Category archive: Pittsburgh Panthers

If anyone was wondering whether 15 schools could agree and get along in the new ACC, all they had to do was check the reaction to the new primary partners released Wednesday.

There was an unusual consensus. Every school was pleased.

The ACC had to adjust its scheduling format with the addition of Notre Dame, which could join anywhere from 2013 to 2015. The conference, committed to an 18-game schedule, had to lock in to two annual home-and-home series.

For a few schools, such as Virginia, there was nothing to ponder. The Cavaliers have two natural rivals in Virginia Tech and Maryland. Done.

"It makes sense geographically," UVa coach Tony Bennett said. "They've been our natural rivalries for years."

Boston College landed two tough opponents, but the Eagles couldn't have been happier to get two schools that will help fill the usually staid Conte Forum. BC will play Notre Dame and Syracuse twice every season.

"It's great for our alumni and fans," Boston College coach Steve Donahue said. "I'm sure excited about it."

Understandbly, no school got both Duke and North Carolina. That would be too cruel, and it would be too hard to pull off with two other schools in the state in Wake Forest and NC State. The ACC had to balance the four schools, and it did.

Duke gets UNC and Wake Forest. NC State got UNC and Wake. Wake Forest got Duke and NC State. And of course that means Carolina got Duke and NC State, which based on the current trajectory of the four schools, is the toughest slate among the schools in North Carolina.

"I loved it," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "They got it right."

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who is the 2014 chair of the men's basketball selection committee and understands the importance of getting quality teams on the schedule, said "playing two in-state rivals is the best scenario for us."

ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks, who oversees basketball and scheduling in particular, said the majority of the matchups simply made sense.

The most intriguing issue was what to do with Notre Dame's second rivalry after Boston College. The Irish and Georgia Tech were paired up by process of elimination. Hicks said the schools have a rivalry in football, but not in basketball.

"Notre Dame has a lot of alumni in urban areas," Hicks said. "Maryland was a better fit with the partners they had [Pitt and Virginia]. Washington, D.C., would have been a good place [for Notre Dame], but Maryland's partners fit. Georgia Tech was the next one that made the most sense."

ND coach Mike Brey said it worked for him since he wanted to create new rivalries and, "I love Atlanta."

Tech coach Brian Gregory knew the Yellow Jackets would get Clemson as one rival and was overjoyed that the Irish were the other.

"I think it's great for us," Gregory said. "These are two great academic schools with great traditions. I think it will turn into a great rivalry."

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Pitt and Virginia are strong defensive teams which should provide four gritty games for the Terps every season. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon had no issue with Maryland and Syracuse as his school's natural rivals, saying that he expected as much based on geography.

The rest of the 14 games on the schedule will include two more home-and-home opponents (which will rotate every year) and five home and five road games that make up the other 10.

The other set partners are:

Clemson: Florida State and Georgia Tech
Florida State: Clemson and Miami
Miami: Florida State and Virginia Tech
Syracuse: Boston College and Pitt
Virginia Tech: Miami and Virginia

Hicks said the Miami-Virginia Tech series marries two former Big East rivals. Syracuse's two partners are also former Big East foes. Clemson and Florida State got natural regional rivals.

"I'm not bent out of shape one way or another," said Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, who added he wasn't against going to 20 league games. "I like the challenge night in and night out of 18 hard-nosed games."

What the two-team partner lists and the reaction proves is that a 16th team in men's basketball doesn't seem necessary. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the ACC isn't going to go to 16, and frankly, there's really no need.

A few years ago, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon sent his assistant Tom Herrion to New Zealand to see if Rob Loe was worth a scholarship offer.

Loe, who eventually landed at Saint Louis, had interest from others, "but Jamie heard about this young kid down in Wellington,'' Herrion recalled.

The young kid was Steven Adams. And he just may be one of the most intriguing players in college basketball this season, not to mention one of the most physically impressive at 7-foot, 250 pounds.

When he played professionally in New Zealand, Dixon played against two of Steven's brothers, Warren and Ralph, and was teammates with his coach in Wellington, Kenny McFadden. McFadden told Dixon about Adams in 2009, when Dixon was coaching the U.S. U-19 team to a gold medal in New Zealand.

