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Pitt-Wake Forest Q&A with Blogger So Dear

Had a chance to do a short Q&A with Robert Reinhard over at SB Nation's excellent Wake Forest site, Blogger So Dear. Be sure to check in on them leading into the Panthers' next game this week.

Check out his answers to my questions below and head over there to see my answers to his questions a bit later.

After a couple of down years at Wake Forest, Danny Manning seems to have righted the ship a little. Are fans enthusiastic about what he's done there so far?

I would say fans are overall pretty positive about Manning. He definitely has his flaws, but seems to be improving on them, and is doing a very nice job of building the program. The vast majority of the team will be returning next year (Collins certainly up in the air), and has an excellent recruit in Chaundee Brown joining the team next year. He inherited a bad situation from Jeff Bzdelik, but has bounced back well. I'm excited to watch his growth and have been pleasantly surprised with the performance so far this season.

Sophomore forward John Collins has been a handful all year but has even stepped it up lately with 60 points in the team's last two games against Clemson and Duke. What are the chances of him leaving early for the NBA either this year or next?

Unfortunately I think they are pretty high. I have seen him around 15th or 20th for this upcoming draft on most mock drafts. He is still young for his grade (just turned 19), so hopefully he will stay for one more year. Wake will be very good next year if he returns, but I believe it's likely that he's gone after this season. I'd say it's almost a guarantee that he leaves by the end of his junior season.

Even at 15-12 and however unlikely that it may be for Pitt, there's still talk about sneaking into the NCAAs since they have three wins over ranked teams and a few more opportunities. Wake has had some very close losses against ranked Duke, North Carolina, and Xavier teams. The team seems really close to being an NCAA Tournament caliber squad. Are there similar hopes for Wake or are fans mostly looking to next year in terms of reaching the Big Dance?

Wake fans still believe that it's possible this season. Though the team is just 15-12, the Deacs are currently 30th in Ken Pom, 32nd in BPI, and 37th in RPI. They've been extremely close in your aforementioned games, and have been unlucky because their games against teams around 25th overall have been on the road. That said, Wake definitely blew some opportunities by blowing late leads against Duke and Clemson. Still, Wake has a lot to play for with games remaining against Pitt, Louisville, and a road trip to Virginia Tech. If Wake can win two of those three, and then potentially an ACC Tournament game, then they are absolutely right there. It will be interesting to see how the committee weighs advanced metrics vs. win-loss record.

One of the stories of Pitt's season has been a continued decline in attendance. That's happened over the course of the past few years when Pitt hasn't been as successful on the court. Has Wake Forest seen increased fan interest with their play this season?

Wake has definitely seen an increase this year, as it's Wake's best team since at least the 2009-2010 season. In fact, Wake's game against Duke was the first sellout since that same season. Wake fans went through some very rough years when Jeff Bzdelik was the coach, so being in NCAA Tournament contention again is extremely refreshing.

How do you see this game playing out?

I like Wake Forest in this one. The Deacs are one of the better offensive teams in the country and think they should be able to score fairly easily against Pitt. Pitt has definitely been playing better as of late, but I like Wake's chances at home in a game they really need. Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Panther of the Week: Sheldon Jeter

The streak of Mike Young and Jamel Artis is finally over as they move aside for Sheldon Jeter

Michael Young or Jamel Artis have won the Panther of the Week dating back to last season. This past week fellow senior Sheldon Jeter takes the award and ends the streak.

It wasn’t just Jeter, though, as Cam Johnson also had a solid week. But Jeter’s massive game against Florida State puts him over the top. I said it would either be a really good week or really bad week if Artis or Young were unseated. We had a mixed bag, but it was oh so close to being very good.

Pitt started the week with a bad loss to a very improved Virginia Tech team. Jeter had a very bad turnover late to help seal the loss but it still doesn’t take away from his solid game. Jeter finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, along with two assists, one steal, and two blocks. Cam Johnson finished three assists shy of a triple-double in the game, but it wasn’t enough.

Saturday saw a nice upset at home of top-25 ranked Florida State. The upset in front of the Zoo and the retro uniforms reminded us of better times with the program. Jeter definitely did his part. The Beaver Falls product scored a career high 29 points to go along with eight rebounds, one assist and one steal.

