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2017 Defensive Depth Chart Prediction

Predicting Pitt’s starters for 2017

Like with offense yesterday, I’m going to take a guess at who will be starting on defense next season. Pitt once again loses a lot of senior starters, and unlike on offense, that may be a good thing. Pat Narduzzi needs to upgrade the talent on defense and his recruiting efforts have reflected that.

Like with yesterday’s article, I’m not including any of the recruits that are unsigned. I think we all know there’s one player on Pitt’s commitment list that could very well start next season.

Defensive End

Projected Starter - Dewayne Hendrix, Rori Blair

Top Contenders - James Folston, Allen Edwards

Pitt will be without all-everything Ejuan Price next season. Price was one of the best defensive players in college football in 2015 and 2016. He recorded 13 sacks this past season, and his presence will be missed big time in the pass rush. They will have some experience returning and some promising younger players competing for snaps.

Rori Blair has been in the mix at defensive end for the past three seasons. He has totaled 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in that stretch. His best season was his freshman year, and the past two have been a bit inconsistent. The staff needs him to take a leap for his senior season. Pitt fans will finally get to see Dewayne Hendrix in action. The Tennessee transfer was expected to give Pitt a lot this past season before a season ending injury in the opener. Hendrix was a big time recruit out of high school, and Pitt needs him to play like one in 2017.

Allen Edwards and James Folston both rotated in at defensive end this season, and will again next season. Neither player made huge impacts, but Edwards did make a few nice plays against Clemson. Two players I have an eye on will be redshirt freshmen Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver. We’ll see if they can unseat any of the upperclassmen.

Defensive Tackle

Projected Starters - Jeremiah Taleni, Amir Watts

Top Contenders - Shane Roy, Keyshon Camp

Pitt will lose starters Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto. Jarrett missed time down the stretch that opened the door for some younger guys. Soto probably had the best season of his career in his first year playing inside instead of at defensive end. Both players seem replaceable however, and there’s some exciting young players in the program.

Jeremiah Taleni only played in seven games, but finished with three sacks in 2016. He had a great game against Clemson and made some big plays that game. Going into his senior year, I think he has the leg up on a starting nod. Still not a sure thing however. Amir Watts played as a true freshman, and didn’t make a huge impact after fighting some injuries. He was a four-star recruit a year ago, and obviously Narduzzi thought he was ready to play. I expect he will be a big part of the defense next season.

Pitt brought in two other big time defensive tackles with Watts in the last recruiting cycle, and look for Keyshon Camp and Rashad Wheeler to be involved in next year’s rotation. Mike Herndon and Shane Roy will be entering their junior seasons, and they will be in the mix as well.

Linebacker

Projected Starters - Quintin Wirginis, Saleem Brightwell, Elijah Zeise

Top Contenders - Seun Idowu, Chase Pine, Anthony McKee Jr.

Pitt is set to lose Matt Galambos, Mike Caprara, and Bam Bradley. All three players logged a lot of snaps the past four seasons, and the Panthers will have a new look at linebacker this season. Pitt needs more athleticism at this potion, and that’s exactly what the staff has been recruiting. They brought in three linebackers last year, and they have three committed currently. It’s a position that certainly needs an upgrade.

Senior Quintin Wirginis should assume the role as starting middle linebacker. I’ve always felt he deserved more playing time than he received, and I look for him to have a solid senior campaign. He’s more athletic than Galambos, and that extra speed should help the defense all around. Wirginis recorded four sacks this past season in limited playing time.

Saleem Brightwell made some huge plays this season, and I think he locks down one of the starting jobs next year. Brightwell was a solid recruit a few years ago, and I think he’s ready to be a full time starter in 2017. He had a huge interception against Clemson that he returned 70 yards that helped lead to the upset over the Tigers. He also had a pair of sacks and 28 tackles this year.

There was a competition last season between Oluwaseun Idowu and Elijah Zeise for the starting job that went back and forth, but Zeise won it in only to get injured in the Villanova game. Idowu finished third on the team in tackles as the full-time starter at Pitt’s “Star” position. He will have a chance to retain his job, but it’s not set in stone.

