Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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** The Steelers will NOT be fine without Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve heard this several times, I’ve heard people talking about Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch being able to step right in and take over and the Steelers won’t miss a beat. In the short term, I agree, both guys are more than capable of leading the Steelers to wins for a few weeks. But when have the Steelers ever been about winning regular season games? This is a team that the minimum expectations are to make the playoffs. Without Ben Roethlisberger playing, I’m not sure that is possible and I certainly know this team has no prayer to be a Super Bowl team. Leftwich and Batch are excellent backups but they are backups – Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. And you can’t just take a guy like that out of the lineup and say everything is “fine” especially since a shoulder sprain could be one of these lingering issues. The Steelers are who they are – a contender for the Super Bowl annually – because they have an elite quarterback. If he is not healthy, they are not the same team and given all he does for that offense, I would argue they are not close to the same team. So yes, they could beat the Ravens with Leftwich or Batch and maybe win a few games – but let’s not kid ourselves and say that they are fine without Ben Roethlisberger because they are not as he is far too valuable to their success to just dismiss what his presence means.
** Pitt beat up Lehigh last night in men’s hoops. It was a good win for the Panthers compared to the rest of the nonsense they will line up and play until the Big East starts. That’s because Pitt’s non-conference schedule is an embarrassment. This is a program that is more than ten years old now (speaking of the Dixon/Howland era), there is no reason to schedule this bad. Back when Howland got started, the plan was to play as many weak teams as you can in order to stock pile wins, create a winning atmosphere, build confidence and give the team a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament. I had no problem with it back then because that’s how you build a program. You get good players, you schedule smart, you develop a winning tradition and then you can recruit better players and your program is established. But the next step with that is supposed to be you schedule better games because a loss here or there won’t hurt you. The elite teams want to play big games – not compile 13 or 14 wins against nobodies and run around and brag because you’ve fooled the RPI again. Jamie Dixon is an excellent coach, he has a great program, he needs to do better than this. But hey, what was I thinking – if you look next month the Panthers have a chance to win the unofficial NAACP championship with wins over Howard, Delaware State and Bethune Cookman.
** While we are talking about Pitt – point guard Trey Woodall last night after the game talked about how the Panthers were “patient” on offense and that “nobody wants to defend for 35 seconds” meaning, the Panthers make teams play defense for long stretches by controlling the ball and going deep into the shot clock before taking a good shot. That’s all well and good but nobody wants to watch that style of play, either. And frankly, looking at how that team is built, Dixon is not doing it justice if he doesn’t let those guys play. He has some guys who can really go now as the program has evolved to the point where he no longer has to play that “make it ugly, bar room brawl style” to win games. This Pitt team could make a long run in the tournament – if they are allowed to really get after it and play.
** Duke beat Kentucky, 75-68, last night and the headlines on ESPN.Com made me laugh – “Duke upsets Kentucky....” Really? An upset? Kentucky has eight of its ten players with zero experience. They have four freshmen who are the main players. They are missing a key ingredient, Ryan Harrow, who is sick. And this is their second game – I don’t know about you but I expected Duke to win as the Blue Devils are a veteran team with a lot of talent and they are clearly capable of winning the national title. At this point because of their experience, they SHOULD beat Kentucky. Now, the Wildcats are clearly a Final Four contender and they will be fine – in February once they grow up a little, play together some and learn what the heck they are doing. That’s why I had them 10th in my preseason poll – because I think at the end of the year they may be a Top Five team but right now, well, they are not.
** Speaking of Kentucky – let me say this about John Calipari, a Moon native. You don’t have to like his style, you can call him a cheater (I don’t think that’s an accurate portrayal but I know some of his guys have taken benefits in the past) and you can whine about his one-and-done players but there is this that you cannot deny: The man is an excellent basketball coach. His teams play hard all the time, his teams defend the hell out of you and the fact that he gets his freshmen to come together and play like a team and win at a high level every year is amazing. A lot of coaches couldn’t pull it off, even some of the best ones, but he somehow gets a bunch of so-called “me first” AAU stars to buy into the team concept and care about each other for a year. That’s not easy to do.hhh
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