Monthly Archives: February 2010

So, Pitt’s Been Winning Some Basketball Games

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Pitt58 Marquette 51

Pitt 70 Villanova 65

Wow.  This Pitt team sure is a lot of fun to watch.  Before I could even blink (or get in front of a computer for an extended period of time), the Panthers rolled off two more really quality wins.  I’m very impressed with how much the level of play has improved over the season so far.  Both of these wins come against teams that have typically had Pitt’s number, and with good reason.  Both are very quality teams year in and year out, and more to the point both teams are very small, quick and scrappy.  They’re able to give the traditionally slower and more physical Pitt teams a hard time with their athleticism on the offensive end, and they use their quickness on defense and rebounding to keep up.  But this is a different Pitt team than usual.  It’s much more guard-oriented and athletic than past teams.  They still play defense, but they’re a lot quicker and not as strong as past teams.  That means that Pitt can neutralize that quickness from Marquette and Villanova a little bit and win with their consistency and defense.  We saw this earlier in the year against Louisville.  The Cardinal’s press always gave Pitt fits.  But this year the Panthers were able to handle that pressure much better, and ended up winning the game.  So that’s one takeaway, but I’ve got more:

  • Gary McGhee played fantastic in both of these games.  He had 10 points and 5 rebounds against Marquette, and 7 points and 10 rebounds against Villanova.  Now, this needs to be put in perspective a little bit.  Both Marquette and Villanova are both guard oriented teams, and it’s easy to dominate guys you’ve got by a few inches.  But there are two things to take away from this and be pleased with.  First of all, Gary was quick on defense.  He didn’t let the smaller more athletic centers dominate him.  That’s a big part of what happened against Georgetown (Greg Monroe), Seton Hall (Herb Pope) and West Virginia (Da’Sean Butler).  The second thing I was pleased with was how much more aggressive he was playing.  He was taking the ball up strong to the hoop, and he was grabbing tough rebounds with both hands.  That’s what I’ve been looking to see (and what I hope to eventually see out of Dante Taylor).  Now, I’d like to see him do that again against some bigger competition to make sure he wasn’t just feasting on guys he could literally look down on and then I’ll be thrilled.
  • Dante Taylor.  He had 6 points against Marquette, then got in too much foul trouble against ‘Nova to be a factor.  While the 3 open dunks were a game changer, and they showed he could get himself open, I still wasn’t thrilled with his overall performance over these two games.  He missed a lot of defensive assignments in both games (a LOT), and it’s a big reason for the foul trouble.  I’ll give him a pass since he’s a freshman, but I see this as a bigger problem than the physical strength troubles.  He’s not grasping the system quite yet, and I hope the light goes on sooner rather than later.  As a side note, I’m sure the light will eventually go on.  It always does.  I’m not concerned with the long-term progress of Dante.  He’ll be fine.  But I’m kind of hoping against hope that he gets it before the end of the year because we could really use some more production from the frontcourt.
  • Jermaine Dixon was a huge factor in these wins, but rather quietly because he made his biggest contributions on defense.  He really put the clamps down on Scottie Reynolds for Villanova and Acker and Cubillan for Marquette.  I don’t think we would have won either game without him.
  • Rebounding!  Pitt won the rebounding edge against both teams, and pretty handily against Villanova (though a lot of that had to do with ‘Nova’s defensive schemes).  They allowed 11 offensive rebounds to Marquette which kind of irks me, but other than that I’m impressed.
  • Brad Wanamaker had 14 points over these two games.  That’s great, but coupled with 11 turnovers it’s not so great.  But that’s Wanamaker in a nutshell: Brad giveth, and Brad taketh away (or giveth away if it’s a basketball).
  • There was really balanced scoring in both of these games.  It’s getting to be part of Pitt’s reputation: lots of people can hurt you.  I guess it’s a philosophical debate whether you want one go-to guy or a bunch of capable scorers.  I’m not quite sure what side of the fence I’m on quite yet.
  • Travon Woodall continues to play very well.  He had 11 points 5 assists and 2 turnovers over these past two games.  Maybe the light switch has finally gone off for him.  I really hope so.  More depth is never a bad thing.

Next up is Notre Dame tonight.  Harangody is not playing.  So there goes the opportunity for McGhee to show what he can do against better competition.  It should  still be a great game, and South Bend always has a good atmosphere.  I’m excited to watch.