The trio of Chase Pine, Kaezon Pugh, and Elias Reynolds all took redshirts last season, and should be competing for jobs this season. There’s talks Pugh could play defensive end next season, but Pine looks like he should have a chance to compete at linebacker. Anthony McKee Jr. is another name to remember, as he was a big recruit a few years ago.

Cornerback

Projected Starters - Avonte Maddox, Damar Hamlin

Top Contenders - Dane Jackson, Therran Coleman

This position has been highly discussed all season. It was flat out terrible, and there’s nowhere to go but up I guess. Pitt will move on without Ryan Lewis, but everyone else is back. There are a lot of promising young players in the fold, and they should get every opportunity to play.

Avonte Maddox had an injury riddled season in 2016. He had some good moments, but other times where he got picked on by bigger and better receivers. Maddox will have every chance to start at one corner, but could shift to nickel if a younger guy seizes the job. I’m going to say a healthy Damar Hamlin grabs the one job. He was injured most of the season and never got into the flow. He was Pitt’s prized recruit last year, and will be given every chance to play next year. He has the talent to take the job.

Dane Jackson appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman. He will be in the mix to win a starting job as well. Jackson, like most of the other corners, had moments but was inconsistent. I’m also looking for Therran Coleman to make an impact. He redshirted this past season, but he looks like he can be a very good player.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Henry Miller. He was a big recruit, in terms of both size and ranking. Miller is a 6’3” corner, and many have speculated a position change could come for him.

Safety

Projected Starters - Jordan Whitehead, Jay Stocker

Top Contenders - Dennis Briggs, Bricen Garner

Jordan Whitehead is Pitt’s best defensive player, and they will need him to play like it all season long. Whitehead had a slow start to 2016, but returned to his freshman All-American type self towards the end of the season before injuring himself against Clemson. Whitehead is a special talent, and will likely be on many preseason watch lists.

Opposite of Whitehead will be one to monitor, Terrish Webb and Reggie Mitchell are both gone leaving that position wide open. Dennis Briggs may have a leg up, but I’m projecting Stocker passes him up. Also like I mentioned before, I’m not including recruits that aren’t signed yet, but you can take a guess who eventually will be starting next to Whitehead.

I’m looking forward to seeing Bricen Garner. I think he is going to be a good player, and he could be in the mix after taking a redshirt in 2016.

Against the Odds: Virginia a solid favorite over Pitt

Kevin Stallings and Pitt will look to knock off 11th ranked Virginia tonight.

After falling, by one, in overtime, to Notre Dame in their ACC opener, Pitt could use their first conference win of the season. Kevin Stallings’ Panthers won’t have any easy task tonight and Vegas is saying as much. That’s because they will face the always tough Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavs opened as a 6 point favorite over Pitt, despite the fact that the game will be in Oakland.

There was a time where confidence was extremely high for Pitt fans when top ranked teams came into The Pete. Confidence is waning and an upset win tonight would be just what the doctor ordered. The atmosphere was fun and good to see from The Oakland Zoo this past weekend, despite a loss to Notre Dame, and they’ll need it again if the Panthers want to even their conference record at one a piece.

There is no secret for Tony Bennett’s UVA team. Once again they sit at the top of the team defense scoring and it’s not even close this season so far. They are giving up 48.6 points per game. The next best defense? Old Dominion is second. They are giving up 56.4. That’s a pretty decent difference between number one and two.

Pitt will have to come out firing and not stop. They must score points. They don’t have to hit 100, but they need to make UVA play a game that is not comfortable for them. Both of Virginia’s losses this season (WVU and Florida State) have seen the Cavs give up over 60 points. The only other game, in which UVA has given up over 60 and won was against Ohio State. It was a nail biter, as they won by 2, 63-61.

It’s no secret what Pitt needs to do. Michael Young and Jamel Artis will look to continue their hot starts this season, but the question is this: will a third scorer show up tonight against the nation’s top defense? If Pitt wants to prove Vegas wrong and get a giant win, someone will have to do it.

