Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Will The 09/10 Panthers Look Like?

I'm definitely still too depressed to write about this year's current version of the Pitt Hoops team. I just tried to, and while I made it further than my last attempt, it was still nowhere near ready to be posted. I promise, some time in the next couple days I'll finally get to it.

Instead, I thought I'd try a little self-therapy by looking at just how next fall's Pitt Panther lineup will look. I must say, it helped a little bit to think about next year and how unique of a year it could be.

Also, I examined next season's roster under two different scenarios: With DeJuan Blair in the middle and without him. I have a feeling that the latter is the more likely scenario, personally.

2009/10 Panthers With DeJuan Blair
1 Ashton Gibbs
2 Jermaine Dixon
3 Gilbert Brown
4 Dante Taylor
5 DeJuan Blair
6 Brad Wanamaker
7 Travon Woodall
8 Gary McGhee
9 Nasir Robinson
10 J.J. Richardson
11 Lamar Patterson
12 Talib Zanna

Random Thoughts:
-There will be no true point guard on this team. Gibbs can be a serviceable point guard, but Tra Woodall is hyped up to be a good ball handler and figures to see some minutes at the point with Gibbs sometimes shifting to the 2. I'd liken Gibbs' role next year to what Ronald Ramon once did. Right now he is a 1.5 guard, serviceable at both but not yet superb at either. Still, I think he is definitely the best option at the point unless Woodall really breaks out next season.

-Even if Blair returns, as he does in this scenario, we are going to need some big-time scoring increases from other holdovers. My best bets are Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. If either isn't up to the task, I think they'll start losing time to the likes of Wanamaker, Gibbs or Nas Robinson as the year goes along. There is too much talent among all these guys not to have at least one turn in a breakout season with more minutes. Dixon especially will be interesting to watch in my mind. The guy is a good defender, but he's not so good that you can allow him to be a no-show on offense as he was at the end of the season when his confidence in his shot appeared to be less than zero.

-My pick for a breakout player on this team is Gil Brown. I think he could make The Leap like Sam I Am did a year ago. I'm not saying he'll jump to Sam's level and be at 18 points per game, but I could definitely see a 14-6 line. His athleticism is amazing and sorta reminds me of a less physical and imposing version of Young. If he could just find some consistency I think he is a sure thing for a big year.

-It will be an interesting year for Gary McGhee next season. A ton of people have given up on him, and I sort of have too. But it's also worth remembering how shocking Aaron Gray's third season with Jamie Dixon was. I'm not saying Gary is going to evolve into an NBA prospect, or even that he's going to earn starter's minutes. But I could definitely see him turning into a guy who can at least give 15+ quality minutes a night and allow DeJuan Blair to maybe even play some power forward minutes. Now THAT would make Pitt a force to be reckoned with on the interior.

-It will be fascinating to see Dante Taylor next year. A big reason why I'm hoping Blair comes back next season is so that Taylor doesn't have to shoulder that entire load himself. Taylor may be a very highly rated recruit, but not every superstar prospect is created equal, and I think it would be to this kid's benefit to not be the focal point every night. Not saying he won't be able to handle it if it does happen, just that we'd all be better off if he doesn't even have to worry about that.

-The other freshman besides Taylor don't figure to have a huge impact on this roster. Both J.J. Richardson and Talib Zanna are 4/5 players who would be a tad undersized if they do play the 5. However, if McGhee struggles one of the two will get at least some minutes spelling Blair inside. Patterson, meanwhile, sounds a lot like a Nas Robinson or Gil Brown. A reasonably highly-regarded recruit who figures to either take a redshirt or play sparingly in his first year because of the logjam at the 2/3/4 spots in front of him.

Bottom Line: With Blair back, the Panthers would still be a force to be reckoned with in the Big East. If Taylor performs as expected and one of the numerous guys at the 2 or 3 positions step their game up to the level of averaging double-digit points, then this is a squad that absolutely should contend for the Big East title on the broad shoulders of number 45. The big question will be how the Gibbs/Woodall tandem handles the point guard duties. This will still be a deep team with some very good talent and athleticism coming off the bench. All in all, I definitely think this team would be capable of making a deep run in the tournament, and its overall athleticism would match up well with anyone in the country. They may not be as hyped as this year's squad or receive as many regular season accolades, but they could definitely win some games in the tournament and make a run equal to or greater than the run this year's squad did.

2009/10 Without DeJuan Blair
And now onto the more depressing (and realistic) scenario: DeJuan Blair leaving.
1 Ashton Gibbs
2 Jermaine Dixon
3 Gilbert Brown
4 Dante Taylor
5 Gary McGhee
6 Brad Wanamaker
7 J.J. Richardson
8 Travon Woodall
9 Nasir Robinson
10 Lamar Patterson
11 Talib Zanna
Maybe: Kyryl Natyazhko

Random Thoughts:
-This squad obviously will be filled with an awful lot of uncertainties. None would be bigger than at the center position, where I imagine there will be a competition for the starting job. For now I am giving that to the big oaf himself Gary McGhee, but any one of J.J. Richardson, Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor, or the still-uncommitted Kyryl Natyazhko could win it as well. I gave it to McGhee because he knows the system and can at least play defense the way Jamie wants him to. Taylor could be an option if Pitt really wants to play athletic small ball, but I don't like the sound of playing a 6'8 215 pound freshman at center. Sure DeJuan Blair did it as freshman, but by all accounts, and judging by his build, Taylor is not nearly physical enough to play the 5. Hell, he may not be physical enough to play the 4 and his manifest destiny in the NBA is probably as a 3. I can't envision 3-star recruits like Zanna or Richardson getting starters' minutes at center, especially when neither is taller than 6'9 or heavier than 230 pounds. Lastly we have Natyazhko. He is still an uncommitted prospect and is being recruited by other big-time schools like Arizona State, Florida State, Xavier, and Kentucky. He is a 4-star recruit, and if Blair does leave then Jamie will have to put the full-court press on to make sure he lands this kid. If they do nab him he definitely has enough talent to break into the starting lineup and at the very least should earn some serious backup minutes.

-Pitt would almost be a leadpipe lock to adopt a smallish, Villanova-type lineup at least part of the time. This team would have more athleticism than almost anyone else they might face and would need to use that trait to overcome their lack of size and bulk. Rolling out a lineup like the one below would definitely allow the opposition to outmuscle them, but they could overcome it by running with all these athletes.
1 Gibbs/Woodall
2 Dixon/Gibbs
3 Wanamaker/Robinson
4 Brown/Robinson
5 Taylor

-Without Blair, Dante Taylor and his lofty recruit status would likely become one of the alpha dogs on this team. He has the ability to probably average 15 a night right off the bat if given this opportunity, and I imagine the whole offense would funnel through him if he is all he is supposed to be. However, we would need more than just one of the swingmen guys to step up. We'd probably need 2 and maybe even 3 others to turn into reliable scorers. This would no longer be the top heavy offense of the past few seasons where everything centered around 2 or 3 guys. This would have to be a team like the 02/03 Panthers that had 6 guys average between 9.7 and 12.2 points per game. The most likely candidates would be Gil, Gibbs, Dixon and Wanamaker all joining Taylor as double digit scorers with maybe a Gary or a Natyazhko or a Richardson getting enough minutes to come close to that figure.

Bottom Line: This has the look of being the first true rebuilding year since Pitt turned back into a good team. We've said that in years past, but there would never have been as much uncertainty entering a team as with this squad. They have a freaking ton of talent, though, so they'll be fun to watch and they definitely shouldn't be discounted by anybody. However, being so raw makes it unlikely they'll be the serious title contender that this year's team was unless Dante Taylor turns out to be an even bigger stud than scouts think or Gil Brown turns into Sam Young or Ashton Gibbs becomes Brandin Knight with a better shot. Those are lofty goals, though, and for that I see this team as a good but not great Pitt squad that finishes in the upper half of the Big East but not in the top echelon and makes the tournament as a middle seed, somewhere in the 5-8 range. All that talent and athleticism would make them a handful for anybody in the tourney and yet another Sweet 16 appearance wouldn't be a shock to me.

Will Ohman disses the Pirates and other weird happenings in Bradenton

Look, I'm well aware of the many shortcomings of our local baseball club. I know they are on the verge of setting the all-time record for most consecutive losing seasons in major professional sports history. And I know how miserable that culture of losing can be for the players.

