Panthers eager to get last Big East season started

Panthers eager to get last Big East season started

PITTSBURGH (AP) Tray Woodall found the note stashed in his locker recently, a not-so subtle message from the Pitt coaching staff. The note contained an article ranking college basketball's top point guards. The senior scanned down until he found his name somewhere in the mid-30s.

If the coaches were looking to get a rise out of Woodall, it didn't exactly work.

``I'm not in high school anymore,'' he said. ``It was cool back in the days to tell guys, `Yeah I'm Top 10' ... it' doesn't even matter now.''

There are more pressing matters for Woodall these days than where he stacks up against his peers, namely returning the Panthers to their usual perch near the top of the Big East.

The road back begins on Friday when Pitt hosts Mount St. Mary's in the season opener. It is a chance for Woodall and his teammates to start moving forward after the most disappointing year of coach Jamie Dixon's remarkably successful tenure.

Pitt went 22-17 last winter, but missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade. The Panthers managed to win the College Basketball Invitational, but don't expect there to be a banner-hoisting ceremony.

Ask Woodall about what happened last year, and the letters ``CBI'' never escape his mouth. While the tournament allowed Pitt to end the season on an up note, the only image that sticks with Woodall are the games he sat out due to a lingering abdominal injury.

``I've got a bad taste in my mouth just because I missed so many games,'' Woodall said. ``I feel like I owe a lot of people. I feel like I missed so many games. I'm just ready to play in a whole season.''

So are the rest of the Panthers, who believe a dash of new faces will help return some of the swagger they lacked a year ago.

Dixon typically makes freshmen watch and learn early in the season before giving them a heavy workload, but guard James Robinson and center Steven Adams will both start as a reward for their attention to detail on defense.

``Right now they're defending the best,'' Dixon said. ``We've just got to sustain it and keep everybody going. We're going to play a lot of guys. I hope some guys (on the bench) make some strides, make some improvements.''

Robinson's rise has pushed Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler to a reserve role and allowed Woodall a little more freedom on offense. Too often last season the Panthers looked lost offensively when the ball wasn't in Woodall's sure hands.

Those issues appear to be solved. Robinson didn't turn the ball over once while playing 49 minutes during a pair of exhibition victories.

``We thought he'd be good, but he's probably a little better than we thought going in with his quickness, his athleticism,'' Dixon said. ``His strength is probably something you don't expect as a freshman.''

Playing two point guards also lets Dixon turn up the pressure defensively. Pitt has long been one of the best half-court defensive teams in the country. Dixon is adding a dash of full-court pressure to help the Panthers up the tempo.

Pitt was 269th in the country in turnover margin last season, a number that needs to improve considerably if the Panthers want to exit the Big East on top. Pitt has won more conference titles - four regular season, two postseason - than any other Big East school since 2000, but is heading to the ACC next summer.

Woodall won't be around when the transition happens. All he is focused on is restoring a sense of order after a season in which everything just felt out of whack.

``We're all out to prove everybody wrong,'' he said. ``We want to exceed expectations and play beyond everybody else's thinking.''

Playing better at home would help. Pitt was nearly unbeatable at the Petersen Events Center until last winter. The Panthers lost 12 times in the arena's first nine years of existence. Last year they lost at home seven times. Dixon would love to see his team get back to making the ``Pete'' one of the more intimidating gyms in the country.

``There's an edge, no question about it,'' he said. ``I think every team has an edge at this point. It's just about how they handle adversity, who improves, who doesn't. We're excited about going forward here. We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of improvement to make and we better continue on that path.''


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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.


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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.


Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.


Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.


Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.


Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.