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Pitt holds on for 73-59 win against Maryland in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Pitt raced out to a big lead against Maryland and in the end, held on for a somewhat comfortable 73-59 win in their ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Maryland came into the game a four-point favorite or so, and that seemed about right. They were 7-0, had a couple of decent wins, and had the game at home. So when Pitt went up 45-24 at halftime, I don't think anyone expected that.

As I said in the gamethread, I expected the Terrapins to make a run after that. The Panthers got the lead up to 25 in the second and, well, Maryland did make a run. But while things got a little dicey, they didn't get any closer than eight.

Sure, it would have been nice to see Pitt hold that 20 point lead and absolutely run away with it, but you had to imagine at some point, Maryland would hit some shots. This wasn't a complete mismatch of talent so seeing Maryland make a game of things wasn't surprising. Plus, a lot of people will talk about Pitt's defense and I think that is a little misguided. Seth Greenberg said that after the game and talked about the defense being the key. The Panthers played okay defensively, but in reality, Maryland missed a boatload of wide open, uncontested shots and they shot under 35% for the game. If they were even halfway decent in knocking down shots, it's a much closer game.

That's to take nothing away from Pitt. The energy was there tonight and the effort was solid at both ends of the court. I criticized the team a little in a recent game for their offensive shot selection. I thought they did an outstanding job getting great shots. Young and Artis got to the basket and the jump shots the entire team took were largely uncontested. I have little doubt that Kevin Stallings emphasized that in practice because I think it was their best shot selection all season. It was very impressive how Pitt came out and played as a whole.

Pitt got great games from, you guessed it, Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Young had 25 points and nine rebounds, leading the team in both categories. Artis had 22 points, six boards, and a pair of steals. Greenberg made a good point after the game in asking if Artis would really be able to do what he needed to at the point down the stretch. The one thing that drove me a little nuts was how he was pretty loose with the ball on occasion. Twice, he nearly fell victim to over-and-back calls, coming close to going across the halfcourt line. That's really my only criticism and if you're grading Artis tonight, he gets an A instead of an A+. No real biggie.

I wanted to touch a little more on Young since it was a good game against a quality team. A lot of people expect his scoring to simply drop off once the competition gets better, but as I said before, we'll have to see how much that happens. The fact is that he and Artis get so many shots per game that his numbers might not even suffer that much. He may get a little less efficient (and truthfully, he had some problems getting buckets in the last ten minutes) but there's a very real chance he ends up being a 20-point scorer per game all the way through the year.

And of course, he's not only scoring. He leads the team in rebounds, too, and one oft-overlooked thing is his free throw shooting. He didn't get the easy buckets he sometimes does late in the game tonight, but he made his free throws, shooting 9-10. He's over 86% on the year as a center (let that sink in) and you don't need me to tell you that's a huge advantage. Whenever your team's best scorer is also a great free throw shooter, that's a tremendous deal since he can't be fouled intentionally late in games.

It was easy watching Young and Artis beating up on weaker competition. But I'm not so sure that will end even once they get into ACC play. The question, as has been stated more than it needs to be, is how much they get from the rest of the team.

Really big win for Pitt tonight and technically, it's a ranked win. The Terps were ranked 22nd in the USA Today Coaches Poll and while unranked in the AP poll, they were just outside at No. 26. The win against them should draw some attention nationally for the program.

Pitt is now 2-1 in their tougher games against Maryland, SMU, and Marquette. It's pretty hard not to be happy with that. The great news is that while Pitt has some challenging non-con games left against rivals Duquesne and Penn State, that the toughest part is now behind them. They have a long way to go, obviously, but finishing the non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record is a possibility. And given the number of decent opponents, that would be outstanding.

In the words of Chris Jericho, Drink it in, man.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Tale of the Tape: Pitt at Maryland

Breaking down the Pitt-Maryland matchup.

Point Guard

Melo Trimble 6’3” Junior 21.1 PPG // 3.0 RPG // 2.0 APG

vs.