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

Predicting the Rest of the Schedule

The ACC is the best conference in the country. That seems to be the consensus among most “experts”. Currently, there are seven teams ranked in the AP Top-25. That doesn’t account for the Syracuse Orange who came into the season ranked and remained there until early December. The Miami Hurricanes have also received votes over the last several weeks. While there is a lot of basketball left, the ACC could be represented by as many as 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Will the Pittsburgh Panthers find themselves among those in attendance? With a home loss against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last Saturday, they’ve already lost one chance to land a staple win at home. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t all that inspiring outside of a road win against the Maryland Terrapins. Coming into conference play with two losses, especially the one against the Duquesne Dukes, isn’t ideal either.

Assuming Pitt needs at least 20 wins to be taken seriously, let’s take a look at their remaining schedule and provide a roadmap for the Panthers to get there.

Remaining games at home against ranked opponents (as of 1/3/17):

#11 Virginia (1/4), #9 Louisville (1/24), #21 Virginia Tech (2/14), #12 Florida State (2/18), #14 North Carolina (2/25)

I am going to be optimistic here and presume that they win two of these. It would be fitting for them to defeat either VT or FSU followed by a UNC win on their last home game of the season.

Remaining games on the road against ranked opponents:

#9 Louisville (1/11), #14 North Carolina (1/31), #8 Duke (2/4), #11 Virginia (3/4)

I honestly can’t see Pitt winning any of these games, but they’ll probably be competitive in a few. They were 3-6 on the road last season, but one of those wins was against the 21st ranked Cardinals in mid-January. Still, they lost to a Hokies team that wasn’t as good as this years iteration and barely beat a Seminoles team that is currently ranked. Two years ago, they won just two roads games which included an insane comeback against the Eagles and their customary win at the Carrier Dome.

Remaining games at home against non-ranked opponents:

Miami (1/14), Clemson (1/28), Syracuse (2/11)

If you think about the fact that these are the only three teams that will visit the Petersen Events Center that aren’t currently ranked, it makes the loss to Notre Dame all the more painful. The Panthers could win all three of these games, but they could lose at least two of them as well. I’ll be optimistic here and give them the sweep.

Remaining games on the road against non-ranked opponents:

Syracuse (1/7), NC State (1/17), Boston College (2/8), Wake Forest (2/22), Georgia Tech (2/28)

Honestly, this is where Pitt needs to win basically all of these games. If you’ve been following, I have them at just five wins so far. In order for them to reach at least 20 wins, they’ll need to win four of the five of the above road games. That’s probably a tall order.

Under this circumstance, the Panthers would finish 20-11 with only two wins against ranked opponents, and both of those would be at home. I think Pitt will get a win or two that they “shouldn’t” and inevitably lose one of two games that will frustrate fans. That’s just the nature of the game and this group of players.

In my opinion, the Panthers are definitely going to need to win at least nine ACC games and they’ll probably need to win two games in the conference tournament just to get off the bubble.

I’ll take a look at kenpom and analyze the numbers a little more, but there will be a lot of movement in some of those numbers as the level of competition in the ACC is much higher than every teams non-conference schedule.

Florida Gators’ win in Outback Bowl means free Bloomin’ Onions for all

The Florida Gators routed the Iowa Hawkeyes 30-3 Monday in the Outback Bowl.

That means free Bloomin’ Onions for all from Outback Steakhouse on Tuesday. All you have to do is say “Outback Bowl” to your server at any Outback restaurant and you’ll get the dish for free.

>> Read more trending stories

The Outback restaurant chain wagered Bloomin’ Onions and coconut shrimp on the game.

Congrats to @GatorsFB for winning the @outbackbowl! Join us tomorrow Jan 3rd for your FREE Bloomin' Onion with purchase. pic.twitter.com/e4WYlyMCsY— Outback Steakhouse (@Outback) January 2, 2017

FREE BLOOMIN' ONIONS FOR ALL pic.twitter.com/l3jseSJns1— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 2, 2017

>> Read more Floridoh! stories 

If Iowa had won, the restaurant would have handed out its coconut shrimp appetizer for free.

