Rutgers focused on Big East title, not Big 10 move


Rutgers focused on Big East title, not Big 10 move

PITTSBURGH (AP) Senior linebacker Khaseem Greene will be long gone before Rutgers ever takes a snap as a member of the Big Ten.

Forgive Greene if he's not exactly caught up in the hype surrounding the school's decision to bolt the Big East for more stable ground in 2014.

``At the end of the day, we ain't winning no Big Ten championship this year,'' Greene said.

The Big East, however, is another matter entirely.

The 21st-ranked Scarlet Knights (9-1, 5-0 Big East) can clinch at least a share of the conference title with a victory Saturday in Pittsburgh. Heady territory for a program that's been playing football for 143 years.

It's a benchmark Rutgers was on the verge of reaching a year ago, only to lose to Connecticut in the regular season finale. The memory still stings, though the Scarlet Knights believe it can also be an important reminder on not overlooking anyone, particularly the Panthers (4-6, 1-4).

``We can learn a lot from that (Connecticut loss) and understand that every team is dangerous and every team has good players and if you're not ready to go and don't take a team seriously they can come up and surprise you,'' senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone said.

Something the Panthers (4-6, 1-4) have done a couple of times this season. They stunned Virginia Tech in September when the Hokies were still considered dangerous and nearly knocked off top-ranked Notre Dame last month, falling in triple overtime.

Like Rutgers, Pitt is making a beeline for another conference. The Panthers will join the ACC next fall. Like Rutgers, Pitt is hoping to maximize its final days in the conference it has called home for the last two decades, even if the Panthers' goals at this point are a bit more modest than vying for a Bowl Championship Series berth.

Pitt needs to win each of its final two regular season games to become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season. It's not exactly the conference title the Panthers talked about in August, but it's something.

``We're definitely in touch with reality and what we have to do,'' wide receiver Devin Street said. ``We know we have to beat Rutgers. We know we have to beat South Florida, too. It's something we want to do for the seniors.''

A class that has seen more than its fair share of tumult. The Panthers have burned through four head coaches - six if you count a pair of interims - and more than a handful of missed opportunities over the last four years.

They believe they're heading in the right direction under first-year coach Paul Chryst, who has won the locker room over with his straightforward approach. It's only a matter of time, they figure, before winning games follows suit.

``The older guys we talk about it all the time, we hope (Chryst) stays around for a long time,'' senior center Ryan Turnley said. ``We think he can take this program to great heights. We think he's a great coach. We've had a lot of coaches and he's going to take Pitt where everyone wants to see.''

Delaying Rutgers' party for at least a week would be a step in the right direction.

Good luck with that.

The Scarlet Knights have been the Big East's biggest surprise, riding a dominant defense that has overcome the flurry of mistakes by sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, who has turned it over 11 times in the last four games. Save for a peculiar - not to mention stunning - upset loss to Kent State, Rutgers has been the steadiest team in a conference where teams look either great or awful from week to week.

The goal now is to not get caught looking ahead. A showdown with Louisville looms next weekend. First things first, however. And the Scarlet Knights can add a very big first if they can win their final meeting with Pitt for the foreseeable future.

``Obviously, we want to finish it up and be the lone Big East champions but we know that if we win this week we accomplish something that has never happened in school history,'' Nova said. ``It's an accomplishment in itself but as a team, as competitors, we want to play in a BCS bowl game and represent this school.''

Pitt didn't begin the season talking about playing spoiler. It's a role, however, they've relished in years past, none more memorable than an upset of rival West Virginia in 2007 that derailed the Mountaineers' hopes for a national title.

The stakes aren't quite as high this time, but the Panthers would love nothing more than to start building some forward momentum heading into the ACC while sending the 18 seniors out with a victory in their final home game.

``We're playing for the coaches, and we're playing for us as a team,'' defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. ``So, it would be great to win these last two games to be bowl eligible and give these seniors a bowl to go out with. That's why we're working so hard this week. We still have a lot to accomplish this season.''


Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

Quick Links

Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

Quick Links

Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

USA Today Sports Images

Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!