Vacation

I’m taking a couple of days off for the holiday, but I thought I’d leave you with some videos to keep you occupied and psych you up for this weekend’s big games.

Because it’s Backyard Brawl week, and I’ve watched this a dozen or two times and still smile at it:

And because it’s Raven’s week and a huge game for the Steelers:

Now go enjoy some turkey and I’ll see you on Friday.

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Pitt 62 Texas 78

 

image from statesman.com

 

Game Recap

Lets get this out of the way first and foremost: Texas is a better team than Pitt.  They’re bigger, faster, quicker, longer, and stronger than us.  Any adjective for physical gifts you can name, they’ve got more of it.  But I will say this: Pitt is smarter than Texas.  They were more patient in their offense and looked for better shots.  They used their teammates more.  Texas was just using their superior athleticism to force its way to points.  That’s why this game was close for such a long time.  Ultimately, however, the one thing that Texas has over Pitt as a team let them separate towards the end: their depth.  At the end of the game, Pitt was in such foul trouble, and so tired, that they were giving up a lot more easy baskets than they had at any point in the game.  With the increased scoring, the Longhorns pulled away.  And I wish they hadn’t, because we certainly didn’t deserve to lose by 16 considering how we played.

Defensively, Texas was all about pressure.  Pressure at every position.  They were so much longer and quicker than us, they were able to stick to every man like glue and make passing very difficult.  It took a lot of screens to get open looks, and even they didn’t always work out because Texas fought through them.  This was the toughest test that we’ve faced defensively by far, and I thought we did pretty well.  We only had 12 turnovers, and we didn’t get frustrated enough to affect our play (though you could see it on the faces of some of the players).  It was a tough predicament, because if a team can apply that much pressure with man defense, there’s no solution.  If a team is beating you with a zone, there’s always a weak spot you can exploit.  Man defense is much harder to do because your weakest defender can usually be exploited, but Texas played it extremely well and didn’t have a weak spot, so more power to them.

Our defense was actually fairly strong, though 78 points is a bit more than we normally give up.  We did a fantastic job limiting the post up moves and outside shooting.  Guards driving the lane has typically been Pitt’s undoing, and it looks to again be a weakness.  We were stopping it fairly well in the first half of the game or so, but that was mostly through fouling.  When we got too many to do that anymore, we were screwed.  The inability to stop penetration is not supposed to be a by-product of the matchup zone we play.  On the contrary: the matchup zone is usually a fairly good defense to throw at a slashing team.  I’m puzzled as to why Pitt has consistently been bad at that facet of the game (and it’s not the personnel.  This goes back a few years.  Anyone remember Antonio Gates and Kent St. tearing us up?  How about Dwayne Wade and Marquette?  Or Dominique James and Marquette?).  My quess is that we’ve never had outstanding quickness in the backcourt.  But that’s just my guess.  All I know is that Jamie’s got to get this hole plugged, because there’s more than a few guards in the Big East that can take it to the rack.

Overall, we were beaten by a better team.  Bigger, more athletic, and deeper.  All 3 of those characteristics led to the 32-24 rebounding edge Texas had that I think is pretty indicative of how the game went.  But I saw some good things from Pitt.  I saw us manufacture points and play good defense against a superior team.  That’s the old school Pitt basketball that has gotten us to the point the program is at right now.  It allows us to remain in games we shouldn’t, and squeak out some wins.  I think when we get Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown back and get some depth again, we’re going to look very strong.  This team was going to lose this year.  Especially to a team like Texas.  What’s important is that we learn from those losses and become better.  There was a lot to learn here because this was the first really physical game we’ve had, but there will be many more of them in the Big East.  We seem to have been learning from the victories, I feel confident we’ll grow from this defeat.

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Penguins 3 Panthers 2 (OT)

 

image from espn.com

 

Game Recap

Well, as has been said in many recaps already, this was a deja vu game.  Just like back in October we were trailing 2-0 after two periods, we tied the game up with less than 5 minutes to go and won in overtime off of Sid’s stick; though last time it was in a shoot out instead of overtime.  If you don’t believe me that Sid scored the winning goal, you can check out the excellent picture above.  While you do that, you can admire the Panthers 3rd jerseys that look suspiciously like our third jerseys.  Just saying.