2017 Offensive Depth Chart Prediction

Guessing Pitt’s starting lineup for next season

The 2016 Pitt season wrapped up the other day with a loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl. Still, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the 2017 season. Pitt will have a nice blend of returnees and young players to balance the roster. Pat Narduzzi’s squad will have a different look though, as so many of the key players this year will be graduating.

I won’t be including any of the 2017 recruiting class for this article, I’ll wait until they are signed and enrolled at Pitt. So much craziness will happen between now and signing day, it’s just easier to wait and see what unfolds.

Quarterback

Projected Starter - Max Browne

Top Contenders - Tom MacVittie, Ben DiNucci

Pitt will lose two-year starter Nathan Peterman to graduation. Peterman turned out to be a solid player for the Panthers and was a key figure in one of Pitt’s best offenses in recent memory. I suspect Pitt will now turn to another transfer quarterback to anchor the offense.

Max Browne transferred to Pitt earlier this month from USC. He was a one time five-star recruit, and the number one overall QB in the country coming out of high school. He initially won the starting job for USC this year, but was replaced after three games. The pedigree is certainly there, as he has the prototypical size for a quarterback standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 225. He will have to earn the job, but he is the proverbial favorite for sure.

If Browne were to lose the job, some suspect redshirt freshmen Tom MacVittie could win it. Many Pitt fans have envisioned Macvittie as the quarterback of the future, and perhaps it could come as soon as next season. Ben DiNucci will also be back to provide depth.

Running Back

Projected Starter - Darrin Hall

Top Contenders - Qadree Ollison, Chawntez Moss

With James Conner entering the draft, it leaves quite a void at the running back position. Conner finished his career as Pitt’s second all-time leading rusher and had a remarkable career for a variety of reasons. Not only was he a great player, he was Pitt’s face of the program and a team leader. Losing him hurts on multiple levels.

I think Pitt has three viable options to be the featured back next season, and I’m predicting junior-to-be Darrin Hall to win the job, but it could really go to Ollison and Moss just the same - it’s that close. Hall has rushed for 417 yards in his first two seasons. His usage went down this past season, but with Conner healthy it changed everyone’s role. Hall stands at 5’11” 225 and has some speed and power. He can catch the ball as well.

Qadree Ollison ended up as the starter in 2015 after the Conner injury, and responded with a 1,000 yard season. He has 1,248 career rushing yards to go along with 13 touchdowns. He has also caught 16 passes for 115 receiving yards during his career. Ollison is a bigger back in stature, but does not have the same bruising running style as Conner. Still, he’s a between the tackles type of back and is the most proven of all the guys in this competition.

Chawntez Moss may have the brightest future among the three backs, and he could very well win the starting job. Moss had a big day against Marshall this year with 12 carries for 97 yards. He finished his true freshman season with 227 yards and a touchdown. He came on strong as the second back early in the season, but an injury kept him off the field for much of the second half. All three guys should play their fair share next season, but the competition to be the main back will be one to watch.

Fullback

Projected Starter - George Aston

George Aston’s return is a welcomed one, as he is easily one of the best fullbacks in college football. It will be interesting to see how the new offensive coordinator gets him involved, but given his 2016 campaign he will have to have a big role next season. Aston rushed for 5 touchdowns and caught 5 touchdown passes this season. In two years, Aston has 30 career receptions. He is a very valuable and versatile weapon. There is not another scholarship fullback on the roster, so for Aston to go down it would either mean a walk-on would get playing time, or the offense would have to change.

Wide Receiver

Projected Starters - Jester Weah, Quadree Henderson

Top Contenders - Aaron Mathews, Maurice Ffrench, Tre Tipton, Rafael Araujo-Lopes

Pitt used seven different wide receivers this past season, and six of them are returning for next year. This position looked like a weakness heading into 2016, but could be considered a strength in 2017.

