The Pitt vs. Penn State Rivalry and Other Things Best Left in the Past

I helped the Pitt Panthers defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions for the national championship in 1994.  I was Eleven.

It was played in the stadium made up of both my parents and the neighbors backyards.  I rolled out from intense pressure and threw my neighbor Johnny Lavia the game winning pass in the corner of the end zone.  He had to dive around my neighbors tree to haul it in.

Funny thing is that just two weeks later we both defeated Penn State to win the NCAA basketball tournament, which that year was played in his parents backyard.  He was the starting shooting guard that made the last second shot under pressure and I was the power forward who tipped it in for the win.

Continue reading “The Pitt vs. Penn State Rivalry and Other Things Best Left in the Past”

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Pitt is not it, the Military Bowl is not legit.

I sat in my Aunt Deb’s living room watching the Military Bowl with two college kids from Penn State who were young enough to not know that there was a time when Pitt was in fact it.  I am barely old enough to know, and most of what I know comes from youtube videos and legends.  I remember Alex Van Pelt as a child, but I was too young to really get it.  The Walt Harris run to Dave Wanstache era I remember vividly, well some of the games I remember vividly, and others I remember a general blur.  I cross-eyed view of a moment in time that could have met something if they could have won one more game a year.  I time when you were more afraid of Toledo than WVU, because those weren’t the types of games we lost.  What we have now is some weird hybrid of tradition and the truth.  Pitt is no longer it, and in the ACC they seem out of place, and out of their element.  Gone is the days of the Big East.

The Military Bowl saw Pitt face Navy, at Navy.  Yes, you read that right.  Our 9 wins this season got us a road game at a military academy, while th midshipmen were on Christmas break.  So not a ton of people were there, they couldn’t fill a smaller stadium.  Pitt ran the opening kickoff back and it was downhill from there.  They seemed unprepared for the Triple Option at worst, and at best they simply couldn’t stop it.  As always Pitt was out of their element, playing a gimmick team in a cold weather bowl game that happens to be at the opponents stadium instead of neutral ground.  They represented the ACC although they are past the mountains, against an AAC team that has been independent until recent history.  There were no traditions at all.  Pitt was once a warm up team that Pitt would roll over before starting their Big East schedule.  Now they were thoroughly outmatched, all though it was the most successful team the school had in the better part of a decade.

Tyler Boyd played his last game as a Panther and went out in a fashion that reminded me of Jonathan Baldwin.  I hope Boyd succeeds in the NFL, in spite of his status as an elite prospect Baldwin did not.  Maybe Boyd will, but I’ve seen it before.  There is something small missing.  It’s all or nothing with that kid.  Just as it is with Pitt.

At least we are going in the correct direction, that is until Pat Narduzzi is gone and we have to rebuild.  Once again used as a stepping stone, by men who are going to fail at the next level, but have earned their way onto the center stage.  Pitt isn’t even off-broadway in comparison to a show like Michigan State’s.  It’s outer Newark.  Near the port, before the toll road.  In a renovated gas station owned by a wall street guy turned drug addict turned reformed drug addict, turned Newark resident.  Pitt is a childs play in that guys backyard compared to the elite schools.  It wasn’t always that way, but now it is.  It’s fairly plain to see, and it is extremely disappointing.

They do not have a campus stadium, they do not have a rabid fan base.  The casual fan has tuned out on Pitt football.  It’s not what it used to be, to the point it’s not worth noticing.  Pitt is on that Cincinnati, University of South Florida, University of Memphis level of non-relelvent, where once in a blue moon they will get mentioned by some sports pundit as a sleeper who months later admit he was wrong on that one, and Pitt isn’t the kind of team that comes through in the clutch.

I miss the good old days of Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald,  Tyler Palko and Darelle Revis, Shady McCoy and H.B. Blades.  It’s all gone now, and that is OK.  Because life should not revolve around Pitt football, and the Pittsburgh sports fan is better off having one less distraction from the teams worth being a fanatic of.

NCAA Basketball 2004-2005: Pitt Panthers vs. WVU Mountaineers

Big ups to YouTube user WVUgames, who made this video possible for all of us.  I give him respect as an internet person, all though I would have to suspect that he is a WVU fan, so I kind of don’t like him at all.

From the AP:

Kevin Pittsnogle is so unaccustomed to starting that he had to temporarily leave West Virginia’s game early on against Pittsburgh (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today; No. 16 AP) to catch his breath.

When he returned, he gave Pitt lots of problems.

