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Chas 'n Matt: Shootin' the Shit (Part I)

At 7:00 PM Thursday, Syracuse opens its Big East Conference campaign with rival and 10th ranked University of Pittsburgh. In an effort to educate the Orange population of what Panther fans are thinking, I've once again engaged league compatriot Chas Rich of Pitt Blather and the NCAA FanHouse in a little exchange.

Today's installment of the discussion featurns some non-game related banter. My responses to Chas' questions can be found here.

I. What were your preseason expectations for Pittsburgh this season? Have they changed over the last few months?
Winning the Big East regular season and the tournament was a given in the expectations. That hasn't changed, though, I am not quite as firmly convinced as I was before. Georgetown is improving from an early stumble, UConn will only get better and WVU/John Beilein as always scares the crap out of me.

As far as nationally, I was hoping for at least a week as the #1 team and Final Four did not seem like crazy talk.

I admit the losses to Wisconsin and OK St. jarred me a bit. Especially the Wisconsin team. The flaws are a little more apparent and I have to modify my expectations. I still expect this team to make the Elite 8.

II. How has Aaron Gray's decision to return to Pittsburgh this season impacted the club? Where do you think he ranks among the nation's elite centers?
Well, the team embraced the expectations. They aren't downplaying things or saying too many cliches about one game at a time or any given night. It has made them, surprisingly enough, an even closer team. Despite all the attention on him, the whole unit does things together. I can't even count the number of stories I've read, e-mails and comments I've gotten about siting the whole team out doing things together. The whole team stayed in the 'Burgh over the summer playing ball, working out and being around each other.

He's in the top-5 but not the best. He isn't as athletic or explosive as some of the others. He is a poor shot blocker, despite his size. He is very good in getting down low, and doesn't try to do crazy shots. He's smart enough to play within his game.

III. For the third time since Pittsburgh assumed residency in the Big East Conference, the Panthers were tabbed preseason favorite by the league's coaches. How has the selection effected the program? Has there been a paradigm shift amongst Pittsburgh fans?
Well, the team and the fans can't play the "they don't respect us" card as easily any longer. That - that takes some getting used to.

The shift for fans is tough. The hardest thing for football-basketball schools where the football came first but the basketball team is better is the transition in season for the fans. In football, the limited number of games and implications of each means that every loss, every mistake is a glaring indictment and weakness that costs the team so much.There's not enough time for improvement from beginning to end of the season and even if it does happen it can be too late to matter.

Basketball season has 2.5 as many games plus the conference tournament and then the NCAA. You can have problems early the season. Weaknesses, struggles and the inexplicable loss. It's not the end of the world. There's time to recover. At least in the abstract.

The fan, though, in the transition of seasons easily forgets that. That early season loss "exposes" the team and you read the early doom and gloom because nothing has changed.

Pitt fans are a little bi-polar right now. In no small part because of what they saw from the football team this year -- if I can speak for them all on this one.

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