Jamel Artis 6’7” Senior 19.3 PPG // 5.3 RPG // 3.8 APG

Melo Trimble is one of the absolute best guards in the country, and has been for some time. His draft stock fell from his freshman year, but he’s still a highly effective college player. Trimble has had to change his game from last year to this year. His scoring is up considerably, while his assist numbers are down. He went from being a piece of a highly talented team to being “the” guy on a young team. He takes a lot of shots and plays a lot of minutes. He is the key to this team. Maryland is off to an impressive 7-0 start in itself, but they haven’t been tested just yet. We’ll see perhaps tonight what Trimble and this team can do.

Jamel Artis is not a point guard. If you are a Pitt fan reading this, you know that by now. Artis has been Pitt’s starting small forward for the past two seasons, but with James Robinson graduating and no real options behind him emerging, Kevin Stallings has handed the keys to Artis. It has come with mixed results. Artis is a good scorer and passer. He’s physical and can rebound, pretty much everything you would want in a good wing player. The offensive end of this experiment isn’t all that bad, it’s trying to defend Trimble and aligning on defense as a whole that seems to be the issue with this lineup.

Shooting Guard

Anthony Cowan 6’0” Freshman 10.1 PPG // 5.1 RPG // 3.9 APG

vs.

Chris Jones 6’6” Senior 6.7 PPG // 2.8 RPG // 3.3 APG

Anthony Cowan is a true freshman from Washington DC. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. Cowan is on the smaller side, and with Trimble picking up his scoring, can slide into a point guard role just the same. His assist numbers are pretty good and can run the show when need be. His scoring can come and go however. He was 0-3 from the field in the overtime win over Kansas State, but had 18 in the prior game against Richmond.

Chris Jones is a veteran presence in the starting lineup. Jones has the ability to go for 15 points in one night, but could very easily be held scoreless. The biggest thing with him in his career is consistency. It’s been a lot of the same type of performances over the past two and a half seasons. Jones has added sharing the ball to his repertoire however. Without a true point guard out there, it’s sharing the ball by committee and Jones is averaging a career-best 3.3 assists in the early going this season. Pitt best win this year is over Marquette, and Jones had a season-high 13 points in that game. Perhaps it was coincidental, but Pitt could sure use a strong showing from Jones.

Small Forward

Kevin Huerter 6’7” Freshman 7.3 PPG // 5.3 RPG // 1.4 APG

vs.

Cameron Johnson 6’7” Sophomore 11.2 PPG // 3.8 RPG // 2.3 APG

Kevin Huerter is another four-star freshman starting for Mark Turgeon. He has reached double figures twice in the short season, and is not an assertive scoring option. He hits the glass well for a guard and can provide big numbers there. He had a 12 point 10 rebound performance just last week against Richmond. He may not be the top option offensively, but can give them production.

Cameron Johnson is Pitt’s third leading scorer in his first season as a full-time starter. Johnson is shooting a staggering 55% from behind the three-point line through six games. He’s the type of player that can carry Pitt through stretches with his hot shooting. He has made at least four three-pointers in three different games this season. His height and length helps him get shots off from deep, and is an asset to him defensively.

Power Forward

Justin Jackson 6’7” Freshman 11.7 PPG // 7.1 RPG

vs.

Sheldon Jeter 6’8” Senior 6.5 PPG // 7.7 RPG // 1.2 APG

Justin Jackson is yet again, a four-star freshman in the starting lineup. He has asserted himself right away as the Terrapins’ leading rebounder. Although he is the team leader in rebounds, Jackson has shown the ability to knock down outside shots. He is shooting 52% from behind the arc. Jackson is athletic and can block shots as well. This seems like a matchup nightmare for the Panthers.

Sheldon Jeter has been having a bit of disappointing season to date. He is shooting a very low 29% from the field to this point. I think shot selection has something to do with it. Jeter has been settling for deep jumpers, and his bread and butter is mid-range shots and working inside. If Pitt can get him going, they’ll be a much more dangerous team. He’s shown flashes throughout his career, he just seems to be in a bit of a slump. His rebounding numbers are up for sure, and that has not gone unnoticed. Pitt still needs him to hit the glass hard.

Center

Ivan Bender 6’9” Sophomore 4.7 PPG // 3.3 RPG // 1.4 APG

vs.