Pittsnogle scored eight of his career-high 27 points in overtime to lead West Virginia to an 83-78 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The 6-foot-11 Pittsnogle, starting for just the second time this season, was averaging 8 points a game. He got the start because center D’or Fischer did not play due to illness.

“When I got my second wind pretty fast, I was ready to go,” said Pittsnogle, whose previous high was 26 points in 2003. “My performance wasn’t enough to write me in the history book, but beating Pitt makes it a lot better.”

West Virginia (13-7, 3-6 Big East) broke a five-game losing streak to their rival 70 miles to the north.

Pittsnogle converted a three-point play and a 3-pointer a minute apart to give the Mountaineers their biggest lead, 73-66, with 2:08 left in overtime.

“Pittsnogle is a hard matchup for us and when he’s shooting the ball from [outside], it becomes very difficult to guard for our bigger guys,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “Sometimes guys step up in the absence of other guys, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Continue reading “NCAA Basketball 2004-2005: Pitt Panthers vs. WVU Mountaineers”

1992 Pitt vs. Rutgers

Way back when Pitt was in the Big East and still rocking the script.  This was a Thursday night ESPN game and it was Rutgers first major television appearance.  They had just joined the Big East and were attempting to rebuild a program that had only gone downward since playing Princeton in the first ever college football game.

A few notes:  Alex Van Pelt, looking quite hefty, breaks Dan Marino’s all time Pitt passing record in the second quarter.

Curtis Martin gets hurt in the early part of the game but shows some flashes of just what he will become over the next decade.

Finally, Pitt MUST go back to the bright yellow and the script.

Enjoy!

Panthers Defeat Wildcats 58-43

The Pitt Panthers defeated the Villanova Wildcats on the road tonight 58 – 43 improving their overall record to 14-4 and its Big East record to 2 – 3.  Junior Trey Ziegler led the Panthers with 13 pts., 6 rebounds and one assist.  The Central Michigan transfer logged 25 minutes and went 6 of 10 from the field scoring 9 of the 13 after halftime.  The Panthers scored the final 15 points of the ballgame which had been tied with just over 5 minutes left on the clock. Freshman Duran Johnson saw increased playing time and responded by going 3 for 6 from behind the three point line, tallying 13 points for the game.

The Panthers take an early lead in the cross state rivals last series as members of the Big East.  The overall series is now tied with both teams at 32 victories giving their March 3rd rematch even more importance. It is likely both teams will be on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament in what will be the second to last game of the regular season.

Pitt plays UConn on Saturday at noon.  Connecticut is currently 12-4 led by the backcourt of Junior Shabazz Napier and Sophomore Ryan Boatright.

Since joining the Big East both teams have been staples of the impressive basketball empire with the Panthers making the NCAA tournament 17 times while Villanova has made 19.  The two teams most famous meeting may have taken in place in the 2008 Elite Eight when Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds sprinted up the court and sunk the bucket that ended what was questionable the Panthers strongest season during the decade of excellence.

That game was ranked number 8 of the decade by CBSsports.com.  The full game can be watched via this link.  Remembering the game CBS Sports writer Gary Parrish reflected,

The best season in Big East history led to two of the conference’s best meeting in the Elite Eight in Boston. By tip-off, Connecticut had already punched its ticket to the Final Four. So either Pittsburgh or Villanova would be the second league member to reserve a place in Detroit, and, in 24 hours, Louisville would have an opportunity to get there, too.

Reynolds attacks the rim and gets the winner to fall. (US Presswire)  
Reynolds attacks the rim and gets the winner to fall. (US Presswire)  

Pitt was the favorite, a No. 1 seed. But the Wildcats were one of four schools to beat Jamie Dixon’s team in the regular season, and that they jumped to a double-digit lead in the first half suggested they could do it again. Naturally, that lead disappeared by halftime. Villanova trailed Pitt 34-32 after 20 minutes. Nobody led by more than five points in the second half. But Pitt led 67-63 with less than three minutes remaining.

“It felt like we had it done,” Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair would later say. “And then it was anybody’s ballgame.”

Fast forward to the final minute, Villanova was up 76-74 and inbounding under its own basket. Rather than get the ball in safely and force Pitt to foul, Reggie Redding threw the ball away, and Levance Fields ended up with it. He was fouled just after crossing halfcourt with 5.5 seconds remaining. The Pitt point guard sank both free throws to create a 76-76 tie, and what came next was Scottie Reynolds’ Tyus Edney moment, a dash to the other end for the win.