Jester Weah emerged as a huge down field threat in 2016, and finally displayed the potential we all heard about for years. Weah led Pitt with 36 receptions, 870 yards, and 10 touchdowns. His best stat is probably his 24.2 yards per catch average. Weah is a big weapon and should improve upon his numbers in 2017. Quadree Henderson is Pitt’s second returning wide receiver, but as we saw he’s more of a weapon than a true receiver. He was third on the team with 26 receptions, but only had 286 receiving yards. His worth really came as a runner, as he was second on the team with 631 rushing yards. I suspect Pitt will try to work him into the passing game more next season. Either way, he will be a big factor on offense.

Perhaps one player that could really take a big step next season is Aaron Mathews. The Clairton product was one of the few true freshmen to see playing time this season, and he didn’t make a huge splash. His best plays came on special teams. Given his size and athletic ability, he will be expected to do more next season. His best game did come in the Pinstripe Bowl, and that could be something to build upon. Also look for Tre Tipton to have a role. He has battled injuries in his young career, but did have some productive games mid-season before he got hurt. One other name to remember is Ruben Flowers, who took a redshirt this season. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.

To go along with Henderson, Pitt has similar players in Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Both players fit more into a slot-receiver role. In fact, Ffrench didn’t catch one pass this season, but had 122 rushing yards. Araujo-Lopes had three catches, but six rushing attempts. We’ll see how they fit into the mix under the new offensive coordinator. There is talks Ffrench could move to defense, so that could be something to watch.

Tight End

Projected Starter - Chris Clark

Pitt is losing Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish to graduation. Orndoff had a very good career, and a strong senior season. His standout performance was his 9 catch 128 yard two touchdown performance in Pitt’s upset win over Clemson. Parrish was more of an H-Back, blocking tight end, and his impact will be missed there. Chris Clark is technically the only returning scholarship tight end for next season. If you follow recruiting, you’ll know Pitt has three tight ends committed currently, and that’s not on accident - they need the numbers.

Chris Clark is a UCLA transfer, and he comes with a strange backstory. He committed to a number of schools and kept flipping until he finally landed on UCLA. He opted to transfer after one game for the Bruins and initially settled on Syracuse. That fell through, and now Pitt has Clark. Now don’t sleep on Clark, he was the #1 tight end in the nation coming out of high school. He had offers from everywhere. He has a clear path to the starting job next season.

Left Tackle

Projected Starter - Brian O’Neill

Left Guard

Projected Starter - Alex Officer

Center

Projected Starter - Connor Dintino

Right Guard

Projected Starter - Alex Bookser

Right Tackle

Projected Starter - Jaryd Jones-Smith

Top Contenders - Brandon Ford, Alex Paulina, Justin Morgan, Mike Grimm, Tony Pilato, Bryce Hargrove

Pitt loses two mainstays on their offensive line in Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson. Bisnowaty started 43 career games and Johnson started 42. Both were heralded recruits, solid college players, and guys with NFL futures. They will be sorely missed. Even so, Pitt should have a very good line once again. They have some young up and coming guys, blended with some veterans, and they have also hit the recruiting trail hard.

I’m projecting that Brian O’Neill will make the move to Left Tackle. He has started 25 of the 26 games he has played in at Right Tackle, and heading into his junior season he will be regarded as one of the better linemen in the country. He also won the Piesman this year, so there’s that. I also project starting center Alex Officer moving to guard. He started the entire 2015 season at guard, so it shouldn’t be a tough transition. Officer has 36 career starts under his belt.

The other returning starter will be Right Guard, Alex Bookser. He started every game this past season. Bookser was a big time recruit out of high school, and he looks to be falling in line with the tradition of good linemen to play for Pitt from the Pittsburgh area.

Jaryd Jones-Smith is a massive presence and should assume a role as a starter once again. Jones-Smith has some starting experience dating back to the 2014 season. He missed all of 2015 with a devastating injury, but played some this season. There was talks of him getting drafted a few years ago, perhaps those talks can resume again with him getting a starting job again.

