Catch-Up

image from bensbreakfastblog.wordpress.com

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Pens Sweep Back To Back

image from espn.com

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pitt 61 USF 70

image from postgazette.com

Game Recap

Well, the less than stellar performances just keep on coming.  It’s very easy to diagnose what went wrong in this one.  The defense had too many miscues.  The offense was struggling to hit jump shots.  Then to top it off, when the game was on the line, Pitt couldn’t hit a free throw to save their lives.  That was the most frustrating part after we had improved so much in that area this year.  Just an awful game all around that I’d like to forget as soon as possible.  Here are some other random thoughts:

  • Pitt out-rebounded the Bulls, but the Panthers are still allowing way too many offensive boards.  USF had 12 in this game.  It’s becoming a bit of a pattern that I mentioned in previous posts.  The problem as I see it is that we’re gambling for blocks too much instead of going for rebounds.  You have to make the shot tough for the shooter and then immediately box him out.  This HAS to improve.
  • On offense, Pitt is getting the most production when it is getting assists for their baskets.  Over the course of the season, Pitt has had 328 assists on 489 baskets.  That’s an assist for every 1.49 baskets.  The Panthers had 8 assists on 23 baskets in Tampa.  Assists mean that you’re taking a good shot.  That a teammate found you in a good position and you hit the shot.  Low assist to basket ratios mean selfish play that always leads to offensive struggles.
  • Remember when DeJuan Blair used to lower his shoulder to clear room for a shot, and all the other teams would yell for fouls and not get them?  I saw the other side of the equation in this game, and it sucked.
  • Dominique Jones scored 37 of South Florida’s 70 points.  There are a zillion defenses to stop one guy.  I’m shocked at that total.  But I’ll also say that Pitt having it’s best defender on the bench doesn’t help matters.
  • USF shot 13 more foul shots than Pitt.  Even with the total being padded by some intentional fouling at the end, that’s pretty high.  But it’s because South Florida pounded the ball inside.  I miss watching Pitt do that.
  • Coach Dixon got a technical after you can see on the replay that he yelled “that’s not right” after a bump at the top of the key (he claims to have said “Call that”.  I think both are pretty much the same thing).  Now, the T was given by Ray Perone who I don’t know too well because he rarely does Big East games, so I did some research.  He’s mostly an Atlantic 10 and Northeast conference ref.  And he’s very very quick with the technicals.  Let’s compare him to Tim Higgins (who was also reffing the game), Ed Hightower and Jim Burr: three guys who have been doing tons of Big East games for years and really know all of the coaches and their styles.  So far this year, Perone has 15 technical calls.  Tim has 6, Jim has 4 and Ed has 2.  That’s a pretty big gap (oh, and to be fair, Ray has 49 games this year compared to 41, 46 and 47 respectively).  Last year Ray had 30 T’s compared to 16, 19 and 25 from the three other guys.  So, he’s got a track record of not taking any crap whatsoever.  Now, I’m pretty sure that both “Call That!” and “That’s Not Right!” would be acceptable in just about any game I’ve been close enough to hear coaches yell.  But this was not a Big East ref who knew Jamie.  It took me all of 5 minutes to get his background.  I know reffing crews aren’t announced until the day of the game, but one guy with a laptop can do some reconnaissance for you.  I call that mistake a lack of scouting.
  • Lots of miscommunication between the Pitt players on defense.  There were many instances where a guy got caught up deciding whether to help or not, and ended up leaving his man open without affecting the ball carrier at all.  I’ll chalk that up to a young team, but that’s another area that needs to improve.

All in all, a lot of things to work on.  But such is life with a young team.  We get a chance for redemption on Wednesday in Morgantown.  An unlikely win makes everyone forget the Bulls.  A loss puts us in a bit of a hole.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pens Catch-Up

image from espn.com

Pens 2 Flyers 1

Pens 4 Rangers 2

Pens 1 Senators 4

Big set of games here for the Pens with respect to their playoff position, and they get 4 out of a possible 6 points.  Not in the prettiest fashion ever, but it works.  Wins against Philly and the Rangers are great because they’re in the division.  A loss against Ottawa is excusable because they’re a buzz saw right now.  So, this is about as good as you could hope for.  With the Olympics right around the corner, the Pens are still in a really nice position.

Sunday was the first game against the Flyers, and it was a typical Flyers/Penguins game: 52 total penalty minutes and 3 goals.  In a game that relies on the special teams, Pens fans would be understandably nervous.  After all, our power play isn’t the best to ever roam the ice.  But, alas, the Pens scored 2 goals on 6 chances, and that proved to be the difference maker.  Philadelphia converted on 1 of 9 power plays.  The Pens have a very good penalty kill unit (one that doesn’t receive nearly the credit it deserves), but I think that has more to do with the Flyers awful power play than the Pens great penalty kill.  That was pretty much the game.  It was a constant stream of penalties, with every goal scored on the power play.  I have no idea how Philly fans watch that garbage every game.

