Junker: Pitt should make it to the Final Four
-- One of the national know-it-all analysts was on TV last week discussing Pitt's chances of making it to the Final Four or even winning the national championship. His point was that without an NBA lottery pick in their lineup, they will be hard pressed to go all the way.
I think teams that rely a lot on such players have less of a chance. If they get hurt or defensed well it often spells doom. Also so many teams these days are together only for a year or two with players constantly leaving school early. Pitt may not have a lottery pick but they have great team chemistry on the court during a "me first" era where that isn't always popular. What they were able to do on the road without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs is a perfect example of team basketball. To hold Villanova to a season low offensively in their own building is a remarkable feat.
If I were concerned about an Achilles heal for Pitt in the postseason, it would be their foul shooting. They ranked 233rd in the nation in free throw percentage before the loss to St. Johns game Saturday. That could haunt them in some close game where they need those shots to close the deal.
-- Cut my fingers off for typing this, but this just could be the year of the Flyers. They made a trade for now last week when they sent a couple of draft picks to Toronto for Kris Versteeg. Versteeg was part of the Blackhawks team that beat the Flyers in the finals last year and adds to what is already the best stable of forwards in the NHL. Things may not have been great for him with the Leafs but he got his get out of jail free card and now the Flyers look for him to play for them the way he played against them in the finals last spring. The question with Philly as always, is will the goaltending hold up? Brian Boucher and Sergei Brobovsky have been more than adequate. They fell a little short last year but if I had to bet the mortgage right now, the Cup gets paraded down Broad Street.
-- Mario Lemieux was right on target with his comments last week about the brawl the Penguins experienced on Long Island. If only he wouldn't have added the phrase about needing to "rethink whether he wants to be a part of it(the NHL)". That made the poignant parts of his statement seem a little hollow. Like the Steelers' James Harrison threatening to retire because he kept getting fined last season. With the premeditated attacks of the Islanders coming at a time Lemieux is without his franchise player for over a month because of a concussion, he had every right to be angry. Believe me, he wants to be a part of it.
-- There was a time when the Penguins didn't have a farm system. Or they would share a farm team with another NHL team. They used to show up at Mt. Lebanon ice rink with about 23 players and those still standing at the end of camp were the team for that year. But they have built a top notch organization in many respects, not just fan relations, and recent weeks show the strength of their farm system. Despite shuffling players all over the map due to injuries and suspensions, the Penguins, the Baby Penguins in Wilkes Barre and the Nailers in Wheeling, are all near the top of their respective leagues and divisions.
-- I don't see the reason why the Pirates had to name their closer the first week of spring training. If Joel Hanrahan has a lousy spring and Evan Meek pitches well, you mean to tell me Clint Hurdle wouldn't change his mind? There should not be one single job on this team decided before mid March at the earliest. Not one.