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Written by PSB Bryan | 25 October 2010

Yes, Rutgers isn't very good - but Pitt couldn't do what it did today to either New Hampshire or Florida International and the Scarlet Knights are better than both teams. The Panthers have a long way to go to get to where they want to be and a lot of room for improvement, but it is clear they are now on the right track and if they continue to improve like this each week, the Big East title is indeed within their reach.

I think those two sentences probably sum it up best.  For the second half against Rutgers - and really for the second time in two weeks - Pitt looked like the team we expected to see when they were ranked in the top 15.  Like the Syracuse game, everything clicked.  The defensive line generated pressure against Rutgers sub-par O-line (Sheard had 2 sacks, Lindsey had 3, Donald is just a plain beast).  The offense was able to move the efficiently both on the ground and through the air to the tune of 200 rushing yards and 300 passing yards.  Tino Sunseri made his reads and threw to the open receiver with accuracy and touch, including a 45 yard touchdown to Jon Baldwin, who had 139.

Pitt finally looking like the team we thought they could be.  And don't look now, but with Syracuse's win over WVU, Pitt is in the driver's seat of the Big East.  Yes, this team suffered embarrassing loses in the non-conference matches, but winning the Big East, even a bad Big East, is another step forward:

There is no reason, save for a rash of key injuries, that Pitt shouldn't take a perfect league record into its final two games, against West Virginia and Cincinnati.

Credit coach Dave Wannstedt for having his team primed for its first two conference games after a monumentally disappointing non-league finish of 2-3. Wannstedt's recent lineup changes woke up some people and made Pitt a better team. Nowhere is that more evident than along the offensive line, where Jordan Gibbs has settled in at right tackle and Lucas Nix at right guard.

This team has made strides and are fighting under Wannstedt.  As maddening as he can be sometimes, he's made adjustments - however slowly - and this team is in position to win the conference.  In other words, for all intents and purposes, this team is getting to right where we thought they would be.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 24 October 2010

Aside from Jamie Dixon's late night good deeds (which I imagine will eventually become more epic than the rescue scene from Crash after a few hundreds retellings), there were some Pitt basketball notes this weekend:

But the coach who I believe will finally begin to be recognized as a top-tier talent is Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon,who is 44. Did you realize that last year Dixon tied the NCAA coaching record for most wins in his first seven years? That his .696 career win percentage is the highest in Big East history? Last year, his Panthers were supposed to take a step back after losing four starters from the team that came within a Scottie Reynolds layup of making the Final Four. All Dixon did was lead them to 25 wins and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Now, with four starters back, Pittsburgh will make a strong run at a Big East title and a No. 1 seed. If that happens, I expect more casual fans to recognize that Dixon is among the best in the business.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 24 October 2010

Jamie Dixon is the man:

screen_shot_2010-10-24_at_12.07.05_pmThe vehicle had flipped over while going on I-279 North near the McKnight Road exit in Pittsburgh and was on its side when Dixon, who was driving on the same highway, pulled over to help.

"[Dixon] assisted in removing at least one of the two occupants," Pennsylvania state trooper Erik Fisher told ESPN.com on Sunday morning. "He sustained some injuries to his hands in assisting in getting them out through the windshield of the vehicle on the passenger side."

"He was a good Samaritan," [PA StateTrooper] Fisher said. "That's the way people are supposed to be. By all accounts he did exactly what a decent person should do. It's an Interstate freeway and I'm sure countless other cars drove right past. He was one of the very few who pulled over."

Very classy move by Jamie.

Internet rumors have Louisville's Rick Pitino also on scene during the crash, but he could only help for about 15 seconds.

HTP.
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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 October 2010

3 - 3 (1 - 0)

vs.

4 -2 (1 - 0)

Pittsburgh, PA
12:00 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: 60, mostly sunny
TV: ESPN3.com / Local ABC
Radio: 93.7 The Fan

93.7 The Fan Blogger Discussion
AP: As Rutgers regroups from heartbreak, Pitt awaits

Game Day Stories, (Good Guys):

Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):

Hail to Pitt.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 October 2010

dejuan-blairSome great basketball alumni news this evening as Pittsburgh's own DeJuan Blair has been named the starting center for the San Antonio Spurs:

“Starting in the NBA is a big thing for anybody who's in the NBA,” [DeJuan Blair] said. “Getting minutes is another big thing, and being smart.

