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Potpourri

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Pirates

Let’s get this out of the way quickly.  The Pirates jumped out to an early 2-0 start.  Then they remembered they were the Pirates and went 1-3 over the next 4 games.  But, look on the bright side.  They’re 3-3 right now.  That’s .500!  If we can just keep this up for the next…..oh…..few months or so…..aw, forget it.  Stat of the day for the Pirates: the Pirates are 2-0 with 7.5 runs per game when Garrett Jones hits a home run and 1-3 with 3.75 runs per game when he doesn’t.  Anyone else want to provide a spark?  Anyone?    Well, on the bright side, maybe Garrett will break Barry Bonds’ home run record so we have a shot at .500 (and hopefully does it without any ‘help’ if you know what I mean).

Penguins

Well, they made it a race with the Devils down the stretch, but after choking against Atlanta, come up short for the Atlantic Division crown and 2nd seed.  I can’t say they honestly deserve it after going winless against Washington and New Jersey during the regular season.  I’m not sure about this year.  The Pens are really struggling against quality opponents (especially against teams that play the trap), but they have some guys that can absolutely take over a game so you can never count them out.  I honestly have no idea how they’re going to do.  I wouldn’t be shocked if they win the cup, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them loose to Ottawa.  I’m going to be really interested to see how they respond to the playoff atmosphere, and after the first couple of games will have a much firmer grasp of the expectations for them.  Is anyone else with me on that?

Steelers

Oh, the Steelers.  Drama drama everywhere, and not a moral in sight.  My goodness.  Anyway, the big news all occurred this morning.  If you haven’t heard yet, the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the Jets for a 5th round pick (and possibly a song to be named later), and Ben Roethlisberger will not have charges filed against him in Georgia (though a civil case is still possible).  Well, as for Ben, there’s no choice but to wait and see.  Suspensions, court dates, and the like are all probably coming down the pike, but he’s got way too many more years/monies owed on his contract to do anything to him.  That’s unfortunate.  Santonio, on the other hand, was not so lucky.  He’s the sacrificial lamb in this because he’s convenient.  He screwed up a lot, he was replaceable, and he was a free agent next year.  That’s why he was let go.  But I’m still glad the Steelers traded him.  I, as well as most fans, cheer for my teams because they bring positive attention to my city/university when they win.  The Steelers in particular are so revered in Pittsburgh because they bring some positive connotations about the city to people who haven’t been here since the steel mills were replaced by hospitals and universities.  They are unfortunately also capable of bringing shame both on and off the field.  The Rooneys have been very good about giving Pittsburgh the benefit of both worlds: winning while not compromising on character.  However, if a decision must be made, I’d much rather be embarrassed on the field than off.  That’s why it’s good riddance to Holmes, and if Big Ben and even Jeff Reed (both have made multiple mistakes in the past) go with him, I’ll take the hit in the win/loss column.

Tomorrow will be an extra special post: I’ve been working hard to find out if/why the Big East underperformes so much in March.

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Notre Dame 50 Pitt 45

image from kentuckysportsradio.com

Game Recap

I’m not sure what I think about this one.  Both teams seemed willing to play slightly slower than a snail’s pace, so that’s how it went.  In a game like that, the more efficient team at both ends wins.  Notre Dame was the more efficient team.  They won, and they deserved it.  That much is obvious.  Should Pitt have pushed the tempo a bit more?  I don’t think so as evidenced by the fact that they were in it until the very last possession.  My diagnosis is this: Pitt took some 3’s in the first half, and they just weren’t falling.  Good teams (maybe well coached teams is more of what I want to say there) admit when it’s not their night to play the game they want to and find a way to win anyway.  Pitt made an attempt at that by trying to be more aggressive driving the lane, and it worked sometimes and resulted in forced shots other times.  It wasn’t perfect, but it kept Pitt in the game.  That’s for sure.  But I’m almost positive that if Pitt hits a few 3’s, this is a totally different game.  Notre Dame deserved that game because they made the Panthers one dimensional.  The Irish frontcourt did a wonderful job sealing off the low post, so when the shots didn’t fall the only option left was taking your man off the dribble.  If they make some shots and put some pressure on Notre Dame at two fronts, they can put Notre Dame on their heels a bit.  I have a sinking suspicion that when Notre Dame gets down by more than 5 or 10 for the first time that the tendency to run and gun will surface again and it’ll be a hard freight train to stop.  But I guess we’ll see whenever that happens.  Some other random thoughts:

  • Pitt didn’t get much in the way of bench points.  You have to temper your expectations with the final score, but it still wasn’t a real great showing.
  • The best argument for Pitt speeding up the tempo in this game?  Notre Dame only went 7 players deep (even with a foul out).  An up and down game really wears guys out.
  • Jay Bilas made a big deal about the switching on the ball screens.  I saw it too, and I’m a big Jay Bilas fan, but I’m not sure it was that huge of a deal.  Pitt switches a lot like that, and their guards are usually very good at guarding bigger guys.  This game they got their lunch eaten, but there’s not much you can do there.  The other options are to not hedge on screens and allow some open 3’s, or play zone and allow some open 3’s.  Neither one sounded all that good, either.  The bigger hole in Pitt’s defense that I saw was the uncontested layups when a guy was too eager to double team late in a shot clock.
  • I’m sure this is the type of game that non-Big East fans tuned out.  That’s fine.  This was a game where you had to appreciate the defense: the screens, the switching, the help side, etc.  Most people don’t have the patience for that.  Their loss.