The 2008 – 2009Pittsburgh Panthers

The 2009 roster included future NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young as well as one of the programs best point guards, Levance Fields. They ended their season with a 31 – 5 record, going 15 – 3 in a highly regarded Big East.  Six Big East teams were ranked among the Top 25 at the seasons end with 5 teams (#1 Louisville, #4 Pitt, and #5 UConn, #11 Villanova, and #13 Syracuse) on the top 15.  Jamie Dixon had been named National Coach of the Year and DeJuan Blair shared the Big East Player of the Year award with UConn’s  Hasheem Thabeet.

Sidenote: the freshman Thabeet was selected 2nd overall in the NBA Draft that year by the Memphis Grizzlies.  Despite his 7 foot 3, 265 pound frame Thabeet struggled and was demoted to the Dakota Wizards of the NBA D-League and then eventually traded to the Houston Rockets in 2011. Thabeet quickly fell out of favor in Houston and was sent back to the D-League, this time seeing action with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He later made a stop with the Pistons before becoming a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder where he has seen minimal success.  Pitt’s DeJuan Blair was red flagged after his combine physical showed he had cartlidge damage in his knees.  His stock dropped and he fell to the San Antonio Spurs who used the 37th overall pick to select him. Blair’s teammate Sam Young was selcted with the 36th pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.  The undersized Schenley grad (6 foot 7 and 270 pounds) quickly became a fan favorite off of the Spurs bench.  He has remained a vital part of their team since being drafted.

The Panthers were ranked #4 in the nation before losing early in the Big east Tournament to West Virginia 74-60.  Rejuvinated after a short break the Panthers were the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournaments East bracket and defeated #16 East Tennessee State 72 -62.

 

Panthers Defeat Bearcats 62 -52.

The 23rd ranked Pitt Panthers defeated the 17th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats 62 -52 in what is likely to be noted as a key away win come NCAA tournament selection time.  The win helped cement Pitt’s 12th straight 20 win season, the 10th straight under Head Coach Jamie Dixon.  Panthers center adams_420Steven Adams showed further signs of his continual improvement as he was at times dominant, scoring 13 points and blocking 4 shots.  Panthers senior guard Tray Woodall led the team with 14 points which helped him surpass the 1,ooo point milestone for his career.  Woodall now joins former Panthers such as Levance Fields, Carl Krauser, Sean Miller, and Brandin Knight in having accumulated over 1,000 points and 500 assists in their collegiate careers.  Forward Talib Zanna added 11 points while pulling down 9 boards and Lamar Patterson added nine.  Sean Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 16 points, of which 15 where scored in the first half.  He suffered a hand injury at the end of the first that dramatically limited his effectiveness in the 2nd, a likely key factor in Pittsburgh’s comeback.

The story of the game was Adams who at one point in the second half looked as if he could score at will.  The incredibly raw but talented Kiwi often looks like he is lost on the court, relying on his freakish athleticism to keep him in the game.  However for a 10 minute span in this game he was far and away the best player on the court.  With the game still in reach his quick interior pass to a driving Talib Zanna likely put the game away.  The timing couldn’t be any better for the Panthers to have Adams heat up as his play was likely the determining factor on how they will do in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. With Adams in lock step the Panthers are a dominant team, when he is lost (as he usually is for the first half) the Panthers look like a solid but beatable team.

The Panthers record improves to 20-5 (8-4 in Big East).  they will have the upcoming week off before playing #24 Marquette on Saturday and then hosting #25 Notre Dame on Monday.

In the ongoing Dante Taylor’s legacy watch, the chubby frontman once again made fans question if he earned his 208 title of McDonald’s All American by winning a McChicken Nugget contest.  For a brief moment in the first half Taylor played well.  However after missing an easy layup, grabbing the board, and then missing the following layup Taylor disappeared.  The clock is ticking for Taylor to do something, anything to improve his legacy at Pitt.  The highly heralded recruit has cemented his reputation as one of the school’s biggest recruitment disappointments in recent history. To date Taylor has 629 career points. For comparison Ontario Lett, who was never confused for a star, had 619 career points in his two-year stint as a Panther.  As Adams and Zanna continue to improve there are likely to be less and less minutes designated for Taylor.  He is at a point when he needs one big play in a big game to have his name be remembered by the blue and gold faithful for anything but disappointment.

The win helped Pitt navigate their way to the top-tier of the Big East standings.  The conference currently has 7 teams ranked in the top 25.

Click the link for a video recap of the game.