So when Herrion got the assignment, he knew this was no junket. He was on the ground for a max of 18 hours, not even long enough to get adjusted to the time zone or rest for jet leg. Herrion walked into a gym in Wellington and knew immediately what to report.

"It was one of the biggest no-brainers,'' said Herrion, now the head coach at Marshall. "He reminded me immediately of those older guys at Kansas, players like Raef LaFrentz. He was physical. He had big shoulders. He had a big frame. It was obviously worth the trip. [Due to jet lag] I don't think I was the same for two weeks after coming back, but it was well worth it.''

"He was a 6-10, 15-year old," Dixon said. "What more do you need to know?"

Adams made a commitment to Pitt in the summer of 2010, and the commitment held.

At just 19 years old, he's already got quite a life story. Adams is the youngest of 18 children. His father passed away of cancer when he was 13. His mother, who is Tongan (his father was of English descent), still lives in their hometown of Rotorua. But the death of his dad left him adrift until older brother Warren sent for him to come to Wellington.

He ended up living with a coach, trainer and guardian in Blossom Cameron and was placed in a school called Scots College Prep. He quickly became a budding star in the country's sports landscape, as detailed here by local New Zealand television.

His family remains athletic as his older sister, Valerie Kassanita Vili-Adams, won her second gold medal in as many Olympics in the shot put. She won the gold in Beijing and was just awarded the gold in London after Belarus' Nadzeya Ostapchuk was stripped of her medal for a failed drug test.

Adams has so many nieces and nephews that he has lost count (he thinks he has 11).

"They're all older then me,'' Adams said. "They were changing my diapers when I was first born. Weird, huh? It shouldn't happen.''

Adams said all but two of his 18 siblings grew up in the same house. He said there was once a family reunion, but only 14 or 15 of the siblings could make it.

"I was the smallest one there,'' said Adams with a laugh. "My sisters are big.''

Even as he grew as a player and matured as a person, the commitment to come to Pittsburgh stuck.

"I came on a visit, sat in the stadium and they were going crazy,'' Adams said of the Petersen Events Center. "I was like holy shizz. It's loud and going crazy here.''

He played for New Zealand junior teams and in January was placed by Pitt at Notre Dame Prep, where he starred and went against Kentucky incoming big man Nerlens Noel. Adams came to the America to get adjusted and more importantly become academically eligible. As a foreigner, it's always easier to become eligible from a U.S. prep school than to rely strictly on the transcripts from another country for initial eligibility.

He spent the last few months playing summer basketball in Pittsburgh and is now enrolled for the fall, working out with the Panthers and loving the experience of being stateside.

"It's fun," Adams said. "It gets pretty wild, but I find it cool. This part of the town, it's a city and campus put together. It's a pretty cool area. There's some green, some forest area. It's a nice little balance.''

Adams is a bit of a character. It doesn't take long to pick up on his quirky personality -- as fellow students in his acting class are no doubt picking up on.

"[I'm having] fun with it,'' Adams said of the course. "Some of the girls in the class don't like to do anything. But I'll have fun with it.''

There's a real connection between Adams and Dixon, who is still remembered in New Zealand and once put up 61 points against Sam Houston State for a Kiwi traveling all-star team.

"He's cool,'' Adams said. "He's pretty funny and cool to hang around with. He's a good coach. He breaks it down and any questions he can answer. I ask a lot of questions of why and when we should do stuff. He always has the answers. He always smiles. Not sure if that's weird, too.''

Adams knows he has to polish his low-post game -- right now he would rather face up than plow through the post. Dixon wouldn't commit to saying Pitt will run its system through its big newcomer.

"He's a very good rebounder, he's a good passer and he's very unselfish,'' Dixon said. "How many teams play through a freshman, though?''

But now that Khem Birch is gone to UNLV, Adams is the focal point inside. He isn't some international man of mystery after all. He is a known commodity who played in plenty of games against elite players in his class over the past year.

The Panthers, who won the CBI last season but missed the NCAA tournament for the first time under Dixon, should be a major factor in their last season in the Big East. They're boosted by the return of Tray Woodall, who is healthy after an injury-plagued season, along with Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, freshman James Robinson and returnees Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor, J.J. Moore and Lamar Patterson.

Dixon is downplaying Adams' potential to dominate during his first season, but it's not out of the question. One thing is for sure: He will be a treat for anyone who covers the team or hangs around this crew.

