|03.28.09 at 6:38 pm ET|
BOSTON – Tonight’s East Regional showdown between Villanova and Pittsburgh figures to be a battle that will sometimes more resemble a football game than a tussle on the hardwood.
And there’s someone in attendance who can more than relate with the gridiron aspect. Patriots cornerback and special teams heavy hitter Ray Ventrone is sitting among the Villanova faithful. And for good reason. He graduated from the Philadelphia Main Line institution in 2005 and was signed as an undrafted free agent.
The irony in his presence at TD Banknorth Garden tonight is that he was born and raised in Pittsburgh before heading off to Philly to play college football.
|03.28.09 at 5:22 pm ET|
BOSTON – Villanova set a new school record for single season victories when it captured its 29th win on Thursday over Duke. The previous record of 28 was set in 2005-06 when current seniors Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, Dante Cunningham and Frank Tchuisi.
The win over Duke marked the first time in school history that Villanova won consecutive NCAA tournament games by at least 20 points. Villanova beat UCLA, 89-69, in round 2 and beat Duke, 77-54, on Thursday.
Villanova is now 10-4 in NCAA tournament play under coach Jay Wright over the last five seasons. Three of the four losses have come at the hands of the eventual national champion. 2005-North Carolina. 2006-Florida and 2008-Kansas.
The senior class has earned the most wins of any class in school history. They are 101-36 entering tonight’s game.
Villanova is playing a fellow Big East school in NCAA tournament play for the first time since beating Georgetown, 66-64 for the national title in 1985.
Villanova beat Pittsburgh, 67-57, in the only meeting between the two teams this season. It was the last college game ever at Philadelphia’s Spectrum.
|03.28.09 at 5:15 pm ET|
BOSTON – As No. 1 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Villanova plan to square off beginning at 7:05 p.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden, here are some final thoughts to keep in mind. First, Pittsburgh.
Pitt is advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974, when they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State, starring David Thompson.
Only two schools have advanced to more Sweet Sixteens than Pittsburgh in the last eight years. (Duke and Kansas, 6).
The last time Pittsburgh advanced to the Final Four was in 1941. Pitt beat North Carolina, 26-22, before losing to Wisconsin, 36-30, in the Final Four at Madison, Wisc.
The win over Xavier gave Pittsburgh 31, tying a school record set back in 2003-04. That was the first year under current coach Jamie Dixon.
Probable lineups for Pitt tonight: Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young at F, DeJuan Blair C and Jermaine Dixon and Levance Fields G.
|03.27.09 at 10:40 pm ET|
There have been a few thoughts floating around the Celtics that both Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore have been reluctant to assert themselves offensively so as to not offend the standing rule of law. To wit: Thou shalt not be bigger than the team.
That’s fine as far as it goes but it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the Celtics Code, which is not actually do no harm, but rather, do what you do when you’re supposed to do it and do it well. If you’re Paul Pierce, for example, that may mean taking over in the fourth quarter when it’s needed, or dialing it back when it’s not.
So, if you’re Mikki Moore it means taking that 17-foot jump shot when the opportunity arises, and if you’re Stephon Marbury, it means putting your head down from time to time and going aggressively to the basket. That Moore and Marbury haven’t, until Friday night against the Hawks that is, has become something of a problem. (Click here for a recap of the Celtics win over Atlanta).
It’s a fine line that needs to be walked and one that the Celtics starting five has mastered to the point where Pierce noted last week that when they are all together, ” we are like one.” The whole thing speaks to the larger culture that the Celtics have created in a very short amount of time and Moore and Marbury’s hesitancy proves that it is not a media myth, but rather something that is well-known and established throughout the league.
Which brings us to the Atlanta Hawks. Former Celtic Joe Johnson is the team’s resident All-Star. Mike Bibby is the veteran head. But it’s Josh Smith who is the team’s zeitgeist and it’s fair to say that he and coach Mike Woodson do not always agree on things.
To quote from the Atlanta-Journal piece linked above:
‘I want to set the record straight about this one last time,’ Woodson said, tugging at the neck of his shirt and leaning forward in his chair. ‘This is not now, and has never been, about me hating Josh or Josh hating me. It’s not a personal thing. We get along just fine.’
Except for all those times they don’t.
Right, and when the coach has to say publicly that he and the team’s star player don’t hate each other, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of peace, love and understanding. Smith, who is a phenomenally talented player, is under the delusion that he is occasionally a 3-point shooter, and when he does hoist 3’s at his career 26.2 percent career clip his team tends to not play well. But when he plays like the athletic freakshow that he is, Smith is capable of doing things like erasing a 20-point deficit in oh, three or four minutes or so.
