Posted on: January 1, 2012 10:22 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2012 10:27 pm

Night Court: Gates-less Bearcats win -- again

By Jeff Goodman

(NOTE: We will file a Night Court almost every night this season. Follow @GaryParrishCBS, @GoodmanCBS, @MattNorlander, @JeffBorzello and @EyeOnCBB on Twitter to make sure it gets sent to you as soon as it's posted.)

Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: Cincinnati became the third team to go into the Peterson Events Center and come away with a victory this season. Pittsburgh entered Sunday with a 156-14 mark in the building and the Panthers had won 62 of their past 66 home games at the Pete. The Bearcats won 66-63 and run their record since The Brawl to a perfect 6-0. 

Win to brag about: Akron has been difficult to figure this season. The Zips handed Mississippi State a win in Starkville early in the season and got another big road victory Sunday, a fairly easy 67-51 win at Marshall -- a team expected to challenge Memphis for the C-USA title. Five guys finished in double-figures in a game that was delayed for an hour due to a bent rim on one of the baskets. 

Loss to hide from: Pittsburgh is now 0-2 in the Big East and has lost three straight games overall after the setback to Cincinnati. Jamie Dixon has seen Khem Birch leave the program after 10 games and was without Travon Woodall again on Sunday as he sat out for precautionary reasons. 

Player who deserves improper benefits: Michigan freshman Trey Burke is making those in Ann Arbor say, "Darius Who?" Burke went for a career-high 27 points in a win over Minnesota and has made Michigan fans forget about last year's point guard Darius Morris -- who left early for the NBA. 

Player who does not deserve improper benefits: Villanova's Dominic Cheek was a big-time recruit. Frankly, he just hasn't lived up to expectations. Cheek was just 2-of-10 from the field, 1-of-7 from long distance and had nearly as many fouls (5) as points (6) in 'Nova's loss at Marquette. 

Numbers don’t lie:

26: That's how many consecutive field goal attempts that Bowling Green's Torian Oglesby has converted. He was 10-for-10 in a loss to UTSA on Sunday. 

6: That's the number of times already this season that North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall has managed double-figure assists. He had 11 in the rout over Monmouth. 

42: That's the percentage that North Carolina's trio of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston are shooting from beyond the arc. They are a combined 72-of-173 this season. 

Three Other notable results:

Syracuse ran its record to 15-0 after an easy road win at DePaul. The Orange started 18-0 a year ago and the program's best start was 19-0 in 1999-2000. 

Marquette knocked off Villanova, 81-77, in Milwaukee. Darius Johnson-Odom went for 24 points and 'Nova fell to 7-7 overall and 0-2 in league play. 

Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play with a 61-56 victory over Minnesota in Ann Arbor. 


Rutgers talented freshman big man Kadeem Jack made his debut against Florida, playing three minutes in the win, and logged five minutes in the loss to South Florida. 

Joe Jackson's former summer league coach told CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish that the Memphis point guard won't transfer and will remain with the Tigers. 

Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin told CBSSports.com that Jarnell Stokes -- who has enrolled early -- won't play against his hometown Memphis Tigers even if he's cleared by the NCAA in time for Wednesday's game. 

On tap: 

It's a fairly light Monday, one that's headlined by a Big 12 matchup between Texas A&M and Baylor. Towson has its best shot of ending its futility streak prior to setting the Division 1 record when it hosts Northeastern at 7 p.m. ET. Marquette lost in Baton Rouge to LSU earlier this season. Now Trent Johnson gets a chance at what appears to be the third-best team in the ACC: Virginia. 

Posted on: December 29, 2011 10:09 am
Edited on: December 29, 2011 10:14 am

Birch sets record straight, gives school list

By Jeff Goodman

Khem Birch wants to make a couple things clear. 

First of all, he didn't bolt Pittsburgh because he's in a rush to get to the NBA. Second, he didn't leave because of those around him telling him that Jamie Dixon's program wasn't best for him. 

