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Written by PSB Bryan | 02 April 2012

Finding the right adjective to describe Pitt football's 2011 is challenging. "Turbulent" fits, but it really doesn't seem gloomy enough. "Disastrous" seems closer to the mark, but maybe a bit over the top considering expectations were generally pretty low for the season. But however you want to describe it, 2011 was a terrible year for Pitt football.

Firing Wannstedt in December of 2010 needed to be done. The program's momentum had stalled out after some moderate success. The off-the-field issues didn't help and actually seemed to be the nail in the coffin. The firing of Wannstedt was messy. The players loved him. A lot of the media liked him. He was a good face of the program and fit the whole "My City. My Panthers." mantra that the athletic department pushes to build a non-Pitt grad fanbase in the region. But it was clear after Jordan Todman converted on fourth down on a November night in East Hartford - and even clearer as WVU dropped the hammer the day after Thanksgiving - that Pitt had to make a change.

But that change has taken Pitt on an unprecedented spiral of bad news, bad decisions and bad luck. With one decision - the correct decision in my opinion - Pitt went from a relatively stable, albeit average program to a national joke complete with colorful characters. Mike Haywood. Penni Graham. The Fraud. Mike Norvell. "High Octane" transformed from a catchphrase to a punch-line. In the course of 13 months, Pitt had six head coaches. Six.

So here we are with coach #6. Paul Chryst. A near universally praised hire. But that doesn't mean huge challenges don't remain. Two years of hectic recruiting has left the offensive line woefully thin. Artie Rowell is the only offensive linemen in two classes. Besides Rowell, there's only two players with even underclassmen eligibility: Matt Rotheram and transfer Tom Ricketts. There are serious question marks at quarterback, receiver and linebacker. Depth remains at huge issue in both lines. There's enough work cut out for Chryst and his staff.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 02 April 2012

It's been done by just about every Pitt football outlet, but the story of Dan Mason's return to Pitt is nothing short of incredible. After sustaining nerve damage to his leg during an injury against Miami in 2010, it seemed pretty likely that Mason would never play football again.

Mason seems like a pretty humble kid (via the PG):

He said he was crushed when doctors told him his career was likely over. But he wasn't about to accept their opinion without pushing himself to work through the long rehabilitation process.

"Yeah [it is a miracle]," Mason said, "but I couldn't stop rehabbing and everything, trying to get back. God put something in me, I just couldn't [quit], I just had to try. It was working hard and faith. I was doubting right after the injury, but that is the only time I doubted. But, once I just got back into it, got my mindset right, it just started coming back.

"But it isn't me, don't get me wrong, it isn't me," he said, then gave all the credit to God.

Obviously, he's become a bit of rallying cry for his teammates and the coaches, all of whom are looking for positive after a 5-7 season (via):

"I salute Dan Mason, I have fallen in love with the kid, he is tough as nails," said Pitt defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. "When I got here, I was told that we probably wouldn't have him. But I'll tell you what, he is making a lot of non-believers [into] believers. He is working extremely hard, and I pray for that kid every night that he can stay healthy and continue to improve because he loves it, he loves this game.

"I think there is still a little bit of limitation there, but I've never seen his head down or use it as an excuse," Huxtable said. "And I've never seen any body language suggesting it might bother him."

A fantastic story. The story-book aspect of it will be complete if he can beat out sophomore linebacker EJuan Price for the inside linebacker starting spot. Price was Graham's outside rush linebacker, but after a disappointing season, this staff has moved him inside to compete with Mason. Ideally, Mason can play at 100%, win the job, and allow the coaches to redshirt Price. That would put two seasons of distance between the two in 2013 (Mason then a RS senior and Price a RS sophomore).

And just as it appears that the linebacking core is looking like a real unit with depth, here comes the arrests. Carl Flemming probably wasn't going to be a starter, but he did play in 5 games last season, so he has some experience.

Fleming has been suspended indefinitely suspended from the team. As the unlucky winner of "first guy to get in trouble with a new coach," I'd expect Fleming to win an no expense paid trip back to his home of Maryland and dismissal from the team. Sucks, but precedent must be set. That he's not a star player softens the blow a little.

