In the Dawg House

PantherDigest.com senior writer Steve Gephart brings you another fantastic "In the Dawg House". GepDawg brings you the odds and ends from the world of Pitt and College Sports.

"To be, or not to be: that is the question." William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

The question is for Aaron Gray. And the "to be" part is simple: will he be a first round pick in this year's NBA draft?

If any of you think its way too early for this type of speculation…think again. Gray has already dropped hints in the media that he is considering attending the NBA pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Pitt fans are truly coming to their senses and realizing that when this magical season is finally over, Aaron Gray (of all people!) will have to decide whether to forgo his senior year and enter the NBA draft.

More shockingly is that fact that this is exactly the type of speculation that all Pitt fans would have thought impossible going into this season. Most were hoping that Aaron would develop enough mettle and moxie just to get by playing with the big boys of the Big East underneath the basket. A rebound here, a put back there…just enough to give Pitt's talented guard rotation a chance to win the required amount of games to squeak into the NCAA tournament.

But my how things change so quickly in one season. Does anyone reading this column honestly think a seven foot center with a variety of effective low post skills and a soft touch around the rim does not have an immediate future in the NBA?

The Dawg implores all Pitt fans to be honest with themselves when answering this question.

What we've all learned since then is that Aaron Gray had more than enough moxie and guts to help out. If truth be told, he's growing into a full fledged superstar. He's certainly the reason for the year's surprising season. Aaron Gray is the reason that this season started out with most Pitt fans expecting an NIT invitation at best yet will finish with the potential of a Final Four run instead.

And considering how tough a league the Big East is, the Dawg would say that being the current rebounding leader probably has proven Gray has more than enough determination to play at the next level as well.

In fact, if you lack back to last year, Gray already has taken his game up a notch. We all know the story by now: seven-footer loses thirty pounds, practices his game when his teammates have gone home. Gray always had the promise. His intelligence and soft moves were evident even last year. But this year has been the culmination of all his hard work, and he deserves the accolades he's been receiving.

Simply put, Aaron Gray has been a monumental factor regarding Pitt's astonishing success this year. If anyone needs more truth, all they would have to do would look to Pitt's most recent win at Providence. Gray was the focus of both team's strategy on defense and both were effective in the first half in shutting down Pitt's offense and keeping the game close by the end of the first half. The Friars learned the hard way that it's impossible to shut down Grayzilla for two consecutive halves.

But what's even more important to consider is the fact that this year's NBA draft will be the first where the new rule requiring entrants to be at least nineteen years old and one year out of high school. This will significantly lower the pool of talented (or promising) big men entering the draft for the first time in years. Sure, chances are the pool won't be any smaller in next year's draft, but why should Gray risk a year of injury if it appears coming out of Chicago's pre-draft camp that he's a sure fire first rounder anyway?

So enjoy Aaron Gray's play as much as you can now Pitt fans, for as quick as he became a Pitt and Big East star, he could be even quicker be gone to the NBA. Who would have thought it back in November?

As for the Panthers themselves, it's looking like the only game they HAVE to WIN in their last four to avoid poor seeding in the NCAA tournament is Providence at home. Don't get the Dawg wrong, he wants wins at Marquette, at West Virginia, and most importantly against Seton Hall for Carl Krauser's last game at home as a Panther.

But considering that WVU has an RPI ranking in the Top 25 and Seton Hall and Marquette are both in the Top 35, losing to any of those teams would not be devastating. Losing to #70 Providence at home would be a whole different story. In all, the Panthers are pretty fortunate that, aside from Providence, they do not have a true trap game that could really hurt their standing with the NCAA committee.

In the Dawg House: Aaron Katz. Why are you doing this to me?! You are one of the Dawg's favorite college basketball writers. I never thought once that I would have you here in the Dawg House with me.

If you are wondering what Aaron did, look no further than the ESPN Power 16.

ESPN ranks the top sixteen teams in the country based off the combined votes of their senior college basketball writers. This week Pittsburgh is ranked #8 in the combined poll, and the last of the projected #2 seeds. This is fairly accurate considering the Panthers are ranked #6 in the RPI and #9 in both the coaches and associate press weekly polls. The Dawg was definitely happy that the Panthers were finally getting the proper respect they deserve this year.

Thankfully, ESPN discloses the "expert's" votes for each week as well, so that there is no mystery to why the teams are ranked where they are. This week Joe Lunardi, Howie Schwab, and Doug Gottlieb all have Pitt ranked in their Top 10…where the Panthers obviously belong. Jay Bilas has the Panthers at #12, but he tends to be an ACC shill, so the Dawg can't say he was really surprised to see him place the Panthers so low on his list. To his credit, Bilas has also been very adamant in stating that he believes the Panthers will be a major player come the postseason anyway.

Andy Katz is a different story. The Dawg can honestly say Katz has been one of his favorite national writers covering college basketball over the last three to four years. His insight and ability to look past the fairly obvious when writing about college basketball has been a trait that is shockingly missing from other national writers out there today. He's never been one to unfairly bash on Pitt, even mentioning on national television a few years back that it was a crime that Pitt had to play against Wisconsin at Milwaukee in the second round of the NCAA tournament, even though the Panthers were the higher (and supposedly protected) seed that year.

Yet for some reason this past week, Katz has Pitt as only the sixteenth best team in the country. No definitive reason was given in his comment box accompanying his rankings. I just find it rather unbelievable that a writer of Katz's caliber honestly believes the likes of Iowa, Kansas, West Virginia, Cal, UCLA, NC State, and Boston College are better than the Panthers. Both major polls don't see it that way, and neither do the RPI rankings.

Andy's covered enough college basketball this season to know the Big East is one of the two best conferences, if not the best conference in college basketball this season. So this low ranking for the Panthers makes no sense. As a matter of fact, the Dawg was shocked when he saw it.

Perhaps I'm being unfair to Katz and maybe I shouldn't be so petty about something as trite as a weekly basketball poll.

But who cares? This is the Dawg's house. I expect more from him. At the very least I expect the recognition that Pitt's resume is better than a fourth seed at this particular moment in the season. Maybe Pitt loses at Marquette tonight or at West Virginia in two weeks and proves that Katz has the right to be skeptical of the Panthers.

But right now, Pitt is certainly better than being ranked #16. I would expect one of the best writers and analysts of college basketball today to understand that. Wouldn't you?

So this week...Andy Katz…you are IN the DAWG HOUSE

In the Dawg House: February 18, 2006 This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.


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