Tomorrow, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles invade the Petersen Event Center for a matchup against the cream of the Big East crop, the Pitt Panthers. To get you ready for the game, the (one-man?) crew at Cardiac Hill took a break from talking about Pitt's matchup with Kentucky in Saturday's Compass Bowl and the fallout from the Mike Haywood debacle to answer our questions about the Panthers.
Thanks again, CarHill. You know the drill: you come to Milwaukee, we'll buy the first round of Jagermeister. (But you might need to bring some of the pierogi from Market Square.)
Qs. As. NOW:
AE: A year after Pitt ran off a 13-5 Big East record in what was billed as a "rebuilding" year, the Panthers once again sit in the Top 10 and are expected to contend for the conference crown. What are the expectations of the fanbase this year? What record / tourney results would qualify the season as a success?
CH: I said nearly the same thing in another Q&A I did earlier this year, but at least for me, expectations now depend on how far the team advances in the NCAA tournament. Even if Pitt went like 30-3, won the Big East going away, and lost in the Sweet 16, that would be a disappointment, ludicrous as it sounds. Pitt's had great regular seasons before. They've won conference championships - both regular season and tournament. And they've been to Sweet 16s. Pitt needs to get to more Elite 8s, as it did two years ago, and a Final Four. It was hard to be too disappointed with last season's team (even though I said they underachieved when they only made it to the second round of the NCAAs) because it was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but this year, Pitt has a veteran team ranked in the top five. Anything less than an Elite 8 would be a disappointment.
AE: In its two Big East wins, Pitt's been surprisingly careless with the ball: 15 turnovers in the opener vs. UConn, followed by 22 turnovers at Providence. Pitt's usually very good at taking care of the ball, so are those two games an aberration or a cause for concern going forward?
CH: Hard to say, but Pitt had some turnover problems last season. They've been pretty good with taking care of the ball this season overall and I'm willing to chalk the Providence game up to having an eight-day layoff. Still, it's something Pitt will need to keep an eye on.
AE: Pitt had to resort to a zone because of foul trouble against Providence, which was unusual to see from a Jamie Dixon team. Is there a Twinkie's chance in Charlie Weis's office that Pitt employs a zone against Marquette?
CH: There could be, although the little bit they played against Providence wasn't all that successful as the Friars made them pay a few times. There's always a chance they go back to it, but I'd say only if they're repeatedly burned by the man-to-man ... and that doesn't happen too often.
AE: Pitt has NINE guys getting double-digit minutes of run per game, and J.J. Moore averages 9.4. Is that a product of early season laughers, or is Pitt's rotation really THAT deep?
CH: No, they're really that deep. Someone like Moore, a true freshman, is probably going to see his minutes shrink a bit now that we're out of non-conference play, and Talib Zanna has been playing much less since Nasir Robinson got healthy and reclaimed his starting spot. But, realistically, those guys can provide quality minutes if called upon. Pitt doesn't have the stars that it did two years ago with DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, but it is maybe the deepest team in Jamie Dixon's history.
AE: In games past, Marquette found (some) success against Pitt by bringing our center (OK, fine, we don't have one of those; it was whoever our tallest player was) out beyond the three-point line to set screens, dragging the Pitt center away from the lane and opening up alleys to drive. Any chance we can tempt Gary McGhee the same way, or has that loophole been closed?
CH: That could happen, but from what I can recall seeing this year (and trust me, I could be 'misremembering' in the words of Roger Clemens) he seems to stay pretty close to home. He's a good defender, but not really all that athletic to be playing out there. That said, Pitt has plenty of rebounders that will go after the ball, so he may get away from the hoop from time to time.
AE: What's the best bar in Pittsburgh to watch a Panthers game?
CH: Well now you're really talking to the wrong person. I really don't get out all that much to watch games anymore - married life does that to you. Generally, I'm either at the game or at home. But on those rare occasions I might go out, I always prefer smaller dive type places. So again, wrong person to ask.
AE: On a scale of 1 to 10 Bics, how happy are you to have finally shaved the WannStache? Any idea who's on the short list to be the next football coach?
CH: I was actually one of those in favor of keeping him at least one more season. Pitt won 26 games over the past three years and he really seemed like he had them on the right track. Before he was fired, Pitt was looking at a top 15-25 recruiting class for next season. If Pitt manages to win Saturday against Kentucky, that would mean Wannstedt has averaged nine wins over the past three seasons. That hasn't happened for a while and last year Wannstedt had the first 10-win season in about 30 years. As for the next coach: it's looking like it could be Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, but a few other candidates like Tulsa's Todd Graham, FIU's Mario Cristobal, and Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri are hanging around. Bradley would be a great choice in my opinion - he's an excellent recruiter in the state and has many years of success at a big-time school.
AE: Finally: we've got a couple of contributors who are Nebraska natives and big Husker fans. They wanted me to ask if you hate Steve Pederson as much as they do.
CH: I never did before this coaching search and 'hate' is probably too strong a word. But I definitely wasn't in favor of his last hire from the minute it went down and I don't like how he's handled the Wannstedt firing and subsequent searches overall. I've gotten to the point where I don't believe he's the right guy for the job.