I predict Connor Dintino to earn the starting center job in 2017. He was a defensive tackle initially, but transitioned to offense this past season. He impressed in the off-season, and should be one of the favorites to land a starting role in 2017.

Beyond that, a lot of new faces will fill out the two-deep depth chart. Mike Grimm is a local product that was a one time four-star recruit, he will be one to monitor. Justin Morgan, Brandon Ford, and Bryce Hargrove all took redshirts this season. Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina will be sophomores.

Pitt offense needs to break string of bad performances against Virginia to pull off upset win

After a tough last-second loss to No. 24 Notre Dame last week, Pitt's basketball team has another stiff challenge in front of them in No. 11 Virginia on Wednesday.

The good news is the Panthers get the game against the Cavaliers at home. The bad news is that Virginia has owned Pitt since the Panthers joined the league.

Pitt is 0-4 against Virginia since that time. Worse still is that the Panthers have barely scored against Virginia. That's not exactly a complete rarity as the Cavaliers play insanely tough defense and often holds opponents to low totals. But Pitt's offense has been downright putrid against Virginia.

In those four contests against the Cavs, the Panthers have never topped even 50 points. In the 2014, Pitt was held to 45 and then 48 points. In 2015, the scored only 49 in the lone game. Last year, the Panthers reached 50, but were still beaten badly in a 14-point loss.

One of the main reasons for optimism this year as the Panthers have to deal with Virginia twice is that they have some real firepower in Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Averaging a shade under 45 points per game combined, they are the No. 1 and No. 3 scorers in the ACC, respectively.

That, of course, is no reason to think that Pitt is guaranteed for a big offensive game. Last year, Young was held to 12 points on only 4-11 shooting from the field. Artis fared better with 17 points, but the Panthers still had only 50 points last season in the Virginia game.

And while the big two of Young and Artis does the bulk of the scoring, Pitt could really use a big game from third wheel Cameron Johnson, who has had some strong offensive nights himself this year. The Panthers don't necessarily need a 20-point game or anything from Johnson but a solid 12-15 points will go a long way towards breaking the Panthers' offensive slump.

The offense needs to do more because Pitt's defense just isn't what it used to be. The Panthers could rely on having their defense carry them to wins in the past but can do so far less often these days. The Panthers have already allowed three teams this season to score at least 80 points against them and that included the near-disaster against Marshall where the Thundering Herd got to 106. And in eight of the team's 14 games, opponents have gotten to 75 or more.

The Panthers aren't always terrible defensively and have turned in a few decent performances, such as holding Maryland to 59 points on the road. But the team's defense simply hasn't been good enough to think they are going to shut Virginia down entirely. And that's even with Virginia not having a single double-digit scorer.

I feel better about Pitt's chances to score more points this year - partially because they almost have to by default and partially because of how good Young and Artis have been. Virginia is still an incredible team but you have to like what the Panthers bring offensively. Does that mean they can keep the Cavaliers' balanced attack down (they have ten guys averaging 15 minutes a game) with limited depth? I'm not sure. But, offensively, there is at least a little more hope than in seasons past. Since joining the ACC, Pitt has never had the kind of firepower offensively as they do this year and that should bode well for at least scoring more points against Virginia.

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: Jamel Artis

Artis barely squeaks by Michael Young for Panther of the Week in an up and down stretch for Pitt

If you didn’t have high blood pressure before this week of games for Pitt, you probably do now. During Pitt’s come from ahead win over Marshall and then the heart breaking OT loss to ranked Notre Dame, seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young played a game of whatever you can do, I can do better. We’ll also also give a special nod to Sheldon Jeter, as he poured in 21 points against Marshall and was a monster on the boards against both the Thundering Herd and the Irish. In the end, we went with Artis for Panther of the Week.

Artis isn’t always taking the point for Pitt, but he does end up with a lot of ball security responsibility for the Panthers. Also, his shooting percentage, overall, was better than Young’s this past week. This gave him the nod as he took care of the rock and shot better than Young. Both players had a week to remember and Artis’ numbers certainly didn’t suffer.