Overall, though, we thoroughly outplayed Florida.  We had more shots, more hits, less turnovers and less penalties.  We absolutely deserved this game.  However, as is the case a lot in hockey, the goalie is the great equalizer.  In this case it was Tomas Vokoun.  The guy stood on his head last night.  He faced 45 shots and saved 42 of them.  You just kind of have to tip your cap to that kind of night.  You also have to feel fortunate facing that kind of performance and escaping with a ‘W’.

The story of the game (besides the eerie similarities to the first meeting) was the penalty call in overtime.  In case you didn’t watch the game, there was a high sticking call in overtime that drew blood (so it was a 4 minute penalty.  Pretty much the entire overtime).  Neither of the referees saw it, but a linesman caught it.  Therefore, at the next stoppage of play, the linesman alerted a referee and a penalty was called.  This is highly unusual in hockey, but it’s in the rulebook as legal to do.  I guess you don’t see it a lot because it takes a huge swallow of pride to admit you missed something, and it’s especially hard to do in overtime when you know you’ll take some heat for it, so kudos to the referees last night.  It basically gave us the game, and I know a lot of people are upset about it, but the basic fact is that it’s a procedure call that a ref is forced to call if he sees, and it was the correct call.  So there’s not much you can do about it.

Overall, I loved this game.  You can really see that we’re starting to play better as more and more guys get back and get used to playing again.  The one complaint I still have is that the power play is still only hovering around the 20% mark, and I think it should be a little bit higher with the talent we have.  However, it’s improving with Sarge back.  Also, we’re being much more physical around the net than we were at this time last year.  So, overall I’m very pleased.  I like this version of the team, and it’s good to start to see glimpses of it again.

 

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Pitt 68 Wichita State 55

 

image from pittsburghlive.com

 

Game Recap

There were a lot of good things that I saw in this game.  Wichita State obviously saw video of our first game because they came out and really pressured us on defense.  Especially in the second half.  I saw a lot of traps and ball pressure, and we handled it extremely well.  In fact, I can’t remember us being bated into a stupid turnover at all.  Against a team that plays like the Shockers, that’s fantastic.  The box score says 17 turnovers which is getting awfully close to 20 which is where I start to get worried, but I guess I’ll take it.

Defensively, we did very well running with the Shockers.  Wichita loves to run the floor and see what comes out of it.  It hardly ever did anything this evening.  We’ve struggled against teams like that in the past (anyone else get a shudder when I say the word Villanova?), so once again I’m seeing improvement.  Wichita State didn’t really run much of an offense.  They forced a lot of things, which really helped us out.  I’m pretty sure we won’t get that from Texas tomorrow.  That lack of patience also caused the Shockers to have 24 turnovers.  What a gift.

Some overall game notes:

  • The rebounding edge was pretty even (Wichita State took it 27-25).  The Shockers are a very good rebounding team.  Past Pitt teams would have manhandled them, but given how this team has been shaping up (awful on the glass), I see the rebounding totals in this game as a step in the right direction.  Now, if they can do that again against Texas I’ll be beside myself.  But that’s very unlikely with Dexter Pittman in the paint.
  • We didn’t show much depth tonight.  For the most part (J.J. Richardson and Dwight Miller both got one solid minute of game time) we went with an 8 man rotation.  I’m not sure I remember a Pitt team that thin before.  Even this season.  Miller especially has gotten a few more minutes than that in the first three games.  Maybe Dixon is saving them for more minutes against Texas?  I don’t know.
  • We shot the ball extremely well.  46.7% from the field and 70.0% from the line.  Take that in for a moment.  70 percent free throws.  Pitt.  Crazy, right?  I won’t argue, though.  That 46.7% was pretty much without a post presence, as well.  Dante Taylor didn’t really show up, and Gary McGhee occasionally made his presence known.  But that’s definitely going to be a weakness this year.
  • The Shockers couldn’t match our quickness in the backcourt.  It led to a ton of foul calls, and we took advantage (70%.  Ha!).  I didn’t really expect that in this game, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m not sure how long that will last, though.  I think a lot of teams left on the schedule have quicker guards than Wichita State.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: with this young team, I’m just looking for progress.  If we get better every game, we’ll be fine in the Big East.  But we’ve got to start learning lessons now, and it really seems like we are.  I’ve already seen some holes in our game close (like playing against a zone), and I haven’t seen too many new ones open up.  We’re not going to be a great team, but I’m liking our chances more and more for a tournament spot.