"Everyone loves him,'' Pitt associate athletic director Greg Hotchkiss said. "He's got a vivacious personality. He's a big guy. And for three-plus years he's been dreaming of coming to Pitt.''

He's there now. And he's not planning on leaving anytime soon.

"I want to get a ring,'' Adams said. "The time will come when [the NBA] will present itself. But I don't give a crap about that. I'm worried right now about getting to the NCAA tournament and a ring.''

When it came to bylaws about departing teams, the Horizon, Colonial and America East didn't buckle.

There are consequences that come along with a departure. Being ineligible for the conference tournament is one of them for these leagues. Butler (Horizon) and Virginia Commonwealth (CAA) accepted that and got to the Atlantic 10 as fast as possible.

What school wouldn't do the same if the opportunity existed? Scheduling, television exposure and tourney access are the most important reasons -- outside of the financial benefits -- for being in a conference.

Take away the ability to play for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and the season can seem like a waste. Postseason bans, such as the one USC had recently and the one Connecticut will endure this season, take the air out of the season -- even if the schools and coaches do all they can to create a new goal of winning a regular-season title.

Even though both would likely be contenders for at-large berths, Butler and VCU took no chances.

Boston University, on the other hand, probably would leave for the Patriot League tomorrow if it could. The Terriers weren't pleased with the decision by the America East to uphold its bylaws, but they are stuck. The current team will have to deal with it.

Old Dominion and Georgia State were hoping the CAA would lift its ban, but it did not. Georgia State went as far as to explore trying to get into the Sun Belt sooner, but that didn't happen.

The Horizon, CAA and America East are actually not the norm historically.

After losing members in the past decade, the Big East, Atlantic 10, Big West, C-USA, Mountain West and WAC have not even broached the subject, much like the Big 12 didn't when it lost members to the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. The Big East didn't block West Virginia from playing in the conference tournament a year ago after it announced its hasty departure to the Big 12. Perhaps the smaller conferences are worried that the league will have only one bid and don't want it to go to the school with one foot out the door.

But when I asked some of the coaches playing in their final season in a conference, the question was met with near astonishment.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wanted to know if I was joking. San Diego State's Steve Fisher said he hadn't even heard of these conferences not allowing schools to participate. Utah State's Stew Morrill said he didn't think the WAC would do such a thing since previous schools that left weren't treated in that manner. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he would be incredibly disappointed if that occurred. (C-USA took away the conference tournament from the city of Memphis but didn't remove the Tigers' ability to play for the title.)

But what would happen if these conferences turned on the departing teams in 2013? It's too late to change the bylaws and isn't going to happen, but it's still fun to play the "what if" game.

What effect would it have had on the Big East to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse out of the tournament?
A serious blow. The league may be squabbling with the two schools -- and will do so in court with Pitt -- but it needs these two in the conference tournament as long as possible. Syracuse is a natural draw at Madison Square Garden. Taking the Orange out of the Big East would have been a major mistake. The Orange and Panthers still don't have a definitive arrival date in the ACC, but it's likely to be in the summer of 2013.

What would it have done to Syracuse and Pitt for a potential at-large berth?
Likely no issue at all. Both have teams that look like virtual locks for an at-large bid.

What would happen to the Atlantic 10 if Temple and Charlotte weren't allowed in the tournament?
Let's be honest: Charlotte won't be missed on its way back to Conference USA. But Temple's departure will be a hit, as the Owls have consistently been a major part of the A-10 tournament. Not having a Temple presence, prior to the Owls' exit to the Big East, would have hurt the tourney's debut in Brooklyn. Bringing in Butler and VCU will offset the loss, but Temple still is very much associated with the A-10 brand.

What if the Big West banned Pacific?
That would be just cruel. The Big West has had teams leave before, and it might happen again. Plus, this is coach Bob Thomason's final season after a quarter-century at his alma mater, and he said he has a team that could challenge for the Big West title. He has been a loyal member, and Pacific is leaving for the all-private WCC. No harm in letting the Tigers finish up, and it won't hurt the Big West one bit.