Birch said he left because he wasn't happy at Pittsburgh and didn't feel it was the right fit. The soft-spoken Canadian, who left the Panthers after just 10 games, admitted that he didn't "bond with the players on the team" -- and that the style of play wasn't ultimately one that suits his game in an ideal manner. 

"Coach (Jamie) Dixon is a great coach and a terrific person," Birch told CBSSports.com from his home in Canada. "I just didn't think it was the best place for me." 

The bottom line is that Birch, who was the highest rated recruit in Dixon's tenure, wasn't happy. There are some who felt he should have stuck it out longer, but Birch said that he and his mother decided it was best for him to play elsewhere. 

"I'm not in a rush to get to the NBA," he said "I know I have a lot of work to do." 

Birch reiterated that he wants to go somewhere more up-tempo and a spot where he can develop his four-man skills. "I want to play more four," he said. "That's one of the main reasons I went to Pittsburgh in the first place. I know I don't have the four-man skills yet, but I want to develop them." 

He said that several schools have expressed interest thus far. His early list includes Florida, UNLV, Gonzaga, Washington, Xavier and New Mexico State. Birch is close with fellow Canadian Kevin Pangos at Gonzaga and also developed a friendship with big man Sim Bhullar - who is at New Mexico State. 

"I'm going to try and take a few visits soon," he said. "I just want to make the right decision." 

Posted on: December 26, 2011 11:46 am
Edited on: December 26, 2011 4:16 pm

Where did Pittsburgh's defense go?

Jeff Borzello

There are a few guarantees in college basketball: Wisconsin will be a top-25 team; John Calipari will have a supremely talented roster; Duke will win 25-plus games; and Pittsburgh will lock down defensively.

This season, though, the last of those isn’t working out too well. Since Jamie Dixon took over Pitt in 2003-04, the Panthers have ranked in the top-50 nationally in defensive efficiency nearly every season. In the first 13 games of this year, Pittsburgh ranks No. 149 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, giving up nearly one point per possession.

"Not defending as tough as they have in the past," one coach who faced Pitt earlier this season said. "Just not as tough minded."

The Panthers are allowing teams to shoot better than 48 percent against them from inside the arc, and are simply not giving teams any sort of pressure on the perimeter. They rank near the bottom nationally in turnover percentage, and teams are getting more than one point per possession on spot-up situations and catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy Sports.

Last year, Brad Wanamaker was a physical defender who created problems for opposing guards, while Gilbert Brown’s size was also an issue. This season, the Panthers’ guards are getting beat off the dribble too often. Ashton Gibbs has improved his lateral quickness, but John Johnson, Cameron Wright and Lamar Patterson are all defending poorly on the perimeter.

Last season, the Panthers were tough when defending inside the arc. Gary McGhee was a very good rebounder and shot-blocker, and he was not afraid to throw his body around. There is no one like McGhee on the roster this year. Lamar Patterson is the team’s leading rebounder, and he’s 6-foot-5. Talib Zanna has been a solid rebounder in the minutes he gets, but he’s not consistent enough. The same goes for Dante Taylor. Freshman Khem Birch was Pitt’s best shot-blocker, but he left the team on December 16.

“I think losing Wanamaker, Brown and McGhee was significant,” one opposing coach said this season. “Especially on defense.”

When one pictures a Jamie Dixon defense, images of hard-working players who stifle perimeter shots and go after the glass at both ends of the floor come to mind. This team is rebounding as a team well – they actually rank No. 1 in offensive rebounding percentage – but they’re not the same rough-and-tumble team that people have seen in the Dixon era.

"It's a combination of experience, size and toughness," an opposing assistant coach said.

Last year, Pittsburgh allowed 70 points only five teams in the regular season. Already this season, the Panthers have given up at least 70 four separate times, including 78 points to Rider and 86 points to Long Beach State. Pittsburgh is very poor at defending transition, giving up 1.24 points per possession in those situations. Against teams that like to run, that’s a major problem.