But this just seems weird to me. Will Ohman was so against signing with the Pirates he turned down a guaranteed, major-league contract with your hometown Buccos to sign with the LA Dodgers on a minor-league deal that offers him no guarantee of big-league pay or time in the majors. I know Ohman wanted to play on the West Coast, but that is a BIG difference between the two deals. Suffice it to say, I think this might have had a bit to do with the letters stitched across the front of the uniform. If, say, the World Champion Philly Phillies had come calling with the same offer the Pirates extended to Ohman, I imagine the veteran lefty would have jumped at that chance. Not to mention that Ohman left the Pirates major league deal sitting on the table for 9 whole days, despite the fact that he had no other offers whatsoever at the time. If I'm the Pirates' management, I am sooooooooo pissed right now at Ohman and his agent for embarassing them like this. Unfortunately, no embarassment from not being wanted by a below-average lefty reliever can match the embarassment of the worst run in the recorded history of sports.

I'm not sure what exactly is going on down in Bradenton or what is in the water, but there is some other weird stuff happening too, it seems. Let's take a look at some of these weird happenings:

-The Pirates open up against the Cardinals in exactly 7 days, and someone named Virgil Vasquez, who may or may not have pitched in the California Penal League last season, is still in the mix for a rotation spot. I follow the Pirates as closely as almost anyone, and I have no friggin' idea who in the world Virgil Vasquez is. I'm hoping and praying he is being used just to push Jeff Karstens and will be discarded to AAA never to be heard from again just before the season starts. If he comes north as the fifth starter, though, I'm going to have some serious concerns.

-Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson are both making pushes to stay with the Pirates for the foreseeable future. And Jumpin' Jack even approached the Pirates about an extension and it appeared that they are at least willing to listen. Oh, and on a related note, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Look, I have no problem with Jack and Freddy holding the fort down this season. They lock down important positions on the diamond for a team that is in flux. But neither one, not even the former batting champ Sanchez, is a building block for a team that's most realistic timetable to contend is 2011. Both are 31 years old (Freddy is a whopping 8 days older) and would then be 33 before the 2011 season commences. And neither one is exactly aging very well.

Look at the numbers. Jumpin' Jack has had two good seasons in his 8 with the Bucs (04 and an underrated 07), but has never had much consistency at the plate, too often going hot and cold to be seriously relied upon. And you can't possibly tell me you think he isn't about to fall off a cliff offensively. Unless of course you want to argue he already fell off that cliff last season. Then I might listen. He was never exactly Alex Rodriguez to begin with, but I think a .270/.320/.380 is the best we can hope for this year, and that is only going to go downhill from there. Folks, those are dreadful numbers. Just dreadful.

And the exact same things can be said for Freddy Sanchez. Freddy probably can put up better numbers than Jack, but I just don't see him aging well. If he hits .290/.330/.420 that's probably as good as we could hope for. Like I said, I'm fine with that as a placeholder in a rebuilding effort while guys like Shelby Ford develop. But I am not fine when he's batting .270/.300/.380 in 2012 and unable to move to his right.

And I definitely am NOT fine with ignoring proven metrics like OPS and VORP in favor of fan logic like "he won a batting title a few years back" "he's a good guy to have around" "he makes good plays in the field" and "stats don't measure all he contributes." If either one of those guys gets an extension, especially Wilson, I am going to lose a ton of faith in this management team.

-The Jose Tabata story. I'm not even remotely going to blame the kid for what happened there, as I am only a little bit older and have definitely done some dumb stuff in my life, and I have no pressure on me and live in the same city I've spent my whole life in. Quite a bit different from Jose, so I can see where the issues come from. Tabata's life has been chaotic to this point, and I was struck most by his display in the face of the turmoil. Hell, I expected some kind of immaturity from him at some point, but I thought the character he displayed was tremendous in the face of this adversity. Good for you Jose. I hope you turn out to be the tremendous player you are expected to be, for more than just my own selfish reasons now. Anyway, let's hope he learns from this. But whatever your opinion of all this, there's no denying it certainly was a weird one.

-Nyjer Morgan has probably been one of the 2 or 3 worst hitters on the entire roster this spring, yet he is still being considered for the opening day left fielder job. I thought Huntington and Coonelly were all into sending messages and stuff. If that's the case, Nyjer should be taking outfield instruction with guys like Tabata and getting ready to make the trip to Indy to open the AAA season. That said, I won't be terribly upset if he makes the opening day roster, as he's too old to be playing AAA at age 28, but if he is starting in left over Hinske and Monroe, and especially if he is leading off, my head might just explode. That would be a Littlefieldian move. And I just threw up in my mouth a little bit again.

-Brian Bixler, all of a sudden, actually has a future as a major league player it seems. After that disastrous debut last season at the ripe old age of 25 I had just about written him off as being a noteworthy prospect. Best case scenario I figured Bix would be a mediocre utility backup infielder. Nothing to get excited about. Well, he absolutely tore it up this spring by all accounts, and while spring training results can be quite deceptive at times, everyone seems quite impressed by this. That includes Neal Huntington. I still am wary of Bix as anything more than a utility infielder, but his ceiling as a potential low-end everyday player has been re-established. And when Jumpin' Jack is (hopefully) traded this summer I have no problem with Bix getting a 2+ month tryout to prove himself at shortstop.

Three Rivers Three Links: March 31

Okay we're finally back on TRS after about a 60 hour hiatus to lick our wounds about that devastating loss Saturday night by the beloved Panthers. At some point in the next week, I am going to get around to posting about that loss, and about the season as a whole and all the great stuff we've experienced, as well as take a look at the 09/10 Panthers. But right now I just can't do it. I tried to write something a little bit ago and didn't make it beyond about 70 words before giving up.

Still, I needed to get back to writing something. So, first I'm giving you your daily dose of the TRTL followed by some Pirates stuff later on today at some point and at some point in the next 24 hours a breakdown of the NL Central.

Let's get to the links:
1. It's Tuesday, so in keeping with recent tradition (2 weeks' worth), I'm linking to a 24-related blog. Today, I'm linking to the wildly popular blog Dave Barry runs for the Miami Herald. Every a Monday he does a quasi-liveblog thing for the 24 episodes. He's not bad, but the real funny stuff is due to his commentors. It's all sarcastic, though and a lot of it points out some of the uhmm.... liberties that 24 takes with reality. So if you don't like when people point that stuff out and make fun of things like that, this probably isn't the site for you. Hell, sometimes it isn't the site for me, either.

2. The Post-Gazette's The Fantasy Factor blog does an interesting breakdown of an alternate 1996 Penguins-Avalanche Stanley Cup final. Seems a little interesting, right? It is pretty solid and the thoughts evoked will be a regular walk down memory lane. But here's why I linked there: I just spent 20+ minutes going through stuff on that blog and I can't figure out what the hell the subject of that blog is supposed to be. It sometimes seems as though it actually is fantasy sports (as the title suggests) but then other times it seems to serve as a sort of catch-all category for whatever goofy shit the Post-Gazette wants to explore but has nowhere else to put that kind of random material. They have quite a bit of fantasy baseball preview stuff up there and have some fantasy hockey junk randomly thrown in too. They occasionally have breaking news about hockey posted in there...but then they don't for a few days at a time. And then they have literally fantasy games like that aforementioned Cup game or a 78 Steelers vs. 94 49ers. And then they have a SB43 breakdown. Look I have no problem with the blog, there is some legitimately good stuff on there. I'm just very confused by it all.

3. The Pirates make not one, but two appearances on this list of the Ugliest Uniforms of the 1970's from Fantasy Pros 911. Not gonna lie, that's a little impressive.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sad Day

Wow. What a tough loss. I really can't say much more than that. I think this is the most heart-breaking loss I've ever experienced for one of my teams. I actually feel depressed and sad right now.

But I wanted to make sure to come on here and say Congratulations to the Panthers on a spectacular season, a season that goes down as the best in school history in my book.

To Sam, Levance and Tyrell: Thanks for the memories of the last 4 seasons. It has been an amazing run, and I feel extra special attachment to you three because you were my classmates, entering school here at the same time as me and leaving at the same time. You guys will always hold a special place with me.

Also, congrats to Villanova, the victors tonight. It's hard for me to be objective but I think that was one of the best college b-ball games I have ever seen. I wish you guys good luck in the Final Four and I will be pulling for you to represent the Big East well.

I don't think I'll be even able to watch or read anything sports for the next couple days, let alone write about it. With that in mind, i think TRS will be on hiatus for 48 hours so that I can digest everything that just happened.

Go Panthers!

