Tag Archives: Louisville

Big Ten Expansion?

image from sportsflagsandpennants.com

First and foremost, I apologize for the long absence of posts.  My computer once again went on the fritz.  Unlike last time, I’ve missed way too much, and I’m just going to move forward without a recap.  Sorry if you’re disappointed.

But there was something that was interesting that I wanted to touch on.  If you haven’t heard, the Big Ten issued a statement today saying they may be interested in a 12th team.  Here’s the story. First of all, I’ll believe Big Ten expansion when I see it.  They have a lot to gain, but they’re a tradition filled group, and I’m not sure there are any immediately available teams that fit the bill.  But, for the sake of a story, and because it’s a neat debate, I thought it would be interesting to examine what team they would select if they were to expand.  The obvious first choice would be Notre Dame.  Everybody knows that.  If expansion were to happen in the near future, I’d imagine the first call the Big Ten would make would be to ND, and I’d imaging the conversation would go something like this:

Big Ten: “Hey Notre Dame.  We’re really serious about expansion this time.  This is your last chance to get on board with the conference.  After this, the door’s closed.”

Notre Dame: “I see.  Well, I just built a vault with a diving board to house all of the money from our NBC contract.  You know, the money we don’t have to split with anyone?  It’s sweet.  Now we can go swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.  So, I guess, in short, we’re good.  Thanks, though.”

And that would be the end of that.  So, assuming Notre Dame turns them down, who would they take?  Well, there are a bunch of school names and rumors floating around.  Here are my thoughts on each.

Missouri

Pros: They’re rumored to be angry with the Big XII because they feel like an outcast in the North Division.  Do they have the guts to put their money where their mouth is and leave?  They’d be a perfect fit.  They’re a large, midwestern land grant school.  They’ve got a huge following and they’re an established BCS conference team.

Cons: I can’t see them leaving the Big XII.  The Big Ten is a good conference, but switching leagues is always a risk, and is the Big Ten that much of an upgrade?  They’re not in a bad situation right now.  Why would they throw that away?  I’d say they’re the obvious second choice, but from here on out I’m assuming they’re not a viable option.  That is until I hear something that says they’re officially interested.

Rutgers

Pros: New York market.  That’s the reason they’re here.  The Big Ten can expand into the largest market in the US.  Simple as that.  Plus, they add another state to put their cable channel in.  Rutgers is also a good academic fit (see the bottom of the post), and they’ve got a decent fan base.  All pluses.

Cons: Geography.  They don’t really fit.  That’s a hike to bring the Iowa field hockey team all the way to New Jersey every year.

Pitt

Pros: They fit in with the Big Ten well.  They’re in the geography, they fit academically, and they’ve got a big football tradition (they’re not at their best right now, but the folks in Ann Arbor would understand that, right?).

Cons: The fan base is tiny.  They’re not a big land grant school like the Big Ten teams.  They don’t have an entire state rooting for them.  Also, they’ve got a fairly undersized athletics department.  They only have 17 teams.  If they go to the Big Ten, they might have to re-invest some of the increased budget into fielding some more sports (the good news is that they’ve got decent facilities for the non-revenues once the new baseball/soccer fields are complete).  But the huge hurdle for them is fans.

Syracuse

Pros: Just like Rutgers, Syracuse would be added to try to grab the New York market.  Just like Rutgers they’d fit well academically.  They also have a good football tradition that would play well in the Big Ten.

Cons: They have a decent fan base, but I’m not sure it’s as big as Rutgers’ is.  The way I see it, if the Big Ten wants to go after New York, Rutgers has the fans and Syracuse has the tradition.  The fans (and $) win.

Cincinnati

Pros: My, my.  I’m not sure this name would have popped up about 2 years ago or so.  They’re definitely an up and coming program.  They also fit very nicely geographically (if that’s what the Big Ten is going for).

Cons: Lots of them.  First of all, they have no consistency in the athletics program.  They’re good now, but are they going to be good for the long haul (especially with the coach leaving)?  Second of all, they’ve got another small athletics department (14 sports).  But most damaging is their facilities.  Nippert Stadium is one of the oldest college football stadiums in the country and only seats 35,000.  That would be the smallest in the Big Ten by over 10,000 seats.

Louisville

Pros: They’re similar to Cincy.  They fit the geography of the Big Ten.  They’ve got an up and coming program in the past few years, they’re building a fan base.  Unlike Cincy, they’ve got a very strong athletics department on the whole with some very nice facilities.

Cons: They don’t have the tradition (read: name recognition) that a lot of the other schools have.  They don’t really fit academically.

WVU

Pros: Besides Mizzou, they’ve got the biggest fan base of any of the Big East schools under consideration.  They’ve got a big stadium that they fill up consistently.  Their football program’s in the best shape.