I’ve been of the assumption that, after all, it’s Pittsburgh, they always defend well, and they’ll turn it around on that end of the floor. But as we enter conference play, the Panthers might be the worst defensive team in the league outside of DePaul.

While Dixon still has time to make adjustments, it’s certainly a cause for concern.

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 16, 2011 7:01 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 8:15 pm

Birch tells CBSSports.com he's leaving Pittsburgh

By Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello

Khem Birch is leaving Pittsburgh after just 10 games. 

The 6-foot-9 Canadian, the highest-ranked player to commit to the Panthers in the history of the program, told CBSSports.com he has decided to transfer. 

"I'm leaving," Birch told CBSSports.com on Friday night. "I'm headed to Toronto now. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, I love Coach (Jamie) Dixon, had no problems with the staff and the players. It just wasn't the right fit for me."  

Birch informed CBSSports.com that he does not have a new list and has not decided on his next destination. 

Birch, who attended Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) last season, was averaging 4.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks through 10 games. It looked like Birch was on the verge of breaking out in late November, when he totaled 23 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks in two wins over Pennsylvania and Robert Morris. He has started six games.

However, his minutes decreased the last couple of games. Birch averaged just 13.5 minutes over the last four games after playing 28.5 the previous two.

If there is a team that could sustain this type of loss, though, it's Pittsburgh. Jamie Dixon has Taylor and sophomore Talib Zanna in the post, and Robinson, a senior, at the power forward position. Without Birch, freshman Malcolm Gilbert will likely get increased minutes. Next year, touted New Zealand prospect Steven Adams will be welcomed into the fold. 

Birch decided to reclassify to the class of 2011 last November. Scout.com ranked him No. 15 in ’11 after originally being a top five player in the class of 2012.

Photo: US Presswire 

Posted on: December 10, 2011 7:26 pm

Young Pitt remains as good and tough as ever

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — Pitt doesn’t do pretty. Never has, and under Jamie Dixon it never will.

But good God, if the Panthers are able to continually rebound the way they have, then yes: Pitt will put itself in a position for a high seed in the NCAA tournament and have a chance to get to the Final Four. (Let’s save the Pitt/March talk, jokes and doubts for March, though.)

What’s clear as of now: the best rebounding team in the country keeps getting better, and as long as that’s the case, Pitt’s still in the class of the Big East’s best. It can plough its way to the rim in league games to remain respected and the toughest of outs.

My mea culpa comes now, because even if the Panthers haven’t played a terrific schedule, with all the youth they have, they still haven’t deviated from how they play. I didn’t think the Panthers were set to have another big year in the paint, thought they had backcourt problems and would take a significant step back. But it’s not looking like the case. Even if Pitt winds up not being as good this year as it was last, a “significant step back” seems highly unlikely now.

Jamie Dixon’s team looks really good. It was gruff and won despite only forcing four turnovers against Oklahoma State Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

You don’t need a lot of turnovers if you’re grabbing so many rebounds. Rebounds are really disguised as turnovers that require more work and less luck. The Panthers covet them like Christmas cookies. Heading into the game, Pitt had a nation-leading 45.5 offensive-rebounding percentage. It took down 61 percent (14 offensive boards) of second-chance snares against Oklahoma State, 43 rebounds in all.

“It’s ingrained in our program. We recruit guys with a nose for the ball, and our offense is predicated on offensive rebounding, too,” Dixon said. “I know that may sound strange or inconsistent, but good offense leads to good offensive rebounding.”

Dixon’s club did what it does best because it had to, since Travon Woodall did not play. Woodall’s the Pitt point guard who will be out until early January with a groin injury. Most teams would slag without a Woodall-type guy. Maybe Pitt does over the course of his absence, but it made just fine without him Saturday. One-time and still-for-hire Pitt 1 Ashton Gibbs was fine scoring 17 — but only getting two dimes. Gibbs played 39 minutes against that ab workout of a Pokes press.  