Villanova Links and Game Prediction

Some 'Nova blog links as well as the ESPN preview
Let's Go Nova put together a good preview of the game
VU Hoops. They have different statistics worth considering for this game.
The Villanovan Sports Blog also has a good preview of the game and characterizes the strengths and weaknesses of Pitt pretty well.
ESPN's preview of the game

And now the moment that I know you have all been waiting for...

The Official TRS Breakdown of this game:
In case you haven't heard, it seems like DeJuan Blair is going to be an important factor in this game. Back when these two squads played in Philly during the regular season, Blair's trouble with fouls was arguably the biggest factor in the entire game. Since the NCAA tournament started last week, we have been treated (I guess that's the word) to a new-look DeJuan. I wouldn't say this DeJuan is better, just... different. And you actually know he's going to be in the game in crunch time. That's not what concerns me, though. If DeJuan does the passive thing yet again in the first half to try and stay out of foul trouble, I really think that Villanova will just bury us. It would take another dominant first half from Sam I Am or Levance "Captain Clutch" Fields playing the entire game like it's the final two minutes of a tie ball game. Against 'Nova, I really don't see either one of those happening.

I'm not saying we need DeJuan to turn back into the reckless freight train he too often was during the regular season, but we do need him to let loose a little more, at least in the offensive zone. If he wants to cool his heels defensively and let Biggs do most of the banging inside when 'Nova's got the ball, I'm absolutely fine with that. But there's no reason for him to be unwilling to get after it on offense. Especially when it gets to late in the first and he has either 0 or 1 fouls as has been the case the past 3 games. Worst case there is he gets called for a charge or some BS call and has to sit out the last few minutes of the first half. I'd pay that price if it meant the Grizzly Blair of old crashing the net.

Anyway, I suppose I should do some 'Nova-related analysis. Obviously, this is an excellent team, and Jay Wright continues to cement his rep as one of the money coaches in the month of March. Wright continues to run the athletic, guard-heavy style that has made him so successful for so many years there, and this is a system that can definitely give the Panthers fits. But despite the similar system, this isn't the same Nova teams we've often seen in years past from them that spread out 4 guards around the perimeter and had a Curtis Sumpter or something inside. Despite being undersized both height and weight-wise, they are a very physical squad and won't back down if Pitt starts to beat on them with their strength.

Only star forward Dante Cunningham, starter Dwayne Anderson and reserve Antonio Pena consistently bang inside with the big boys, but they have several tall 2/3-types who play well as swing men and can use their athleticism and height to get to the basket and not only grab some rebounds but also create plays. Corey Stokes, Reggie Redding and Shane Clark all fit this mold pretty much to a T and all are between 6'5 and 6'7 and average between 3 and 5 rebounds a game.

There won't be many surprises between the two floor generals, Levance Fields and Scottie Reynolds. They are both wily vets who have seen each other numerous times over the last three seasons. There is a definite contrast in styles between the two. Reynolds is as much a 2 guard as he is a point, and his game is predicated a bit more on scoring than it is on dishing it out, and while his 15.2 ppg is excellent and he is a solid shooter, his 1.3 Assist/ Turnover ratio leaves a bit to be desired. Fields, despite his late-game heroics in filling the basket, is the more traditional point guard type, more than happy to let the big-time scorers like Blair and Young do the work while he sets things up. Each is a tremendous fit for their squad, though, and they are the straws that stir their respective drinks.

What will really interest me about Villanova's scheme is how they choose to handle Sam Young when Pitt has the ball. Seemingly half their team is the type of player that we typically see matched up against Young. And honestly if it weren't for Blair we could probably throw Dante Cunningham out there as being a matchup for Sam when he inevitably plays some minutes at the 4 spot. Still, Dwayne Anderson figures to be the best matchup for Sam on an athleticism basis and I imagine the smart senior will get first crack. But it seems almost no one ever sticks with the same guy on Sam all game long. I think the task is just too exhausting and Sam brings too many different looks to his game for the same person to play on him the whole time. Reggie Redding is one of the Wildcats' defensive stoppers and despite being a little light for the job with a 6'5 205 pound frame, I think he'll get some minutes on Sam, especially if Pitt's 23 starts feeling it from the perimeter. Now that I think about it, Redding reminds me a bit of Gil Brown, actually. If he's in the game I'd say those two definitely lock horns.

For Pitt on defense, this screams to me as a game where Pitt will almost be forced to go small. Otherwise Nova will have some ridiculous speed and quickness mismatches. So that probably spells reduced minutes yet again for Tyrell Biggs. That may not be a bad thing though either, as I kind of like it when Biggs can be recklessly physical in limited minutes. That way DeJuan doesn't have to be. In Biggs' place I imagine Sam moves over to the 4 spot alongside DeJuan and that Gil Brown plays 20+ minutes at the small forward spot while Jermaine Dixon, Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs swap in and out depending on who is being most effective. Personally, I think the Panthers will be much better off if they can get the streaky Gibbs going from 3-point land early on. When this guy gets hot he is a lethal bomber and could give Pitt a legit 4th scoring option outside the Big 3. That would be a nice change of pace.

All in all, I expect this to be a spectacular game. I love watching Villanova play, but never like playing them. Their athleticism and style of play can drive you nuts because of the way they just seem to send waves and waves of the same types of athletic swingmen at you. But at the same time, they certainly aren't afraid to bang around inside with a physical team like Pitt. Anderson and Cunningham can brawl with the best of them, even a behemoth like Blair. Combine that with the fact that Villanova has been just crushing people the last 2 1/2 games while Pitt has squeaked out of three in a row, and suddenly you realize maybe the 1 seed is the underdog here.

The Bottom Line: Despite Villanova's hot streak and Pitt's sloppiness, I think this is the game we finally see the Pitt of old. The Pitt that pushed around UConn not once, but twice. The Pitt that spent 3 weeks as the number 1 team in the country. Despite DeJuan Blair's refusal to risk getting in foul trouble by playing aggressively in the first half thus far, I think he finally turns things on for the whole game, especially offensively, and stays out of foul trouble to lead Pitt past Big East rival Villanova and because of him they get to cut down the nets.

Prediction: Pitt 74-71

Also, I'm now sitting at a solid 45-11 in my NCAA Tournament game predictions after an 8-0 performance in the sweet 16. So, to keep things going here are my other Elite 8 picks:
North Carolina over Oklahoma
UConn over Missouri
Louisville over Michigan State

What can I say? I'm boring.

Go Panthers!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links: March 27

I'm still recovering from last night's...err...revelry... which consisted of a solid 4 hours of drinking (2 hours of which was nervous, drown-my-problems drinking, 2 of which was celebratory WE WON! drinking, a lethal combo) and then coming back to my apartment and deciding to write what turned out to be a surprisingly coherent 1300+ words on the game. Actually, it was probably a shade more coherent than my usual writing. Maybe I should do that more often. Anyway, by the time that was done it was almost 2 AM, at which time I decided I needed to make some pizza. I really am going to miss college.

Anyway, the morning was not nearly as kind to me as the night, and because I'm in a pretty lazy mood I'm not giving you much in the way of off-the-beaten-path links. All these links are from pages much more popular than mine, but whatev. Let's do this...

1. Talks are heating up between the Bucs and Will Ohman right now. Ohman's a lefty reliever for those of you not aware. He's nothing spectacular, as evidenced by the fact that it is almost April and he is still a free agent, but he won't embarass himself, and when talking about the Pirates pitchers, that's more or less a glowing review. To me this means one of two things: Either the Pirates think they are close to dealing John Grabow or they aren't satisfied with Sean Burnett. Hell, it could be both. I think this is definitely the year that Grabow gets dealt, it's just a matter of when, and having someone like Ohman will give us at least a decent replacement when that inevitably happens. Maybe Grabow could even be dealt for a starting pitcher or something. Who knows? Just a thought. As for Burnett, he sure picked a hell of a time to have his first bad spring training in a few years. He tore through the past two spring trainings, even when he clearly wasn't major league ready in 07, and now in 09 when all he has to do is be okay and he gets a job he starts struggling. Doesn't that figure? I want to see if this actually happens, as the M.O. recently with the Pirates is that when they get seriously interested in a useful guy like Ohman he often signs elsewhere and the fans are let down because of it.

2. Sean from Sean's Ramblings gives us a breakdown of some of the things he saw during his trip to Bradenton to see the Buccos in spring training. He's got some good pics on there that are definitely worth a look.