Michael Young 6’9” Senior 23.3 PPG // 8.2 RPG // 3.0 APG

Ivan Bender has been getting the starts the past few times out, and I’m expecting that to continue. Either way, he does not always get the bulk of the minutes as he averages just 13.3 minutes per game. Bender finished with 8 points and 0 rebounds in 9 minutes against Kansas State last week. He just seems like a placeholder more than anything.

Maryland just doesn’t have an answer for Michael Young, and frankly not many teams will this season. Young is off to a frantic start to his senior season, and is showing out on a nightly basis. He is shooting a career-high 58% from the floor, he is rebounding at a higher rate, and is setting up teammates better as well. Heck he is blocking shots now, something he’s never really done. He is improved in all facets and it’s noticeable. If there is one particular matchup Pitt can exploit in this game, it’s Young against anyone they choose to put on him. The Terps have some big bodies off the bench, but Young won’t be too bothered by it. He can take size off the dribble. While they don’t play the same position, having an early season game featuring Melo Trimble and Michael Young is a special treat for the average fan.

Bench

Michal Cekovsky 7’1” JuniorDamonte Dodd 6’11” SeniorL.G. Gill 6’8” SeniorDion Wiley 6’4” SophomoreJalen Brantley 5’11” JuniorJared Nickens 6’7” Junior

vs.

Ryan Luther 6’8” JuniorJustice Kithcart 6’1” FreshmanJonathan Milligan 6’2” JuniorDamon Wilson 6’5” Sophomore

Maryland seems comfortable going 11 deep if need be. After missing the first four games, junior seven-footer Michal Cekovsky is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds in three games of action. Damonte Dodd is a veteran 6’11” player off the bench. Pitt fans may recall L.G. Gill, as he is a transfer from Duquesne and has played against the Panthers the past three seasons. He will provide depth behind Justin Jackson. Maryland has bodies and depth, but the bulk of their scoring comes from the starters.

Pitt has received solid production from Ryan Luther off the bench. In reality, he is an extension of the starting lineup and on certain nights can take up significant minutes. He has provided a spark and gives Pitt a solid depth option behind either Jeter or Young. Justice Kithcart has come in to provide minutes as the true point guard of the roster, but has played a lot like a freshman. Jonathan Milligan knocked down three three-pointers last game, and could be a shooting spark off the bench.

Against the Odds: Maryland opens as a slight favorite

Pitt and Maryland face off in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight and Vegas is giving the Terps a slight edge.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge gives Pitt a stern test tonight, as the Panthers travel to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps are 7-0 with some nice wins over Georgetown and Kansas State. Pitt enters the contest at 5-1 and Vegas has taken notice that the game will take place at the XFinity Center on the campus of Maryland. The Terps have opened as a four point favorite over Pitt tonight.

Everyone can view the game, starting at 7PM, on ESPN2. Pitt has a lot of questions to answer and a beating a power 5 conference foe would go a long way of settling an anxious fan base in Oakland. It will not be an impossible task, despite playing the underdog role. In addition to the Georgetown and Kansas State wins, Maryland has had some pretty close calls against teams that you wouldn’t expect them to have trouble early this season. They had to go to overtime against Richmond and also had small advantages over Towson and American in victories.

Therefore, the Terps have a few questions to answer to head coach Mark Turgeon, at tipoff this evening, as well. Pitt will have their hands full with a raucous College Park, MD crowd and Terps’ guard Melo Trimble. Trimble is averaging over 20 points per contest so far, so Pitt will have to keep his damage to a minimum. If they can do that, the Panthers could gain a little momentum as this young season begins to take form.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt women's basketball team on a tear to open the season

While the Pitt men are off to a solid start under coach Kevin Stallings, the women's basketball team is having a great year under Suzie McConnell-Serio as well.

The Lady Panthers are a perfect 6-0 to start the season. That's only the fourth time in school history they've achieved that and the first since 2009-10. The schedule hasn't been incredibly tough to this point, but the fast start is still noteworthy since the team has had a few non-conference stumbles in the past.