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Written by TFW Bryan | 31 March 2012

And just like that, the 2011-12 basketball season finally came to its official end.  The Pitt Panthers are the champions of the College Basketball Invitational sponsored by Zebra Pens.

It is in no way the end we imagined or had hoped for, but you know what?  It could have been a lot worse.  Instead of finishing the regular season 2-7 in their last seven games regular season games and BIG EAST tournament, the Panthers finished 7-3 in their last 10.

We can all laugh and argue that Pitt should have never accepted an invitation to this tournament, but the truth is that this is the tournament that this team deserved to play in.  They showed more desire and effort than we had seen in most games this year.  They won a hard fought games against Butler on their court.  They almost pulled out an improbable win Pullman, WA.  They took care of business on their home court (and paid a lot of money to do so).

It was said that the original intention was to keep playing and to get the younger guys some minutes.  Yet Malcolm Gilbert saw the court just under two minutes a game, and even saw less minutes in the finale than Nick Rivers.  Cam Wright saw only two minutes against Wofford, but averaged 15 minutes a game in the remaining five.  J.J. Moore had the switch flip near the end of the regular season and continued his dominance averaging 12 points a game.  And then there is Lamar Patterson.

Patterson was named most valuable player in the CBI following Pitt's 71-65 victory against Washington State in the third game of the best-of-three championship series Friday at Petersen Events Center.

Patterson capped his strong postseason performance with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. For the tournament, he averaged 13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

How does the rest of the team feel about Patterson's performance?

"Lamar was tremendous this tournament," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

"He's been real confident," point guard Tray Woodall said. "He's a Brad Wanamaker-type player. He instills confidence in the rest of his teammates. Guys are confident he'll make the right plays. Coach Dixon calls sets for him knowing he'll make the right play all the time."

Patterson earned a starting position as a sophomore, but he did not assert himself the way he did in this tournament. He was often in the background as Ashton Gibbs and Woodall dominated the offensive touches.

But in this tournament, Patterson was the focal point of the offense, and it provided a glimpse of what the Panthers will look like next season.

And that is exactly what Jamie Dixon had hoped to get out of playing in a tournament that most people had never heard of, plus maybe a free Zebra Pen or two.

As fans, we can all say that we have now learned what channel HDNet is and that HDNet doesn't come in on standard definition TVs.  Always a win to find a new station that carries reruns of "JAG" during the day.

People will say that it is better to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament than to win another post-season tournament, and I can't disagree with that statement.  But as a fan, I will look back on this post-season more fondly than the post-season run of the 2004-05 team that included loses to Villanova and Pacific in the first round of the BIG EAST and NCAA tournaments.

cbi_trophy

Hail to Pitt!

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Written by PSB Bryan | 29 March 2012

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Written by Victory Lights | 27 March 2012

The 2012 Pitt football schedule was released today and there are a few nice surprises to it.  Let's get right to it:

 

Date

Opponent Time TV
Sept. 1 Youngstown St.           6:00pm    
Sept. 6 (Thurs)   @ Cincinnati* 8:00pm ESPN
Sept. 15 Virginia Tech TBA
Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb TBA Hahaha
Sept. 29 Bye
Oct. 5 (Fri) @ Syracuse* 7:00pm ESPN
Oct. 13 Louisville* TBA
Oct. 20 @ Buffalo TBA
Oct. 27 Temple* TBA
Nov. 3 @ Notre Dame 3:30pm NBC
Nov. 9 (Fri) @ Connecticut* 8:0pm ESPN2
Nov. 17 Bye
Nov. 24 Rutgers* TBA
Dec. 1 @ South Florida* TBA ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2   

Home games in bold blue.
*denotes BIG EAST Conference game

Pitt's Athletics website notes that due to Television considerations, TBA kickoff times will be announced at a later date.  They should add in parentheses afterwards "also known as 12pm" but I guess they're being optimistic.