He started off the upset with a nice start before getting into foul trouble, although his second foul was questionable to say the least. The Panthers’ bench allowed Kevin Stallings to sit Jeter for a good while. The second half saw him pick up where he left off and down the stretch he seemed to be all over the floor. It was nice to see the senior playing up to his capabilities.

I think more than one person has said that Pitt would be a tough team to play if someone else steps up to go along with Artis and Young. This proves it. The truth is that for the better part of the last month, Pitt has been playing better and it’s mostly because of other players stepping up. In addition to Jeter and Cam, Rozelle Nix has provided some spark off the bench along with a few others. If they can continue to trend up, it could be a fun ACC Tournament, rather than a one and done with Ryan Luther scheduled to come back.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt baseball opens season with 3-1 start

Last week I wrote about the Pitt baseball team needing to step up a bit this season. While they aren't perfect, the team got off to a decent start winning three out of four games this past weekend.

Playing down in Kissimmee, FL, the Panthers defeated Delaware twice (5-3 and 3-2) and also knocked off defending Big Ten champ, Ohio State, winning 7-2. The lone loss came in a tough defeat when Pitt gave up a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning and loss to Kansas State.

Offensively, it was Alex Amos and Frank Maldonado leading the way. Amos is batting .417 to lead the team and Maldonado has a team-high six hits, is batting .353, and four of his six hits were doubles.

All four of Pitt's starters (Josh Mitchell, Josh Falk, Dan Hammer, and Matt Pidich) had solid outings. None has an ERA over 1.50 and all went at least six innings without giving up more than one earned run. It was the team's relief pitchers that ran into trouble. In only eight combined innings of work, the relievers gave up five earned runs and had the blown lead against Kansas State.

Pitt heads down to Vero Beach next weekend to play Siena three times.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Can the Panthers still reach the NCAA Tournament? Let's have a look.

At 15-12, many have written of Pitt as a contender for the NCAA Tournament. But the Panthers have also won three of their past four games and with a victory against No. 17 Florida State, have added another quality win to their resume.

Pitt senior Sheldon Jeter had a monster game with a career-best 29 in that 14-point win against the Seminoles. And according to him, the NIT isn't in the team's plans just yet.

"We're playing to get into the [NCAA] Tournament," Jeter said. "We still believe in each other and the team. It doesn't matter if other people don't believe in us. We believe in ourselves and we believe that we can still make it. We haven't given up hope, or said we'll go play in the NIT [Tournament]. We still believe we can get into the [NCAA] Tournament."

Sure, there's a hint of 'what do you want him to say' about that. And if he had said the team is just hoping to make the NIT, he would be killed for that. But it also serves as a reminder that the Panthers aren't yet completely out of things.

Make no mistake about it - the team needs a lot of help. Only four games remain and three of them are on the road. A fourth is against No. 10 North Carolina. In terms of 'gimmes', there really aren't any. And while the game at Wake Forest might be the most winnable, the Demon Deacons are 15-12 - the record same as Pitt.

As I said Saturday, I believe that the team probably needs some combination of at least five wins to have a shot at getting in. And to me, losing only once more might be the Panthers' only option. That would mean either running the table in these last four regular season games or winning at least three and then winning the NCAA Tournament. That last option seems the more difficult one because teams will be playing even harder to win the conference championship and improve their own resume.

If the Panthers lose two more games, can they get in with 14 losses? Historically, it's not likely but it has happened. Several at-large teams have made it with that many and at least two (Arizona in 2008 and Michigan in 2011, according to this site) even had 18-14 records. Pitt probably doesn't get in with only an 18-14 record but at least there's precedent there.

A somewhat realistic path for Pitt would be winning three of the next four games and then winning two more in the ACC Tournament. That gets them to 20-14 and since it would mean defeating either Virginia or North Carolina in the regular season, would give them at least one more high-quality win. 19-14 doesn't 100% mean they're out but you have to think their chances are significantly lower.

But even in the 14-loss scenario, there's also the idea that Pitt's resume isn't terribly strong. They haven't beaten a Top 5 team or anything. And while they have a few nice wins, it's not as if they've beaten great team after great team. They also have a terrible loss to Duquesne and while committee members may take into account that Jamel Artis didn't play, it's still a bad loss. They also have several head-to-head losses against teams like Virginia Tech, Miami, and Syracuse (with whom they split) that are all playing to get in as well. Also, we have to account for things like conference tournament upsets where some mid-major conferences steal an extra bid if a lower-ranked team wins their tournament, etc.

