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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

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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

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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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Written by PSB Bryan | 18 October 2010

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Some roster news in the wake of Pitt's 45-14 thrashing of Syracuse: Freshmen TJ Peeler, Bernardo Nunez and Kevin Adams have been suspended by Wannstedt.  TJ Peeler is out for the year with a knee injury, so no big loss there, but the other two have already redshirted and are missing out on valuable practice time and the chance for game experience.  Disappointing, but at this point, I'm ok with anything as long the police aren't involved.  I suppose it's better they learn this lesson now then when they are major contributors and perhaps cost the team a win.

In better news, despite earlier reports that freshman Bryan Murphy was going to see the field for the first time as a Panther, Murphy did not have to play against Syracuse and the coaches were able to keep his redshirt intact.  Apparently, Brandon Lindsey was able to play more than expected, therefore reducing the need for another defensive end.  Great news, especially considering that TJ Clemmings has already burnt his redshirt.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 16 October 2010

2 -3

vs.

4 -1

Syracuse, NY
12:00 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: Dome
TV: Big East Network (Local ABC)
Radio: 93.7 The Fan

93.7 The Fan Blogger Discussion
AP: Red-hot Orange prepare for disappointing Panthers

Game Day Stories, (Good Guys):

Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):

Hail to Pitt.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 15 October 2010

At 12:00 a.m. tonight, college basketball season officially begins.  A lot of the big names schools will have Midnight Madness open practices - along with a few other things to dazzle the media and potential recruits.  Pitt?  Not so much.  I can't quite figure out why, especially considering a decent turnout would be all but assured because 1) It's on a Friday this year; and 2) I get the feeling that the Notre Dame game was the unofficial end of football season for some fans.

Anyway, yesterday was media day so prepare yourselves for some Grade-A Jamie Dixon Coach-Speak:

"You're the team that everyone picked to finish at the bottom of the conference and now you'll be picked at the top of the conference," Dixon said. "And you're the same guys. What makes you different? Just remember that. That's something we remember and we've really emphasized to our team, that they get that part of it."

Pitt was picked to finish ninth in a preseason poll of the league's coaches last season and wound up in a tie for second place. The players have taken their coach's words to heart as they embark on this season.

I was fully expecting the "bullseye on your back" thing from Jamie, but I think I like this apporach better.  The "you're the same people who no one respected last season" thing is clearly an attempt to keep them hungry and from buying into their own hype, but they hype might just be too much this year to ignore.  Everyone saw what this team is capable of, and now there's big expectations from the fans and the media on both the players and the coach.

Like other highly regarded Pitt teams, expect this year's team to focus of defense and, of course, rebounding:

Gary McGhee spoke with conviction after learning coach Jamie Dixon wants Pitt to be the nation's top rebounding team.

"That," the 6-foot-11 senior center said, "is definitely a realistic goal."

Pitt finished third in the Big East and 29th in the nation in rebounding margin last season. That, Dixon said, isn't good enough.

"We have to be a great rebounding team," he said. "Not a good one. I mean a great one, like dominating."

Gary McGhee will obviously be a big part of that, but don't forget about Dante Taylor.  Taylor had a very good summer in Greentree and should be able to take more a role (and more minutes) and center.  He looked much stronger than he did last winter and played without the hesitation and uncertainty that plagued his freshman season.  Of course, playing Georgetown in the Verizon Center is a little different than a pickup team at the Greentree Sportsplex, so I'm anxious to see him in a real game soon.

Jamie Dixon also had lunch with KDKA's Bob Pompeani at Uncle Sam's in Oakland so expect a piece tonight on tonight's evening news.  I can officially report the sandwiches were good. #SCOOP

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Not sure exactly when the interview will air, as KDKA seems to have a never ending news broadcast from 4:00 to 7:00, but if I find out, I'll put it up on Twitter (which can be seen over there to right).

In other "get excited for basketball news," Pitt's Oakland Zoo will be rockin' some modified threads (h/t to the Oakland Zoo Twitter):

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I absolutely love the new design.  Great job, guys.

There will be more basketball pre-pre-season posts coming before the Blue-Gold game next Friday (which will be shown on Pitt's Comcast Channel and now features a dunk contest).

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Written by PSB Bryan | 13 October 2010

Funny how wrong those pre-season polls can be.  Now, after a mere month and a half, the much hyped Pitt Panthers will head to the Carrier Dome as underdogs.

How did this happen?  Well, we know what happened on the Pittsburgh end - losing on national television three times in less than 60 days will do that to you.  But Syracuse?  Really?  John Brennan of Orange44 is feeling confident:

The mantra from practically day one this season has been that anything can happen in this Big East. We're seeing it unfold before our eyes. Coming up this Saturday is a noon matchup against preseason Big East favorite Pittsburgh. My how things have changed! I fully expect to see 45,000+ Syracuse fans wearing orange in the Dome on Saturday for Homecoming, knowing that this offense and this team have turned the corner and knowing that what was surely a loss when everyone looked at the schedule in August is a very winnable game. And we can all know that if Ryan Nassib doesn't exactly have his stuff with him on Saturday, he at least has the confidence of his teammates, his coaches, and his fans to make something happen.

Really no reason to not be confident if you're Syracuse.

'Cuse's main man in the backfield is Delone Carter, who really doesn't like being hit with snowballs.  Ryan Nassib returns to manage games in wake of Greg Paulus' departure.  Nassib struggled early against South Florida, then apparently put together a nice fourth quarter drive and has been playing reasonably well.  Receiver Mike Williams is off in NFL.  That concludes everything I know about Syracuse football.

There hasn't been much reason to celebrate for a long time in Syracuse, but now they're 4-1 with a chance to start 2-0 in conference.  This game means something to their players.  It's the biggest game at the Carrier Dome in years.  All of this pressure could get in their heads.  But then again, this Pitt team scares absolutely no one.  Or more particularly, this Pitt coach scares no one:

Like most running backs, Ray Graham and Dion Lewis improve with the more carries they get.

They get loose, acquire a feel for the defense and find a rhythm.

"Once you start playing and get your feet going, it's better," Graham said. "You get the flow of the game going."

One week, 277 yards for Graham.  Next week, 8 carries for 44 yards.  Zeise is reporting that they'll run in alternating series.  No rhyme or reason.  No strategy.  Just alternating.

In other news, Dom DeCicco has been moved back to safety, at least for this game.  I understanding wanting to get a more traditional linebacker in there against a running team, but are the options avaliable really better than DeCicco?  Although somewhat undersized, he's a better all around option than what was there.  No to mention that the safety position - and the secondary in general - have been playing pretty well, all things considered.  I'll wait to criticize, but I as of right now, I hate this move.

Not time to panic yet, but this game has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the season.

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