What if Conference USA blocked Memphis, SMU, UCF and Houston?
Then C-USA would have a tournament that lacked any sort of buzz. Marshall is a legitimate title challenger to Memphis, and UTEP should be in contention. If the Tigers had been blocked from being in the tournament, after it was taken from the city, C-USA's relevance during Championship Week would have been diminished even more. It's still hard to say how many Memphis fans will travel to Tulsa, Okla., but the Tigers do have a significant following. This was a smart move by the league to not play bitter politics with the departing members.

What would the Mountain West tournament be like without San Diego State and Boise State?
A bit less exciting. The Aztecs have been one of the consistent winners in the MWC with UNLV and New Mexico. Take SDSU, off to the Big West, out of the event in Las Vegas, and the tournament would lose luster. No offense to Boise, but no one would likely notice if the Broncos weren't invited. But SDSU matters a great deal. The Aztecs will be a top-25 team alongside UNLV. Taking them out of the conference tournament would have been a storyline the MWC doesn't need in March.

What would a WAC tournament look like without Utah State and San Jose State?
Not worth it. USU has been the benchmark program in the WAC since Morrill arrived. New Mexico State can't anchor the conference on its own. NMSU needs a rival, and Utah State has been that nemesis. San Jose State wouldn't be missed, but the Aggies' absence would have been a glaring omission in Las Vegas. Rebuilding Utah State will likely need the tournament to get a bid this season, but the WAC was in no position to be punitive. So the Aggies will have one final chance to represent the WAC before it joins SJSU and former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada in the Mountain West.

The gold medal won by the USA men's under-18 team in Brazil last week will reverberate across a number of college campuses in the fall.

The players who won gold -- the majority of whom are set to begin their freshman seasons -- will benefit from the competition and the spirited workouts and playing for Florida's Billy Donovan, Gonzaga's Mark Few and VCU's Shaka Smart.

The U.S. didn't lose a game in the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships and won by an average of 39 points, including beating host Brazil twice.

High schooler Julius Randle, who still has another year at Prestonwood Christian Academy in McKinney, Texas, led the Americans in scoring at 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.

Tennessee sophomore-to-be Jarnell Stokes was second at 14 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.

I asked Donovan for five players he is convinced will have a major impact on their respective teams during their first college seasons.

He didn't hesitate on the first name (tourney averages in parentheses). Marcus Smart, 6-foot-3, SG, Oklahoma State (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg): "I have not been around a player in a long, long time that is as good a competitor. He can shoot the ball better (1-of-10 on 3-pointers), but he's unselfish and an unbelievable leader. He was absolutely terrific. He's a terrific player. He's special. He has the internal qualities to me.''

Jerami Grant, 6-7, SF, Syracuse (5.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg): "He didn't shoot very well (7-of-25), but he'll end up being a Kris Joseph or Wesley Johnson for Syracuse in time. He's rangy, long and can play two different positions. His upside may be greater than anyone else on the team. He's so long and athletic. Once he knocks down shots he'll be really special.''

Sam Dekker, 6-7, SF, Wisconsin (5 ppg, 2.5 rpg): "He was hurt, ended up spraining his ankle, and then someone stepped on his toe and that had to be drained. He was never quite healthy. But he's a warrior. He loves to play. He wants to win. I think he's a really good player. He takes some crazy shots. I just wish I could have coached him. He's going to be terrific.''

Shaq Goodwin, 6-8, PF, Memphis (12.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg): "He's got a chance. He scored 30 points in our first game. He's got a great feel for how to play. He's got a big body. He needs to be a bit more serious. But he played pretty well while he was there. He did a nice job for us.''

James Robinson, 6-3, PG, Pittsburgh (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg): "We weren't sure we were going to keep him. We cut the team from 25 to 14 and then kept guys around to 12. He was originally on the outside looking in. But once we started practicing we saw that he's a winner and a great role guy. He's a typical Pitt player. Jamie [Dixon] will love coaching him. I'm not sure of his impact on the team, but people will say, 'Where did this guy come from?' The kid is a winner. I liked coaching him. He was the same guy every day.''

Donovan had one word for NC State-bound wing Rodney Purvis (7 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and Duke-bound guard Rasheed Sulaimon. That one word? "Relax."

He said Purvis is an exceptional talent but can get too wrapped up in scoring at times. He's an exceptional athlete, according to Donovan, very physical and a really good player, but needs to check the expectations a bit. Donovan said Sulaimon (10 ppg, 3.4 rpg) needs to avoid feeling too much of the natural pressure that comes with being a highly touted Duke recruit. He said he loved Sulaimon's work ethic and enjoyed coaching him but he just needs to chill a bit.