Cons: If the Big Ten wants to expand its boundaries, I’m not sure West Virginia is the state it’s got its eye on.  Also, the big killer is going to be academics (see below).  I have a feeling that academics won’t be the deciding factor by any stretch, but it will be a preliminary screen.

So, overall, I think the obvious first and second choices are Notre Dame and Missouri respectively.  But in the extremely likely case that both of those schools turn them down, I see this as a two pony race: Pitt and Rutgers.  Both schools fit the academic criteria.  Both have facilities that would measure up.  They would both do as a 12th team (neither is a perfect fit, but a perfect fit isn’t going to happen).  It all comes down to what the Big Ten wants from the 12th team.  Pitt would expand the Big Ten brand of midwest schools with solid academics and a deep football tradition.  Rutgers would expand the Big Ten footprint to include New York.  In other words, Rutgers diminishes the Midwest image that the Big Ten’s getting, but they bring a higher financial return.  Pitt would be a solid placeholder that gets them to 12 teams and a championship game.  I think I’m not stretching things too much when I say they’re most likely going to opt for Rutgers and the increased market.  Money talks, after all.  But, as a Pitt fan who would not want to be left behind in a Big East jilted again, I offer this caution to the Big Ten.  Remember the ACC.  They really wanted the New England market, so they took BC.  They wanted to go from a southeastern conference to an east coast conference.  Well, Boston didn’t care about BC before, and they don’t care about them now.  Think a lot of schools wouldn’t trade that extra “exposure” so that they don’t have to fly the mens cross country team from Atlanta to Boston every year?  I’m just saying…..

Appendix

Knowing that academics is probably going to be a weed out, I did some research.  Here are the academic rankings of the current Big Ten members, and the prospective teams.  The ARWU is the Academic Ranking of World Universities: a 100 university list of schools from around the globe produced yearly by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  You can read about it here.  USNWR is the US News and World Reports yearly ranking of US universities.  133 were ranked in 2009, with the rest being grouped into ‘Tier 3’ and ‘Tier 4’.  Those are the two most widely cited rankings I could find.  Public Ivy is a list comprised by Richard Moll of Yale University and has been widely used since.  The original list had 8 schools and 9 runners-up.  The list was expanded to 30 schools in 2001.  You can read about it here. Since the Big Ten is mostly public universities that pride themselves on being on this list, I thought it was relevant.

School 2009 USNWR Rank 2009 ARWU Rank Public Ivy Class

Michigan                               27                                                          22                                          Original 8

Michigan State                   71 (tie)                                                 86                                            2001 List

Iowa                                       71 (tie)                        NR (last ranked #97 in 2007)              2001 List

Minnesota                            61 (tie)                                                 28                                             2001 List

Wisconsin                             39 (tie)                                                 17                                   Original Runner-Up

Illinois                                   39 (tie)                                                 25                                   Original Runner-Up

Northwestern                     12                                                           30                                               (Private)

Indiana                                  71 (tie)                                                 93                                             2001 List

Purdue                                   61 (tie)                                                  65                                                  N/A

Ohio State                             53 (tie)                                                  62                                             2001 List

Penn State                            47 (tie)                                                  45                                   Original Runner-Up

Missouri                                102 (tie)                                                NR                                               N/A

Rutgers                                   66 (tie)                                                 55                                            2001 List

Syracuse                                 58 (tie)                                                NR                                           (Private)

Pitt                                            56 (tie)                                                50                                     Original Runner-Up

Cincinnati                              Tier 3                                                   NR                                                N/A

Louisville                               Tier 3                                                  NR                                                 N/A

WVU                                         Tier 3                                                  NR                                                 N/A

And just so I don’t get accused of putting up numbers that only make Pitt look like the obvious choice, here are the football stadium capacities, football average attendance and number of varsity sports for each team:

School Stadium Capacity 2008 Attendance # Varsity Sports

Michigan                                       106,201                                                   108,571                                                25

Michigan State                              75,005                                                     74,858                                                20

Iowa                                                   70,585                                                    70,169                                                 20

Minnesota                                        50,000                                                    48,958                                                23

Wisconsin                                         80,321                                                     81,088                                                23

Illinois                                               62,870                                                     61,707                                               19

Northwestern                                 47,130                                                      28,590                                               19

Indiana                                              49,225                                                      31,782                                               22

Purdue                                               62,500                                                     56,702                                               18

Ohio State                                       102,329                                                   104,976                                              36

Penn State                                      107,282                                                   108,254                                              27

Missouri                                           68,349                                                       64,520                                              18

Rutgers                                             54,000                                                      42,378                                              22

Syracuse                                          49,262                                                       33,474                                              20

