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Jamel Artis: Pros & Cons of Playing Point Guard

The Pittsburgh Panthers are still searching for answers at point guard. What are the pros and cons of giving Jamel Artis the keys to the offense?

There is plenty of buzz around new head coach Kevin Stallings taking over the program after 17 successful years under Jamie Dixon. Still, the departure of former point guard James Robinson has perhaps generated even more discussion. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the conversation isn’t about how great Robinson was for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Instead, there’s a glaring hole at the floor general position that everyone seems to have an opinion on who’s going to fill it.

The up-tempo style of play that Stallings is trying to install would seem to favor all three of the "traditional" point guards on the roster. Sophomore Damon Wilson is very much unproven, but Dixon once lauded Wilson for how dynamic he was in transition in high school. Junior Jonathan Milligan has the type of suddenness that tends to shine at a faster pace. Perhaps newcomer Justice Kithcart can carry over his stellar play from the Pittsburgh Pro-Am (virtually impossible against actual defenses). With all that said if Tuesday’s workout was any indication, senior "forward" Jamel Artis seemingly has the edge. He even told the media, "I’m the point guard."

While the first official practice begins today, let’s quickly go over the pros and cons of Artis playing point guard.

Pros:

Artis is probably the best passer currently on the roster. Couple that with the fact he has a developed chemistry with everyone that he’ll log major minutes with, presumably, and it’s easy to see why this is a somewhat logical choice.

Going up-tempo should allow Artis to make passes in transition and against defenses that aren’t set. In those situations, there is less creation involved and more about just naturally playing to his abilities. I’d imagine that another capable ball handler will be on the court with Artis, which will also alleviate some of the ball handling duties.

At a listed 6’7", his size presents a lot of problems to smaller players who try to defend him. Artis will enjoy unobscured vision against the smaller players, and maintain a quickness advantage against most opposing frontcourt players. Teams will definitely have to create a unique game plan against Pitt, which will is a nice subtle advantage, potentially.

Cons:

Personally, it’s not exactly ideal that Artis is the team’s best passer, because he’s also their most natural scorer. Striking a balance between when to pass and when to score isn’t an easy one to find for a lot of players. There were times last season that it appeared as those he was still adjusting to being the top player listed on opposing scouting reports, as well as being out on the perimeter even more. This season, he’ll have to be even more comfortable in that role along with setting up his teammates.

Half-court offense will still account for a majority of the points that the Panthers score. How accustom will Artis be at resetting plays? Will he naturally get his teammates to stay active, and swing the ball to open players based off their movement? How patient will Artis be for players who are denied a first look for an open pass, but then fight for a second one? Basically, this feeds into my first point, but to a greater degree.

If you go with Artis at the point, does this shatter the confidence of Wilson and Kithcart? I think Milligan is best suited as a rotation player who can provide a lot of energy off the bench. However, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether Wilson should move off the ball. True point guards don’t want to give up the ball or the leadership role. As an incumbent player who probably knows the history of recent point guards who’ve been handed the keys to the car once the player in front of them graduates, this could really damage him mentally. Kithcart is a true freshman, but seems like a hungry player who should push for playing time right away. Are you stunting his growth by pushing him further down the depth chart by starting Artis?

Of course there are several other pros and cons, and that’s what’s so fascinating about the prospect of Artis being the starting point guard this season. Pitt could easily start any of the aforementioned point guards, but simply put the ball in his hands more than anyone else. Still, it would be a somewhat flashy move by Stallings that shows everyone he isn’t afraid to think outside the box and utilize his players to their fullest.

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 @Stephen_Gertz

Fans pay tribute to Arnold Palmer at Ryder Cup

As the Ryder Cup begins Friday, golf fans continue to pay tribute to the memory of Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday in Pittsburgh at age 87.

At Hazeltine National Golf Course, two giant posters outside the merchandise tent give fans a chance to write a message to “The King.”

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The PGA of America put up the posters as a way to give fans a way to interact with the legend.