“Ashton Gibbs just controls the game,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “And Nasir Robinson may be my favorite player. I was afraid I was scaring my team with the way I was hyping him up (to them). He’s not trying to be something that he’s not, and so many guys these days try to (prove to) guys, ‘I can shoot jump shots.’”

(Quick aside on Oklahoma State: Travis Ford joked about how he was sick of the Garden, since all his team’s losses (three) came in MSG this season.)

As for the early-season talk, Dixon gets it and concurs with the majority on this team. He doesn’t think they deserved to be talked about among the nation’s best, and it’s still a work-in-progress. Yeah, yeah, every coach spits out that rhetoric, but at least Dixon owns up to the rebounding personality of his team and admits it’s all of what they are right now. He said the turnovers are low because he doesn’t encourage his team to chase after steals when he considers rebounds more important.

“We were a little bit off the radar because of our youth, but we have six freshmen and it’s understandable,” Dixon said. “But we didn’t want to be one of those elite teams in November. We’ve got work to do, so we don’t feel we are [the best], so I’ve no problems with whoever’s saying it. This is a good win but we have a lot of work to do.”

Robinson, Khem Birch, Lamar Patterson — who arguably had his best game in a Pitt uniform, grabbing 10 board, scoring 12 points and tallying seven assists — and Dante Taylor (pictured above) are budding as a formidable forward/frontline foursome. They don’t all play at once, but the reliability of so many capable guys down low is something different from what Dixon’s had before, when there’s usually been one or two studs surrounded by undersized overachievers.  

They need those bigs to continue to play ike this, because “no one is playing with three freshmen guards. I don’t recommend it,” Dixon said. “We’re fighting through some things, but I’ve liked how we’ve responded.”

The schedule gets tougher soon, but so far Pitt’s not shown any true sign of dropping off or defaulting from what it’s been about with Dixon.

Photo: AP

Posted on: December 2, 2011 11:36 am
Edited on: December 2, 2011 12:22 pm

Pitt's Travon Woodall out for month with injuries

By Jeff Borzello

Travon Woodall had been one of the most surprising players of the first month of the season, stepping in as Pittsburgh’s starting point guard and performing exceptionally well.

Just as he was hitting his stride, though, head coach Jamie Dixon announced on Friday morning that Woodall would miss the next month with a groin strain and abdominal tear.

“We anticipate that Tray will make a full recovery and join his teammates on the court soon,” Dixon said in a release.

While he should return just after the New Year, this is still a huge loss for the Panthers in the meantime. Woodall ranked third in the country in assists through seven games, averaging 8.3 per game. He totaled double-digit assists on four separate occasions. Woodall was also second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points and was shooting nearly 46 percent from 3-point range.

In his place, Dixon will turn to a host of young players to fill the void. Freshman John Johnson will likely see the lion’s share of the available minutes, as he has provided a spark off the bench so far this season. With that said, he’s more of a scorer than a distributor, meaning we could also see Ashton Gibbs handle the ball in Woodall’s absence. Freshman Isaiah Epps might also get extra minutes for the next month.

Pittsburgh heads to Tennessee on Saturday, and also faces Oklahoma State next weekend. Big East play starts on December 27 with Notre Dame and then a meeting with Cincinnati on New Year’s Day.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: December 1, 2011 12:00 pm

Your SEC/Big East Challenge guide

By Matt Norlander

What do you want in a preview? I've been self-assigned (is that even possible?) to give you the rundown on all of the SEC and Big East games coming up over the next 72 hours, and I wasn't quite sure where to go with this. After all, these are early-December games, half of them are afterthoughts, and preview material is usually come-and-go outside of preseason and NCAA tournament talk.

So I looked at the games and decided I'll just give you whatever random thought comes off the top of my head. A conversational tone works best here, since there are no real true tilts of consequence involved outside of the fantastic ones going on Friday night Louisville and Syracuse. (I'll be at the latter.) If there's a stat sited, I do not have it memorized. Those I looked up. I'm not huge on predictions, so you won't find those here.

