Saturday, February 20, 2010

Q and A Exchange With Pitt Blather - Preview for Pitt / Villanova

To the Wildcat faithful-

I'd like to thank the distinguished Pittsburgh Panther blogger, Pitt Blather, for sharing his expertise on the perennial powerhouse from the other part of the Commonwealth...

He asked a set of questions on the Wildcats, both of myself and the fine Villanova blog, I Bleed Blue and White, and he has both cyber-interviews juxtaposed on Pitt Blather - it's well worth reading....

Without further ado:

Viewpoint: 1) Not to bring up an unpleasant subject- but obviously, we have to talk about what happened, with what we call "The Shot", in the Elite Eight last March, so let's get that out of the way, first...

Certainly, the Panthers seem to have shrugged off the loss well, given that you're nationally ranked, at #9 at one point, and a lock to return to the NCAA tournament - for the ninth consecutive season, after having missed the tournament during the previous eight seasons, from 1994 through 2002.

But what long-term impact - if any - did the game (and its dramatic ending) have on Dixon, the staff, the players, and/or the fans?

Pitt Blather: Well there was some heavy drinking involved for a while.

Honestly, as devastating as the loss was, it really had no major impact on the program. Dixon rejected a couple Pac-10 overtures. No assistants left. DeJuan Blair would have turned pro regardless.

There was a a sense of, "what can you do?" 'Nova shot some ungodly percentage at the free throw line. Scottie Reynolds finished. Pitt's defense played matador.

Most Pitt fans remain optimistic. Last year saw Pitt reach #1 in polls for the first time. Achieved a #1 seed in the NCAA Tourney. They broke through the Sweet 16 to the Elite 8 -- making it the first time since the 70s and the first time Pitt won more than 2 games in the NCAA Tournament. There's a sense that the Final Four and possibly more are still to come.

Viewpoint: 2) What's the state of the fan base, in terms of dealing with Villanova specifically?  We had defeated you twice last season, which was quite a difficult accomplishment, given that you finished the season 31-5 and with a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  We've also won three of the last four meetings, head-to-head.

Why were we able to defeat you, although we clearly had a team last season that was not as talented as yours?  Are there some sort of unique matchup problems, or certain X's and O's strategies, that are making the difference?

Pitt Blather: Should I point out that two of the wins were in Philly, and that the strangeness of Big East scheduling had 'Nova coming to Pittsburgh only once in the past five years? No? How about Jim Burr officiating?

There's a fair amount of animosity towards Villanova. History in the Big East and such. Another school in the state. Obviously there have been past and present recruiting battles over kids in Philly and NY/NJ. Throw in a decent number of kids from Philly who come to Pitt

As for why the Wildcats have been a problem for Pitt. Guard-heavy/oriented teams have been a thorn in Pitt's side for a number of years. 'Nova, Marquette even Seton Hall have disrupted Pitt. Pitt runs a half-court motion offense. Teams that have harassing, attacking guards on defense disrupt that and make it hard for Pitt to get the plays set. That also disrupts Pitt's ability to control the tempo and pace of the game.

Viewpoint: 3) UConn made us look really bad on Monday - and one major reason was our lack of depth in the frontcourt.  Our only reliable inside option is Antonio Pena, and if he gets into foul trouble, we're really forced to patch it up with Mouphtaou Yarou, a freshman, and Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman.  Is this something that Pitt might be able to exploit, in terms of getting Pena specifically (and Villanova in general) into foul trouble?

Pitt Blather: I hope so. Pitt has decent size at the center in Gary McGhee, but plays a smaller at the forwards spots. Pitt has made it a point to work harder to get the ball to McGhee. I expect more of that.

Viewpoint: 4) Overall, Jay Wright's strategy this season has been to use his enormous rotation (we go 11 deep), to wear down opponents.  We trap a lot and play a very aggressive defense, since if we get in foul trouble and/or get fatigued, particularly among the guards, we have replacements.  What might Dixon do to counteract that strategy? 

Pitt Blather: I don't expect anything too different. Pitt will try to slow the tempo. Limit turnovers and keep 'Nova from running if at all possible. The best way to stop the trapping is to limit scoring. It's a lot harder to trap when it comes off a rebound rather than having a chance to set up on a score. 

Viewpoint 5)  What's been the biggest surprise for Pitt this season?

Pitt Blather: Gary McGhee, the center. He has made huge strides from being a walking foul to very solid inside. Even as the season has progressed he has continued to improve and play with so much more confidence. Especially in the last couple weeks, he has gotten more vocal in demanding the ball and doing something with it.

Viewpoint: 6)  What's been the biggest difference between this year's team, and last year's?

Pitt Blather: It's a smaller team. The guards play a much bigger role. 

Viewpoint: 7)  Finally, I have to ask about the rumors, about the possibility of Pitt eventually joining the Big Ten, as its 12th member - and renewing the once-significant rivalry with Penn State in football.  I understand, from what little I know about it, that it's been chalked up as groundless, from Pitt official circles...  but do you think there's any truth to it, at all?  Or any meaningful chance of it happening?

Obviously, if you were to leave, it would set off the same sort of chain reaction throughout the nation, than the upheavals of the 2003 departures of Miami, Virginia Tech, and (most notoriously, of course) Boston College, for the ACC.  The Big East would certainly want to replace the Panthers with another big-time football (and hopefully, basketball) program.... which would then set off more ripple effects throughout many conferences.

Also, I found the rumor, that much more surprising, because of the admirable role that Pitt played, in brokering the 2003 agreement to keep the Big East together for at least five years.... 

Right now, everything is pure rumor. The Big 11 has done nothing yet. The money and stability of the Big 10 is such that there is no way Pitt or any other Big East school could say no. I honestly don't know. I think the Big 11 is actually looking harder at teams from the Big 12 right now. At the very least the Big 12 schools seem to be much more overtly interested.

You have to understand how bad the present set-up in the Big East is for the football schools. Short by at least one team. No real sense of stability. A bad TV deal that puts the schools at even more of a competitive disadvantage compared to other programs. I am honestly surprised that the Big East has stayed united this long.

Thanks to Pitt Blather for his time, and in addition to his interview with IBBW and myself, take a look at this post, which is a comprehensive Villanova link roundup...

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

Great exchange. Thanks. I'm always interested in this game since I have graduate degree from Pitt and feel no guilt at all in rooting against the Panthers.

Have to give Pitt credit. They were tough, tough, tough on defense and came up with answers every time we threatened. Never quite sure who's the more attractive and effective young coach -- Jamie Dixon or Jay Wright.

Agreed with Clark Kellogg's analysis on CBS: Pitt moved the ball around a lot on offense and we didn't, relying too much on dribble-drive. Couple of times we moved the ball, we got nice shots.

I did like how mentally tough we were. Very impressed with that. Never gave up. Think that will pay off down the line.

Think we'll now have to win back our #1 seed.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. My thoughts-

I agreed with Kellogg's analysis, and not solely because he provided it, in his usual parlance and entertaining manner. We didn't move the ball well at all, until the end, when the threes started to drop.

I was impressed with the late rally, especially because Pitt kept leaving the door open by missing their own FTs and fouling us...

I mention the problems with trying to claim a #1 seed in the game recap, above...

Go Wildcats!