So that’s pretty much it until selection Sunday.  I think the consensus for Pitt is a 3 or 4 seed.  We’ll have to see.  If they could ever play consistently, they’d be Final Four material.  I’m not holding out hope for that, though.  Which is why as a Pitt fan I’ll take that 3/4 seed and say ‘Thank You’.

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Massive Catch Up

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So I once again apologize for the complete lack of posts lately.  I’ve had a number of things on the ‘ole plate lately.  I’m just going to go through a massive recap with some random thoughts that have been swirling around in my head about Pitt, the Pens and whatever else creeps in.

  • So since we last left them, Pitt dropped a game in South Bend (which they’ll get a rematch of tomorrow), then finished off the year with a pair of wins against Providence and Rutgers.  Not very unexpected if you ask me (excluding some big shot by Ashton Gibbs I’ve heard a lot about).  Definitely a result I can live with.
  • Luke Harangody was back in today’s Irish win over Seton Hall.  He looked really good.  Especially in the first half.  I’m not going to lie: I’m a bit nervous about how Pitt will handle him.  Not necessarily the points he may put up.  It’s more the rebounding and the passing out of the post that he’s really good at that scare me.
  • Pitt’s really good when they get a lot of bench points.  It just doesn’t happen consistently.  This has been brought up before about Gil Brown (which is true), but it’s also true to a lesser extent with Travon Woodall and Dante Taylor.  When they can chip in a few points and add a few quality minutes, it makes a world of difference.
  • The Pens have been really en fuego (that’s spanish for ‘on fire’ for the monolingual people out there) since the Olympic break.  Anyone still think the Olympics were too much of a distraction?  They’ve got a long road trip coming up that will decide a lot about the playoff seeding.  But I like the team right about now.
  • Both Ponikarovsky (2 points in 2 games) and Leopold (some solid puck possession on defense) are making solid contributions so far.  It’s nice to have a GM that you can just trust to make the right moves unconditionally.  Life is so much easier that way.
  • Matt Cooke wasn’t suspended at all for his blow to the head on Marc Savard.  It’s completely obvious that he was skating directly in front of Savard for the sole reason of knocking him while his head was down.  It was a cheap shot.  If you don’t believe me, watch the tape: There’s no place for that in hockey.  It makes me sick to watch.  It makes me sicker to think I’m supporting the team he plays for.  I guess there’s a compromise here.  I’m going to continue to root for him to score goals and play well, but he’s definitely not a guy I’d buy a jersey of.
  • NCAA tournament starts next week.  This is seriously my favorite week of the year.  Just as a treat, here’s my list of dangerous mid-major teams who could steal a game in the first round (not including the teams like New Mexico and Butler that are already ranked): Old Dominion (good defense and one of the best rebounding margins in the country are a good way to build a team.  Just ask Jamie Dixon), Oakland (Keith Benson and an experienced cast of characters play a really solid game), Murray State (they can run the floor with anyone) and Woffard (another solid team that plays defense and rebounds).
  • I’m seeing a lot of upsets in the tournament this year.
  • I’m already looking forward to the World Cup.  I’m not a huge soccer fan, but the passion of some of these fan bases and the heart and soul that goes into these games draws me in.
  • The Olympics came and went.  The countries that invest money in their Olympic programs won a bunch of medals.  The ones that didn’t sent athletes that gave efforts you have to admire.  The coverage was put together by a 4th grader with no attention span, and included way way way way way too many fluffy stories about the personal lives of the athletes.  I love the Olympics (both summer and winter) because the athletes train their entire lives for this one moment and they all care a whole lot.  I’ll watch pretty much any event where the participants are really giving it their all.  But I have to admit I’m getting a little disenfranchised with the presentation of the Olympics.
  • The Pirates started spring training and I’d have to think for a while to remember half their lineup.  That makes me better than most of the city, I’m afraid.  I’d love to tell you how they’re doing, but I just don’t care.  That’s sad.  I’m also beginning to lose interest in baseball in general.  That’s worse.  I’ve found that I really need to be keeping a scorecard just to pay attention to a full game anymore.  And I mostly go to PNC Park to spend a nice few hours outside on a beautiful day with a good view and lots of people to peoplewatch.  I keep a scorecard and follow the strategies as best I can to stay awake, but I’m barely rooting for anything.  I suspect I’m not alone in that thought.

That’s pretty much all I have for now.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up from now on.

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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)

image from postgazette.com

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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