#4 Pitt upsets #1 UConn

It’s funny how draft stock doesn’t always have a whole heck of a lot to do with how good a player is. For example, take the two big-name big men in tonight’s Pitt/UConn matchup. One guy is projected to go as high as #2 in some mock drafts and the other is supposed to be a mid- to a late-first round pick. One guy is 7’3″, long and athletic and is one of the nation’s best shot blockers. The other is an undersized power forward who is maybe 6’7″ if you’re feeling generous. How did these to players perform tonight? One guy scored 22 points and grabbed 23 rebounds and the other managed just five points and four boards.

Who’s who? Well, the 7’3″ Hasheem Thabeet is projected to go in the top 5 in most mock drafts and he was thoroughly outplayed by 6’7″ strongman DeJuan Blair. In fact, Blair is so strong that he nearly broke Thabeet’s arm early in the first half (an event which was captured in the above picture).

The game was a back-and-forth affair until late in the second half. With 3:11 to play and the game tied, 61-61, Levance Fields made the first of back-to-back three pointers to put the Panthers up six. He went on to hit four straight free throws to put the Huskies away. The Panthers upended the Huskies, 76-68.

Sam Young — another NBA prospect — led the Panthers with 25 points, hitting 4 of his 6 three-pointers. A.J. Price posted 18 points and eight assists.

The key to beating UConn is to limit Thabeet’s impact on both ends of the court. Pittsburgh kept him from dunking and he was just 3-6 from the free throw line. On the other end of the court, Blair was very physical with the big man, pushing him back underneath the basket before using a plethora of post moves to finish at the rim. It’s hard to block shots when the offensive player is pushing you back, and that’s exactly what Blair did tonight.

Another #1 falls. Pittsburgh is a tough team and they won’t be an easy out come March.

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An early look at the running back class for the ’09 NFL Draft

LeSean “Shady” McCoy has decided to forego his final two years of eligibility at the University of Pittsburgh and enter April’s NFL draft.

So how does McCoy stack up against the likes of Knowshon Moreno (Georgia), Chris “Beanie” Wells (Ohio State), Donald Brown (Connecticut), P.J. Hill (Wisconsin) and Shonn Greene (Iowa)? Let’s take a look.

Even though he had a major setback earlier in the year when he injured his foot/toe in the Buckeyes’ first game of season, Beanie Wells has all of the intangibles NFL teams look for in a back. He’s big (6’1” 237 pounds), fast (he should run in the 4.5-range for the forty at the combine) and might even grade out better than Darren McFadden, who was selected No. 4 overall a year ago. He has had some durability issues, but after watching him over the course of the second half of the season, it didn’t look like he was suffering any lingering effects from the injury. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel believes that Beanie is a top-5 pick and when you look at the entire package, it’s hard to disagree.

Knowshon Moreno will probably go somewhere in the first round, but it’s hard to speculate at this point whether or not he’ll go in the top 15 or fall in the 20-25 range. He doesn’t have a ton of experience (he only played two seasons at UGA), but that also means he has fresh legs and he was incredible the two years he played at Georgia. He is being compared to Thomas Jones and Cadillac Williams in that he’s a grinder who doesn’t necessarily have great top-end speed, but makes up for it with outstanding instincts and vision. If he falls past the top 15 picks, he’s going to be a steal for whichever team grabs him.

At 5’11, 210 pounds, Shady McCoy isn’t the biggest back in the draft, but his change-of-direction skills are unrivaled. After what the Texans’ Steve Slaton (a similar back with great speed) was able to accomplish in his rookie season, as well as the growing popularity of the “Wildcat” formation in the NFL, a lot of teams are going to value McCoy’s versatility and athleticism. His ability to make people miss will certainly separate him come draft time and he should run a forty in the 4.4-range at the combine.

Shonn Greene is perhaps the most intriguing back in this draft because his stock couldn’t be higher after rushing for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns for the streaking Hawkeyes. He also won the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation’s top running back and given his powerful running style, he might be a sleeper pick in the top three rounds. He’s overshadowed by Wells, Moreno and McCoy, but his skill set is outstanding.

Donald Brown rushed for 2,083 yards at Connecticut this season and will likely draw comparisons to Kevin Smith of the Lions come April. Like Smith, Brown racked up a ton of yardage at the collegiate level, but doesn’t have elite speed or athleticism. Instead he excels because of his vision and creativity and unlike Smith (who played at Central Florida), Brown faced some decent defenses in the Big East so the “weak competition” knock shouldn’t be applied come draft day.

P.J. Hill will be a late round pick given his durability issues at Wisconsin and the fact that he’s not much of a pass-catcher. He’s a bowling ball of a runner, but won’t draw much consideration in the top three rounds.

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