In other words, 13, not 14, might be the most acceptable number for the Panthers. And, of course, even that's no guarantee.

And don't even consider a 2-2 split in the regular season. That gives them 15 losses, looks incredibly damaging, and means that they need to win the ACC Tournament to get in.

A couple of Panthers, alluded to effort in the post-game press conference on Saturday. Jamel Artis was one of them. "We can play against any team in the ACC," the senior said. "It just depends on whether or not we show up to play that day." At this point, the Panthers don't have much room for margin and showing up to play is no longer an option.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

UNCC quarterback, brother of Panthers tight end, arrested on rape charges

University of North Carolina at Charlotte quarterback Kevin Olsen was arrested on rape charges Sunday, police said.

Kevin Olsen in jail, records show. Charges of 2nd degree forcible rape, cyberstalking, assault on female, 2nd degree force sex offense.— Blake Hanson (@BlakeWSOC9) February 20, 2017 <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

Olsen is the younger brother of Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.

Kevin Olsen was arrested on charges of second-degree forcible rape, cyberstalking, assault on a female and second-degree forced sex.

The Charlotte 49ers were Olsen’s fourth team since September 2014.

>> Read more trending news

Out of high school in Wayne, New Jersey, Olsen committed to the Miami Hurricanes but left after being suspended from the team several times and failing a drug test.

Olsen never played at Miami after being charged with a DUI and possession of a fake or stolen ID in September 2014.

Olsen transferred to Towson, in Maryland, where he was kicked off the team in March 2015 for violating team rules.

Olsen played football in the fall of 2015 for Riverside California City College.

He played well there and signed with the Charlotte 49ers in December 2015.

Olsen won the 49ers' starting quarterback position last spring.

However, he appeared in just six games last season.

He lost his starting quarterback job halfway through the season.

UNCC Charlotte football coach, Brad Lambert, said he and the university are aware of his quarterback's Kevin Olsen's arrest.

UNCC released this statement:

The University administration has been in close communication with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department regarding its arrest of student-athlete Kevin Olsen Sunday afternoon.The allegations in this incident took place off campus. This incident occurred a week after a separate, unrelated case of alleged on-campus sexual assault involving acquaintances. Olsen has been suspended from Charlotte Athletics, and the University is reviewing the case consistent with its disciplinary procedures. Due to the ongoing CMPD investigation and federal protections on student information, the University will have no further comment on the investigation at this time.

No. 24 Pitt softball wins four straight games at ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Pitt's softball team got into the rankings for the first time in program history with a 5-0 start to the season this past week. This weekend, they picked up where they left off, winning four more games against Nebraska and Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. That moves the Panthers up to 9-0 on the season and they'll likely be due for a bump in the rankings this week.

Pitt began the weekend taking both games from Nebraska in short order. They won the first game 9-1 and then took the second, 6-2. Again, pitching was the story as Kayla Harris didn't give up an earned run in the first contest and freshman Brittany Knight, the reigning ACC Pitcher of the Week, gave up only two earned runs in six innings of work.

The Panthers had a little more trouble with Northwestern but still managed to take both games. Pitt needed eight innings to pull out a 2-1 win on Saturday and on Sunday, the team looked ready for their first loss of the year, trailing 3-1 in the sixth (the final inning in softball) frame. But they weren't ready to quit and scored five runs in the inning to take a 6-3 lead and wound up winning 6-4. Pitt got more great pitching from their new rotation of Harris and Knight. Harris was flat out dominant in tossing a one-hitter in the first game against Northwestern and after Knight struggled a little in the second, Harris cleaned things up there, too.

Both Harris and Knight continue to have success. Knight did have some problems in her second game giving up three runs in 3 2/3 innings, but both are 9-0 on the year and both still have ERAs well under 2.00. And the offense has been more than capable so far, scoring at least five runs in seven of their nine games. The team hasn't gotten much power yet as they've hit only two home runs so far, but with pitching like this, I have a feeling they'll be in a lot of games.

Next up is a trip to the Troy Tournament next weekend where the Panthers will play five games against host Troy, Lipscomb, and Southeastern Louisiana. The following weekend, they'll get into ACC play with a series against North Carolina.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt wrestling dominates in 28-9 win over Duke to finish regular season

Pitt's wrestling team concluded its 2016 regular season with an easy 28-9 win over Duke.

