Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pitt 76, UConn 68

Yeah, this is late, but it's been a busy couple of days for reasons that have nothing to do with hoops. Trying to find a job and all that stuff, you know...

Anyway, my primary conclusion from Monday night's big game was one I've drawn before: Pitt is for real. I mean, as a Final Four and a national title contender. That UConn team was on fire. And yes, they're without Jerome Dyson. And yes, that had an obvious effect. But Pitt went in with a clear plan for stopping (or at least hassling) Hasheen Thabeet, which nobody had done in weeks, and it worked.

It worked because DeJaun Blair is an animal -- not tall enough but certainly tough, strong and mean enough to play Thabeet and make his night miserable. His clear mission throughout the first half was to be in between Thabeet and the basket -- not even necessarily to do anything while there, but just be in between the player and the hoop. And it worked.

Thabeet is a thug, as we've discussed here before, and a bully. And most teams don't have anybody who can or will stand up to him. Pitt is an obvious exception, and once they got into Thabeet's head and disrupted his game, they were in good shape. UConn had to move the ball outside, and without Dyson they didn't have enough scoring to put the game away. Kemba Walker is a great player, and will be better, but basically the Huskies had been running their offense through Thabeet (for good reason) for so long, they didn't know what to do when they couldn't anymore.

Let's make one thing clear, though. In spite of all of that, this was no Pitt rout. UConn went into the final minutes looking as if they'd pull the thing out in spite of the rough start. The Huskies remain one of the best, if not the best team in the nation, and should be considered a favorite come March even without Dyson.

All last night showed us is that that's true about the Pitt Panthers too.

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