Pitt                                                     65,050                                                       49,352                                              17

Cincinnati                                       35,000                                                       31,965                                              14

Louisville                                        42,000                                                       39,680                                             21

WVU                                                  60,000                                                      58,085                                             16

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Pitt 34 Louisville 10

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Well, we tackled and we won.  Simple as that.  And it lead to a win that exercised a lot of demons.  That was the only Big East field that Pitt has never won on in a Big East contest.  So you have to be thrilled.  You also have to feel bad for the Louisville fans.  They’re going through a pretty rough stretch.  They get a magic coach who can do no wrong and gets them to the Big East championship and a BCS bowl game, then he leaves and they crash faster than a 4-year old on pixie sticks.   You could see the long faces in the crowd.  It was pretty depressing.  But, hey, Pitt can relate.  We’ve had our own experiences with  crashing after a program high water mark.  I think it was called the 90’s.  But, fear not Cardinal fans.  This will only cleanse your fan base of those fair weather guys, and you’ll be left with a knowledgable (if not pessimistic) fan base.

So, anyway, on to the actual stuff on the field.  The offense had just about as good of a performance as they did at NC State.  They put up almost the same amount of points, and did it in almost the same fashion.  We came out running and had success (I’m not sure why teams don’t come out stacking the line.  I can’t remember the last game we led off with a bunch of pass plays).  The other team started putting 8 men in the box.  We stalled for a bit trying to run through said defense.  We finally figure it out and try to throw over them with some success.  When we have a sufficient lead, we go back to running (success or failure depending on the defenses motivation at the time).  The difference was that this time we started running with a sufficient lead instead of just a good lead.

Dion Lewis sometimes looks like a pinball bouncing and spinning through the defense.  It always scares me that he’ll lose control of the football, but hey, no harm no foul…..so far.  Ray Graham had his first fumble, and I think Wanny handled it beautifully.  He told him he’d get the ball back, and kept his promise that same game.  Graham responded.  You have to love that.  Bill Stull had some success passing.  I still think he’s a decision maker with no arm.  He throws all around the receivers without hitting them in the numbers.  Sometimes its leading them, sometimes it’s throwing behind them.  They’re catchable balls, but he certainly doesn’t make life easy for his teammates.  The two long bombs were good for his confidence.  The first one was a little long, and Dickerson barely got to it.  He didn’t have a defender within 10 yards of him.  If we don’t complete that because of a bad throw (not under pressure), there would be hell to pay.  The second bomb to Baldwin was the best throw Stull has had at Pitt.  No question.  It was right on the money.  I have to hand it to him.  Now, I’m going to assume that it was luck until he proves me wrong.

The defense came out and responded after the NC State debacle.  We tackled MUCH better.  That’s the improvement that won us the game.  I think a lot of the success of the defense can also be attributed to the pressure we put on the quarterback every play.  That really helped out the secondary, it wasted a lot of downs, and it put us in a position to succeed.  Now, that was against a pretty poor O-line.  Just like Stull’s pass to Baldwin, I want to see it again.  Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  But for now, I’m very pleased.  Penalties were a problem for the defense again.  This time, however, they were a problem for both teams.  I’m clueless as to why we’re getting so many flags this year.  The only explanation I may have is that I’ve been seeing a lot more flags than I ever remember before and not just in Pitt games.  Against everyone.  Maybe I’ll look at the numbers and do a post later.  But at least the stupid stuff like Adam Gunn’s late hit slash helmet to helmet penalty have to stop.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for this one.  I’m looking forward to the UConn game next week just because I don’t really have a feel for them quite yet.  They have a decent win at Baylor, a close loss to UNC, and a couple of patsy wins.  They’re usually a good matchup because they run a lot, but they’ve had some mobile quarterbacks that have hurt us in the past.  This year they’ve got Zach Frazer under center who threw 4 picks to us last year, and they’ve got a young guy named Jordan Todman in the backfield trying to replace Donald Brown.  I like our chances, but UConn always seems to be an adventure for us.

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State of the Team: Pitt Basketball 1/21/09

I’m still confident.  Pitt is all about a system.  They make their living slowing the tempo way down, and then being very efficient on offense (don’t believe me?  Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings have Pitt as the most efficient offense in college basketball right now) and playing great defense.  It’s a good plan because it gives you a chance against any type of opponent.  The only stumbling block is when a team can stand in our way of being efficient on offense.  This can be done one of two ways: 1) rebounding extremely well (easier said than done against our frontcourt.  I like our chances against anyone if we stay out of foul trouble) or 2) force us into turnovers (see: Louisville).  I think we handled Louisville’s press extremely well at times, and other times we let them force us into stupid mistakes.  I think Levance was the usual solid ball-handling self but, more often than not, the Cards forced Jermaine Dixon to take the ball up the floor and he made some mental mistakes.  Either Jermaine’s gatta get better and handling the press (I know this is his first season of D1 ball, so I’ll give him a break), or we have to find an alternative (Ashton Gibbs?).  If not, any team with a good press will just deny Fields the ball and force Jermaine into mistakes.  It’s not like that was the only killer, though.  Louisville also out-rebounded us by getting our bigs in foul trouble, and they caught us on a poor shooting night.  Taking all that into account, I think only losing by 6 is a good sign in retrospect.

