Jimmy: How do you think the Pitt home non-conference schedule compares to the other Top "30" programs this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: It does not compare well when you look at what some of the the top teams in the country are doing. Duke, for example, played in the Bahamas tournament and got some good competition there and then played Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Pitt had hoped to play three games vs. teams from major conferences. But Delaware upset Virginia in the NIT and the Panthers had to play the Blue Hens in NYC last week. Also, Jamie Dixon was expecting a home game against an SEC team in the Big East/SEC Challenge, but the Big East went back on that promise after Pitt left the conference for the ACC. So, to answer your question, the schedule is not good, but there were some extenuating circumstances that led to it.
Jimmy: Do you agree that Dixon's scheduling over the past several years has hurt their performance in the tournament?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon has never "overscheduled", but he has played home and away series with several teams from other major conferences over the years. The Panthers played a series with Wisconsin, Washington and Florida State to name a few. Dixon actually has done a good job of getting the Panthers in good position for the tournament by playing good RPI games. He schedules low-major or mid-major teams he believes will win their conference and therefore provide a nice RPI boost in March. Other teams do it in a different manner and boost their RPI by scheduling more major conference teams. So I don't think it has hurt their seeding. I suppose one could make an argument that it hurts the Panthers because they're not ready to play other good teams in March, but that doesn't add up for me. For one, the Big East provides strong competition. And secondly, Pitt has lost to more mid-majors in the NCAA tournament over the years than teams from major conferences.
Cold as Zeise: Is pitt going to have to play syracuse and louisville twice every year in basketball now?
Ray Fittipaldo: According to ACC commish John Swofford, yes that will be the case. He said yesterday that Louisville will take the place of Maryland in scheduling. And Maryland had been one of Pitt's two primary playing partners. Syracuse, of course, is the other.
Ned: Is Trey Zeigler still practicing with the team?
Ray Fittipaldo: I hope to get some clarification on Zeigler's status today. The only thing Dixon said about it on Tuesday was that they (meaning he and the administration) were still trying to figure it out. He was at the Howard game in street clothes.
Jake: Looking at the last few great NCAA champions/runners-up, teams tend to have a superstar player as their centerpiece (Anthony Davis at UK, Kemba Walker at UConn, Derrick Rose at Memphis). Would you agree that lacking a game-changer has been the difference in Pitt's lack-of-success in the NCAA tournament?
Ray Fittipaldo: I have heard that argument and I can't totally dismiss it. The most obvious time it happened to Pitt in a head-to-head matchup was Marquette and Dwayne Wade in 2003. That was a close game, but Marquette had Wade and Pitt did not have a player like him to take over a game at a crucial time. It certainly helps to have that player. However, I'll point to the Elite Eight game vs. Villanova. Pitt had two NBA players on that team and a great point guard in Levance Fields. Unless I am overlooking someone, Villanova did not have an NBA player on that team. True, it had a great college player in Scottie Reynolds, but not sure-fire NBA guy. So yes, it would help to have a so called go-to player, but it's not a prerequisite to get to a Final Four.
Cold as Zeise: Have you heard any rumlings from teams like gtown being upset with teams like tulane joining conference?
Ray Fittipaldo: I saw a report from Pete Thamel of SI that the Catholic schools remaining in the Big East have begun preliminary discussions with a TV network(s) about the viability of a league with schools like Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, etc. Thamel stressed that was all very preliminary. I think it would have happened by now though if a league like that was a slam dunk to reel in lots of money. I think it wold be a viable league for sure, but not one that would command high TV dollars from bidding networks. And unfortunately, that's what it's all about these days.
Jimmy: Ray, Do you believe that there are plans to run some full court press this year after the Oakland game? Earlier there were implications that some of the coaches disagreed on this subject.
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, I wrote a blog entry on the subject after Tray Woodall let it slip in the postgame news conference that there was some internal debate on the matter. I'm not even sure debate is the right word. Woodall basically said one coach would like to press more and another coach isn't as much on board. But obviously, it was successful, and it sounded like Woodall favored using it more.
Cold as Zeise: Do you have any prediction on the length of zeigler's suspension and how big of a loss is he?
Ray Fittipaldo: On Tuesday, Dixon mentioned how the administration was involved in the suspension. He also said the same thing when Lamar Patterson was suspended for two games. So I'm not sure Dixon is totally in charge of when it ends. He made a serious mistake and he's paying for it. As for what it does to the team, Zeigler had been struggling to find his niche. He provided some scoring, but he also turned the ball over a lot. I don't think it was a big loss for the team. But I do think his missing time will hurt his development because he needed to be out there trying to figure out what type of role he was going to play on this team.
Tray: Speaking of that, have things cooled off between us?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tray hasn't done much media since then.
Jimmy: How would you compare the team chemistry this year? Is Steven Adams a better fit in the locker room than Khem birch?
Ray Fittipaldo: Most definitely, yes Steven is a better fit for this team chemistry-wise. Everyone on the team loves the kid because he's humble and is all about the team. He also is a bit clueless about the hype surrounding him. The players appreciate that. Steven is having a hard time finding his niche on offense, but he has a great plus/minus rating because he's such a worry for opposing teams when he plays defense. So, in other words, even though he's not playing great he's still extremely valuable to the team.
Cold as Zeise: did they but the cbi banner up?
Ray Fittipaldo: No banner, but as I blogged about last week the CBI seems to have helped both Pitt and Butler early in the season.
Jimmy: Thank you for all of your insights Ray. I am excited about the team this year and next as we enter the ACC. One final question; Besides Blair and Gray are any other Panthers on an NBA roster right now?
Ray Fittipaldo: Sam Young signed with the Indiana Pacers earlier this fall. I haven't checked up on his playing time recently. I'll do a blog post in the next day or two on how those guys are doing.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again next week after the City Game against Duquesne.
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