There weren't any announcers this week so it was a little more difficult to keep up with everything if you're not used to watching the sport. The P.A. guy would call out the scoring but he didn't update the scoring and it wasn't on the screen. Also sort of a problem was that both teams had dark singlets on so that didn't help terribly, either, when just glancing at the action if you aren't too familiar with the team.

Things started at 149 pounds this week with Mikey Racciato. Mikey's match, as they have been this year, was a really back and forth affair. At times he looked in control and others looked like would take a loss. He ended up prevailing 11-9, though, and the team got off to a good start.

Taleb Rahmani and Teshan Campbell both continued that hot start with two consecutive pins to give the Panthers a 15-0 start. Not sure I've seen that this year but either way, it's a rare occurrence. We all know Campbell, who is ranked No. 9, is a star. But as I keep saying week after week, Rahmani just continues to improve. He leads the team in pins and scored yet another one tonight.

Donovan McAfee was next up at 174 pounds, who dropped a pretty slow decision. Pitt continues to need more out of this weight class. At 184 pounds, Zach Bruce lost a tough bout in overtime and that made it a 15-6 team lead for Pitt.

Senior John Rizzo got things back on track with a pretty dominant win 5-0. He had his opponent down for most of, if not all, of the second period and quickly escaped when down to start the third. Mix in a couple of takedowns and some stalling calls on his opponent and it made for an easy win. His career has been a little up and down so it was great to see him get a shutout on Senior Day to put the Panthers up 18-6.

We got the highlight of the match with Ryan Solomon taking on No. 3 Jacob Kasper at heavyweight. Kasper hadn't lost in 20 bouts so to say he's good is an understatement. Solomon scored a takedown and after a pair of escapes by Kasper (out of that hold and then after starting down in the second period), Solomon scored a reversal and grabbed a 4-3 win. Solomon has spent most, if not all, of the year in the rankings and at No. 19 in the country is no slouch. But this was still a very big upset and will gain Solomon a ton of respect going forward. I don't know what else happened in conference, but an ACC Wrestler of the Week award seems possible. After that bout, Pitt was ahead 21-6 heading into the lower weight classes.

L.J. Bentley added a quality 3-1 victory and Dom Forys easily won 14-3, picking up a major decision. After a 6-1 loss by Nick Zanetta, the Panthers won 28-9.

All in all, it was a pretty topsy turvy year. The team was only 2-3 in the conference season but several guys have good momentum heading into the ACC Tournament. They finished the regular season 11-5 and now it's all about trying to win some individual ACC titles and seeding guys for the NCAAs.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt upsets No. 17 Florida State, 80-66

Pitt continued to show why they have been a frustrating team this season. After a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech a few days ago, the Panthers came back to beat a Top 20 Florida State team, 80-66.

Equally as encouraging is that Pitt had the game pretty comfortably. They held a double digit lead and while things got a little close in the second half, the Panthers mostly looked like the better team by a good margin today. You win by 14 against a Top 20 team and you've had a pretty good day.

Sheldon Jeter had an amazing game with a career-high 29 points on 12-14 from the field. On offense, he's mostly been erratic this year. But he's capable of doing a little more scoring when the team needs it - which, with Michael Young and Jamel Artis going for 'only' a combined 27, they did.

The retro unis, as expected, didn't have nearly the same payoff as they did for the football team for any number of reasons. That whole eight-game losing streak in the middle of the year really sucked a lot of energy from something that could have had a lot more steam. I thought they were fine but generally just think that sort of thing is a tough sell when expectations on the field/court aren't met.

If you're a fan that's continued to watch this season, you'll likely keep paying attention with this win. This season hasn't been pretty by any means but games like this one continue to prove that when Pitt is playing well, they look like a Top 25 team.

I'm not about to start wracking my brain over NCAA Tournament scenarios. That all seems pretty far away right now. Pitt probably needs some combination of five more wins to have a shot but that's nothing more than a whimsical guess at this point and it also depends on who you beat and who beats you. As always, there's a ton of shifting that takes place in the final weeks of the regular season. Mid-major conference tournament upsets often shrink the field, etc. The Panthers' only hope is to keep playing hard and keep winning.

For now, though, great win for the team.

