Big East Semifinal: Pitt-Marquette

by Andrew Force | March 15th, 2008

Red Rover champions, these officials must be. Under the guise of a basketball game, Tim Higgins, Reggie Greenwood, and Pat Driscoll craftily chose and removed the most irreplaceable player from each team. Foul trouble forced both teams to bench crucial starters. In the children’s game of Red Rover, once your best player is removed the newfound unit immediately, literally bonds together arm in arm. In the Big East Championship Semifinals the victorious Pittsburgh held together more tightly, winning 68-61.

Pittsburgh center DaJuan Blair battled foul trouble the entire game, playing just nine minutes. For the tournament, Blair has scored 2 points, 16 points, and 2 points in three games.

During the ten first half minutes he sat, Pitt actually outscored Marquette 9-4. Less than two minutes into the second half Blair picked up his third foul. Red Rover Red Rover send Blair right over. Pitt managed to hold strong for an extended period of time, allowing a meager 16-14 MU run. Trying to get something, anything out of his center, Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon entered Blair briefly midway through the second half. He quickly picked up his fourth foul. Red Rover Red Rover send Blair back over. The final nine minutes, sans Blair, Pitt only allowed Marquette to cut two points into their formidable lead. Marquette Coach Tom Crean, who entrusts his players with more personal responsibility than most coaches, left Jerel McNeal on the court with two fouls with 6:18 remaining in the first half.

The 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year could be hidden on defense, but he picked up his second charge of the game on a flimsy call in the lane.

“It was a key,” said Dixon. “But I liked the way that we got him. We took some charges and that was something we emphasized going into this game, and that was big.” As an official whistled McNeal for his fourth foul just four minutes into the second half, McNeal looked on the verge of tears.

Red Rover Red Rover send Jerel right over.

“I didn’t like the flow of the game on a lot of fronts,” said Crean. No guard competed harder or contributed more in the first two nights of the Big East Championship. He looked sad and undoubtedly felt cheated. From the bench McNeal looked like a whiner. Hopping mad the guard drew the ire of the officials. His demonstrations teetered on the edge of drawing a technical foul. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but some of those words are inaccurate representations.

McNeal is not a whiner. He is a winner, giving everything he has in him, physically and emotionally. More than any Marquette player in a decade he embodies the former university nickname, warrior. A quiet, unassuming warrior asserted himself for Pittsburgh in Ronald Ramon. Senior guard and consummate teammate, Ramon played his most complete game of the season.

“You know, it’s one of the greatest places to play at, especially growing up in New York City,” said Ramon. “You always want to play at the Garden.” Remember RR scored under five points ten different times this year. When Ramon shoots well, the Pittsburgh Panthers win. His value can not be overstated. Tyrell Biggs had eight rebounds, his highest total since January 12th.

More of a finesse player, Biggs held his own in the paint and offered a season high 31 minutes to the Panthers. The Panthers held off a charging MU squad near the end with a Levance Fields alley-oop to Gilbert Brown plugging a 16-5 deluge of scoring. Marquette narrowed it to 56-52 before faltering. Both teams tried to hold the line without a key teammate. Pittsburgh just barely managed to persevere.

Impact: Freshman Marquette forward Trevor Mbakwe personally removed his medical redshirt on Valentine’s Day, believing that this MU team has something special. He wanted to be a part of it. You can’t blame him. They do and now he is. But do the Golden Eagles have enough of this mystical element to compensate for the total lack of a post scoring threat? Georgetown-Pittsburgh for the Big East Championship. Look for size and physical prowess to dominate a rough and tumble Big East brawl. Pitt defeated Georgetown 69-60 Jan. 14 in the only regular-season meeting between the schools in 2007-08. No fan of the conference could ask for anything more. Regardless of the outcome the Selection Committee will have a dastardly time keeping the Big East teams away from each other on the 4-5 line. Notre Dame, UConn, Marquette, Pitt, and Louisville could all be in that territory.

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