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A Couple of Toughies

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Pens 2 Rangers 3 (OT)

Pens 3 Predators 4 (SO)

The Pens had a kind of blah weekend to say the least, losing a pair of games, but managing a point out of each.  It’s not the best way to go into the long Olympic break, but, hey, it could be worse.  Also on the bright side, New Jersey is skidding like nobody’s business.  They’re only a point up with one game in hand.  That’s by no means an insurmountable total.  But it would have been nice to get that lead before the break.

The Rangers game was kind of mixed.  The Pens didn’t play very well at all, but thanks to a Crosby power play goal in the third period, the game went into overtime.  I had a good feeling at that point because I thought the Pens had dodged a bullet there.  It’s not often you can manage even a point out of the kind of game we played, and with the Rangers struggles on offense I thought a second point was a good possibility.  Well, it wasn’t because I forgot to factor in one thing: Olie Jokinen.  Olie’s been tormenting the Pens since his days in Florida (14 goals and 16 assists in 24 games against the Pens).  After a brief stint in the Western Conference, he was dealt to the Rangers a couple of weeks ago.  I guess he’s going to pick up right where he left off.  He torture the Pens by scoring a goal a minute into the overtime period.  I have no idea what Pittsburgh did to you, Olie, but we’re sorry.  I promise.

The pain continued on Sunday with a shootout loss to Nashville.  This was exactly the opposite of the New York game two days before.  The Pens played very well, but Danny Ellis had just a good enough day for the Preds.  Pittsburgh came out and dominated the first period, but then was handcuffed for most of the rest of the game due to penalties.  Thank goodness the penalty kill for the Pens came up big and kept Nashville to a 1 for 7 night.  I really thought that when Brooks Orpik scored around the 15 minute mark in the 3rd to give the Pens a 3-2 advantage, the game was in the bag.  Fleury hadn’t been playing poorly and I thought we’d stop taking chances which would dry up the penalties a bit.  But that’s not what happened.  With less than 10 minutes left, Shea Weber tickled the twine, and we were off to overtime.  Now, I mentioned that Ellis had a big day in net for the Predators, but the OT was when he really shined.  He came up with a huge save with about a minute left in the OT period, and absolutely stoned the Pens in the shootout.  So, hats off to him.  At least we got a point out of the deal.

I really wish the Pens had gone to the break on a high note, but I guess you have to look at the glass half full.  The Pens get a long break that they badly need, and Jersey seems to be coming back to them faster than they can catch up.  Both are good news.  Next game isn’t until March 2nd against the Sabres.

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Pitt 98 WVU 95 (3OT)

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Game Recap

Wow.  Just wow.  I wrote a post a while ago about the top 10 games in the Pete (you can read it here).  Well, we have a new #1 by a landslide.  That was one of the best college basketball games I’ve watched, on TV or in person.  As usual, some thoughts:

