This may have been our (again, I can say this because I helped guide this team to victory via both outfit and talisman selection) most impressive win of the season, not necessarily because of the overall performance, but because it came against a good team desperate for a win and trying to get it on their home floor. You simply cannot have enough close games in hostile environments in the weeks leading up to the big show if you're hoping to be a realistic contender.
Becoming the first opposing program ever to post multiple victories inside the Peterson Events Center was a nice little bonus.
Nine-week Big East champions. Shirt me.
If there was one negative in this game, I thought it was that we didn't defend the perimeter particularly well. Pitt finished just 6-of-21 from beyond the arc, but a lot of those misses were uncontested. Perhaps some of this was intentional, but if not it's a gaffe we obviously can't afford to repeat against a Notre Dame team that just buried 14-of-25 treys in its 94-87 win over Syracuse.
The majority of the unchallenged outside shots were the product of the attention demanded by the frontcourt duo of DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. Young is a sensational player who's capable of putting up big numbers against any defense in the country, but he's especially lethal against a zone like ours where he's able to catch the ball near the free-throw line consistently. He had his way with the zone, and neither Palacios nor Clark had much of an answer for him when we switched to man.
Young was also largely responsible for the surfeit of put-back opportunities that Blair used to tally the better part of his 20 points. When Young would catch the ball near the free-throw line, it forced Padgett to extend and challenge the shot, which left Williams and Clark to battle with Biggs and Blair for the board. This is a manageable situation when Earl is playing like a man underneath the basket, but it's problematic on those days when his heart just doesn't seem to be all there, and Sunday was one of those disappointing episodes.
I think we can all agree that Earl is eventually going to evolve into a scary player, and without knowing anything about the financial background of 90% of you, I'm still going to say with extreme confidence that he'll be making more dinero than you in a relatively short period of time. And maybe that's what he's thinking about during those perplexing stretches where his mind is obviously somewhere away from what's happening all around him on the floor. He still always looks to take the inbounds pass after a made basket like he did when he played point in high school, there's at least one instance every game where he plays the wrong defense for 10-15 seconds, and then there are things like trying to check into the game without going to the scorer's table, which he did with 1:15 to play yesterday. All of this is forgivable if he's playing as hard as he can, but that didn't appear to be the case against Pitt. He finished the game with only three rebounds, half as many as all three of his fellow frontcourters.
If Clark has one of these days in the NCAA Tournament, then that's the day our season is going to end. He's going to be the toughest matchup for just about any team in college basketball, and when he's playing well he's the perfect accent to both the frontcourt and the backcourt. I don't care if he's going up against the Suns, there's no excuse for Earl to finish with any less than four rebounds if he plays at least 20 minutes. We've got to get his best effort to make a run.
Clark's replacement - goggle fashionista Juan Palacios - played very well, with the exception of an inexcusable travel in the final 1:15 that led to Earl's aforementioned reinsertion. He was as physical as I've seen him in four years, and finished the game with six big rebounds and a pair of buckets in the paint. He struggled when he was forced to check Young, but it would have been unreasonable for any of us to expect that he wouldn't, given the Panther's God-given advantages. They haven't received near the amount of attention, but our fours have been far more inconsistent than our point guards (well, at least one), but when Palacios gives us a solid 15-20 minutes like he did on Sunday, it's a huge lift. And of course there's always the potential for a RJG (Random Juan Game) where he goes off for 25 and performs acts seen only in the other handful of RJG's.
The praise of Edgar Sosa's play is certainly warranted, but I think the people saying that this was his finest performance since the Texas A&M game are a little over the top. I think he played better in both of the Marquette games than he did on Sunday, but the difference was that Pitt gave him more open looks and he had a good shooting day. Since he's been here, the result of Sosa's first jump shot has almost always dictated how he's going to shoot the ball for the next 40 minutes. When he stuck that first jumper on the break I immediately said "here we go." His points in the paint also came from calm, calculated decisions, which is encouraging, but not having a single assist in 27 minutes certainly is not. Andre McGee, on the other hand, finished with four in just 11 minutes.
Speaking of McGee, how sweet was the twisting left-handed lay-up where he used the rim to keep Blair from blocking his shot? I'll admit it, when I saw him turn the corner my thoughts quickly turned to what row the ball was going to end up in.
Since it's apparently acceptable, I've decided that I'm going to start using "bending...bending...bending" in whatever situation I want.
"Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?"
"I'd like three regular tacos, and, bending....bending.."
"What did you think of the book?"
"I thought it was an effective coming-of-age tale that takes the reader on both a literal and figurative journey into...bending...bending.."
"I love you sweetheart."
David's six turnovers matched his career high at Louisville, and were the most since a January game against Villanova during his sophomore season. Still, he went toe-to-toe with one of the more imposing physical specimens in the league, came up with big basket after big basket, and stroked a pair of free-throws with the game on the line.
I'm gonna go ahead and make the executive decision to let the turnovers slide.
Derrick Caracter played only ten minutes, but I thought this was by far the best he's looked since before the Depaul game. Particularly encouraging was a possession where Pitt was obviously looking to get the ball into Blair, but Caracter worked hard to prevent the entry pass on three occasions and then did a terrific job boxing out and ultimately drew the big man's third foul. His struggles with finishing around the basket persisted, but he played hard and showed some emotion, and that's a step-up from the guy we've seen for the last three games.
Not only did we beat Pitt at home, but we beat them on a day when they notched 18 assists and turned the ball over just four times.
I thought this was a really solid overall effort from T-Will, a large improvement over the last two games. He must find something calming about the Peterson Events Center, because he gave a similar performance in the win a year ago. Williams led the team in rebounds (7) and assists (5), did a great job closing out on Pitt's wings, and made a pair of really big shots in the lane when the Panthers were trying to string together a run in the second half.
Yeah, but did you see that one turnover?
I don't have the stats in front of me, but I'm pretty sure Jerry Smith hasn't missed a three-pointer in eight weeks. Kid is on fire...and cool.
Less cool: the dietary-challenged chick flipping Padgett the double bird as he stepped to the line to shoot free-throws at the end of the game.
I would have loved to have seen Williams, Clark or whoever was playing the middle on the press cheat up whenever Ramon touched the ball in the backcourt, because he would consistently pick up his dribble when he got trapped and then throw up an extremely vulnerable pass that our guys were always just a step or two away from snagging.
Just something to think about if we see these guys in New York.
Preston Knowles actually wrote, directed and starred in No Country for Old Men, but is too humble to accept any awards or accolades.
So here's the situation we're staring down: 12-3, tied for first place, games against both of the teams we're tied with (virtually, in Notre Dame's case), and a home game against a surging Villanova team that will be - with a win over Marquette tonight - playing for its at-large life.
Our poor hearts/apathetic loved ones.