Monday, January 19, 2009

Pitt Rebounds Against Syracuse

The lone blemish on the Pittsburgh sports weekend belonged to the Pitt basketball squad in their Saturday evening loss to Louisville on their home turf. It was a tough loss that was made more difficult by Pitt holding a sizable 10 point lead late in the game and some spotty officiating that drove me to the brink of insanity.

I was more than a little worried about this game tonight, because while Pitt has had a lot of success against the Orange of late, the Cuse are still a very good squad and are one of the few teams that actually have the ability to match up with DeJuan Blair's uhmm... girth... on the inside. And being that the Cuse are at 8, they are obviously a pretty good and pretty frisky squad.

But the Panthers put on an absolute statement game with a 78-60 smackdown of Syracuse. The game was infinitely tighter at the half at 31-28 Pitt, and the Panthers were clanking the free throws early on causing a near-riot in the stands at the Pete. But the second half was a very different story, as Pitt outscored the Orange 47-32 in that stretch and coasted to a big win on the backs of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields.Outside of the Big 3, there wasn't much scoring done by this squad, as those three had a whopping 57 points. The other guys on the roster all filled their roles very well, though, especially in that exciting second half.
-Tyrell Biggs put up an 8 point 5 rebound night and was relentless in his physicality inside against Syracuse. The Orange were really shaken up by how insanely physical the Panthers are. Despite Syracuse having two tanks inside in Jackson and Onuaku, the Orange just seemed very uncomfortable to me.
-Jermaine Dixon didn't have the scoring touch he's had in the past few games, but he had another very nice evening, doing a bit of everything. He's excellent guarding the perimeter, had a stunning block on a Syracuse breakaway, made a few steals happen, and continues to be a pretty effective penetrating guard. I think this kid has a much higher ceiling than I would have expected when I first saw him play.
-Gil Brown's athleticism is a force to be reckoned with at times. He's definitely a little on the wild side and still very raw, but when he matches up with opposing swing men types, they just have a ton of trouble playing him the right way even if he's having an off night on just 1/6 shooting.
-Brad Wanamaker is one of the better reserve guards around. He's frisky defensively and is superb handling the ball. I know he projects to start at the 2 or 3 depending on the situation in the future but, aside from Levance, I think he's the best ball handler on the roster. He's also very smart and makes great passes and plays.
-Ashton Gibbs was his usual serviceable self and is at least giving me some confidence when he comes into the games, as opposed to early in the season when he made me fret every time he brought the ball up. I don't mind seeing him get 7-8 minutes a night to spell Levance.
-I was very impressed by the work of Nasir Robinson, and I think, like I said here a few weeks ago, that he HAS to get more minutes as the season progresses. I originally compared him to Gil Brown, and while the size and athleticism are there, he's already more physical than Gil and plays better inside than him even if he struggles at the perimeter and has questionable ball handling ability. I like the work he gaves us at the 4, and I wouldn't mind taking advantage of that athleticism for 5-10 minutes a game against a slower power forward.

I guarantee that Syracuse fans are going to bitch and moan about the refs in this game. In fact, I already have seen that on the message boards (a given for fans to whine there, but this is more than usual given the weirdness of the game), but the officiating seemed equal to me. Blair was getting basically sucker punched half the time he had the ball inside, and Syracuse was leaping around at their offensive zone going consistently over the back and nothing was being called. Pitt was doing the same, no question about it, but it was equal. The technicals, well, I don't know enough about that because it's hard to tell anything about T's when you're at the game, like I was. It's all about context, and while Harris' I have no idea about, Jackson's was a no question about it T. He gave Blair an arms-extended shove after a basket, and Blair fell backwards. You HAVE to call a T there, it was blatant and the refs made it plainly obvious they weren't going to stand for that kind of play.

But maybe all these complaints lead to a larger issue here. Is the Big East becoming too physical? I personally don't think so, but it is becoming clear that the refs are having a very difficult time officiating a lot of these games because you could call a foul every single time down the court on somebody. Hell you could probably call a flagrant just about every other time down the court. I don't really mind the style of play so long as the refs call it the same way all game long, and that was my big complaint about the Louisville game. The refs were blowing their whistles like crazy early in that one, and then as the game wore on, they realized they were on pace to call about 200 fouls and ended up swallowing the whistles when they probably should have been calling at least some fouls.

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