3. Check out this article about Missouri's "Forty Minutes of Hell" style of play written by one of the best sports writers in the country, Joe Posnanski. This is what convinced me to pick Mizzou over Memphis when I did my picks yesterday, and I'd say it definitely worked out well for me. Good call, JoePo.

As always the links take the weekend off cuz they're lazy like that, but the site will still be working hard to have some Pirate stuff, some Pens stuff and some Pitt stuff up over the course of the next 2 and a half days.


Jesus. I don't even know where to begin. I'm still quite a bit on the tipsy side after a superb night in Oakland, but I'm extremely determined to get a post up tonight about Pitt. I'll probably read this tomorrow and shake my head at the lunacy of it, but that's why Blogger has an "EDIT" button for each post.

Let's Get To It....

First Half
For the most part, this was just a truly hideous ball game. The shooting was atrocious, there were all sorts of fluky/ goofy plays, the refs were subpar, and the coaching left quite a bit to be desired out of two of the more highly touted up-and-coming coaches in college hoops.

The first half really couldn't have been more aggravating. DeJuan didn't show up early on for the second consecutive game. I don't get what's happening with him. He just seems so obsessed with staying out of foul trouble that he's willing to coast through the first half to make sure it happens. Defensively, I guess I don't hate that, but in the offensive zone I don't understand it. He can still be very effective offensively while staying out of foul trouble. If that happens against Nova, Pitt is going to be down 15 at halftime and they won't be able to rely on a second-half collapse to get back in the game, as Nova will just milk the hell out of the clock and we'll be screwed.

Sam was solid in the first half and was once again the biggest reason we were able to stay in a game we shouldn't have been in early on. He wasn't as dominant, but the shots were still dropping for him early. The role guys left quite a bit to be desired too. Ty Biggs got 2 fouls in the first 3 or 4 minutes and was dunzo for the half and really didn't do much all game. Not what we wanted to see at all. Gil Brown was a bright spot and continued to be a damn effective player at the swing spot continuing his recent string of excellence. I'd argue he's our fourth best player right now and I'm really not sure you can even debate that with a straight face. Bright things for this kid are on the way, I'm telling you. As for the others, let's run through them in a hurry: Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker were mistake-filled trainwrecks all game long, and Gary and Jermaine Dixon did exactly what they always do, no more no less. That's enough talk about them.

One more thing about that first half: The refs were just brutal yet again. I still don't think that I've seen a game that was officiated well this entire postseason. There were times during the first half where Blair would go up with the ball and get his shot "blocked" by 3 different Musketeers. The only problem was that this "blocking" consisted of one X-man barreling into DeJuan's chest while another bumped into the shooting arm and then the third guy was the one who actually got the ball and blocked it. And then there were other times, and this went both ways, where they'd call a foul and you figure it was away-from-the-ball or something and turns out it was because the defender breathed the wrongway on the offensive player. Bad job by them.

In summing up the first half, I'd say these were the 5 major themes: 1) Pitt looked like a team guilty of reading their mid-season preseason press clippings. 2) Xavier outplayed us all over the court but they weren't shooting well enough to capitalize on it. 3)For the second, and maybe even third, game in a row Pitt got outrebounded on the offensive glass early. Nothing has been more shocking to me than this development. 4)Sam was doing well enough, but Fields and Blair weren't at their usual level. 5) Watching Jamie and Sean Miller coach against each other was painful. I've got to be honest. I love Jamie but if I see one more freaking hedge play in the defensive zone I'm going to go on a 3 state shooting spree. I'm fine with trying that early on, but when the opposition clearly knows how to take advantage of it (a quick pass to the big man who is left briefly uncovered) you need to stop running that damn thing IMMEDIATELY.

On to the second half...
Pitt came out firing on all cylinders for the first couple minutes of the second. They jumped right back in from 8 down to bring the game to just about even in quite a hurry. This was when things got ugly. And I don't mean physical. Or mean and nasty. I mean god-awful, embarassing to basketball, hideous, ugly. Both teams went absolutely ice cold out of nowhere. Well, actually the X-men had been cold since the half started, but Pitt lost all their momentum out of nowhere after charging back into the game. Couldn't really figure that one out and I still haven't.

Thankfully someone put the smelling salts under DeJuan Blair's nose at halftime and he came out much better in the second half. He was finally going for boards and outworking the goofy white guy from Xavier and was actually willing to take some chances in both zones (sometimes they were dumb chances, though). Pitt rallied around Blair's energy resurgence and Xavier's inside game basically disappeared once the big fella started playing in mid-season form again.

Still, the shooting was agonizing and it mirrored a lot of the stuff that happened to Xavier in the first half. DeJuan, despite playing with a ton more energy and heart, was doing the Aaron Gray Special, repeatedly missing inside shots and padding his rebound totals by snatching up his own crappy shots. He wasn't as bad as the infamous Gray, who sometimes looked like he was volleying the basketball off the rim, but it was still frustrating as hell. We were clearly outplaying them all over the court and should have been outscoring them left and right, but now our shots weren't falling. So I guess it sorta made sense that the game was more or less tied for almost the entire second half.

Pitt just refused to pull away no matter how much better we looked. And so it came down to the final two minutes and you knew who was going to step up and take the money shots for Pitt. Two words: Levance. Fields. The guy may have been quite mediocre for the first 38 minutes of the game, and he continues to not play as well as he did for most of the regular season, but in the last 2 minutes he was a freaking beast. I will now forever spell the word "clutch" F-I-E-L-D-S. Freakin' amazing. That three from a mile away was a damn dagger. And then the lay-in after Blair tipped it away was the cherry on top. The guy is money. I don't know that I've ever seen a college player capable of elevating his game more in the final two minutes and being so reliably clutch. I think Bill Raftery put it best when he yelped "ONIONS!" Either way, he's the freaking man and I will forever have a tender spot in my heart for him.

So we finally advance on past the Sweet 16. I wouldn't have thought I'd be so euphoric and fired up after that unfathomably frustrating first half and after we went ice cold in the second half, but a win like that changes it all. It's great to know that the much-publicized ceiling has been removed at the Sweet 16 level. It's as much a relief as anything to be honest, especially considering it's hard to imagine having a much better team than this squad in the near future. And so the basketball season marches on and we get to see just how far this Pitt team advances. Say what you will about the way they've been playing (and I've said plenty obviously) but there's little doubt in my mind that the next game will yet again keep you interested until the final seconds. That's just the way this team plays, and I am officially okay with that.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sweet 16 Picks and a Pitt-Xavier breakdown

We're back to the Madness tonight, with 12 huge games over the next 4 days that will decide this year's Final Four field. Currently at TRS, I am sitting at 37-11 in my picks so far for the NCAA Tournament. That's a decent but not spectacular record. I'd like to finish with 50+ wins and think I have at least a half-decent shot at it. So here are the Sweet 16 picks for me for the next two days, as well as a little bit of a breakdown of my thoughts on tonight's Pitt-Xavier game.

UConn over Purdue
Pitt over Xavier
Missouri over Memphis
Villanova over Duke
Louisville over Arizona
Oklahoma over Syracuse
Michigan State over Kansas
North Carolina over Gonzaga

And now for the breakdown:

As with most teams I think Xavier's biggest problem against Pitt will be handling Pitt's big fella, DeJuan Blair. Not that the X-Men don't have a few potential candidates for the job, but none of them are on Blair's elite level, nor can they match his toughness and physicality. Jason Love figures to get first crack at the job. He is a pretty big guy at 6'9 and 255 pounds and is a gritty type of player. He is solid on the glass and it will be interesting to watch him and Blair fight for boards, as both are good on both the offensive and defensive boards, though Love is nowhere near the talent that Blair is. Blair has faced much more talented centers than Love, and I don't anticipate him being near good enough to shut down Blair himself. Because of that I think we can expect to see double and triple teams when the ball is dumped inside. Monster center Kenny Frease (7'0 255) figures to get minutes, especially if DeJuan gets going early. Frease doesn't play a ton of minutes (averages only about 14.5), so if he does have to play extended minutes it will be interesting to see if he wears down. For a man his size, though, he isn't really aggressive enough to be a huge factor in any game. Think of him like a much better Gary McGhee. He's not coming in for the offensive side of the game. He's coming into bump some guys around and piss off the opposing big men with his size.