On that optimistic side, all the home games are on Saturdays this season, so get your breakfast tailgates planned now.  BIG EAST play kicks off really early in the season on Sept. 6 when the Panthers travel to Cincinnati to fill that gaping hole left by TCU in the schedule.  Fortunately for Cincinnati there shouldn't be any snow.  Temple is welcomed back into the BIG EAST because few to no other options existed with open arms and travels to Heinz Field, looking to beat Pitt for the first time since 1998.  The weekend usually reserved for brawling in the backyard with hoopies is replaced with a home game against the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.  I just hope it's more entertaining that 2011's Pitt-Rutgers <sarcasm> offensive fireworks display </sarcasm>.

There are quite a few nationally televised games, including the big show down at Notre Dame.  It's on NBC, so get your earphones ready to tune out the blatant homerism listen to Billy Hilgrove and Pat Bostick with the call.  The BIG EAST is hoping that Pitt vs. USF can turn out to be a championship match-up, or maybe one of the other games that weekend will if nothing else.  That should fill the void until they can have a true conference championship game, sure.


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Written by PSB Bryan | 27 March 2012

It was a game of runs, inconsistency and poor defense that showed why both teams missed out on the NCAAs and even the NIT (via the Trib):

After an 8-2 opening for Pitt, Washington State (19-16) put together a 15-4 spurt to make it 17-12. Not to be outdone, the Panthers responded with a 13-0 streak over the next 2:23 — highlighted by eight points from Moore — to go on top, 25-17.

Both teams shot better than 55 percent from the floor in the opening half and over 50 percent from 3-point range. But behind seven 3-pointers, including three by Woodall, it was Pitt who jogged into the locker room at halftime with a 38-35 lead.

Washington State came out hot in the second half, but Pitt struggled from the floor, shooting just 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) in the final 20 minutes. That included a seven-minute stretch without a field goal beginning at 14:20.

Despite the dry spell, Pitt rallied in the final minutes. Trailing 65-59 with 1:46 left, Moore was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He promptly stepped to the line and knocked down all three to cut the lead in half.

Like Pitt's season as a whole, last night was a game of missed chances (via the AP):

Pitt (20-17) had a couple of chances to win the game in the final 3.5 seconds. But Tray Woodall’s layup attempt was swatted away by Washington State’s D.J. Shelton. Then the Panthers’ Lamar Patterson missed a long jumper as time expired.

“We had two good looks and came up short,” Dixon said.

Woodall and J.J. Moore led Pitt with 16 points each, while Nasir Robinson had 11 points.

Dante Taylor continues to play terribly. Despite playing 20 minutes, he managed no points or even shots. He contributed five rebounds, but that four of them were offensive makes his zero shots even more troubling. Gibbs continues to play as if the season ended in late January, contributing seven points on seven field goal attempts over 28 minutes.

John Johnson and Cam Wright both were absent from the scoring sheet.

It's always tough losing. It's especially tough losing to a below average team missing their top players (via the PG):

Brock Motum, the Pacific-12 Conference scoring leader, appears unlikely to play in the series. He has been on crutches and wearing a protective boot since suffering what he described as a "severe" ankle sprain Wednesday at Oregon State.

Motum, Washington State's biggest and best player at 6 feet 10 and 245 pounds, leads the Cougars with 18.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Motum is a candidate for the Australian Olympic team this summer.

Washington State's second-leading scorer, guard Faisal Aden (14.5 ppg), was lost for the year with a knee injury in late January. The Cougars' top active scorer entering the game Monday was junior point guard Reggie Moore (9.6).

Pitt's second chance at the Cougars will be Wednesday at 7:00 at the Pete. If they win there, it will come down to game three Friday night, also at home.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 26 March 2012

WSUFlagGamedaySixty-six of Pitt's 68 points against Butler came from underclassmen. Yes, it's the CBI. Yes, Butler wasn't very good either. But 66 of 68? That's a feel-good number in a season that lacked a lot of positives. It's not so much that Dixon has taken away chances from Ashton and Nasir in favor of the younger guys, it's that the seniors are playing with a lack of fire. Not so much for the youngins, especially Lamar Patterson (via the PG):

Woodall, who will return as the point guard next season, likes the change. He said it is similar to the way the team did things for the previous two seasons when Brad Wanamaker was on the team at shooting guard.