Here are some quick hitters during this crazy week in college sports …

• Villanova is trying to use its rising football program as a way to get in somewhere in the ACC or a Big 12/Big East hybrid. The school is hoping the Philadelphia market and the ability to get its football to FBS status (unlike, say, Georgetown) is attractive. And by the way, Nova is not pleased about the way Pitt helped block the Wildcats from being accepted into the Big East for football.

• If what's left of the Big East became a basketball-driven league, it would still be a very attractive conference. Imagine if the league were Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and possibly Notre Dame, then add Xavier, Butler, Saint Louis, Dayton, Creighton and maybe Saint Joseph's.

• The remaining non-FBS teams in the Big East have to commit to unity for a setup like this to work. The problem with this idea is that it still wouldn't command major media dollars. Non-football conferences don't make the major money. Check out my colleage Dana O'Neil's take on it here.

• The Big East is saying the right things by holding Pitt and Syracuse to the 27-month departure bylaw. But it's in the best interest of the remaining Big East schools to let the schools go so that they can figure out what the conference will look like in two or three years. Multiple lame-duck seasons serve no purpose.

• Pitt is having some selective memory these days about refusing to play Boston College after the Eagles broke off to the ACC eight years ago. The Big East office was not a fan of anyone playing the Eagles in anything and made that clear to Pittsburgh. The Panthers were supposed to play BC in the Jimmy V Classic but were replaced with Indiana.

• The Barclays Arena in Brooklyn will provide the New York City area with multiple opportunities to host conference tournaments. The ACC, Big East and A-10 should all have choices for tournaments in the coming years.

• Adding Missouri to the Southeastern Conference makes the most sense for what the league wants from a 14th member. The SEC wants the perception to be that it is adding a new market (St. Louis/Kansas City) and a school that has some respect academically. Texas A&M obviously delivers a major market (Houston) and respect. But there aren't really two other natural schools out there for the SEC to bump up to 16.

• Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will have to do some serious convincing when he talks to his presidents -- especially the Bay Area ones -- about adding Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with Texas and Oklahoma. I would love to hear that conversation.

• I like that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is being proactive, but the proposed MWC-Conference USA confederation to have a football championship that would decide a BCS bid is odd. Would it really produce an automatic qualifier to the BCS? Would there be some sort of basketball agreement?

• Texas would still rather stay in the Big 12 and have all of its program compete in the region. But it all depends on Oklahoma at this point.

• Can you imagine if the ACC added Notre Dame and Connecticut to get to 16? The Irish are always solid under Mike Brey and UConn is a three-time national champ. The top of the ACC would be scary good. But moving up from the bottom would be extremely difficult for some programs. The jobs at Wake Forest and Boston College would get even tougher.

• It really is amazing to think about how much super-conference talk is going on recently and yet Butler played in the last two national championship games and VCU was in the Final Four last season. March reminds us that there are hundreds of others schools competing in Division I and plenty of high-level players and coaches. It's not all about the big boys!

• The NCAA still hasn't decided on the fate of ousted Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. He's the men's basketball tourney committee chair yet is currently jobless. But a number of former committee members and current Big East officials want Hathaway to be on the committee for this final season as long as the NCAA can figure out a way around him not having a job. Hathaway would be able to focus solely on the task of running the committee, which meets again later in the fall.

• Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is as excited about this season as he has been in years. The Spartans are finally relatively healthy and it's clear some of the issues in the locker room are gone. Meanwhile, North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team will face off with Izzo in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 11, said he has been told the pickup games in Chapel Hill involving a number of locked-out NBA players have really helped his crew develop.

• UCLA's Class of 2012 commitments from the East and South, Kyle Anderson (New Jersey) and Jordan Adams (Georgia), continue to show the Bruins are a national program. Every former UCLA coach has consistently said the Bruins can't simply recruit California. UCLA has to be a national player to be a national contender. The recruiting by the Bruins and rival Arizona -- the top two teams in the latest ESPN rankings -- is a credit to Ben Howland and Sean Miller, who cut their teeth recruiting in the cut-throat East Coast. But it also shows that the down cycle of the Pac-12 elite was merely a blip on the radar.

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