  • Rebounding should have cost the Panthers the game.  It was pretty tight statistically, but Pitt was getting killed on the glass.  At the end of regulation, WVU had a 14 rebound advantage, and that’s after Pitt had grabbed a few towards the end.  In the overtimes, Pitt out-rebounded WVU by 7.  You bet that’s why they were in control most of the way.
  • WVU missed 3 of 5 free throws in the final minute  of regulation which started with a 7 point Mountaineer edge.  It was eerily similar to Louisville’s collapse.
  • Speaking of that 7 point lead with a minute left, I saw a lot of people leaving at that point.  I noticed a lot of those seats re-filled during the overtime (I guess they caught the game in the lobby and turned back), but there were still some empty chairs left.  They deserve it.  I’ve never gotten leaving early, and I hope this teaches them a lesson.  Oh, well.  It’s one more thing to add to the legend of this game.  You have to love when a team is counted out by their own fans, then proceed to resurrect themselves like Lazarus.
  • All those rebounds?  They led to a 15-0 second chance points lead by the Mountaineers at the end of regulation.  More proof that Pitt got away with one here.
  • Huge bench night for Pitt.  The Panthers got 34 points from the reserves.  Travon Woodall looked good.  Gil Brown had a lot of those points even though he’s a de-facto starter.  J.J. Richardson had another solid game.
  • Speaking of J.J., he definitely out-played Dante Taylor again.  Big time.  Dante’s an amazing athlete, but he just doesn’t have the hunger to play the low post (and before you say anything, I’m not sure he’s quick enough to play PF in the Big East, either).  He just needs to get stronger in the off-season.
  • I’ll expand on Travon, as well.  He had a great game at the point.  12 points, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers in 31 minutes.  That sure looks more like a PG line to me.  If he can do that consistently, Pitt will be in great shape.  But consistency is the key.
  • Good job by the Zoo.  I heard a few rumblings of a bulls**t cheer, but that never caught on.  Besides that, there was only a few go home mountaineers chants (some kids switched the last word around to involve a word that starts with q, but they were also drowned out by the kids saying it the better way).  I can live with that.  Overall the kids were loud, intimidating, and positive.  I’m proud to have them representing my school.  I’d like to think that the jerk who threw stuff in Morgantown is very unhappy somewhere tonight.  It’s a good thought.
  • Ashton Gibbs missed a free throw to ice the game at the end of the first overtime, but got redemption by draining two in the third to make WVU try for a 3.  You’ve gatta love that.
  • Brad Wanamaker had a huge night going 7-14 from the field and 9-11 from the free throw line.  He did have 4 turnovers and 3 minute stretch at the beginning of the second half with a bunch of mistakes, but I’ll take this performance any day.  He was one of the few guys who wasn’t afraid to drive on this Mountaineer defense.
  • WVU is a better team than Pitt this year, but Pitt had the desire down the stretch.  I love that.  I need to see it every game.

Great win.  I’m all smiles tonight.  Pitt parlayed the Syracuse upset into a few more quality wins.  They’re going to have an opportunity to do the same thing coming up against Marquette, Villanova and Notre Dame.  I’d love to see a repeat performance.

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Pens 3 Islanders 1

image from espn.com

Game Recap

This seemed like a fairly straightforward win for the Pens.  You improve your playoff position by taking care of the teams you’re supposed to beat.  Especially at home, and that’s exactly what the Pens did here.  I have a few thoughts, though:

  • Kunitz put in a pair of goals.  He hasn’t been as productive this year as most people had hoped.  Maybe this will be a turning point for him.
  • Fleury had a huge game with 37 saves on the day.  He’s not very consistent this year, but when he’s on he’s almost a guaranteed win for the Pens.
  • Tyler Kennedy had a fight about 10 minutes into the game.  I’m not one for fighting in hockey, but this one really seemed to set the tempo for the game.  TK’s always been the spark for the Pens, and he did it again tonight.
  • The Islanders out-shot the Pens by 10, but I think the Pens definitely out-played them.  It was one of those games where the Islanders were racking up the shots, but not getting too many quality looks.
  • At the moment, the only race that really matters is the race between the Pens and the Devils for the Atlantic Division title.  Jersey has a 1 point advantage with two games in hand.  It’s a decent lead, but not insurmountable if the Pens start playing well after the Olympic break.

The Rangers are up next on Friday night.  They got out to a decent start, but have struggled a lot as of late.  I don’t see any reason the Pens can’t get a couple of more points out of that one.

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Catch-Up

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Sorry for the absence of posts lately, but I’ve been a little preoccupied with the snow the past few days.  If you aren’t in town and don’t have access to a news source, Pittsburgh looks roughly like the image above right now.  It sucks.  But, enough with the snow.  I’m sick of talking about it already.  Lets get into the nice diversion from real life that is the sports world.

The Pens went on a two game skid over the past few days losing back-to-back games to Montreal and Washington.  The 5-3 loss to the Canadiens looks really easy to diagnose when you look at the stat sheet.  We were in the penalty box for literally half the game (29 penalty minutes for the Pens).  The reality, however, is a little different.  The Habs only scored 1 goal on the power play, going 1 for 7.  The real reason the Pens lost this game was because Fleury had a bad night.  It happens.  He let in some softies and was even lifted from the game after giving up 4 goals.  It’s not something to be overly concerned about, though.  The second game was just weird.  The Pens jumped out to a 4-1 lead halfway through the game, and still led 4-2 at the second intermission.  It was at that point that they just died.  The Caps got a slew of chances in the third period, cashed in on a couple of them, and won in overtime.  It really makes you shake your head.  I’ve got two theories on why this happened.  The first is that the Caps are a very good team offensively, and they got a fire lit under them for the third period.  That’s a combo that would be hard for anyone to stop.  The second theory is that the Pens were tired.  The Montreal game was the night before (the Caps game was at noon).  To get to Washington in the snow, they had to fly to Trenton, NJ and bus it.  They arrived very late after mostly sleeping on the bus.  I think dying at the end of an emotional game like that given their situation is totally understandable.  I may be in the minority, but I’m willing to brush this one off a little bit.  Plus, if you want to look at the glass half full, it was a tremendously entertaining hockey game that was nationally televised and hopefully brought in some new fans.