The team has been incredibly balanced with four players scoring in double figures. While Brenna Wise is arguably the team's best player, leading them in scoring (13.0 points per game) and rebounding (7.8), she is getting plenty of help from Aysia Bugg and Kauai Bradley. Notably, DePaul transfer center Brandi Harvey-Carr, who I mentioned back in May, has really stepped up. She was a modest role player at DePaul but is one of the team leaders at Pitt as both the third-leading scorer and rebounder - not to mention the team's best free throw shooter, making nearly 87% of her attempts.

You might remember that Pitt lost two key transfers themselves this offseason, including their leading rebounder, Stasha Carey. But so far, they've been able to weather the storm and Harvey-Carr has helped.

Even more encouraging is that the team is winning so much despite missing one of their best players. Forward Yacine Diop averaged 10.4 points last year and was the team's second-leading scorer. But after a rough offseason, which included some off-court trouble, she's also been out with an injured foot and hasn't yet played. She's expected to be back soon (this Trib article said possibly by Thanksgiving), and when she gets back, the team should be even better.

We still don't know exactly where the women's team stands right now, despite the strong start. The competition has been pretty light but that's about to change as they'll face Big Ten program Purdue on Wednesday as their ACC-B1G Challenge game. Purdue isn't playing terribly well now, though, and is only 3-4 on the season. Still, it will be a nice test for the team as their first major-conference opponent of the year and getting them at home will help.

The team is still untested, but so far so good.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

WATCH: Colin Kaepernick booed in Miami after praising Fidel Castro

In August, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took heat for appearing at a press conference in a shirt featuring Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

>> Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead at 90

>> Watch the video here

With Castro’s death on Friday and a 49ers game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, that choice has attracted new attention. In a Wednesday conference call, Miami Herald reporter and Cuban-American Armando Salguero called out Kaepernick for the shirt, asking:

“Colin, one of the times that you made that stance about fighting systematic oppression, you wore a Malcolm X shirt… Are you not aware that Fidel Castro is one of the 20th Century’s biggest oppressors of people?”

>> Fidel Castro dies: Florida leaders hope Cuba knows more freedom

Kaepernick praised Castro’s record on criminal justice reform and literacy achievements, but did not acknowledge the thousands of Cubans who died in firing squads and extrajudicial killings under the regime. Many Cubans who fled to the United States did so to escape Castro and his forces.

>> Read more trending stories

Video captured Kaepernick’s cold reception from Miami fans, presumably a reaction to his stance on Castro and Cuba. San Francisco would go on to lose to the Dolphins by 7 points.

>> Fidel Castro dies: Exiles recall pain with sorrow, freedom with joy

After Sunday’s loss, Colin Kaepernick’s season record is 0-6.

Pitt lands four on ACSMA All-ACC first team

Get ready for postseason awards time, folks.

First up, the ACSMA (media association for the ACC) released its All-ACC teams for this year and the Panthers were well represented.

Making the first team were James Conner, Quadree Henderson, Dorian Johnson, and Ejuan Price. Second teamers included Jordan Whitehead and Adam Bisnowaty. Tackle Brian O'Neill made the third team. Honorable mentions included Henderson (as a wide receiver - he was on the first team for his special teams work), Chris Blewitt, and Tyrique Jarrett.

Overall, Pitt had a good number of players included. I did have one beef, though.

The one guy that I wish they would have found room for was wide receiver Jester Weah. Weah had 795 yards on the year with nine touchdowns. He only had 34 catches, which was the reason he didn't get selected. But despite that, he was eighth in yardage and tied for third in touchdown receptions. And that Henderson got in above him as a receiver is ludicrous. Henderson's rushing yards got factored in, but even with that, he only had about 30 more yards with 11 less catches and three fewer touchdowns.

For Weah to rank eighth in yardage and third in touchdowns but not make the top 12 (three were on each team) was tough. Like I said, the lack of quantity of receptions surely hurt him. But I also think there's a lot to be said for averaging 23.4 yards per catch. That, by the way, led the entire league for eligible receivers. Seems hard to leave the leader in receiving yardage per catch completely out of the mix.