The Baltimore native started off with a 30-point performance against Marshall and also chipped in eight rebounds, three assists, one block and only two turnovers. His free throw shooting wasn’t the best in the world, but he also ended up 9 of 14 from the floor and all five misses were from beyond the arc. Despite those five misses, from long range, he still shot 38% from that range.

The 6’7” forward/point guard didn’t stop there as he frustrated Notre Dame all game with 25 points, nine rebounds, three assists, one steal, and only one turnover. That’s only three turnovers in two games for the senior, who has been taking better care of the ball lately. He was five for eight from long range, which included several clutch shots. Pitt was down by eight late in the second half, after a Notre Dame run, and an Artis three keyed the comeback to force overtime.

The Artis and Young show is a fun one to watch. Many of the fan base has been very vocal about how unhappy they are with the state of Pitt basketball. That’s a shame because both of these seniors are making it clear that they can do a lot of damage.

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

Michael Vick makes return to Falcons

Former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who electrified the Georgia Dome, was elated to be invited back to participate in a ceremony during the final regular-season game on Sunday.

The Dome is set to be demolished to make way for the new $2 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the Falcons’ playoff run.

“The last time I was here I was on the opposing side,” Vick said. “I was with Philadelphia.”

Vick, who was selected No. 1 overall in the 2001 draft, electrified the fan base, energized the team and sold out the Georgia Dome.

>> Read more trending stories

Vick fell out of favor with the franchise after he pleaded guilty in a federal dogfighting investigation in August 2007. He was suspended from the NFL for a violation of the league’s personal-conduct policy.

He served 21 months in prison and two months in home confinement.

Vick was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Falcons and helped guide them to the NFC championship game after the 2004 regular season. Before falling out of grace, he also guided the Falcons to a historic playoff victory on the road over the Green Bay Packers after the 2002 season.

“I was thrilled when I first got the call that they wanted to honor the Georgia Dome legends and have a lot of guys come back,” Vick said. “I’m just thankful that I got the call. This is a special place in my heart. This is where I started by career.”

Vick’s appearance has caused some controversy. A group has started an online petition asking the team to withdraw the invite.

“I’m just thankful that there are a lot of people here and people within this organization and this city, I come and go all the time and there are a lot of people who have forgave me,” Vick said. “They have given me an different opportunity to show a different side of myself. That’s the candid part that people respond to.”

Pitt can't hold onto several leads in 78-77 overtime loss to Notre Dame

First of all, quick PSA here. Wanted to give a shout out to all of our readers this year. I'm continuously overwhelmed by the sort of traffic we manage here and by the enthusiasm for Pitt sports. Really appreciate all of you.

PSA #2 - Be safe tonight. If you're like me, you'll be taking it easy at home and going to bed too early. If you're not like me and you're out and about, take it easy and be smart out there.

Okay, so with family in town, I missed most of today's Pitt game against Notre Dame. I checked in with about ten minutes left in the second half and even in the 15 minutes I watched, I came away with a little bit good and a little bad. In case you missed it, the Panthers fell to Notre Dame in overtime, 78-77.

One thing you had to love was how the Panthers came back at the end. Down by eight inside of ten minutes left in regulation, Pitt clawed back to take the lead in the second half. They couldn't keep it and the game went into overtime. But I still found myself appreciative of the way the team fought back.

But just as you might be proud of how the team fought back, the Panthers also gave up a couple of sizable leads on Saturday.

  • They led by ten in the first half but by halftime, that lead was cut to two.
  • After the half, they pushed it to seven again, but in a 10-minute span, found themselves on the wrong end of a 15-point swing, which got them to that eight-point deficit I mentioned earlier.

None of that even mentions the two smaller leads they had of five points each with under three minutes left in both regulation and overtime. Maintaining leads has been a problem for the team all year long and while you expect some swings through the ebb and flow of the game, Pitt had several leads they simply couldn't hold.

Another thing you probably didn't like was that Pitt left plenty of plays on the court towards the end. Particularly, they had some issues rebounding the ball at the end. The Panthers gave up three offensive boards, including an ugly sequence, in regulation that led to an Irish basket. Pitt gave up three more offensive rebounds to Notre Dame, too. The last one came after a missed jump shot and was secured before the three-point shot to win it.