I’m not surprised at the Syracuse game at all.  Syracuse came out for the majority of the game with Jim Boehiem’s trusty 2-3 zone.  That opens up the floor for offensive rebounds (not smart against a great rebounding team like Pitt), and we crushed them on the boards and ran away with it.  Syracuse was only going to do as well as it’s 3-point shooters would take them.  They might get some circus shots from Flynn driving the lane and they might get an open look for Onuaku once every few minutes, but they would never score consistently enough to beat Pitt.  I’m sure Syracuse has a gripe with the officiating, and they have a point.  The refs called a game tailor made for Pitt’s style.  They called nothing inside.  They kept their eye on procedure fouls (traveling, carry, etc) and rewarded physical play.  If the two teams ever play again, I’m sure the score would be closer.  But I still think Syracuse is a great matchup for Pitt and will be as long as the two coaches keep their philosophies.

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Weekend Games to Watch 1/16/09

Pitt @ Louisville (6pm Saturday-ESPN)

Pitt’s second big test of the season comes against a very different style of play.  Louisville loves to put pressure on you defensively.  They’ll put on a full court press and really pressure you in the half-court to try to generate a lot of turnovers.  The heat will really be on the guards to make quick decisions and handle the ball well.  The Cardinals do a really good job at denying the post, so every time Blair or Biggs can get a touch down low, it’s a win.  On the other end of the court, Louisville’s offense relies heavily on the transition game.  They’re a very athletic team like South Florida where most of the guys on the court won’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor and take you to the tin.  That could spell trouble for Pitt if they haven’t figured some things out.  I think a big bright spot for Pitt, though, is that Louisville is not really the most physical team in the conference.  I think Pitt can rack up a huge advantage on the glass if they want to.  Overall, keep an eye on turnovers and rebounds.  That will tell you how the game is going.

Player to watch: Levance Fields-Pitt

Teams like this are why Levance isn’t paying for college.  He’s not the most athletic guy on the floor, but no one has a better handle and no one makes better decisions with the ball than Levance.  I think if he does a good job breaking the Cardinal press (and there’s no reason to believe he can’t), Pitt will be in a very good position to win.

Prediction: I’m going with the Panthers but I’m not going to make a score projection because that depends on how many turnovers Louisville can create.  Fields can handle the press.  Can Wannamaker?

Eagles @ Cardinals (3pm Sunday-Fox)

I think the best matchup of the weekend is the Arizona offense vs. the Philly defense.  The Cardinals love to throw the ball around the field, and the Eagles defense loves to blitz.  So it’s going to be on Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offensive line to get time and get the ball out as soon as possible.  I think the Eagles secondary is vulnerable, so if Arizona starts getting off some passes, it could be a long day for the Eagles.  On the other side of the ball, I think the Cardinals defense has been much improved towards the tail end of the season.  However, I think they may be a bit slow to the outsides, which plays right into the hands of a versatile back like Brian Westbrook.

Player to watch: Kurt Warner-Arizona

As I said, he needs to deal well with the pressure that’s going to come, and get the balls out quickly.  If he can get the Eagles to respect the pass, it sets up to be a good game for Arizona.

Prediction: I think this will be the antithesis to the AFC Championship, and filled with scoring.  I’d say both teams in the high 20’s at least.  Probably 30’s.  I think it’s a game of stops, and the Eagles get one or two more.

Ravens @ Steelers (6:30pm Sunday-CBS)

I’ve already covered this extensively in previous posts, but to reiterate: I think it’s a low scoring affair.  That means it’s anyone’s game.  This comes down to one key play or two that could go to anyone.  I think turnovers will have a huge impact on the game.  There’s a lot of talk about Raven injuries, but I think most of them will gut it out, and it won’t have a huge impact on the game.

Player to watch: Willie Parker-Pittsburgh

I think the Steelers need to keep it on the ground, because throwing against this Ravens secondary is dangerous.  Really, it’s on the offensive line, but since I can only pick one player I’ll put it on Parker to need a big game.

Prediction: Way to close to call.  Neither team gets to 20 points.  I think Pittsburgh puts themselves in a bit better situations to get a big play.  Baltimore’s been relying on some big passing plays that may not be there on Sunday.

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