As poorly as the Pens have played over the past few days, the Panthers have been going in completely the opposite direction.  Against Seton Hall, the Pitt regained its shot, shooting 51.7% from the field.  After disappearing in Morgantown, Gil Brown dropped 23 points and Brad Wannamaker had 13.  Ashton Gibbs broke out of his slump a little bit and saw the ball go through the net at least while going 3 for 7 on the day.  Best of all, Pitt out-rebounded the Pirates 36-27 and only allowed 8 offensive boards.  I’m drawing a line in the sand and saying that Pitt’s goal should be to limit opponents to less than 10 offensive boards per game.  It’s good that they met it for this game.  Overall, the 83-58 drubbing exorcised a lot of demons even though it was against a less than stellar defense.  That trend continued against Robert Morris on Monday where the Panthers notched a 77-53 win.  It was very close for the first half as the Colonials shot 48% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc.  They were challenged shots as well, which is why I wasn’t really worried.  Sure enough, RMU cooled off a lot in the second half, and Pitt was able to win going away.  The Panthers had a 39-26 advantage on the boards (with only 9 offensive boards for RMU, so they still pass the test), but they only held a 16-14 edge at the half.  That was a bit troubling.  RMU really shot themselves in the foot in this one with their style of play.  They were very aggressive defensively, and very physical with the rebounds, and that led to a lot of fouls.  Two of their starters were in foul trouble by halftime.  It really handcuffed what they could do.  So, in general, it looks like the Panthers are starting to heat up again with a rematch against WVU coming up on Friday.  I guess all it took was half empty gyms because of a snow storm.  STAGE FRIGHT!  That’s their problem!  But, seriously, it’s good to see the shots start to fall again.  I’m still just a little nervous for the long term health of the program that it relies so much on streaky shooting this year.

So that’s pretty much what you missed (besides that silly ‘Super Bowl’ thing.  How bout’ that Saint defense, by the way?).  I hope everyone out there made it through the storm in good shape (you’ve at least got power if you’re reading this.  That’s a start).  I’ll be back tomorrow night for a Pens recap.  I promise.

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Pitt 51 WVU 70

image from cbssports.com

Game Recap

Watching the highlights on ESPN and reading a few headlines, it seems like the theme for the game is that WVU won a game last night where tempers flared.  Well, I’m not sure that I really agree with that.  The fan’s tempers flared, but I didn’t see much on the court.  There was the one play that halted the game for a while, but that was more guys tripping over each other than anything.  And the actual game was no more physical than a lot of games I’ve watched in the Big East.  Emotional, yes.  Overly physical with tempers?  Not so much.  The actual game itself was a little more complex.  Pitt was right in it until about 8 minutes left when they just lost their shot.  I have no idea what happened there.  I didn’t see a defensive switch by the Mountaineer or anything else that would explain it.  Unfortunately, the cold shooting really did in Pitt because the other aspects of the game were all going to WVU.  If the Panthers would have won this game, it would have been a steal.  But they didn’t win, and they didn’t really deserve to, either.  Some other thoughts:

