In the Dawg House

PantherDigest.com Senior Writer Steve Gephart brings you yet another edition of his wildly popular colum "In the Dawg House". Steve touches on the odds and ends from the sports world and "all things Pitt".

Who was it that said: "On any given Sunday?"

Whoever it was, they couldn't have meant that fateful Sunday when the Pitt lost to the Bradley Braves, could they?! If they did, then I want to know their suggestions on some hot stocks out there as well. That's because if they thought Bradley was going to beat Pitt for the right to play the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament, then they must also possess some sort of sixth sense or ESP. I definitely want to meet that person if he/she also predicted George Mason would be playing in this year's wacky version of the Final Four.

Despite all the upsets in the tournament, the Dawg still can't believe the Panthers didn't make the Sweet Sixteen this year. Bradley upsetting Kansas in the first round seemed to be a gift from above and the best opportunity to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the last five years. More importantly, beating Bradley would have erased the stain of losing to Pacific, another mid major conference team in the first round of last year's tournament. That loss left a bitter taste not in the mouths of not only the coaching staff, players, and administration, but also for the fans of Pitt basketball as well. Most of us who watched this year's team truly felt this year's version of the Panthers just simply could NOT have a similar slip up in the tournament. Unfortunately, they found a way to somehow top that dubious exit with an even more improbable loss to a middle of the road team from a mid major conference.

Look, I know the Missouri Valley Conference proved itself worthy to send four teams in the year's tournament. But Bradley beating Kansas and then Pitt in back to back games is still just too hard to believe. Bradley really wasn't on anyone's radar screen all year, and that includes those who follow the Mountain Valley. It's understandable so many looked past the Indians when you consider they didn't even win their own conference tournament, losing in the finals to Southern Illinois, and only finished tied for fifth the in the regular season standings.

I don't care how good the Bradley Braves seemed that day, they were not better than the Pitt Panthers.

Yes, the Dawg knows all about the revisionist history that has been going on since the Panthers inexplicably bombed out of the tournament against the Indians. The common reaction among local columnists is to declare Bradley as the better and more talented team. Somehow two wins in the NCAA tournament has made Bradley a much more athletic, gifted, and composed team than the likes of the Panthers and the Kansas Jayhawks. Amazing how many rather unremarkable teams seemingly become gangbusters when playing against the Panthers in the tournament. This is a trend that has to stop soon, or the Panthers will continue to find themselves in poor seeds regardless of how good their record and RPI rankings are from year to year.

Many of us (including myself) lamented another affront from the selection committee regarding the seemingly low and unfair #5 seed that Pitt started with. Yet somehow, the tournament must know something about Panthers basketball we all don't. Each year fans (and players) moan and complain about the unfair seed bestowed on the Panthers, and each year the Panthers prove the committee right by losing to even lower seeds, many of them from mid major conferences…teams a top Big East team should never, ever lose to.

Another disappointment from Pitt blowing this golden opportunity was the realization that losing to Bradley was Carl Krauser's last moment in a Pitt uniform forever. Regardless of all the unfounded criticism many had for Krauser, no one can deny he's been the face of the program since he took over as team leader when Brandin Knight graduated. Krauser deserves all of our respect for the pride he publicly exhibited in being a part of Panther basketball and the way he always recognized and interacted with the Pitt faithful.

Fact is, Krauser made the Dawg proud to be a Pitt basketball fan. And I know he also invoked a lot of new found pride and confidence in the program for many, if not most Pitt basketball fans. Even more importantly he also instilled that poise in the talented but very players returning to play basketball for the Panthers next year. His legacy and position as team leader will not be easy to replicate next year. Thanks to his mentorship of so many of the young players coming back, I am confident someone (*cough* Levance Fields) will indeed take up that important role now that Krauser has moved on.

One more thing to remember, Carl Krauser also was a key reason the transition from the Ben Howland to the Jaime Dixon era was not the disaster many feared it might well have been. He was the one who set an example of what Pitt basketball is all about that was followed by all his teammates. No one worked harder to make sure Pitt's defense was unbreakable, a philosophy started under Howland but continued under Dixon. Pitt's new coach continued to teach and emphasize that special style of hard nose defense Pitt became known for, but Krauser reinforced it by being a living example of what hard work and determination can produce if applied to stopping the other team from putting the basketball in the hoop.