Number of catches is important, obviously, but what you do with them is big, too. And with over 23 yards per catch to lead the ACC, no one really did more with them in terms of total yardage than Weah did. That has to get rewarded.

I'm sure you can make other cases, but I've not yet pored over the numbers. I don't have many other issues from a Pitt standpoint right now. I was initially surprised to not see tight end Scott Orndoff anywhere since he had a pretty strong year (33 catches, 558 yards, five touchdowns), but the five guys ahead of him all had legitimate reasons to be there, so no complaints from me. Was a really strong year for tight ends in the conference, it seems.

Peterman played well at quarterback, but it also appears they don't do honorable mention for quarterbacks for some reason. Not sure I understand that one but him not getting into top three wasn't a problem for me there.

One final note is that it's kind of a shame there was no room for a fullback on the teams. If so, you can bet that George Aston would have made it. He's done a heck of a job blocking and with nine touchdowns, he was a legitimate star in this offense.

Any omissions stand out to you?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

King of the Hill: ACC Football Power Rankings (Week 13)

The end of the ACC regular season is finally here, so we've got one more set of power rankings. I'm not sure we'll do one after the bowl games, so this may be it.

Had some movement in the last week. I generally stuck with my rules of keeping teams ranked based on overall record and head-to-heads, but made a couple of exceptions. First, I moved North Carolina below several 8-4 teams they've beaten because of how they ended the year. While those teams (Miami, Pitt, Georgia Tech) all lost to the Tar Heels, they have all also won three or four in a row. North Carolina has not only lost two out of three, but to north Carolina State and Duke - teams both in the lower half of the ACC.

Similarly, I leapfrogged Florida State up three spots and up over Louisville despite previously losing to them and having the same record. The Seminoles have won four in a row and just dominated No. 15 Florida. Louisville, meanwhile, has lost two in a row to Houston and Kentucky.

I will always give the advantage to teams that have won head-to-heads and have the same record, but while that's a big part of it, teams beating ranked teams with others falling to weak teams gets a little consideration.

As always, let me know what I got right/wrong.

1. Clemson (1) / 11-1: Routed South Carolina in finale, 56-7

2. Florida State (5) / 9-3: Move up several spots with blowout win over No. 15 Florida, 31-13

3. Virginia Tech (3) / 9-3: Moves up a spot with 52-7 win over Virginia

4. Louisville (2) / 9-3: Down two spots after 41-38 loss to Kentucky - second loss in a row

5. Miami (6) / 8-4: Up a spot with 40-21 win over Duke

6. Pitt (7) / 8-4: Up a spot with 76-61 win over Syracuse

7. Georgia Tech (8) / 8-4: Up a spot with 28-27 win over Georgia

8. North Carolina (4) / 8-4: Down four spots with 28-21 loss to North Carolina State - second bad loss in a row

9. Boston College (9) / 6-6: Hold steady with 17-14 win over Wake Forest

10. North Carolina State (10) / 6-6: Hold steady with upset over Tar Heels

11. Wake Forest (11) / 6-6: Hold steady with loss to Boston College

12. Duke (12) / 4-8: Hold steady with loss to Miami

13. Syracuse (13) / 4-8: Hold steady with loss to Pitt

14. Virginia (14) / 3-9: Hold steady with loss to Virginia Tech

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt football turns in strong second season under Pat Narduzzi

Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi just wrapped up his second regular season with the Panthers. Much like the first year, his follow-up season can only be described as a success.

Perfect? Nope. Ideal? Nah. But Narduzzi has continued to make good progress with a program that was mired in mediocrity upon his arrival.

The pre-Narduzzi era saw four consecutive 6-6 years under Todd Graham and Paul Chryst. The year before that, in his final year at the helm, Dave Wannstedt was 7-5. Narduzzi has won eight regular season games two years in a row and done the most winning at Pitt since 2008 and 2009.

To be fair to his predecessor, Chryst, he assembled most of the talent that Narduzzi is now winning with. However, there are a few reasons why Narduzzi now deserves credit.