The posters measure 12 feet by 12 feet. One shows a young Palmer following through on his golf swing, while the other one shows him reading a putt. The posters display Palmer’s distinctive signature and invites fans to “Please Pay Tribute to Mr. Palmer.”

The left side of the poster says “In Memory, 1929-2016.”

Wednesday afternoon, spectators were signing the posters and writing messages to their idol. Other fans snapped photos with their cellphones.

Palmer competed in six Ryder Cups and was a non-playing captain in the 1975 event. He was a playing member in 1961, ’63 (when was the playing captain), ’65, ’67, ’71 and ’73.

He won 62 PGA Tour events and seven major titles during his professional career.

Four games into the season, Ejuan Price is Pitt's Most Valuable Player

Much of this season has been spent complaining about a Pitt defense that struggled to keep teams from scoring. The Panthers' defensive unit played a good game against FCS Villanova, holding them to only seven points and 172 yards of total offense. But since then, they've allowed 121 points to Penn State, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina.

It's easy to lump the collective problems of the defense and put all of the players into one basket. But one guy that's stood out and has done more than his fair share is defensive end Ejuan Price.

Price is not only having a great year, but four games into the season, he is the team's Most Valuable Player.

Price's season is easy to miss since we tend to focus on offense, but it shouldn't be. Through four games this year, he's proven to be one of the most dominant linemen in college football.

Before the season started, I wondered aloud if Price could put up similar numbers to his 2015 season. For the first time in his career he was healthy and made the All-ACC's First Team with 19 1/2 tackles for losses and 11 1/2 sacks. Nearly half of those sacks (five) came in a single game against Louisville and if you take that out of the equation, his numbers became much more pedestrian. But Price is proving that last year was no fluke.

Despite the fact that opposing offenses are more aware of him now after last season, he's been even more dominant than he was last year. Price already has 5 1/2 sacks, putting him on a pace to produce over one per game, and that is good for second in the FBS. His 9 1/2 tackles for losses are even better as he leads all of Division I in that category.

Price also led the nation in forced fumbles (with three) going into last week. He isn't only taking guys down behind the line of scrimmage but he's giving the defense turnover opportunities. And if that isn't enough, he also recorded a safety already, grabbing one against the Tar Heels last weekend.

Consider, too, that Price's numbers have nearly been even bigger. He leads the team in quarterback hurries with seven. Interested in knowing how many that is? No one else on the team has more than two.

Now, while Pitt's opponents have loaded up on the pass (in theory, giving him more pass rush opportunities), he's obviously been extremely impressive. And consider, as I said before, that he isn't an unknown commodity anymore. Teams are prepared for him and he's still finding a way to wreak havoc. It's similar to what Aaron Donald did in 2013 when teams routinely double-teamed him and he still beat them. Plus, Pitt's competition hasn't exactly been a cakewalk so far. In addition to the rivalry game with Penn State, both Oklahoma State and North Carolina are potential Top 25 teams.

Just how dominant is Price's year? Compare him to Donald's 2013 season when he was college football's most heralded defensive player. That year, Donald finished his season with 11 sacks and 28 1/2 tackles for losses. Those numbers, of course, are a premium since he compiled them on the inside of the line while Price is at end. But Price is on a pace to double Donald's sacks and record nearly ten more tackles for losses. There's still a lot of football to be played but Price is playing at a First-Team All-American level right now.

Many fans will be inclined to give Pitt's quarter-year MVP award to Quadree Henderson. That's fair. I picked him to be the team's breakout player of the year and, well, he's far and away that guy right now. Henderson, as I recently wrote, leads the nation in all-purpose yardage due in large part to his special teams work. But while he's having a huge year, I'm still inclined to go with Price. Henderson is part of a diverse offense with other guys stepping up. Running back James Conner leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards while being on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing year. George Aston's three touchdowns at fullback are second only to Conner. Jester Weah's 137 receiving yards are actually also more than Henderson has.