  • I’ve never seen Gary McGhee look so bad with layups.  Honest to goodness.  He was 3 for 11 shooting without taking a shot from outside 3 feet.  My theory is that he was juiced with adrenaline coming in, threw a few over the rim, and was trying to compensate and find his touch for the rest of the game.  But that’s just a theory.  I’m not in his head.
  • I think the biggest reason Pitt lost was the lack of rebounding.  Yeah, there was a big rebounding deficit overall, but to get a clearer picture of the problem you just have to look at the offensive rebounds the Panthers allowed: 17.  WVU is a good rebounding team, and they’re especially good on the offensive glass, but 17 is ridiculous.  This has got to stop or Pitt’s going to struggle to win every single game from now on.
  • WVU shot better from beyond the arc than they did from inside.  I have a feeling its because most of those were wide open attempts.  It’s not a pattern yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
  • Lots of people have weighed in on this, but the WVU fan behavior was inexcusable.  The student swearing is bad, but not the worst thing ever.  Pitt’s gone through the same troubles as does just about every school in the country with a student section.  But throwing things just can’t happen.  Ever.  What’s worse is this is not the first time this has happened from WVU fans, and it doesn’t seem to get better.  Both the fans and the administration have to do a better job of creating an atmosphere where that’s not tolerated.  I know you want to make the arena intimidating, but take it from a Pitt fan who has watched a game in Morgantown: the Colosseum (and Mountaineer Field.  I’ve been there too) is already intimidating because its filled with real down to earth people that aren’t afraid to cheer and make noise.  You don’t have to make it a dangerous place to be intimidating.
  • J.J. Richardson played fairly well considering the circumstances.  He got a lot more minutes than Dante Taylor who looked lost out there again.  I’m wondering if he’s starting to overtake him on the depth chart.
  • Anyone still think Gilbert Brown should start ahead of Nasir Robinson?

I guess the thing to remember is that it was a great team across the court (#6 in the country, remember?) and the Panthers hung tough for a while.  They had some spurts of doing the right thing, so I know they’re capable.  Pitt just needs to gain some consistency, which is not surprising considering how young they are.  The only real consistent problems with this team are the reliance on shooters and the lack of rebounding (both are fairly big problems, I know).  Who knows, if Richardson keeps bouncing up the depth chart, maybe he can bring a little bit of a solution to both problems.  Until then, I guess Pitt fans just have to cross their fingers and hope that this team has some more great shooting nights (a la Syracuse) and gets enough wins to get a tournament spot.

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Pens Sweep Back To Back

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Pens 2 Red Wings 1 (SO)

Pens 5 Sabres 4

In contrast with the ugly game by Pitt over the weekend, the Pens have been playing fantastic.  They started out the weekend with a perfect game for national TV on Sunday, and then came back against a very good Sabres team tonight.  Overall, it was a very impressive pair of games.  The Pens were skating, they were keeping dumb penalties to a minimum, and they were getting pucks on net.  You’re going to get a lot of good results if you do those three things.

The first game against Detroit was fantastic television.  The Red Wings aren’t the team that we saw the last time they were in Pittsburgh.  They’re in a very tough Western Conference, but they’re struggling pretty hard right now.  The Pens took advantage and completely tilted the ice on the Wings.  They led the shooting battle 47-24.  You usually deserve 2 points if you do that, but there was a problem.  Jimmy Howard, in his first real stint with the big boy club in Detroit, was standing on his head in net.  He came up with 46 saves on the night in a fantastic performance.  It was really special to watch, even from an opposing fan’s perspective.  Beyond that, it was an extremely clean game.  Not a lot of penalties or turnovers.  Just good hockey the way it was meant to be played.  With Howard kepping them in the game with key saves, the Wings were able to draw overtime and eventually a shootout.  Fleury came up big as he’s been doing in shootouts for a while now, and the Pens come out with the extra point (that they probably deserved anyway due to their play).  Just a fantastic hockey game.  I’m sure the NHL is thanking its lucky stars that that was on national TV.  That’s the kind of game that will bring in new fans.

The second game had a lot more offense to say the least.  The Pens jumped out with a real quick goal (as in first minute quick).  The Sabres answered with a pair of quick goals 5 minutes later and a third striaght to start the second period.  The Pens rounded out the second period with their own run of 4 straight goals, and then hung on for dear life in the third.  I’ll tell you the truth.  When we went down 3-1 I thought we were cooked.  Ryan Miller is a fantastic goalie, and even thought we’ve had good luck with him in the past I thought it just wasn’t meant to be.  That’s the Sabres game.  Jump out to a lead and choke you with their defense.  But, lo and behold, the Pens pulled it out.  This was a fairly physical back and forth game, but very entertaining to watch overall.  Sid had a hat trick, but I mostly liked that the Pens hustled throughout the entire game.  I have to admit that I was a bit worried about that coming off Sunday’s game.  You can’t ask for much more out of a team than what the Pens showed these past two days.  I’d love another quick game here to keep up the momentum, but the next game isn’t until Saturday against Montreal.  We’ll see how it goes.

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