First, he's avoided the pitfall losses that Chryst suffered. Chryst dropped an ugly game against Youngstown State in his debut. For those that remember it, it wasn't only a loss, but a convincing one. To lose to an FCS program on your home field in that manner is beyond unacceptable. Chryst not only managed that, but also dropped games to Akron and a very beatable Navy team. Narduzzi has yet to sustain such a disappointment. He's won the games he was supposed to, lost only to good teams, and has upended a couple of very good teams on the way.

Narduzzi is also winning already with some of his own players, which are true underclassmen. Narduzzi not only kept Jordan Whitehead, Quadree Henderson, and others from Paul Chryst's 2015 recruiting class, but added key players since coming here that have played key roles. While most of his additions to that class are question marks, linebacker Saleem Brightwell has already made an impact this year and has the look of a potential star. A few guys from his 2016 class, too, have already made impacts as true freshmen, such as Chawntez Moss, Maurice Ffrench, Amir Watts, Aaron Mathews, and others.

Don't forget, too, that Narduzzi and his staff made a key decision at quarterback. The move to anoint Nathan Peterman over Chad Voytik was curious to many fans - myself included. But when you look back at the past two years when Peterman has been at the helm, it was clearly the right decision. Peterman has flourished and while he's not a guy that will go out and throw for 300 yards, he's also more than just a game manager. He's made a lot of accurate throws this year, and threw for 26 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He's not only limited his mistakes but was very productive. Simply put, if Chryst was still here, adding a guy like Peterman probably doesn't happen. And when you consider that Chad Voytik struggled at Arkansas State this year, even being benched while playing at a lower level, the change to Peterman was even more clearly the right decision.

Collectively, the offense has been quite a sight. They scored 76 points on Saturday against Syracuse and are tenth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging over 42 points per game. Under coordinator Matt Canada, the Panthers have scored at will and Narduzzi deserves a lot of credit for landing him. This was not only one of the top offenses in the ACC, but the entire country.

The defense has struggled quite a bit, but that's been a two-sided coin. They've given up a lot of points and big chunks of yardage, but that's also been the product of a porous secondary. The front seven in the running game has performed admirably. So much so, in fact, that the Panthers' run defense is ninth in the nation. Those guys haven't only gotten the job done, they've been absolute beasts.

The other thing to like about this team is, of course, the big wins. Sure, we can talk about the coulda, woulda, shoulda games against North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State, but the Panthers also had some absolutely huge wins. The Penn State win was already big but is even more of a landmark win given that the Nittany Lions are in the top ten. And obviously, to beat Clemson on the road is just an incredible feat. But one thing fans shouldn't overlook is also the win against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were 8-4 as well this season and that is looking more and more like a quality win.

Fans also shouldn't discount the number of insane injuries the Panthers have had:

  • Within the first two games, they lost their top returning wide receiver (Dontez Ford) for half of the year and a starting linebacker (Elijah Zeise) for the whole season.
  • Last year's No. 3 receiver and candidate to start this season, Zach Challingworth, missed the entire season.
  • Secondary starters Avonte Maddox and Jordan Whitehead both missed a quarter of the season - Maddox's replacement Phillipie Motley has also missed time.
  • Ditto for linebacker Mike Caprara and wide receiver Tre Tipton, who both missed several games.
  • Damar Hamlin was a potential starter at cornerback but missed the first several games then had to work his way into the rotation.
  • Starting defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett has missed a couple of games and fellow starting tackle Shakir Soto has played, but been banged up. Starting end Rori Blair has missed time.
  • Backup Chawntez Moss, who at one point even looked like the best back on the team, has missed a few games.

To have the kind of success the team has with so many key guys out for several games makes it that much more impressive. All teams sustain injuries. But Pitt has had almost ten starters or potential starters miss about a quarter of the season or more. Add in the challenging schedule and this has really been a strong year.

Overall, it's really tough to be disappointed. I can see being a little frustrated at what might have been with some of the close losses. But as I said in the comments section of the Syracuse post, those work both ways. Pitt was fortunate to defeat Georgia Tech and Penn State in very close games that could have easily been lost.