"Myself and Lamar are unselfish players," Woodall said. "We want to get our teammates involved and make our teammates better. Running our offense through him is like running our offense through Brad.

"It's definitely a good look for next year. I think Lamar is handling it very well. He's definitely taking advantage of it."

That's good to hear because a lot of Pitt's problems will presumably be corrected with the addition of Steven Adams down low. JJ Moore and Patterson seem pretty capable of leading scoring, although Patterson still needs to stop passing up open shots.

But before next season begins, there's still unfinished business tonight in the state of Washington. And if you ever wondered where exactly Washington State University is, the answer is "80 miles from the middle of nowhere" (via the Trib):

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he will approach the series like he does quick turnarounds in Big East play. The Panthers left on a commercial flight for the West Coast on Saturday and worked out at Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., before making the 80-mile trip to Pullman.

I've always thought Gonzaga is in the middle of nowhere, but anytime you're using Spokane as a reference point, you're talking remote.

Anyway, Washington State went 7-11 in a terrible Pac-12 conference, although I'm not sure how that compares to Pitt going 5-13 in a good Big East. Big wins include an overtime game against Utah and a 43-38 win over USC.

WSU will likely be without their leading scorer, Brock Motum, who sprained his ankle early in WSU's semifinal win over Oregon State. Swingman Abe Lodwick seems to be the player to watch out for after he hit on 5-of-8 from beyond the arc against OSU.

At least they're looking at the positives (via Seattle Times):

"Playing Pitt here, it's a big-name school coming in and giving us some publicity over on the East Coast for recruits and stuff," said freshman guard DaVonte Lacy. "I think it's a real good opportunity for us and hopefully we take advantage of it."

Oh.

The game will once again be on HDNet and 93.7 The Fan. 10:00 p.m. tip. It's a best of three series that continues at the Pete on Wednesday.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 23 March 2012

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Written by PSB Bryan | 23 March 2012

Pressed for time, so I'm jumping right into it.

Once again, it was a dramatic finish. But this time Pitt was on the right side of it (via the AP):

Patterson tied the score at 52 with a 3-pointer with 36.3 seconds left, and when the Bulldogs tried to play for the final shot, Roosevelt Jones was fouled with 4.2 seconds to go.

He missed both free throws, giving Patterson a chance to win it with a half-court heave. It was well short.

In overtime, things got even worse.

Patterson's short jumper with 1:47 to go broke a 57-57 tie and started a closing 11-5 run to seal the victory and prevent Butler, the two-time NCAA national runner-ups, from playing for a third straight postseason championship.

Pitt's seniors were woefully bad. Just two points off 16 shots. That left 66 of Pitt's 68 to be scored by returning players. So at least that's something. Zanna, Moore, Patterson and Woodall all scored in double figures, with Patterson leading the way on the boards with 10.

Dante Taylor continued to struggle, logging only 6 points and one (1!) rebound. With Zanna's continued growth and Steven Adams coming in next season, I'm not sure where he fits in on the 2012-13 team.

Pitt plays Washington State Monday night at 10:00 on HDNet (Yikes). It's a best of three series so they other two games will be at the Pete Wednesday and Friday if necessary.

Yeah, it's the CBI. But in a season full of disappointments, it'd be nice to actually go out a win the thing.

Just no banners please.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 21 March 2012

I can't bring myself to post a YouTube video of the final seconds of Butler's upset of Pitt last season. The Indy Star looks back at the game in today's paper, so check that out if you want to relive it. I can't.

It won't even be close to getting even. Not even in the same hemisphere. But it'll be something. This whole tournament is just about getting guys more games to compete in. But it's still win or go home. Let's not go home because of the fourth or fifth best team in Indiana for two years in a row.

Even more than a "rematch" this is the all-disappointment bowl. Pitt is here after winning the Big East and earning a #1 seed last year. Butler is here after back-to-back national championship game appearances. Both teams should be equally unmotivated, so at least there's that. And of the two programs, Pitt is far and away better situated to bounce back. So there's that too.

The game is on HDNet at 8:00. Local Comcast doesn't carry HDNet in most packages, so you might want to check if you get it with ample time to find a bar with Direct TV or FiOS.

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