All this said, I do expect these 12 games to be better than what the ACC and Big Ten gave us Tuesday and Wednesday night, by the way. If you have any other curiosities that go beyond this post, check our SEC/Big East Challenge page, which has the history of this event and stats that go along with it.


Providence at South Carolina (7 ET): Oh this is just bad. Providence is a few years away from true relevancy, and Darrin Horn is already coaching for his job at South Carolina. NEXT.

St. John's at Kentucky (7:30 ET): Wildcats get the Johnnies tonight, less than 48 hours before Carolina comes in. I'd say St. John's would have a chance, except they're playing Kentucky. Kind of a problem. SJU doesn't have one senior on its roster and head coach Steve Lavin will not be making the trip. Kentucky will be looking ahead to UNC, but the 'Cats should win by a minimum of 23.4 points.

Ole Miss at DePaul (9 ET): Have a sick interest in this game if for no other reason than I want to know how many people show up to watch it. Have to say, the fact these teams are a combined 9-2 is a welcomed surprise.

Georgetown at Alabama (9:30 ET): Best game of the night, period. Are you sure what Georgetown is yet? We do know the Hoyas take care of the ball very well. That early trend could be bucked in Tuscaloosa, though, because Alabama is on its way to being a top-five defensive team in the country. Teams are shooting a 35.7 effective field goal percentage against the Tide. Second-worst in the country.


Florida at Syracuse (7 ET): I'll keep this strictly to basketball, because I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do that one I get there to cover the game. Basically, I'm intrigued as hell. I love Bradley Beal's (right, with Billy Donovan) game. I'm still not sold on Florida's four-guard look, even if Patric Young gets his chances to play janitor when that happens. No Erik Murphy for the Gators means they're less dynamic. I like Syracuse is a really fun one. With the Orange, you're just never sure who's going to be the player that has the big game. Looks like someone's going to need to decidedly have a huge night to beat a team a lot of people like to make the Final Four.

Cincinnati at Georgia (7 ET): Car-wreck factor has be interested. When will Cinci start playing at a level that's indicative of the talent it has on this team? Georgia's in a third-gear year, I think.

Vanderbilt at Louisville (9 ET): What do you think about this one? Vanderbilt certainly not expected to win it (I haven't checked, but I'd put the Cards at about -4.5 here). Louisville's still not at full strength, nor is Vandy. Goodman's going to be at this game. I think this one adds up to little, even if it's nice in the moment. Because come late February, both these teams will have personnel on the floor that didn't play in this game. If Vandy/'Ville are vying for the 3-seed line and you want to give the winner of this the bid, by all means, but beyond that there won't be much long-term effect from this game. I think John Jenkins struggles in this one, too.

Auburn at Seton Hall (9 ET): Oh, get it out of my face, please.


Arkansas at UConn (3:15 ET): The Hogs are without Marshon Powell and so I don't see how Mike Anderson's new team keeps this within 20. UConn's due for a really impressive, really big win. I want to see how Alex Oriakhi plays in front of the home crowd in Hartford. Oriakhi's been public with this playing-time situation. UConn will grow and stumble a little more in December, but I'm betting we're putting this team in the highest echelon by New Year's Day.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee (5:15 ET): I'd call this game the biggest true toss-up of any listed here. I'm down on Pitt this year in regard to most others. A win here would be very uplifting for Jamie Dixon's team. Same can be said for Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee, who's probably still punching the pillow after his Vols couldn't steal that game against Memphis in Maui.

LSU at Rutgers (7 ET): Just a couple of truly nondescript, non-enthralling 4-3 BCS conference teams. I think I'd rather put away my summer clothes into storage.

West Virginia at Mississippi State (9 ET): The final game of the Challenge, it's the kind of game MSU should win without controversy if it wants to be top-20 caliber. WVU is down, considerably down, this season. The Bulldogs have twice as much talent on this team -- and a lot more size, even if Denis Kilicli will bruise it up down low with Renardo Sidney and/or Arnett Moultrie. The flip side: Huggins has been known to get his team to steal wins in these kind of spots.