The second game was a weird one.  The Pens went into Madison Square Garden to face a struggling Rangers team, and played well.  However, they just couldn’t get anything to go their way.  Going into the third period, the stats were equal and the score was tied at 1.  The break finally came for the Rangers when Artem Anisimov shoved a shot at Fleury that somehow squeaked between his skate and the post and rested right on the goal line.  The odds of that happening are slim, and the odds of the referee seeing it instead of losing sight and blowing the whistle are even greater, but that’s what happened.  The ref saw the whole thing, waited for Fleury to move which kicked the puck over the line, and called the goal.  It figured that when the refs finally got a call right, it would screw us.  Grrrrrr…  But, hey, that’s hockey.  I was about ready to say that luck was just on the Rangers side and it wasn’t our day when the Pens took luck into their own hands.  Malkin scored on a power play 30 seconds later, followed by Baby Pens call up Chris Conner putting his second goal of the game in a minute after that.  It was incredible.  Both were just quick sniper goals that showed just how much offensive power this team has when they’re on.  An empty netter later, and the Pens pulled 2 points out of an embarrassing loss.

The game on Thursday was to be expected.  Ottawa is red hot right now, and charging up the playoff seeding after a slow start.  The ice was kind of slanted when you watched the game, but the stat sheet was very even overall.  There were some stupid turnovers by the Penguins, but nothing too serious.  Malkin continued his resurgence with another goal, which was nice to see.  It was just a very well played hockey game overall, and the Sens just got lucky a couple of more times than the Pens.  It happens.  We’ve already being them earlier in the year, so it’s not a huge loss.  I didn’t really see anything to be overly concerned with here.  Just a bad day at the office.  We weren’t skating real well, and the Sens goalie, Brian Elliott, didn’t allow many rebounds at all.  He’s playing fantastic right now.  A chance for redemption is on Sunday against…..wait for it…..Detroit.  Mmmmmm…..I can’t wait.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Pitt 63 St. John’s 53

image from cbssports.com

Game Recap

This was absolutely the tale of two halves.  In the first half, Pitt was resorting back to its bad habits of the Seton Hall game.  They were turning the ball over way too much, they were ice cold shooting, and they were being out-rebounded.  In the second half, the shots started to fall and the turnovers dried up, but the rebounding differential continued to grow.  I’m a little concerned about that, but I’ll take the win for now.

Pitt finished the first half 8 for 27 from the field.  The main thing keeping them in the game was the fact that St. John’s wasn’t doing much better (they were 11 for 28 in the first half).  The other thing keeping Pitt in the game was the fouls.  St. John’s was extremely aggressive defensively, and the referees were never afraid to use the whistles.  As a result, Pitt shot 24 free throws in the game and were able to make 21 of them.  I think a lot of the struggles from the field was because Pitt was forcing some shots.  Pitt had 5 assists on the 8 baskets in the first half.  They had 11 assists on 12 baskets in the second half when they heated up.  I think that stat is a great indicator of what happened.  In the first half, a lot of guys were shooting in a narrow window (as a defender was closing in on them).  It was just enough to throw off some shots by a bit.  When you get an assist, you generally have much more space in which to shoot.  It works.

Another thing that changed the luck of the Panthers was Ashton Gibbs warming up.  He was 2 for 7 in the first half.  That turned to 3 for 6 in the second, with most of the misses coming at the beginning of the period.  The difference was that he attempted 3 3-pointers in the first half, and only 1 in the second (at the beginning of the half).  He wasn’t feeling it from outside, so he started taking some 15 footers to get back in the groove.  I like that.  It’s smart.  He didn’t test out the outside shot again, but hopefully it will start to reappear again down in Tampa.