“He's giving me the opportunity, and I'm going to take full advantage of it and try to be the best I can be.”

Popovich asked Blair to work hard this summer to reduce both his weight and percentage of body fat. When Blair reported to camp at just less than 8 percent body fat, down from 14 percent, and at 265 pounds — 15 under his rookie season playing weight — the Spurs coach saw a quicker, more efficient big man. He started him in the preseason opener in Houston on Oct. 7 and has seen nothing to make him rethink his decision.

Fantastic news for the Big Fella.  Best of luck to DeJuan.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 October 2010

tino-sunseriDespite all of Pitt's own issues, it would be easy to take Rutgers lightly.  They're a team in transition after benching their returning QB, Tom Savage.  They've lost a friend and a teammate to a debilitating injury just six days ago.  They've got big problems along their offensive line that will be tested on the road by one of the better pass rushing units in college football.

Yeah, it would be easy to look past Rutgers.  But we've seen how that works out.  Last time Rutgers came to the Ketchup Palace, it was 54-34 Rutgers in a game that didn't even feel 20 points close.

And it's not like that Rutgers team was a bunch of All-Americans, either.

The coaches are going to have to have the defense ready.  Rutgers is also 1-0 in the conference and a win essentially will give Pitt a game-and-a-half advantage in the standings.  Rutgers' runs a spread offense that gives Pitt enough trouble as is, but they also run a wildcat formation spearheaded by the versatile Mohamed Sanu.  The good news for Pitt is that Rutgers' offensive line is having a tough time protecting their young quarterback.  Wow, that sure sounds familiar.

For Sunseri and the offensive, it's going to be a similar game of protection.  There should be a lot of confidence there after drilling Syracuse on the road.  Sunseri had a fantastic game against a subpar Syracuse defense, but it was still the best game of his young career.  But he'll be taking on a Rutgers defense that should be jacked up and wanting to win one for LeGrand.

On paper Pitt wins this game... just like 2008.

A few other rushed links:

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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 October 2010

screen_shot_2010-10-22_at_7.16.10_am

Again, not surprising, but still nice to see.  Pitt was ranked in the top five of the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, behind only Duke, Michigan State and Kansas State.

Other Big East teams who made the cut are Villanova at 6, Syracuse at 13 and Georgetown at 21.  Coaches Vs. Cancer opponents Illinois and Texas are ranked 16 and 25, respectively.

Also, a reminder that tonight is the annual Blue-Gold game at the Peterson Event Center.  Free admission, so there's no excuse not to check it out.

HTP.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 21 October 2010

56929001

Really wanted to do a full post this morning, but between a time crunch and accident;y deleting it halfway through, all I have is an abbreviated link dump.  Enjoy:

I'll update this post with more articles as I discover them.  Happy Thursday.
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Written by PSB Bryan | 19 October 2010

Lots of football to go over this morning.  Yes, the Syracuse game was beatdown.  The final margin of victory was 31 points, but it felt like even more than four touchdowns.  Years of sub-par recruiting hasn't left Greg Robinson Doug Marrone with much in the cupboard to work with.  They're a better team than they've been, but they still have a long way to go.

As for Pitt, a blowout road win was exactly what the doctor ordered.  Tino Sunseri had the best outing of any Pitt quarterback in half a decade.  He threw the ball well, and spread it around with Ray Graham, Brock DeCicco, Devin Street and Mike Shanahan all catching their first career touchdown receptions.  The wheel route to Graham was particularly impressive - it was well-times and well-thrown to the front corner of the endzone and I'd imagine it's something Cignetti will try again this season.

Even on defense, guys who've been beaten up on for past lackluster performances stepped up big.  Ricky Gary got the game ball for returning an interception 80 yards for a score.  Tristain Roberts made tackles.  Greg Williams did well in pass coverage.  On special teams, Cam Saddler caught every punt and made a solid return on almost all of them.