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Steelers 24 Chiefs 27 (OT)

 

image from espn.com

 

Game Recap

First of all (and I can not stress this enough), do NOT use one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges to jump off of.  It’s not worth it.  Ok?  Seriously.  There.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s pick our jaws up off the ground and examine how in the world this game just happened.

This game confused me.  We seemed to be handling them pretty well, but the scoreboard doesn’t agree.  So what happened?  Well, in times like that I always check the box score first to see if my perception of the game is correct.  We out-gained them 515-282, had way more first downs (27-13), had more rushing yards, more passing yards.  I’d say we thoroughly outplayed them.  So why did we lose?  Well, when the scoreboard doesn’t match the boxscore, you know it was the consequence of big plays.  That’s absolutely the case here.  The kick return for a touchdown.  The interception in the endzone that was almost returned for 6, the long pass to Chambers that set up KC’s last touchdown, the 61 yard pass to Chambers to set up the winning field goal.  These were all massively big plays that went KC’s way.  That’s how you lose games that you should win.  A majority of those plays were just a lack of focus for by one player for one play, and that’s all it takes.  You hate to see that, but sometimes you just can’t come up with more winning plays.  All you can do is work hard, and generally the plays will start going your way.  Hopefully this is the kick in the pants we needed to get back on track and focus again.  We’ve got the talent to do some great things this year.  I’m not sure how much of the desire we’ve got.

The other major news besides the loss was the injury to Ben.  He went down with a blow to the head towards the end of regulation, and didn’t return.  This would be a huge blow to the team.  We’ve already got an up hill climb to make the playoffs, and losing Roethelisberger would make it even more difficult.  Especially since we’re already dealing with some other injuries (you think we couldn’t have used Troy today?).  As of now, the Steelers are saying that Ben’s injury is ‘concussion oriented’ to which my response in ‘no crap oriented’.  But I’ll be keeping an eye on it as I’m sure you will too.  Yet another way in which bad luck has smiled upon us.

Overall, I don’t think this is something to get too upset over.  We outplayed Kansas City by a mile.  We deserved that game.  But, with a few big plays, the Chiefs pulled it out.  It happens.  That’s why they say anyone can win on any given Sunday.  Now, I’m very upset with another kickoff return.  I have a feeling that more than just players heads will roll at the end of the season because of it.  But that’s different.  It’s a sustained problem that isn’t being fixed.  The rest of it, however, is dumb luck over one week.  If we come out and play like we did today (with Big Ben hopefully in the lineup), we’ll be fine.  As I said before, we’ve got an uphill climb to the playoffs, but we can take a giant step towards that goal by beating Baltimore next weekend.

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Pens Catch-Up

 

image from espn.com

 

Pens 2 Seantors 6

Pens 3 Thrashers 2

I think our Pens have turned bipolar.  Seriously.  We came out completely flat against Ottawa, and then played fantastic against Atlanta.  Neither team is terrible this year, either.  Neither team is great, but that’s beside the point.  We just laid an egg in Canada, and Coach Byslma made a great speech to them on the flight down to Atlanta or something.  Whatever it was, the effort was totally turned around down in Georgia.  Maybe they just get depressed by cold weather?  I don’t know.

We started out great in Ottawa.  We grabbed a quick 1-0 lead, and were playing well…..for a few minutes.  Then we just sorta stopped trying.  Even still, we were only down 2-1 at the second intermission.  You got the feeling that if Bylsma read them the Riot Act in the locker room, they could take this one.  The Senators weren’t playing too great themselves.  Unfortunately, we came out and gave up a few quick goals, and completely shut down.  I hated seeing that.  I hate seeing a team quit.  It’s one thing to be out-played.  It’s quite another to wave the white flag.  There were two main themes that played in here.  First of all, Fleury had a horrible day.  Probably one of the worst games he’s had in Pittsburgh.  He let in some real softies.  The other main theme was the amount of turnovers we had.  We just couldn’t hang onto the puck.  It’s really hard to win when you do that (obviously).