Narduzzi, I'm convinced, has this thing moving in the right direction. He's already had some degree of success and the next step is trying to get Pitt back to nine and ten wins. They have work to do and need to claim a Division title. But two years into the Narduzzi experiment, it's very hard to not be sold. They'll have a shot at nine with the bowl game and that would make this an even more special year.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Panther of the Week: Mike Young

Pitt’s senior big man, Mike Young, took care of business and earned this week’s Panther of the Week award.

Can we settle this? Is it Mike Young or Michael Young? The truth is that I don’t care what he prefers, as we should call him whatever he wants if he continues to have a week like he just had for Pitt. The week saw the Panthers finish with two wins in two games and the senior big man had a huge hand in both games.

Young kicked off the week on Tuesday with 24 points and 10 boards in a 75-70 victory over defending Ivy League champion, Yale. Young wasn’t satisfied with just those numbers though, as he added in four blocks and three assists in the game. To top everything off, Young was also perfect from the free throw line, going six for six.

The senior continued his hot week on Friday to help Pitt to a double digit win over Morehead State. Young again topped the 20 point mark by landing right on it. He chipped in six rebounds, four assists, and a block to help Pitt climb to 5-1 this season.

Young averaged 22 points last week and held a very hot hand on his shooting. He shot 59% from the field and 90% from the charity stripe, finishing 9 of 10, in that regard. As Pitt fans have become accustomed over the years, free throw shooting has not always been a strength of Pitt teams. If someone as important as Young keeps knocking them down at this rate, it could go a long way in being a successful one for the Panthers.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

NCAA Volleyball Bracket 2016: Pitt volleyball team makes NCAA Tournament, faces Dayton

Pitt was a combined 48-15 heading into this year in head coach Dan Fisher's first two years with the Panthers. Despite that success, the team hadn't made the NCAA Tournament.

The third time was the charm.

With a 24-8 record (including 14-5 in the ACC), Pitt's women's volleyball team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 on Sunday night. The Panthers will face Dayton in the first round at State College. Should they get by 30-1 Dayton, they'd be likely to face No. 16 overall seed Penn State on their home court.

The team, understandably, was pumped. Here was the reaction from their watch party:

WE'RE GOING DANCING!!!! HAIL TO PITT! Pitt will take on Dayton at Penn State!#H2P pic.twitter.com/zV2P3eKg3s — Pitt Volleyball (@Pitt_VB) November 28, 2016

Pitt's first game against Dayton will be at 5:00 p.m. this Friday. You'll be able to see it on WatchESPN.

Here's the full bracket. Volleyball's works a little different than the basketball bracket. In volleyball, they seed the Top 16 teams - hence the missing numbers after that.

I've watched the team all year this season, catching almost every game when they were televised/on ESPN3, and they can really play. Their resume looked solid, but I felt they should have made it last year and they didn't, so you never know. But overall, there was a lot to like about what they accomplished. They were 3-1 against Top 25 teams they faced, including a massive win over ACC champions North Carolina. The Panthers were the only ACC team, in fact, that beat the Tar Heels all year, so that was a key victory.

Pitt also played well down the stretch. They had a pretty front-loaded schedule, so they really needed to clean up at the end. And they did. The Panthers missed out on beating Duke but won the other ten games in their last 11. Despite the weakened competition, that was very impressive.

Regardless of what happens in the tournament, the program is in good hands, too. Pitt loses senior middle blocker Jenna Potts and Maria Genitsaridi, but that's it. Potts is a huge star for the team, but the Panthers return almost all of their other production next season. Freshman middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk, for example, is one of the most efficient hitters in the ACC and should fill Potts' role nicely. At 6'3", she's often been the tallest player on the court and is a fine blocker and striker - especially for her age.

I'm not only excited to see them in the NCAAs but also really looking forward to what this team can do next year. They have a lot of talent coming back, including all of their big hitters, including Mariah Bell, Stephanie Williams, and Nika Markovic - two of which are freshmen. To have so many freshmen playing big roles on an NCAA Tournament team tells you the program is in good shape going forward. Losing Potts, the school's all-time blocks leader, will be big, but there's just a lot of talent coming back.

Congrats to the volleyball team on a special year. Check them out on Friday.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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