New Castle News

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March 5, 2014

Greg Huston: Pitt’s free fall, high-flying ’Canes and men in tights

NEW CASTLE — As we inch closer to every gambler’s dream that is “March Madness,” you’d be hard pressed to find a more fitting adjective than “madness” to describe the season of the Pitt men’s basketball team (even though “March” is the adjective in “March Madness” since it describes “Madness,” but just go with me here). Once a sure-fire top seed with early season quality wins in the ACC over Clemson, Maryland and NC State, and narrow losses to Syracuse and Cincinnati, the team has basically fallen apart over the past few weeks and, with Monday night’s loss to North Carolina State, the Panthers may be out of the NCAA Tournament altogether. You could blame injuries or a rigorous schedule, but the bottom line is lack of talent.  Jamie Dixon is great in preparation and in-game coaching and he gets the most out of the guys he has, but the problem is he doesn’t have enough high-caliber players. Recruiting top tier talent to Pitt is no easy task, so my belief is that Dixon should stay on as coach for as long as he wants, based on his run of success. However, a national championship, or even a Final Four appearance, is probably a pipe dream for any time in the near future.

•It was nice to see the Steelers rebound from a horrendous start last season as they clawed their way back to 8-8 and nearly made the playoffs.  But with the knowledge that they didn’t get in the playoffs, it would have been nice if they had just closed up shop early on and stayed in the cellar. That would have meant a higher pick in the first round and a chance at a game-changing talent like Clemson’s stellar wideout, Sammy Watkins, or any other top of the draft playmaker. Pride is nice, but it did nothing to help this year’s draft outlook.

•And if you disagree with that, let me remind you that it took a disgraceful 6-10 campaign in 2003 to put the Steelers in position to draft their best quarterback in franchise history, Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers do not win two Super Bowls and play in a third in the last 10 years without the pitifulness of the 2003 season.

•Congratulations to the New Castle basketball team on a remarkable third straight WPIAL championship as they defeated Hampton 55-49 at the Palumbo Center last Saturday. It’s hard to argue with Larry Kelly and his interesting “Hurricane Way” column last week. With the success of the program over the past three years, he and the ’Canes are clearly on to something.  However, I think the root of those successes can be summed up in a much simpler way; Ralph Blundo is a great coach and he has had a great group of players. That, as Pitt has found out the hard way, is how you win a bunch of basketball games and championships.

•Next year, New Castle will drop to Class AAA and have to deal with that classification’s WPIAL champion, Central Valley, in section play. Central Valley beat Chartiers Valley 70-69 in a double overtime classic last Friday at the Palumbo Center. Like New Castle, Central Valley loses most of its main guys to graduation, but coach Brandon Ambrose has done a good job of building a program, much like Coach Blundo has done. Disclaimer: Ambrose is a good friend of mine, but it has been gratifying to see his success, especially this year’s title, after he and Central Valley were dragged through the mud by columnists, coaches and fans when he was hired four years ago. I coached along side Ambrose at his previous gig where his teams struggled (which was the source of the vitriol when CV hired him), but I can tell you firsthand that he has always done things the right way, putting more hours into film, workouts and game planning than just about anybody around. Congrats to Coach Ambrose for seeing his plan through and thanks to the basketball gods for rewarding a deserving coach and team.

•The guest columnist (or ranter) of the week is my good friend Jerrod “Eggy” Planitzer, who writes in opposition to my thoughts last week that no one is turned off to the NFL because of off-the-field issues. Writes Eggy:

“I used to be a big sports fan and I would watch SportsCenter every morning, listen to sports stuff in the car and would watch just about any sport on TV, religiously. Now, I find myself sick of sports. I never watch SportsCenter anymore because it seems that the national media dismisses these idiots who get DUI's and live their lives with no accountability whatsoever, and instead they just drool over their athleticism. Case in point — the stupid, idiotic NFL combine. Now I am proud to say that I did not watch a second of it, but I have heard how the media was in love and gushing over this (South Carolina defensive end, Jadeveon) Clowney guy, the same guy who has admitted to not giving his all during parts of this past season.

Guys like Warren Sapp, who has had run-ins with the law and often times speaks without thinking (see the Michael Strahan bashing during the Super Bowl) are giving their "expert" opinions and raving about this cocky, arrogant individual. It seems that the media glorify the bad seeds of sports, guys that don’t really provide much to society other than news stories about "making it rain" or slapping women around or getting drunk and driving home. These athletes think they are above the law, because for some reason, the law allows them to do whatever the heck they want.  And fans and news outlets continue to gush over "how amazing" they are at sports.

I missed most of the Super Bowl this year and really was not upset. I get my fix of sports when I read posts on the Internet every day, but would much rather watch a movie at night than sports. Hopefully, baseball season and the Pirates will get me excited for sports again, because I love the Penguins and the character of those players, but even that is not exciting to me right now.”

•On one point I wholeheartedly agree with — you have way too much time on your hands if you're watching the NFL scouting combine. Unless you have a monetary stake in a player or franchise, this is a monumental waste of your time. Read a book, play a game with your kid or even just take a nap. All of these are more worthwhile pursuits than watching a bunch of guys run around in shorts.

(Questions, comments, thoughts? Email Greg at: hustongregor@hotmail.com.)



 

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