There’s no question that the Hawks bother the Celtics. Whether it was their temerity to take the eventual champs to seven games last spring or their marketing staff’s over-the-top theatrics for their first regular season re-match, the Celtics view the Hawks as somewhat less than worthy adversaries. Witness Rajon Rondo’s, “It’s not a rivalry” quote.
Perhaps it’s the Hawks very essence that offends the Celtics so much. A team that talks when it hasn’t won anything. A team that shoots 3’s when it should be pounding the ball inside. A team with players who seem to do what they want, when they want. It’s a bit of a shame that the Hawks and Celtics are probably relegated to the opposite ends of the Eastern Conference bracket because they seem to bring out the worst of each other in a way that’s highly entertaining.
Six more observations:
1. The injury to Kevin Garnett has officially become worrisome. At this point there is no guarantee that he is ever going to be 100 percent the rest of the season, and if he’s not, it’s hard to make the case that the Celtics can repeat as NBA champs. Mike Gorman made an interesting point on the telecast. The Celtics are locked into either the 2 or the 3 slot in the Eastern Conference and it won’t matter if they finish one game behind Orlando or four games behind.
The Celtics clearly are not scared of the playing Orlando without homecourt and if so, then it’s not worth extending Garnett for the next few weeks.
2. It was not lost on anyone over here at Green Street HQ that Eddie House, and not Stephon Marbury, was summoned from the bench early in the first quarter when Rajon Rondo got two quick fouls. Marbury was left on the bench for the duration of the second half against Orlando Wednesday and his play had sunk to such a level that Garnett felt compelled to sing his praises to the press yesterday.
But when Marbury did get in the game he finally looked like the guy people have been hoping he would be. How does 11 points, two assists and zero turnovers in 17 minutes strike you from your backup point guard?
3. Speaking of E-House, I haven’t seen the latest returns in the Sullivan Tire Sixth Man award, but if he isn’t the winner then the fans voted for the wrong guy. House has been the one constant off the bench all season and he continued his hot shooting with a dozen points Friday. Once again he was the offense for a good chunk of the second quarter until Marbury got untracked.
4. Last week, Doc Rivers had some strong words for Glen Davis after he went 1-for-11 against the Clippers. “When he comes in the game thinking about being a scorer, then he struggles,” Rivers said. “He’s a terrific player when he stays within his limitations, and that actually allows him, especially numbers-wise, to play out of people’s expectations.”
Baby had 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Hawks and he was the best big man on the floor until Smith went crazy in the fourth quarter. He continues to do some things that are frankly amazing, like his huge block on Joe Johnson, but his offensive game was quietly efficient and that’s what Rivers wants.
5. While not as brilliant as Marbury, Mikki Moore also had something of a breakout game. After picking up three fouls in about a minute and a half in the third quarter, Moore finally seemed to get it. He finished with 10 rebounds and had some huge defensive stops against Smith late in the game.
6. Hadn’t noticed it until Comcast put the numbers up, but Paul Pierce has really struggled at the free throw line in the month of March shooting just 72 percent. That’s a fine number, if you play for Syracuse, but for a guy who is at 83 percent on the year, that’s a slump.
Pierce has been slowly coming back around. He had a couple of shots rim in and out against the Hawks that would have made his final numbers look better, but 21 points and 37 minutes seem just about right for him for this time of year. Also, Pierce finished the game going 8-for-10 from the line.
|03.27.09 at 7:45 pm ET|
The Celtics took the floor against the Hawks Friday night without Kevin Garnett. The All-Star forward had played four games in his return in limited minutes, but he has experienced soreness in his knee and the Celtics elected to shut him down. Celtics GM Danny Ainge told weei.com’s Jeff Goodman earlier Friday that they would evaluate Garnett’s role for the rest of the regular season next week.
Glen Big Baby Davis started in Garnett’s spot.
|03.27.09 at 5:24 pm ET|
East Regional Final No. 3 Villanova (29-7) vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh (31-4), Saturday, 7:05 p.m. TD Banknorth Garden
The Big East has been praised up and down as the best college basketball conference in the land. On Saturday night in Boston, that will be in full display as two of the best teams from the conference square off for the chance to go to the Final Four the following weekend in the Motor City.
Here are five things from each team to look for that will go a long way in determining who will be cutting the Garden nets and getting their motors revved for Detroit.
1. Can Pittsburgh survive another inconsistent performance out of the gate? Most likely the answer to this question is no.
2. Can Pittsburgh avoid the foul trouble that plagued DeJuan Blair in the only other meeting between the two Pennsylvania cross-state rivals on Jan. 28 at the Spectrum?