Calipari dreaming really is for another cold winter day

Despite all of the reports to the contrary, it appears that Jaime Dixon is NOT leaving the Panthers for Arizona State or Missouri. One of the more interesting choices to replace Dixon (if he had left) by many Pitt fans on the message boards was former assistant (and now Memphis head coach) John Calipari. As much as Calipari's mention evoked excitement among many of the Pitt faithful because of his high profile as a very successful basketball coach and recruiter, retaining Dixon as the head coach is the most beneficial option for the Panthers program right now. Although I have been critical of Dixon in the past, he has done a very good job of not only replacing the very successful and popular coach before him, but also doing it with no previous experience as head coach (at any level) as well.

And, although the last two year's have ended with very bitter and disappointing loses in the NCAA tournament, the Dawg believes Dixon's future at Pitt is bright. He really has shown great strides as a bench coach and with his media skills, two areas he was very lacking in when he took over three years ago, and his lofty record is still hard to argue with considering his teams have thrived not only in the relatively undemanding non conference schedule Pitt plays year to year, but also in Big East play as well.

If Dixon can become more comfortable working the referees in games and kicking his own players in the can once in awhile when their effort is left wanting, he will someday bring a Final Four and even maybe a national championship to the Oakland campus. Losing in the first weekend of the tournament the last two years has sure hurt, but I believe in my heart Dixon can be the guy to lead the Panthers to basketball glory in the next few years. See, I guess I'm just an eternal optimist when it's all said and done.

The Dawg has one more very important message for Jaime Dixon: please play some more name teams from the other power conferences before the Big East schedule kicks in! And please play them on a neutral court or on the road. Sure playing in the Big East is tough enough. But the style of play tolerated by Big East referees is certainly not tolerated by the referees from other conferences once its tournament time. By playing better teams on the road or in preseason tournaments, this young but very talented Panthers team can get a better feel for how the rest of the country plays ball. That should be the answer to getting Pitt basketball over the tournament hump in the next few years. Dixon's contract is set in stone now; he's not going anywhere anytime soon now that the university is committed to him. He can risk taking on a few more potential losses in the regular season in the upcoming few years, especially if it will pay bigger dividends in the tournament down the road.

In the Dawg House

I think it's safe to say the furor created by fans on the message boards and on radio talk shows regarding Jaime Dixon's future has been perpetuated by the very confusing coverage on it by both the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune. Its one thing for both papers to get the story wrong, it's another to publish completely conflicting reports in two consecutive days. First the Tribune had Dixon leaving and the Gazette had him staying. The next day the Tribune had a story that Pitt's coaching situation was stable while the Gazette had Dixon's fate being up in the air. It appears this whole situation was one no one really had any idea what was really happening…except for Jeff Long and Jaime Dixon.

I do know this, I was mad at Jaime Dixon. How could he leave this job he so coveted just three years ago? Well guess what? My anger would have been justified if it was true…but it wasn't. That alone is enough to put both these renowned papers in the Dawg House. But then Joe Starkey had the gall to chastise the fans (even mentioning the message boards!) for being unfair to a winner like Dixon. That really took the cake in my mind, since it was the newspaper he happens to write for that helped flame the fan's anger and resentment to begin with.

Come on Joe, that's the type of criticism I find totally unjustified. The fact is many Pitt fans were erroneously led to believe that Dixon was going to spurn their beloved program for a very meager pay raise to coach an Arizona State program in total disarray. How do you think any fan would feel reading something like that? Should we all be happy for him?! Would Connecticut fans be happy if Jim Calhoun all of sudden took a paltry pay raise to coach the Sun Devils?

I think not…

The fact is the only reason the fans were ready to run Dixon out of town was not because they aren't appreciative of his winning ways but because they thought he WANTED to leave town.

Starkey had basically already irritated the Dawg with his feeble attempt to declare the Bradley loss NOT an upset. His reason for this erroneous statement: The Indians and the Panthers were actually equal in talent going into the game. If that was even remotely true, then why did Bradley enter the game as a #13 seed and Pitt a #5 seed? If losing to a team eight seeds below you isn't an upset, I don't know what is. Upsets happen all the time. Does anyone truly really believe that George Mason is really better than UCONN and UNC? The Patriots have made a memorable run to the Final Four beating some heavyweights along the way, but they are certainly not all of sudden better than all those teams they beat to get there.

Yet now Pitt fans are supposed to swallow the fact that losing to the Indians should not have been a surprise? Sorry Joe, that's giving the Panthers and Dixon an easy excuse for losing a game they should have won. I think asking the fans to politely accept upsets and potentially lose their head coach to a lesser program all in the same week is going a little too far. I personally don't believe fans' disappointment over their Panthers losing to a much lower seed with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen is hardly being unreasonable at all.

In fact I think it's quite justified…

And that's why Joe Starkey, you are...IN the DAWG HOUSE!

In the Dawg House: March 25, 2006 This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.


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