It's strange, but Pitt's biggest games this season have all been their most meaningless - at least in terms of getting to the BCS.  After games against Utah, Miami and Notre Dame, Pitt should be favored in every game until the Backyard Brawl at the end of November.  They could certainly lose one (or several), but they should be able to beat Rutgers, Louisville, UConn and South Florida.  That would set up a 7-3 team against what should be a 9-1 WVU squad.

Of course, they can't look past anyone.  Rutgers has struggled - most notably losing to Tulane and needed OT for Army - but they've had Pitt's number as of late.  It's a big game for both teams, and not just because it's a conference game.  For Pitt, I'd imagine there are lots of recruits in their new recruiting base of New Jersey who will be watching.  As for Rutgers, they're also playing with some extra motivation in the form of paralyzed teammate Eric LeGrandPitt will of course pay their respects for a fellow amateur athlete who's life is forever changed.

Both teams desperately need a win to hang their hat on this season.  Pitt's season hasn't gone as planned, but winning the Big East will go a long way in making everyone forget about the start of the season.  There will be no Heisman; there will be no top 10 ranking.  Winning the Big East is the only road to glory.

Of course, Rutgers is also 1-0 in conference and is in desperate need to forget about the begining of the season as well.  They're QBs have struggled.  Their defense is solid but not spectacular.  Sound familiar?

And with storylines like that, is anyone surprised the game is on ESPN3?

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Written by PSB Bryan | 18 October 2010

It's so close.

Expect the local newspapers to begin warming up their coverage now that media day has come and gone - especially with "expectations" pieces.  The Beaver County Times seems to be the first one to the party:

The only thing Pitt hasn’t accomplished during Dixon’s tenure is a trip to the Final Four. And while that seems so far off now, it would seem the Panthers have at least have a shot of a shot of making it to Houston if the pundits are right.

“We’ve got our goals,” Wannaker said.

“The only goal that matters right now is winning the Big East. That’s our focus until the (regular) season is over.”

Is it too soon to begin the Final Four talk?  For the team the answer is obviously "yes."  But for the fans?  I think everyone knows that's the goal, said or unsaid.  They've come so close (warning: link may contain Scottie Reynolds), only to fall short at the end.  Maybe this is the year for Pitt and maybe it isn't, but it's clear that this team is a top ten team.  And as long as you're a top ten team with top ten talent, you have a chance for things to break your way come March.

Of course, Pitt will need players to step up.  Good to great.  Inconsistent to consistent.  More production out of the power forward position would be good.  So would more points from McGhee/Taylor underneath.  But perhaps the biggest factor in Pitt's ability to make a deep tournament run will be the insanely talented, but hot and cold, Gilbert Brown:

The only criticism of Brown's offensive game last season was his consistency, or rather his lack of it. He was a force at times and invisible in other games. He reached double figures 12 times, scoring 16 or more points on eight occasions. But he failed to score more than six points in nine other games, which was a maddening development for fans of the team.

Over the offseason, Brown attempted to remedy the problem.

"I guess you can say I've been in the gym more," Brown said. "It's all about putting it together and competing every day. It's'not necessarily that the inconsistency played in my head or I was thinking about it all the time. Last year, we had a different type of team. At times Brad would step up, and at times I would step up. I think it will be different this year, especially with me playing from the start of the season."

Dixon has been pleased with Brown's offense. It's a little known fact that Brown led the Panthers in 3-point field-goal shooting percentage last season. Brown shot 39.6 percent (21 for 53), six-tenths of a percent better than Gibbs. He also is an unselfish player who can create for others.

The whole "20 points one night, zero the next" needs to become 12-16 points every night for Pitt to be successful.  Yes, Pitt can score in a variety of ways, but no player on the roster brings the explosive ability of Brown.  When he's on, he changes the entire game with his superb shooting and athleticism.

Speaking of Brown, he'll be featured in Friday night's post-scrimmage dunk contest along with freshmen JJ Moore and Cameron Wright.  The scrimmage kicks off at 7:00 p.m. (free admission).

Gilbert Brown

JJ Moore

Cameron Wright

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