Photos: AP
Posted on: November 16, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 12:54 am

Night Court: Long Beach State knocks off Pitt

Jeff Borzello

Here’s everything you need to know about Wednesday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: As Matt Norlander pointed out in the preseason, Long Beach State has the toughest non-conference schedule in the country – by far. In order to prove themselves, though, the 49ers needed to pick up a win or two. They went into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and handled the No. 9 Panthers, 86-76. Casper Ware had 26 points and six assists for LBSU, which will try to pull off another upset on Nov. 28 at Louisville.

Win to brag about:
It's more of a comeback to brag about as opposed to the actual victory. Down six with 12 seconds left, all hope seemed lost for Oklahoma State against Texas-San Antonio. Suddenly, freshman Cezar Guerrero finished a 3-point play, then stole the inbounds pass and knocked down another 3-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime. In overtime, Guerrero hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute and sent the Cowboys to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off, 90-85.

Loss to hide from: Not saying Central Arkansas is remotely good or is supposed to win more than a handful of games this season, but the Bears lost to Philander Smith at home, 97-90. Philander Smith is an NAIA school in Arkansas with just four sports and an enrollment of 850. And Central Arkansas lost to them. Don’t expect much from Corliss Williamson’s troops this season in the Southland.

Player who deserves improper benefits: We already talked about Ware, but he needs to get a second mention here. Ware had received plenty of hype throughout his career as a playmaker and a high-level scorer, but he really put on a display against Pittsburgh tonight. He knocked down deep 3-pointers, drove to the basket and finished, and was also tremendous in transition. His confidence and swagger took LBSU to a new level.

Player who does not deserve improper benefits: Two of the scoring stars in the Summit League had a chance to pull off SEC upsets on Wednesday. Both players struggled. Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton shot 3-for-14 and turned the ball over six times in a 23-point loss Arkansas. Stat-sheet stuffer Nate Wolters went 6-for-16 as South Dakota State was handled by Georgia.

Numbers don’t lie:

  • Long Beach State’s win snapped Pittsburgh’s 58-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.
  • Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna combined for two points and eight fouls in 39 minutes at the power forward position for Pitt.
  • Long Beach State had not defeated a ranked team since beating No. 25 New Mexico State on February 24, 1994.
  • The 86 points by Long Beach State was the most Pitt had allowed in a home loss against an unranked opponent since a double-overtime loss to St. John's in 1998.
  • It was also the most points allowed at home to a non-conference opponent since an 86-80 loss to St. Bonaventure in December of 1997.
  • The defeat was Pitt's first home loss to an unranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2008 against Rutgers. 

Three other notable results:

  1. The Pit is a very tough place for New Mexico's opponents, especially during a heated intrastate game against New Mexico State. However, the Aggies went in there and pulled out a nine-point win. NMSU could be a WAC contender.
  2. Creighton is a popular mid-major pick this season. The Bluejays went into Birmingham and defeated UAB, 70-60. Doug McDermott had 27 points.
  3. DeShawn Painter knocked down a jumper with 4.2 seconds left to give North Carolina State a two-point win over Princeton.


  • Florida State shot 57 percent and held Stetson to 37 percent shooting en route to a 13-point win. The Seminoles aren’t explosive, but they’re still tough to beat.
  • Utah lost to Boise State by 21. It’s not very far fetched to say that the Utes will be the worst team in the Pac-12.
  • Oregon State's Jared Cunningham is one of the best guards on the West coast this season; he dropped 35 tonight in a win over Hofstra. Devon Collier put up 25 for the Beavers. 
  • Led by Tim Frazier’s 26 points and 10 assists, Penn State knocked off Long Island, 77-68.

On tap: Lots of tournament action tomorrow. In the 2K Sports Classic, Texas A&M takes on Mississippi State and Arizona faces St. John’s. The marquee opening-round game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is Purdue against Iona, while Maryland also goes against Alabama. Other interesting games include VCU vs. Seton Hall and Fairfield vs. Minnesota.

Photo: AP

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com