To the rebounds since that was an issue late, some of them were unfortunate bounces. But some of them were just guys getting beaten to the ball or not boxing out. This is so cliche but in a game like this, every single possession counts. Giving up one of those is an easy way to lose a game.

As usual, Pitt was led by Michael Young and Jamel Artis (both had 25) but beyond Cameron Johnson's 14 points, there wasn't much more offense. Justice Kithcart, who got the start again and was effective against Marshall, was shut out. Ryan Luther managed only three points. Chris Jones provided only four in 26 minutes off the bench. Sheldon Jeter was a dismal 3-10 from the field in contributing six points in a whopping 39 minutes.

Just not nearly enough from those guys. And as usual, it's not always about the actual production in terms of output. You can live with a guy giving you only 4-5 points. But it's a problem when you have guys like Jeter eating up a ton of shots today and not producing much. If he's taking ten shots, you want him to either make more than three of them or scoring more points by getting to the line.

Compare and contrast the days Johnson and Jeter had, for example. Offensively, Cam was much more productive even though he didn't shoot the ball well, either - making only 4-12 shots. But he scored 14 points because he hit a couple of threes and got four points from the line. Jeter took only two less shots but didn't even score half as much because none of his makes were three-pointers and he didn't get to the line. Again, if you're taking double-digit shot attempts, you have to find a way to do a little more on offense. To be fair to Jeter, he grabbed a team-high 13 boards, so it's not as if he had a terrible game. But those shots are all valuable and you have to maximize your points.

The loss isn't a bad one for Pitt. But here's where the problem comes. The Panthers have a difficult road ahead with two games each against North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia - all top 12 teams. There are games against ranked Duke and Florida State teams. And while Syracuse is down this year, they're a rival of sorts and there's two against them.

While these types of losses won't kill Pitt in terms of their NCAA Tournament resume, whenever they're in position to win them (as they were today), they really need to close them out. There will be times this year when they aren't even all that competitive so on days when you can steal a Top 25 win, you've got to do it - especially when you get the game at home. This was a game, for all intents and purposes, that the team should have won with all of the leads they held.

Season far from over. And at the end of the day, taking a Top 25 team to the brink like Pitt did today is somewhat encouraging. But it's also really frustrating to let a game like this slip through your fingers.

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.

Against the Odds: Pick em for Pitt and Notre Dame

Vegas opened with the Irish as a slight favorite, but the money has shifted for Pitt’s ACC opener.

Baby games are over for the Pitt Panthers and ACC Conference play begins today. Not to take anything away from the Panthers’ out of conference schedule, but it wasn’t exactly a murders’ row. That’s over now and Pitt will host a familiar face at 2PM this afternoon. Notre Dame comes into today’s game ranked 24th in the country. Pitt is 24th in the RPI, but receiving no votes in either of the major polls out right now.

Taking that into consideration, Vegas expects a tight ballgame. They opened giving the Fighting Irish a one point edge, but the line has since moved to an even line. Perhaps some, with money, still think The Pete has some magic from previous years. Whatever the case, if you lay money down on this game, you are probably going to be going close to straight up betting on one of the other.

Notre Dame head coach, Mike Brey, brings in a fundamentally strong squad whose only two losses were to top ranked Villanova and also top-20 Perdue. They have four players that average between 13.2 and 16.2 points per game, so they can hurt you in a variety of ways. They are over 40% from beyond the arc and 85% from the charity stripe. Pitt will need to come out strong and they haven’t had a problem with that this year, but they will need to play for 40 minutes. There cannot be a letdown in this game for Pitt, if they want to open at 1-0 in the ACC.

A win for Pitt would probably give them a nice boost, some votes in the rankings and a possible move into top 20 for the RPI. A loss and I’m sure the fan base will take it well...just kidding...you know that they will all head for the nearest bridge. Let’s hope the bridges stay clear of jumpers after this contest.

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

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