Against the Odds: Florida State solid favorites over Pitt today

Top-25 ranked Florida State invades Pittsburgh and Vegas has given them 5.5 points.

Pitt will try and call on the ghosts of Jerome Lane, Charles Smith, Sean Miller (sorry), Rod Brookin, and others this afternoon when Florida State comes to town. The Panthers will wear their retro uniforms today as they try and bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to Virginia Tech earlier this week. Standing in their way will be the Seminoles, who come in ranked 17th in the AP Poll and 18th in the Coaches Poll.

Head coach Leonard Hamilton brings FSU in with a 21-5 record and 9-4 in the conference. The Seminoles rack up over 80 points per game and are 16th in the country, in that regard. Despite coming off a 12 point loss to Notre Dame, Vegas has given Florida State a 5.5 point advantage.

Pitt hopes their retro uniforms give some life to The Zoo this afternoon and brings an effort to pull the upset. Pitt comes into the contest with a 14-12 record and 3-10 in the ACC. The game will tip at 4PM and can be seen on ESPN2. Despite the poor season, Pitt does have four starting seniors and their home games are winding down and coming to a close. You’d like to see this group pull it together for one more upset at The Pete.

Can Pitt turn the clock back to the time where ranked teams dreaded coming in to play in front of The Zoo? That’s the hope. Get your retro gear ready.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Now in 4th ACC season, Pitt baseball must show improvement

In their final season in the Big East, Pitt had one of its most successful baseball seasons in school history. Winning a school record 42 games in 2013 was part of a special year when the program showed real improvement and found itself in the Top 25 rankings. Since then, however, things haven't gone quite so smoothly.

In 2014, of course, the program moved to the highly-competitive ACC. Winning a 42 games there was a fantasy and even winning 30 would be challenging. Understandably, head coach Joe Jordano and the program has earned the right to some time to ease themselves into the new conference. So, finishing 22-30 in their debut season in the ACC was understood. Not many batted an eye at the 20-32 record a year later. Last year the team was better but still had a losing record at 25-26 for the third consecutive season.

The Panthers need to show improvement and get over the .500 mark this year.

The Pitt baseball team opened its season on Friday with a 5-3 win over Delaware. It's a nice little start, but they need to do a lot more of that winning thing.

That's no easy task, obviously, when you're playing in arguably the toughest baseball conference around. But with each losing season in the ACC, the perception about the school not taking the sport all that seriously will continue to swell. That 42-win season seems like a distant memory right now, even though it's only three years ago. And while no one expects that kind of year from the in the near future in the loaded ACC, getting to the 30-win mark in the fourth year of the school being in the conference would be a nice starting point.

None of this is to suggest that the program hasn't had its moments in recent years. Despite the lack of success on the field, the team had five players taken in the MLB Draft last year, including first-round pitcher T.J. Zeuch, who was the highest Pitt draft pick of all time. Pitt had six players selected in the two years before that. The Panthers do have, at the very least, some players that are desired by pro teams. In addition to Zeuch, Pitt produced an All-American at shortstop last season in Charles LeBlanc. Former Pitt player Kevan Smith made his major league debut last year with the Chicago White Sox. The team took a game in a series against No. 1 Virginia in 2015. Despite those high points, there's no doubt that the team needs to win more.

Pitt will always be at a disadvantage of sorts when it comes to recruiting. Many top players want to play in warmer climates and even though the early part of the season is played in warmer areas, being able to play/train year-round in warmer areas has to be attractive. But as Pitt has proven with the 11 guys they've had drafted in the past three years, they are capable of finding some decent players - even if it isn't/hasn't been enough. That availability will always be there because players want to be seen and, in the ACC, you're right on center stage.

Last year, Jordano received a three-year extension as head coach. As I wrote at the time, given Pitt's recent success of getting players drafted and pulling off some nice wins over ranked teams in the past two years, I didn't have any problem with it. Some would even call it a warranted extension in order to try to build some momentum. All of that makes good sense to me and I think that extending Jordano was probably the right move.

Now, though, the team must start producing a few more wins. And getting over the .500 mark for the first time in the ACC would be a good starting point. Expecting this year's team to win more might be difficult given the losses of LeBlanc and Zeuch to the MLB Draft. But teams routinely lose players to the MLB Draft and at some point, some degree of improvement is warranted.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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