As with most teams, Xavier will focus heavily on stopping Blair. And as Oklahoma State showed last game, when you focus too much on Blair, Sam Young will absolutely murder you. Young had the best game of his career in that game and because he has the hot hand I expect to see him try to get going early on. I will be interested to see how Xavier handles him. They have three different candidates for the job, all of which play big minutes. B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson are both swingmen types and Derrick Brown plays at the 4 for them. If Sam goes to the 4 and plays inside then Brown figures to be on him, but Raymond and Anderson are similar types and I wouldn't be surprised to see them switch on and off early on to see if either one has any success guarding Sam.

An intriguing matchup will be Levance Fields against the combo of Dante Jackson and Terrell Holloway. Jackson is a massive point guard at 6'5 which will probably force a big adjustment for Levance Fields when Pitt has the ball. Thankfully, Jackson is nothing too special offensively or I would be more worried about this matchup hurting us at both ends of the court. Jackson is good defensively, though, and uses that size to his advantage pretty well when playing against a smaller guard like Fieldsy. Holloway is a freshman who gets plenty of minutes at the 1, and is a much more traditional point guard than Jackson, who probably should be only a 2 guard. However, Holloway is young and has a pretty pedestrian 1.1 Assists/ Turnover ratio and is not a very good shooter. He doesn't concern me much.

Offensively, the Musketeers have a few guys who do concern me a bit. They are a pretty balanced squad, reminding me of some of the Pitt teams from early this decade who could have any guy come out of the woodwork to beat you on any given night. B.J. Raymond is X's best weapon. As I mentioned, he is a swingman type. Because he likes to step outside more than his complement C.J. Anderson, I think our lockdown perimeter defender Jermaine Dixon will start on Raymond. B.J. can definitely use his size superiority to take advantage of Dixon if he plays more inside, but JD should be able to shut down his long-range game at least. If Raymond starts feeling it early, the bigger and more athletic Sam Young is a virtual lock to take on Raymond. I also think the 2 bench guys, Brad Wanamaker and Gil Brown, will see time on Raymond. They are both big and athletic guards and could be more physical with Raymond than Dixon.

It will also be interesting to see how Tyrell Biggs fares against Derrick Brown. Biggs is a very underrated defender in my mind, and is excellent fundamentally. Meanwhile Brown is Xavier's best interior threat and is a very sure shooter. I would say that DeJuan Blair could see minutes on him, but the fact that Brown can step outside to around and even beyond the 3-point line and shoot it pretty well makes me doubt that happens much. DeJuan is very effective around the basket, but Tyrell is a much better option when the offensive players are threatening to step away from the basket. Besides, we want DeJuan doing the Windex Man thing and cleaning the glass all night. Let Tyrell chase this guy around, it's not like he gives us much offensively anyway.

The Bottom Line: I like this Xavier team and think they were underappreciated by many (including yours truly). I like that they have a number of different options who can step up and also that they are a strangely tall team, especially in the backcourt. However, I just can't picture them having an answer for both Sam and DeJuan. It seems to me that they aren't going to be able to consistently stop either one without double teams, so unless they are just going to ignore our shooting guard and power forward spots, I think something has to give eventually. I think Xavier hangs with Pitt for much of the game but my personal thought is that DeJuan is the guy who ends up taking the game over for Pitt in the end.

Final Score Guess: Pitt 77-71

Go Panthers!

Three Rivers Three Links: March 26

It's Sweet 16 Day! The day our beloved Pitt Panthers hope to (finally!) move past the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. It would be a big W for all Panther fans to finally see and to know that the previously unbreakable Sweet 16 glass ceiling has finally been shattered. Standing in the way of our Pitt Panthers are the Xavier Musketeers, a very tall squad at basically every position that is led by former Pitt star Sean Miller. With all that in mind I wanted to go through a few different Musketeer blogs that are out there and see if I can find what their take in all this is:

1. Our leadoff-hitting Xavier blog is called Crosstown Shoutout. I just linked to the front page, because their main preview for this game is breaking down Pitt, and well that's not really something a Pitt fan is going to read. Still, their Pitt preview impressed me. I've seen too many blogs do opposing team previews and F it up something awful. These guys did a nice job. Still, you can obviously go through some of the older posts and find some Xavier team info if you'd like.

2. Head to Musketeer Blogosphere for a few different posts on the Pitt and the game, as well as a bunch of other posts about (obviously) the Musketeers. I also just linked to the front page of the blog, so scroll through whatever you want to see there. As I figured, most of their game preview is also breaking down Pitt. Still, there are a good number of other posts about the X-men worth a look.

3. Finally, some stories from the Cincinnati Enquirer: Sean Miller talks about how tough of a test Pitt is for the X-men. And here are some random notes about the game from the Enquirer.

I'll be back later today with my own preview of this thing.

Finally, I wanted to wrap things up today with a little comment about the controversy over the now-infamous Sidney Crosby video from Puck Daddy. Yesterday in the Links, I wrote about that video and talked quite negatively about Puck Daddy. Greg, the editor at Puck Daddy, shot me (and I'm guessing others who talked negatively about it) an e-mail and gave a bit of inside info about the video that does change things a bit. I'm guessing you've probably read the e-mails that were sent to the Pensblog by now, and as things turn out, those e-mails probably weren't so legitimate after all, especially the "poor college kid" e-mail. Greg sent me the full video and it was pretty clear he wasn't taken advantage of on the cutting-room floor, as the kid claimed in his Pensblog e-mail.

While I still am dubious about the motivations behind that video and obviously don't agree with the impressions left from the video, I also appreciate the way Greg handled this backlash. I'm sure its a bit tough when you have so many blogs bashing you out there, especially when the thing they are bashing you on isn't actually true, either. I can't blame him for e-mailing and getting this whole thing straightened out. So thanks for the heads up Greg.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links: March 25

Sorry for the delay in today's TRTL. Unfortunately that is probably going to happen at least once more this week as I desperately try to pimp myself out to the local places of business in the hopes of finding a job. I know that's no excuse, so let's get right to today's links.

1. If you haven't yet been introduced to Alyonka Larionov, allow this video of her and Geno Malkin cooking pierogies on Pens TV to introduce you. She is the daughter of former NHLer and Russian legend Igor Larionov and was also rumored to be dating Alex Ovechkin (which may be gross, but also tells us that any one of us has a chance with her as appearances clearly don't mater to this girl). Anyway, there are a bunch of videos doing "The Penguins Show With Alyonka" on the website linked above. Nothing earth-shattering there, but they are pretty fun videos for the most part, and it helps that she is featured prominently in them. As you'd expect, the awkward level on this puppy is about 9.5 out of 10. Geno sticks mostly with Russian and is trying to make lame jokes (and probably get in her pants) for about 90% of the segment, but it's still funny to see. Highly recommended. I don't think either one is going to be getting offers from the Food Network anytime soon.

2. Yahoo! Sports broke a story about UConn making some recruiting violations. Shocker, right? It's amazing to me these types of stories don't come out more often. If you don't think there are all kinds of recruiting violations going on the throught all of college sports you are on naiver S.O.B. Still, I'm not exactly upset or feeling for the Huskies. Jim Calhoun is one of my least favorite coaches ever, and seeing him come under fire will put a wide smile on my face.

3. As if we needed it, we now even yet another reason to love the Pensblog. After some bush-league "documentary" stuff by Puck Daddy that basically mocks Sidney Crosby in addition to being just a generally poorly put-together video. the Pensblog reponds tremendously. That's a good job by them. The video is on the Pensblog site. I'd rather you click there and watch it then go to Puck Daddy and give him the extra hit on his site. There's also an e-mail on another Pensblog post from one of the guys in the documentary who Puck Daddy makes look a little ignorant on the subject of puck thanks to some heavy-handedness in the editing room. Shame on Puck Daddy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Handicapping the Hart Trophy Race

As I mentioned earlier today, the MVP race has become a definite hot topic as the NHL season starts to wind down. Crazy to think about, but there's just 8 games left in the Pens' regular season. 8! Where the hell have I been all season? I feel like there should be still be 20 games left in the season. At least. The good news is, thanks to the recent scalding hot streak of our beloved puck club, we are sitting in a good position to snag a playoff berth and continue this season onward. In fact, our magic number over 9th seeded Florida is 13 points. (Technically you could say it's 13, but we figure to have the edge in wins if there is a tie, so I'm calling it 12) So any combo in which we pick up 13 points on Florida (either by us gaining a point or them missing out on points) gives us a bid in the post-season.

So with all that in mind, I wanted to run down the lead candidates for the Hart Trophy, two of which just so happen to wear a flightless winter bird on their jersey.