As I said before, the rebounding was a major concern for me in this game.  Pitt was out-rebounded 41-31 in this game.  It’s also the one thing that didn’t improve in the second half.  It grew from a 4 rebound Red Storm advantage at halftime to the eventual 10 rebound edge at the end.  It’s not hard to see where the problem was, either.  St. John’s was out-rebounding the Panthers 22-8 when Pitt was on offense.  That’s about average.  I’ll take that.  But when St. John’s was on offense, Pitt only out-rebounded them 23-19 and it was just about even all game.  You can’t be at a 50/50 split with rebounds when you’re on defense.  That’s way too many second chance opportunities and extra possessions.  And St. John’s made the Panthers pay with 17 second chance points (and it could have been much worse).  So what was the problem?  Well, it was two fold.  First of all, St. John’s was terrible at making bunny lay-ups all game.  They would make a great move to get to the basket, and then throw the ball off the glass to the other side of the court.  It wasn’t even close most of the time.  Pitt, consequently after going for the block instead of the rebound, was not in position for the board.  When you go for a block, it’s very difficult to get a rebound.  When 3 guys go for a block, you almost concede an offensive board.  There has to be some guys that just put a hand in the face and then turn around and box the guy out.  The second thing that hurt Pitt was St. John’s length.  They got a hand in on a lot of rebounds and just poked it loose until they could come up with it.  The solution is easy: grab rebounds with 2 hands and the other guy can’t poke it away.  We were going for way too many one handed rebounds in the first half, but towards the end of the game I saw a lot of strong rebounds.  I think Jamie mentioned that one during the game.  The rebounding problem should be an easy fix, but judging by the fact that its been going on for a while, it may take a while for the instruction of the coaching staff to click.

Overall, it wasn’t Pitt’s best game ever by a long shot.  But a win is a win.  Especially in this conference.  I saw a lot of improvements in the second half, and I hope they continue on through the next couple of games.  South Florida is up next on Sunday.  This is one where you have to take care of business.  Easier said then done, however, as you just saw tonight (Seton Hall just went down in the Sun Dome).  I’ll be anxious to see how the guys do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pitt 61 Seton Hall 64

image from postgazette.com

Game Recap

Ouch.  This one stung.  This was the first game of the year that we lost where it was widely expected that we’d win.  I mean Indiana wasn’t a good team, but we were still in our young, inexperienced, two great players not playing stage.  And everyone realizes that Georgetown and Texas are great teams.  But I think it was universally expected that Pitt would beat Seton Hall.  I think some people who knew what they were doing were saying that this could be a trap game.  The Pirates have one of the best offenses in the conference.  But they also have one of the worst defenses.  I’ll admit I expected us to score in the 70’s and win.  So what happened?

Well, lets examine Pitt’s defense vs. Seton Hall’s offense first.  As I mentioned, the Pirates have a fantastic offense.  They’ve got a ton of guys who can shoot, they’re very very athletic, they’re deceptively experienced (most of the team are transfers), and they were hot coming off a defeat of Louisville.  Things were going our way out of the gate with Seton Hall’s best offensive threat, Jeremy Hazell, in almost immediate foul trouble.  He ended up with 9 points.  So he wasn’t it.  When you really look at the score sheet, one thing pops out at you: Seton Hall’s frontcourt scoring.  The guards combined for 27 points.  The forwards had 37 (with one less player contributing).  Worse yet, the starting forward combo of Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson had 34 of those 37 points.  So it seems like we identified the problem.  The troubling thing is that most of those were fairly easy buckets.  The frontcourt of Seton Hall was much faster/quicker/more athletic than Dante Taylor and Gary McGhee.  They used it to their advantage beautifully.  The really annoying thing was that we weren’t leveraging the size advantage we had in response.  Gary and Dante combined for 5 rebounds.  For one of them that’s bad.  For both of them, that’s inexcusable.  Especially against a team that’s not too great on the boards.  They also combined for just 6 points (all of them Gary’s).  If you’re so much bigger and stronger than the opponent, you have to post them up and rebound over them.  We got neither from our frontcourt.  But, still, the Pirates only had 64 points.  That’s not insurmountable by any means.  What happened at the other end?

Well, the lack of frontcourt scoring was a big detriment, but the biggest reason we lost was absolutely the turnover margin.  We ended the game with 20 turnovers (14 in the first half).  And it was very counter to Seton Hall’s season average (they’re only averaging a little over 10 a game).  You’re not going to win many games that way, especially when you only forced 10 at the other end.  Our shooting wasn’t great (35.3%), but it was good enough to win.  Because of the turnovers, we had 5 less shots than Seton Hall.  It was the difference in the game.  The only thing really keeping us in the game was the foul differential.  We shot 9 more free throws than the Pirates thanks to a couple of technical fouls.  We shot very well from the line and took the gifts.  That was one of the few bright spots.  Ashton lead the way with 23 points, but 15 of them came from a perfect day from the charity stripe.  He continues to be icy cold from the field.  I think defenders are clueing into the fact that he’s a good shooter and he’s hearing footsteps.  When he does have a bit of a window to shoot (which is rare), it’s usually very tiny.  Hopefully, this slump of his will get defenders to back off a bit and he can heat back up.

It was just a frustrating day, overall.  We played poorly.  We made a lot of mistakes.  We should have beaten this team.  But that’s the good news.  Seton Hall was not better than us.  There are some matchup problems there, but we killed ourselves more than they killed us.  That’s a positive message moving forward.  It’s also something to keep in mind when they make the return trip in a week and a half.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized