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Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Big East Basketball: It's Better Than a Forearm Shiv to the Throat
Chas, the indomitable writer of Pitt Sports Blather, and I did a little Q&A about tonight's Pittsburgh-Syracuse tussle. For my responses to Chas' questions, click here.

1. At least by looking at the efficiency numbers, Pittsburgh is a team that is surviving on the strength of its defense. Is that a fair assessment and was that the death knell for the Panthers on Saturday?

No. The defense is the primary and it is leading the way. It has under Dixon and Howland before that. But surviving is the wrong way to put it (maybe I'm just being defensive). Pitt has been very efficient in the offense -- not too far from where Syracuse is according to Pomeroy. What Pitt's style is, though is to keep the game slower. Pitt has one of the slower tempo/pace -- lower third of the country. But, even then, it is around middle of the pack for the Big East.

Impatience and not passing was the death knell for Pitt against St. John's. Pitt's A/B% going into the game was 68.4%. In the loss, Pitt only had a 52.6% A/B%. Players got selfish and tried to do too much in the face of a defensive effort that caught them off guard in the first half.

The last 3 games were against teams with top-50 defenses (if we want to go to the traditional, per game numbers) in terms of scoring defense and FT% defense. Both St. John's (12th) and Louisville (41st) are top 50 in defensive efficiency; and Rutgers is 70th. That will skew perception a bit.

2. I've always been a little intrigued by Ronald Ramon and what he brings to the team. Talk a little bit about him and whether his only taking about 14% of the team's shots and being involved in only about 14% of the team's possessions is a good or bad thing.

Ramon has become a very good defender, and expends a lot more energy there. He has a strong B-ball IQ. He has battled through some tough injuries that limited his development. He looked great as a sharpshooter until injuries to his hand and shoulder. Honestly, he is still working on regaining the shooting touch.

He is still working at being a point guard and is still too willing to defer to Krauser, but he seems to be getting confident. His playing time is being shared with Levance Fields, a freshman also at point guard. With such a deep rotation for Pitt, it isn't surprising that he isn't as involved. Still, he is a starter and at the end of games he is on the court.

3. Aaron Gray seems to be an awesome cog in the Pitt machine this year. Has his development surprised you at all? To me, if Pitt is going to do some serious tournament damage this year, he's going to have to be the guy that goes bizerko, not Krauser. Dis/Agree?

He showed some flashes mid-way through the season when Chris Taft was starting to wear out the coaches patience with his disinterested play. 7' Centers are always intriguing because they usually are so raw but there is so much expected based on their sheer size.

I'm not surprised by the way he is scoring, more with the rebounding. I've seen too many seemingly huge big men in college wilt on the boards -- mainly because they don't like the pressure and intensity they face from opposing players. Gray has actually responded to that and starts fighting harder for boards.

Where he still needs work is in learning the refs. He has had serious foul trouble in some games, and it was clear he didn't catch-on from the early calls that how the game was going to be called. He's got to understand that as a big guy, he's not going to get as many calls, but it is more likely that calls will go against him if the opponent is smaller -- just a perception thing.

As for a deep run in the tournament, if Gray is going well, it is likely so is Krauser -- at least from sparking the team and drawing attention. Balance on the team has been when Pitt has played its best.

4. If he has one, where is Sam Young's ceiling?

I don't know where his ceiling is, but Young looks to be Pitt's most exciting and dynamic player in years. He is everything you can want -- big and athletic, has great leaping, high energy, a great first step, can go inside and out, likes to muck on defense and he is already strong and wide. I'd say he is already a favorite of many Pitt fans because of what he could be.

5. This game has gone from Syracuse having to prove itself against an undefeated Pittsburgh team to Pittsburgh having to prove itself against a struggling Syracuse squad. Has this change in fortune and perception been picked up by Panther Nation? Has everyone stepped back from the ledge after the Johnnies upset?

I'd say perspective was regained rather quickly. Definitely helped by Duke and Florida also losing on the same day. There was a brief window of anguish and frustration after the game. Yet, there was a lot of optimism. Pitt played as miserable a first half as can be imagined. They were still down by 11 with less than 9 minutes left in the game. Then Pitt made a big run and nearly snatched away the game.

Pitt was going to lose sooner or later, and the fact that it was St. John's -- again at the Garden -- wasn't an overwhelming shock. Like Syracuse, Pitt's in it's rough stretch of a lot of games in a short space. Maybe not UConn and 'Nova back-to-back, but 3 straight on the road at Louisville, the RAC and MSG in a week is not the easiest time.

Look, Pitt is facing Syracuse. The perennial power of the Big East from the start. A team Pitt has a historic winning % of .348 (32-60). No matter what, Pitt fans will look at the Syracuse game as a measuring stick.

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