The Candidates (in order of chance to win)

Alex Ovechkin: One of the most hated opposing players the Pittsburgh area has seen in recent memory. Whatever you think of AO, you've got to admit, the guy is goal-scoring savant. And to many voters, it seems like the things that matter the most are media coverage, ridiculous highlight plays and goals. Well, AO is one of the two most hyped players in the league (see if you can guess who the other one is), several of his goals are downright jaw-dropping, and he is far and away the leading goal scorer in hockey. Personally, I can't see how he's had a better all-around season than Geno, though. He is flashier, sure. And he's definitely the better goal-scorer despite the fact that he does shoot a ton more than Geno. You've got to concede that Malkin is the better playmaker, regardless of what team you root for. And I've watched several Caps games this season, and I just am not impressed much by Ovie's defense

Evgeni Malkin: Geno and AO are really the only two acceptable candidates for MVP this season in my mind. There are others I'm gonna discuss, but it boils down to these two. Geno has turned into a very good defender. I'd argue he's only a notch below a Datsyuk now. He's definitely the best defensive forward on the Pens. And somehow I've yet to even mention the fact that he's leading the NHL in scoring by a fairly comfortable measure, a distinction that often gives a big leg up in the race for the Hart. Unfortunately for Geno, the biggest setback to his campaign is something he really can't control too much. You see, the Hart is voted on by Hockey Writers. And what do hockey writers like most and therefore are most likely to vote for? Interesting stories and players. And while Geno is brilliant on the ice, his off-ice demeanor is still very much a work in progress. While he has made tremendous strides in the last 3 years in that regard, he pales in comparison to Ovechkin in this one regard. That, ultimately, will be what costs Malkin the trophy. And to me, that really isn't fair.

Okay, those are the two lead horses, let's take a look at a couple long shots, just for fun.

Sidney CrosbySid the Kid has had a truly excellent season, no question about it. And over the Pens' recent hot streak, he has been at least as valuable as Geno. Which, by the way, is the same period of time when he finally got himself a couple of wingers who aren't best described as "muckers and grinders" and when he finally started playing in a system that takes advantage of the fact that he is the most dangerous playmaker on the planet Earth. Coincidence? I think not. Others may not believe so, but I still think the Sid/Geno debate is still very much alive despite the fact that Geno has definitely been better this season. If Sid gets 82 games with Kunitz and Guerin (if they re-sign him, which I hope they do) next year then we can really start talking about who is the better player.

Zach Parise
One of the most underrated players in the entire sport of hockey. If you were to ask the casual fan of the sport who is second in the league in goals, how many guesses would they need to get it right with Parise? 10? 15? Would they even guess Parise? Would they even know what team Parise is on? Well, hopefully they'd know that last one. Because he plays for the Devils, I think a lot of people are assuming he is a defense-first, trapping guy who is more concerned with preventing goals than scoring them. While he is certainly a very, very good defensive forward and should get a Selke nom, he's definitely not a defense-first guy, either. He's a terrific combo player, and with Marty Brodeur going on the shelf for much of the season, Parise has been nothing short of marvelous when his team needed him the absolute most.

Steve Mason
This kid has been unreal this year for Columbus. He came absolutely out of nowhere and, at just 20 years of age, he is carrying an otherwise mediocre Columbus BJ team into the playoffs in the excellent Western Conference. Two things go against him, though, and guarantee he won't win this thing even though he is as deserving as anyone. He is a rookie and he is a goalie.

Tim Thomas
Thomas was a decent but not spectacular goalie for the past 3 seasons. But now, at the ripe old age of 34 (soon to be 35) he is making the leap into one of the best netminders in hockey. I'm not sure he'll get it because he lacks the history and the pedigree, but this guy deserves the Vezina for being the rock that turned this Bruins team from very good to great. A .931 save % and a 2.11 GAA? Those are insane numbers.

Pavel Datsyuk
I'll never get why Datsyuk isn't mentioned along with the Big 3 when it comes to the best players in the world. The guy is a ridiculous talent, and it's not like all his work comes at the defensive end, either, as I think some would have you believe. He has 360 points in 308 games over the past 4 seasons. That's only a shade below the Sid/Geno/AO triumvirate, and Pavel is without question a better defender than any of those three. Certainly, having a spectacular team around him makes it seem like he is less important than he really is. That guy is a superstar.

Three Rivers Three Links: March 24

1. Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke takes a look at potential 5th starter candidates who aren't currently in camp with the Pirates. He focuses mostly on potential non-tenders after ruling out the entire (worthless) crop of free agent pitchers. If you were hoping for some possible nice pickups here like Tyler Yates last season, I'd calm the excitement down a bit. The best option for the Pirates WHYGAVS concludes is probably Phillip Humber from Minnesota. I'd rather stick with Karstens with Gorzo and D-Cutch as the fallbacks. And WHYGAVS says basically the same thing. I will be interested to see if anyone else comes available, maybe someone who you wouldn't expect but just gets pushed out. Seems like that happens to 1 or 2 guys every year. Still, I see little problem with Karstens as our 5-man.

2. This is related to a post I'm going to have up tonight at some point (hopefully), so I thought I'd post it. It's the MVP debate between Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside for the Hart Trophy maybe a few days old, but it's worth the read. Also, LeBrun wants fan feedback.

3. Finally, it's Tuesday, which means I'm a little sad because there are 6 days until Jack Bauer is back in my life. So I've got to post the requisite 24 Blog of the Week. Today I'm featuring Blogs.4Bauer. Seems like this is one of the more popular 24 blogs out there, as evidence by their heavily-participated-in live blogs. If you have a spare 30-45 minutes, I'd recommend reading through last night's. Good stuff. Also, for any other casual 24 fans out there who don't have the time to read up on all the happenings in the 24-verse, did you know that Elisha Cuthbert is coming back this season. As a 24 fan, this offends me terribly. But as a male, I'm terribly excited. Quite the conflict waging inside of me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links: March 23

1. The NFL is likely to bring in 2 new rules that can be traced almost directly to Steelers players delivering vicious(yet perfectly legal) hits on the opposition. Hines Ward's hit on Keith Rivers and Ryan Clark's on Wes Welker are the targets of these rules, and there is one other rule being considered after Bernard Pollard's hit that tore Tom Brady's ACL. The lesson, as always, the Patriots are huge pussies and must be protected at all costs, and the Steelers are vicious cheap-shot artists and must be stopped at all times. These rules, especially the one about Keith Rivers, really piss me off. If an offensive player is running and doesn't have his head on a swivel and gets popped, it's hailed by all as a great defensive hit. If 200 pound Hines Ward obliterates a much bigger linebacker, it's dirty. Maybe Keith Rivers shouldn't be such an undisciplined hack and realize that blocking is allowed and that he shouldn't chase blindly after the ball. Argh. The sport of football is spiraling more and more into an overly officiated mess. I really worry for the league's future. I mean, really, how long before they outlaw tackling and we switch to two-hand touch?

2. Looking for a Live Blog of yesterday's Oklahoma State-Pitt game? Well naturally, the Pitt Blather has one for you of their usual high quality. But if that wasn't enough live-bloggage for you, how many other news sources would you have checked before going to the Wall Street Journal? 100? 1000? Would you have ever checked them? Yeah me neither. But they came through for us with a solid LB of their own.

3. Hey Look! I finally got my site linked on the Pensblog!!! Words can't express how fired up I was when I stumbled on that this morning in their sidebar, and then also noticed they mentioned me and 3 others in the recap! Probably one of the 2 or 3 most exciting moments in this site's history, as that is without question my favorite blog on the planet Earth. So thank you, Pensblog.
Oh, and their recap is spot on about the ridiculous Flyer-love being showered out by the announcing crew yesterday. Especially this little line: " This led to a McDouche rant about how Richards is the best young captain in the game. Get over him." Seriously, what a ridiculous statement by McGuire. Richards is 24. That ain't that young anymore in hockey captain world. Sid's 21. Toews is 20. I'd rather have either one than Richards considering how much younger they are, and it's not even close.

Also, the requisite standing-watch update:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

These Panthers Don't Like To Let Things Get Dull


There are a lot of things you can say about this Pitt squad right now. Some of them very positive, some of them not as much so. But one thing that I think all of us can agree on is this: They sure aren't boring.

Unlike the preceding Xavier-Wisconsin game that nearly destroyed the credibility of the entire sport of basketball, this game really couldn't have been any more entertaining.

