Inside Conditions…Rock solid

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When it comes to hoops, Slippery Rock University was very slippery when it came to competing in the first exhibition game against the Pitt Panthers as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s 2009-2010 men’s basketball schedule.

Pitt won the game 75-64 but Slippery Rock came to play and gave the Panthers a lot more than they bargained for.

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AUBREY BRUCE

The Panthers appeared to enter the game, taking “The Rock” a bit lightly but at times it seemed as if Pitt had been hit in the head with a brick. With 9:42 remaining in the first half, Slippery Rock led Pitt by seven, 20-13, and seemed to be poised to pad that lead. As the game neared intermission, “the Rock” had out-rebounded on the offensive boards but it was the defensive rebounds that were ultimately Slippery Rock’s downfall at the end of the first half because the Panthers had taken a 40-31 lead, outscoring “the Rock” 27 to 11 to end the half.

The Slippery Rock squad started the game with a 3 guard, 2 forward lineup, complete with a couple of tenacious rebounders. They passed fairly well and two of the “Rockets” that caught my eye immediately, did so that we were not in the least intimidated by competing against one of the most powerful basketball programs in the country.

One of the first players to catch my attention from the Slippery Rock team was No. 55 forward Jade Burka, who was feisty and relentless on the inside along with No. 30 Maron Brown, who is such a leaper and can play on the inside comfortably because of his jumping ability.

On the Pitt side of the ball forward Dante Taylor is a mere freshman who seems ready to make some noise in the Big East. Taylor appears to be the complete package, a player who can score, play defense and rebound. Also, center Gary McGhee who has been chosen to replace departed Panther center DeJuan Blair, the Schenley High school product who opted to “go pro,” has toned up and now brings a few more pounds of muscle for those “gimme” inside-the-paint field goals. He also brings an above average shot blocking ability. McGhee will get at two or three additional offensive and defensive “boards” just by putting that 6-10,” 250-lb. body in the right position. His footwork still leaves a bit to be desired so positioning will be the key for McGhee. Although he didn’t see as many minutes against Slippery Rock as he normally would, rest assured that if he can avoid foul trouble during the 2009-2010 campaign against teams like Georgetown and Louisville, he will be a force to be reckoned with coupled with the aforementioned Taylor who may in some instances be utilized at the “small” center position.

On the coaching side of the ball, head coach Kevin Reynolds, who is entering his second season, leads Slippery Rock. In his first season as the head coach for the program, he is credited with turning around a program that had experienced only one winning season in the past 20 years.

Back for his seventh season as head coach of the Pitt Panthers for 2009-10 season is Jamie Dixon who was named the 2009 Naismith National Coach of the year after he guided the Panthers to a 31-5 mark and their first NCAA regional final since 1974. In 2009 he finished his sixth season as head coach of the Panthers with 163 wins and 45 losses, setting an NCAA record for the most wins after six seasons.

The AFC North division has now become a battle between man and nature. Steely McBeam and the Pittsburgh Steelers must now get ready to face and defeat the eye pecking birds and bloodthirsty tigers if they plan on spending the first week of February in Miami. It looks as if the AFC championship could wind up with two teams representing the conference, mirroring the Pittsburgh, Baltimore match-up for the 2008 AFC title.

If it seems like zookeeper McBeam is missing two exhibits from the Black and Gold zoo. The pride of the Steel City Aviary, a flock of Baltimore Ravens has flown the coop and a pride of rare and endangered “Cincinnati” Bengals somehow escaped from their enclosure sometimes during last weekend. These are very crafty and scavenger like carrion crows and dangerous cats, predators whose appetites can only be satisfied by winning.

Pittsburgh has to play Baltimore, its AFC North colleague, twice before this season concludes and must also play the rubber match against the Bengals in Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost to the Bengals in Cincy earlier this season. The Baltimore Ravens beat the fight out of the Steelers next opponent Denver Broncos, 30-7, last Sunday. Instead of the bucking broncos that they had been for most of the season, Denver was a team that played as if it were the one that was kicked in the noggin. When Pittsburgh plays Denver on Monday night in the mile high city we will see if Big Ben Roethlisberger and the remainder of the Pittsburgh squad has truly ascended to the next level.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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