3. Will Levance Fields start making an impact earlier than the last 60 seconds of the game?
4. Can Sam Young score on Villanova’s defense?
5. Will Pittsburgh find a way to control the offensive glass with their bigger front court?
1. Will Dante Cunningham continue to emerge as the most active player on Villanova’s roster?
2. Will Villanova be able to do what Xavier did on Thursday night and dribble penetrate in the lane and dish off to wide open scorers?
3. Will Scottie Reynolds finally be the Scottie Reynolds who can score at will?
4. Can Villanova find their long-range touch?
5. Will Villanova dominate the second half as they have in their first three tournament wins?
What they said:
Villanova coach Jay Wright: “We’ve got three seniors and Scottie (Reynolds) who’s played so many games, he’s like a senior, have been very, very successful with this year is just put the last game behind them, whether it was a good game or bad game, move on to the next game and keeping their focus on that. So I think that’s going to be important. The higher the stakes get the more there’s distractions around you. And we’re really counting on these upperclassmen to make sure we concentrate on Pitt, who is I know I sound like a broken record, but when you get to this point in the season you’re playing great teams. We know them. These seniors have played against their seniors so many times.
“It’s going to be a great game. We know each other very well and we’ve had a lot of great battles. We have great respect for them, as I said last night. We’d love to win this game, but at least I hope we do win, but at least if we don’t, there’s a Big East team going to the Final Four. We’ll be proud of them and happy for them, but I hope it’s us.”
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon: “As soon as the game was over it was about who we’re going to be playing and getting our guys back to the hotel and getting them rested and preparation for the next one. I think it’s an interesting thing. I know there’s about 330 programs that would like to ask that question and call the Sweet 16 like a bad thing. It’s been an accomplishment. It’s something that we as a program I never considered as a possibility, and we were getting there on more often than everybody but two schools in the country. So I think Kansas and Duke are one up on us. So we’ve had a very good run, very good success. But at the same time we know that a National Championship is something that we have as a goal.”
Trags Take: Villanova coach Jay Wright says that the Final Four isn’t a specific goal for his team. Jamie Dixon of Pitt says it is. Wright says he just wants his team playing their best basketball. And they are. They are outscoring their opponents by a total of 50 points in the second halves of their three NCAA games so far. Games are won in the the second half, just ask Pittsburgh who had to get a prayer answered when Levance Fields drained a long, long three-pointer in the final minute to carry the Panthers to victory. Villanova has the guard play and depth that Xavier didn’t. Villanova will be revving their motors following this one and off to the Final Four for the first time since their magical 1985 title season.
Villanova 75, Pittsburgh 63
|03.27.09 at 4:54 pm ET|
So, you thought all stories about gross, sweaty basketball arenas were reserved for a certain former basketball venue on Causeway Street in the mid-80s when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town for the NBA Finals? Think again.
The old Philadelphia Spectrum, now the Wachovia Spectrum, will be raised this spring but before that they had some significant ‘lasts’ in that old facility on Pattison and Broad in South Philly.
One of which occurred on Jan. 28 when Pittsburgh visited Villanova for the last college game ever to be played in the legendary building. The Spectrum, which also hosted the 1976 and 1981 NCAA Final Four won by Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, was transformed into a sweatbox that night as the heat was cranked up, making the building feel like a sauna, circa the 1984-85 NBA Finals in Boston.
Villanova coach Jay Wright prides himself on his well-dressed manner on the sideline. On this night, that was a challenge as big as containing Pitt’s DeJuan Blair.
“I know they didn’t know anything about the Spectrum,” Wright said on Friday of his players’ appreciation of the Spectrum. “But in that second half when that place got going and it was so hot in there. I pride myself I don’t sweat too much. I was just sweating like crazy. And my friends were busting my chops bout going to my hanky all the time. I don’t ever remember being in a game like that. It was so hot and so loud.”
But as was the case in the 80s with Bird, Parish and McHale and Ainge and D.J., the home team had a little something to do with Villanova knocking off then-No. 3 Pittsburgh, 67-57.
“The second thing was, Shane Clark in the second half coming up with all those big offensive rebounds. Reggie Redding, big shots,” Wright added. “Corey Fisher, big shots. They really hadn’t done that before in Big East games. And that’s what kind of got us going is they knew Pitt were they No. 1 or No. 2, 3? But they knew they were a great team. And now they do it against a great team and they got confidence and we got confidence in them. That’s what I think really happened.
“I swear, that building had a lot to do with it. I really do think it does. Just the crowd, I mean,” Wright said.
Now, on Saturday night, he’s hoping the Nova fans in the Garden turn up the heat again on the Panthers.
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