The first half of this sucker resembled a 3-point shootout contest, as OK State shot 98% from the field on 49/50 treys (All statistics approximate) and the Panthers countered with a surprisingly potent long-range game of their own led mostly by the man of the hour, Sam I Am Young.

Thankfully for the score-keepers, the second-half was much more similar to a normal Pitt game. The Cowpokes predictably cooled off early on and Pitt pulled out in front by as much as 9 at one point. DeJuan was finally getting back into a rhythm after causing nearly every Pitt fan the world over to stop breathing for a solid minute after Byron Eaton tripped and dove into his knee Kimo-Von-Oelhoffen-style. And Levance was doing Levance things. And Sam was still filling the basket.

But just when it looked like the Panthers were going to pull away and coast, OK State responded in very impressive fashion, stealing all the momentum in the building from out of nowhere and overwhelming a sloppy Pitt team for multiple turnovers and bearing down offensively on some lackadaisical defensive efforts by the P-i-t-t. We had ourselves a ball game again, especially when OK State briefly seized the lead.

But just then, Levance Fields finally decided to show up for this game, dressed in his Captain Clutch cape. While Fields struggled for much of the game with some lingering injury issues, he got himself going by drilling a weird 3 from the corner immediately after he had just inbounded it to Sammy. Fieldsy quickly followed that up by making a big layup and drilling a stone-cold clutch 3 with less than 2 minutes to go to take the game from a tie to a 5 point lead. Boom goes the dynamite.
After that, Blair and Young would finish off the Cowpokes for an 84-76 W.

You really can't understate how big Sam was today. Sure the 32 points give you a pretty good idea, as does the fact that he had nearly half our points in the ridiculously up-tempo first half. But it was more than just the fact that he was our leading scorer. It was that he answered the bell early on, and was really the only one who did. If he hadn't been feeling it, this would have been like the Providence game all over again.

Eaton, Anderson and company came out gunning for us early, and boy were they gunning. I haven't seen a long-range performance in a half like that since Kevin Pittsnogle was at WVU making incest look cool like we were in 17th century Europe. If we had come out and clanked our response shots and let OSU get up on us and get all the momentum on their side, this game has a whole different outcome. They probably run away with it like the Friars did and embarass the bejeezus out of us.

But not today. Sam wasn't gonna let that happen. Even with DeJuan being shockingly frustrated and Fieldsy struggling for the first 37 minutes or so and the rest of the rotation only being so-so, Sam put this team on his shoulders. This was a performance for the ages here. I'd put it right up there with DeJuan's UConn game or some of the other legendary days in recent Pitt hoops history. Hell, I'd probably put it ahead of any of those now that I think about it because Sam had to carry that team in the first, and OK State knew it. And yet he was still downright beastly.

So for that, Sam I Am, I will be raising a toast to you tonight. Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done, and you guys now get to look at a very beatable Xavier team for the right to (finally) move on to the Elite 8. But this will go down as your signature game at Pitt, and considering all the big days you have had, that is really saying something.

NCAA Round 2 Picks- Part Deux

I went 7-1 yesterday, bumping my overall picks record to 30-10 overall. Solid start. Unfortunately, it was chalk city yesterday and my only miss was my doomed upset pick of Memphis falling to Maryland. Well, let's see how I can fair today:

Arizona State over Syracuse
Xavier over Wisconsin
Kansas over Dayton
Arizona over Cleveland State
Pittsburgh over Oklahoma State
Missouri over Marquette
Michigan State over USC
Louisville over Siena

Again, I mostly went chalk city, with the ASU over Syracuse pick being the only real upset on the board here. We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

NCAA Round 2 Picks

Day 1 and 2 were only so-so for me. I hit on 23 of my 32 first round picks. Not embarrassing, but it's not gonna win me any bracket pools, either. That wasn't good enough so I thought I'd try it again. But I didn't feel like having to be handicapped by ignorance and incorrect picks from before the tourney started, so I'm going to start with a fresh slate, as if I hit on all 32 picks in the first and try to pick these games anew.

Here we go with the Saturday Picks, tomorrow's will be up...well... tomorrow.
Villanova over UCLA
Maryland over Memphis
Connecticut over Texas A&M
Purdue over Washington
North Carolina over LSU
Oklahoma over Michigan
Gonzaga over Western Kentucky
Duke over Texas

Lots and lots of chalk dust falling off these chalk-filled picks, but I think that Maryland over Memphis upset pick makes up for the lack of risk in the other picks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Woah Panthers Woah

Isn't life supposed to be easier as a 1 seed? Apparently no one told the Pitt Panthers and Jamie Dixon that little anecdote. East Tennessee State gave that Pitt squad as much as they could possibly handle and we damn near watched history today, folks. I don't really remember the other close 1-16 games too well, but I doubt even the ones that finished closer in the final score than this one were any more gut-wrenching for the favored team than this one was. Pitt was basically a one-man show today, as DeJuan Blair showed up with a monster day and was too much for ETSU to handle.

And thank god for that effort from Blair. I really don't know what I would have done if Pitt would've lost. For sure I wouldn't have been able to turn on any sort of sporting event for a minimum of a month, and there's a good chance this entire blog would've just been abandoned.

Despite the big day from DeJuan, the rest of the team left something to be desired. In fact, Blair was pretty much the only one in the starting lineup who did show up for Pitt at all. Levance Fields looked like he was about 50%, maybe, and that left him even slower than he already is. Sam I Am turned it on in stretches at the offensive zone, but he also had moments where he looked a bit lackadaisical, especially in the defensive zone.

As for the role players, I'm not even sure where to start with my beefs. Actually, scratch that, yes I know exactly where to start. Are there two more frustrating reserves around than Gil Brown and Brad Wanamaker? They both ooze potential and have spurts where they make me legitimately excited about the very uncertain future of Pitt basketball. But then they have days like today, especially in the case of Wanamaker. The guy has great size for a 2 guard, has shown a consistently improved shot and has the athleticism to D up with anyone from 6'0-6'6. But he just makes so many dumb plays it's hard to believe he's even able to tie his shoes before the games. As for Gil, its not that he makes a ton of boneheaded plays or anything like that (though he has been known to do that, too). It's that he just isn't aggressive enough. He is probably the best athlete on the entire team, even better than Sam. He doesn't seem to realize that there are very few teams in college hoops that have someone even remotely capable of covering him. Until he does realize that, I don't know if he ever becomes anything more than a 6th man.

There was one other bench player worth writing about, but in this case it's in a positive light. Ashton Gibbs was probably the second-best player on the court today for Pitt during his 18 minutes of PT. He drilled two big-time treys, and I was aching for him to start shooting way earlier than he actually did. Having even a half-decent outside threat going early in the second half would have made this a totally different ball game. Granted Sam was solid when he shot long-range, but he spent a fair amount of time playing the 4 whereas Gibbs was constantly around the perimeter and could've given ETSU another threat to think about and potentially stopped them from quintuple teaming DeJuan every time he touched the ball. I got the impression though, that Gibbs was on a leash or something and wasn't being allowed to shoot the way he kept faking his shot and passing it off so that someone like Fields could clank another trey instead. I don't know if that's the case, but if it is someone needs to smack Jamie Dixon upside the head, as Gibbs is far and away the best long-range threat this team has, and he was the perfect weapon to use today, and for some reason it took Jamie and company most of the game to realize that. Truly baffling.

Three Rivers Three Links: March 20

Okay there's no grand intro to the Links today. Sorry, but I have my priorities, and today that priority is getting to Hemingway's by 12:30 or so and reserving myself a top-notch seat right at the bar so that I have both a superb view of one of their nice TVs and easy access to the bartenders and the waitresses for all of my beer and food needs.

1. Among others, your truly participated in a post over at Sean's Ramblings in which we asked Sean some questions about what he should look for as he ventures down to Bradenton for a few days watching the Pirates in Spring Training. Some pretty good questions and some pretty funny ones, too. I'm looking forward to his answers.

2. Yeah Sage Rosenfels is one team's high-priority offseason move, Dan Orlovsky is signed for 3 mil a year as a backup, and yet Byron Leftwich doesn't have a job. The Bleacher Report wants to know the same thing I do, why doesn't Leftwich have a job? It's ludicrous. Right now I'd put Leftwich among the top 20-25 QBs in football, yet no one wants the guy. I mean I won't complain if the Steelers bring him back for another year, cuz he's a crazy good backup, but I kinda feel for the guy. And I just don't get how the 10 NFL teams that need a good QB can be this dumb. To paraphrase Will Ferrell from his award-winning turn as Mugatu in Zoolander, "Sage Rosenfels, Dan Orlovsky, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Simms, THEY'RE THE SAME TERRIBLE QUARTERBACK! Doesn't anyone notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!!!!"