But, like I said, Byslma obviously said something to them before Saturday’s game because they were a completely different team.  We were skating a lot better, and Fleury had a much better game.  Defensively, we had a great game and forced the Thrashers into a lot of poor outside looks.  You could tell that we were really frustrating them because the game started to get a little nasty towards the end.  Lots of hits, a couple of fights, etc.  Atlanta got a goal towards the end with their goalie pulled, so the game was not as close as the score would indicate.  Overall, just a good bounce back game that was won on effort.  These are the type of games we need while we’re still being hit by injuries.

We continue the road trip down in Miami tomorrow.  The Panthers aren’t nearly as good as these last two clubs, so we’ll see if the effort we showed on Saturday night continues.  We’ll get another ‘W’ if we do.

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Pitt 71 Eastern Kentucky 60

 

image from pittsburghpanthers.com

 

Game Recap

I think most people will look at that score and get a pained look on their face.  They’ll say: ‘Eastern Kentucky?  We only beat them by 11?  We must suck.’  Those people don’t know their team, and they don’t know Eastern Kentucky basketball.  First of all, EKU is no slouch.  They made the tourney two years ago, and they’ve been there twice in the past decade.  They may not world-beaters, but they ARE the exact type of opponent Pitt loves: top of their mid-major conference.  Add on to this that they play a style that hits Pitt right where it’s weakest, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  Pitt may have only won by 11, but they showed a lot of improvement in some areas that they’ve shown weakness in during the past few games.  I’ll take that.  Remember: this is a very very young team that is still learning.  I like seeing these steps forward more than I like seeing a 30 point win.

So how exactly does EKU play that is such a challenge for Pitt?  Well, first of all, they shoot a ton of 3’s.  A.  Ton.  Everyone on the roster can hit from well beyond the 3 point line.  They’re not a dumb team, however.  If the interior is open, they know to go for the easy deuce.  Defensively, they play mostly a 1-3-1 zone which gave us fits against Woffard.  We handled both challenges beautifully.  Offensively, we did a great job attacking the zone.  We used cross-court passing to open up a lot of 3’s in the first half, which is exactly what the defense was giving us.  In the second half the Colonels went to more of a man defense, and we pounded it inside where we had a size advantage.  Going after the weak spot in the defense is a sign of maturity.  I was happy to see it.  Defensively, we still played a matchup zone, but we were a lot tighter on the ball.  Consequently, we held them to a 37.5% shooting night from beyond the arc.  That’s high, but not for EKU.  Also, a lot of those shots were highly challenged.  That’s what I like to see.  We did kind of back off in the second half, though (which is where they hit a lot of their outside shots).  I’m not sure why.  I think because they got some easy layups to start the game, and we wanted to start taking that away.  Regardless, it was nice to see our perimeter defense look sharp for once.  I’d like to see that more against teams who won’t put up as many outside shots, but are still a threat from beyond the arc.

So the questions is obvious.  If we played so well against this style team, why did we only win by 11?  Well, we started out building a 15 point lead at halftime because of their cold shooting.  They warmed up in the second half and kept up with us.  That’s the main thing, and it will happen.  A lot of that was on our defense backing off, too (as I previously said).  Also, we had 13 turnovers.  That’s not so many, but at the pace this game was being played at, that’s huge.  The general slow pace of the game also is a reason we didn’t blow them out.  It’s hard to beat someone by 30 when there’s only 60-70 possessions.  We also weren’t spectacular from the free throw line, and against a team with 23 fouls, that’s not good.  So, there are some areas to work on, but as I said before, I saw improvement today.  At this point, that’s all I’m looking for with this team.  Next up is a trip to Kansas City for the CBE Classic.  Wichita State, Texas and Iowa all await.  My prediction is that we leave Kansas City 1-1, and the loss comes against the Shockers in the opening game.  You heard it here first.  However, I really hope I’m wrong.

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