3. If you are a numbers nerd, like me, this article in the PG about the statistics of the tournament in relation to how far the Pitt hoops squad will advance this season is definitely worth a look.

The Madness: Day 1

It may not have had much in the way of "One Shining Moment" footage, but it was a very entertaining day of Madness today. I watched a good bit of basically every game today thanks to the magic of an HDTV and two computers linked up with CBSSports.com all lined up side-by-side-by-side. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a more beautiful site to tell you the truth. And perhaps the best news of all is knowing that I get to do it all over again tomorrow AND watch my beloved Pitt Panthers kickstart their tournament.

But before we get to all that good stuff, I have 10 thoughts I wanted to share regarding today's festivities:

1. I may have picked Memphis to go to the Final Four in 2 of my 3 brackets...but if Tyreke Evans gets in foul trouble, that squad isn't getting past Maryland and that's all there is to it. Suddenly, I would really like that FF pick back. I can't even see Memphis getting past the Sweet 16 now.

2. No one uglies up a game quite like Big Eleven Ten teams. I don't know how anyone can possibly watch that garbage on a regular basis unless you have a strong rooting interest in one of the teams. When Illinois/Western Kentucky was on CBS in the Pittsburgh region for thTe better part of their game, I chose watching the CBSSports.com grainy snuff-film footage of the UCLA/VCU game over watching that Illinois team play on my HDTV. Just brutal.

3. There were very, very few teams that impressed me today, and none of the big names really did. Sure UConn, Duke, Oklahoma and UNC absolutely blew the doors off of their respective opponents, but none of them proved anything to us that we didn't already know, and I remain unconvinced as to how well each one of them can overcome their respective weak spots. If I take Pitt out of the equation because of my biased homerism, I would take Louisville over any one of the 4 teams in a heartbeat.

4. Oddly, one team that did impress me that I expected almost nothing special from was Texas A&M. I looked at that squad and didn't see them getting past BYU. So much for that. They took the Cougars apart, and I think they will give UConn a game in Round 2.

5. I was also impressed by Maryland, and that is now my upset special pick for Round 2 (I think). I need to look through some stats first before I make that official, but Memphis is clearly vulnerable.

6. Another vulnerable team is Gonzaga. I really liked them coming into the tournament, but same as Memphis I just wasn't impressed by them when they were pressed early on by a hungry Akron team. I don't see them losing to Western Kentucky, though that team certainly fits the bill as this year's sweetheart Sweet 16 squad. However, I also no longer consider them a Final Four darkhorse, as I once did.

7. Yet another team that I cooled on significantly was Villanova. I had them pegged as a legit threat to Pitt if they were to meet in the Elite 8. If they play like they did today when they take on UCLA they won't be making the trek to Boston. Maybe I'm being too harsh on these teams for one game, but watching these squads play just gave me all sorts of doubts today.

8. Eric Maynor completely let me down at the end of that VCU/UCLA game. I couldn't have imagined a worse offensive possession there. Maynor drove right at Collison who is superb defensively. Under what circumstance is that an acceptable decision? That play was as coordinated as diarrhea. I guess I'm just pissed because I thought that was a sure-fire upset special pick. Damn!

9. The best player of the day: Marcus Thornton from LSU. I didn't know a ton about him before today apart from him being a good scorer and LSU's best player. But I was very impressed by him today. 30 points against a quality Butler squad is nothing to overlook. And now he gets to match up with a North Carolina squad that is prone to giving up huge numbers defensively. Thornton is just the type of player that could give that Tar Heel team fits and he could maybe be just the right man for the job to lead a stunning upset of UNC. Or maybe I'm insane.

10 . Whoever that Morgan State player is, that guy should be ashamed of himself. That was ridiculous the way he went out of his way to hurt Blake Griffin like that. Completely classless and I really don't know how Griffin didn't get up and beat the bejeezus out of that guy. Would anyone have blamed him if he did? I sure wouldn't have.

And finally a quick prediction for tomorrow's Pitt game: Pitt 84 ETSU 57

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links

It's time to let the inmates loose! The Madness officially begins today, and with that in mind I have a few different links about the madness as I prepare for an exhausting day of sitting on my ass, watching 12 hours of basketball, eating copious amounts of pizza and drinking beer and coke all while I'm supposed to be sleeping sitting in my finance classes. If only my parents could see me now.

1. Are you one of the poor saps sitting at your cubicle on this glorious day hoping to catch a sneak of the grainy, snuff-film-looking footage of the March Madness games on CBS's website? Well then I would direct you here: Skipping work from TheLoveofSports.com. I especially liked the fake pink eye excuse. That could get you out today and tomorrow. Too perfect.

2. If you like sports simulation stuff, I can't recommend ESPN's Accuscore bracketcaster highly enough. I just spent 20 minutes simulating different brackets. It really is way more fun than simple percentages and odds ever should be, especially when it gives you zany upsets like it just gave me, with Siena in the Sweet 16 and Bobby Mo beating Sparty.

3. PSAMP pretty much nails spot on my thoughts about Dwyane Wade picking Pitt to win the title. I still wake up sometimes in a cold sweat thinking about what he did to Pitt in the tournament. Few people really remember this, but that game was really his coming out party, as he had only really dominated C-USA teams to that point. After he debacled Pitt, I think a lot of people realized just how special of a player he could be. Perhaps even more importantly, Wade's trademark move, the "drive-recklessly-towards-the-hoop-looking-for-contact-and-toss-up-a-terrible-shot-while-obviously-flopping-to-the-ground-like-you've-been-picked-off-by-a-sniper" routine was first unveiled to a national audience in this game. It was a big moment for basketball. Oh, and I think the refs from the 06 NBA Finals just called another foul on the Mavericks.

Site update: I'll be back later tonight with my personal and completely random thoughts from today's NCAA games. My plan for today is to skip not one, but two classes, and only tear myself away from the TV and the computer when the pizza guy shows up. God I love this time of year.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links

Like so many others on the morning March the 18th, I'm not really in peak mental and physical form right now. So let's get right to this thing:

1. A video from ESPN of Todd McShay talking to some random ESPN anchor about Shady McCoy's Workout. It sounds as though our old friend Shady had a good but not quite great workout. The 40 was a decent 4.50 (or so) which is better than Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells. The actual on-field performance in his workout was very solid and McShay raved about McCoy's ability to catch out of the backfield and get upfield quickly. That sounds like the Shady I know and love. In my mind this probably solidifies him as the 3rd best back in the draft, but I don't think that it was good enough to pass Wells or Moreno. What is interesting though is the job he did receiving. If the right team gets enamored with that facet of his game (Philly? Arizona?) he could definitely find himself going in the late first round.

2. Tom Gorzelanny is out like Tom Hagen. Gorzo, the once highly touted lefty starter who put up a superb 07 season with the Bucs, was optioned to the minors earlier today. This continues a ridiculous downward spiral for Gorzelanny. It also all but solidifes the opening day rotation as: Maholm, Snell, Duke, Ohlendorf and Karstens. You really have to wonder whether he even has a future with this organization, as a demotion with 3 weeks still to go before Opening Day doesn't just signify he wasn't as good as the others, it signifies some definite dissatisfaction with him from the organization.

3. Interesting bit about Pitt's (and every other big team's) chances to make it to the Final Four based on having future NBA players from 3 Hoops Fans. By their account, Pitt only having two future NBA picks (more on that in a sec) would make Pitt an underdog to the Dukies in their region. one of the more likely teams to make it to the Final Four, as having 2 is the magic number, as Jon pointed out to me in the comments below. Just going off the teams with the most future NBA sure-fire players, the Final Four would be North Carolina, UConn, Wake Forest and Duke. That would be a Big Time ACC year.

Also, I don't know that Blair and Sam I Am are the only Panthers with a shot at going pro, though. I still maintain Gil Brown has the athleticism and either Jermaine Dixon or Brad Wanamaker have the potential if they can continue to grow. Just something to keep in mind.

Finally, this isn't a link, but my nasty addiction to standing-watching in the NHL is really only getting worse, so I figured I'd share the affliction with all of you. The Pens are solidly the 5 seed right now in the East. Just gotta keep on winning. I don't want to play Boston or New Jersey in the first round personally.