Price, meanwhile, is in another league compared to his defensive counterparts. No one has even half as many sacks or hurries as he has on defense and some of his plays, like the safety against North Carolina, have been really big. Simply put, Henderson hasn't had to carry the same load as Price.

Pitt's defense needs quite a bit of work if the team is going to put together a successful season but there's no doubt that Price isn't part of the problem. Several Pitt players on offense, such as Henderson and Conner, are having big seasons. But four games into the year, Price is my pick for the team's Most Valuable Player.

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.

Fan backs up Ryders Cup trash talk by making putt PGA stars couldn’t

A fan at the Ryder Cup won a spot in the Heckler’s Hall of Fame by nailing a putt Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan could not during a practice round Thursday.

A video shows the heckler making jokes as he practices his putt before hitting the ball. 

>> Read more trending stories

The crowd erupts with cheers and applause as the ball goes in the hole and the heckler pumps his fists in the air.

This is enough to get even Allen Iverson excited about practice.

Whatever he does with that $100, it probably won’t be spent on a drink anywhere golfers hang out.

The Brawl is Back: Pitt to face WVU in basketball

Pitt and West Virginia to resume hoops series

The University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University announced today that the two schools will renew the Backyard Brawl on the hardwood. The series will be a four year deal with the first game being in Pittsburgh next season and again in 2019, while West Virginia will host the game in 2018 and 2020.

Pitt and West Virginia have met 184 times throughout history, with the Mountaineers edging the Panthers 96-88. According to the press release on the official Pitt website, the Panthers have won 10 of the past 14 meetings, including five of the past six games held at the Petersen Events Center.

The game has always been a spirited rivalry, and new Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings acknowledged that as well while watching from the outside.

“I saw the passion and intensity of the Pitt-West Virginia series from afar and felt it was important that we work to renew the series,” said head coach Kevin Stallings. “Our goal in scheduling is to put together games that will generate great interest from our amazing fan base as well as prepare our team for conference and postseason play. Bob Huggins is an outstanding coach and competing against his program enables us to accomplish both of those things. I can’t wait to witness this rivalry firsthand.”

One of requests by the fan base to new athletic director Scott Barnes was to upgrade the basketball non-conference schedule. Whether it was warranted or not, the non-conference schedule by Jamie Dixon in recent years was under heavy fire by both the fans and the media. Barnes has listened to a degree, and getting a home and home with West Virginia is a great start. It’s a competitive game for one, and one filled with passion. Some of Pitt’s old Big East rivalries still resonates more with the fan base than games against ACC opponents.

The Backyard Brawl will be coming back in football in a few years as well. Last September the two schools got together and made that official. With West Virginia off in the Big 12 and Pitt is the ACC, the rivalry has more less died. Conference realignment has claimed plenty of rivalry casualties, but it’s nice to see Pitt and West Virginia get this done, especially in basketball. Scheduling games in football is complicated that takes years of planning. Basketball, on the other hand, takes very little effort. It’s been a shame the game has been on a three season hiatus.

This rivalry has provided many memorable moments. Since the 2001-02 revival of Pitt basketball, the two programs have played in some epic showdowns. West Virginia made the final four in 2010, and they have a fantastic team that crushed Pitt in Morgantown. Nine days later, however, a scrappy Pitt team defeated the Mountaineers in Triple overtime 98-95 in perhaps the craziest game in Petersen Events Center history.

There was also the 2008 game that will be remembered for the Ronald Ramon buzzer beater to beat the Mountaineers 55-54. One more that sticks out is when the 14th ranked Panthers beat the 9th ranked Mountaineers 57-53 on February 10, 2006. It will be remembered mostly for the shutout of an all-time Pitt villain, Kevin Pittsnogle. He was held scoreless on 0-12 shooting.

What has made this rivalry great the past 10-15 years or so, has been the emergence of both basketball programs. Jamie Dixon had Pitt as a perennial top 25 team making the tournament annually while a member of the Big East conference. John Beilein and then Bob Huggins had West Virginia enjoying similar success. Every time the two teams met in recent memory, it seemed to be a nationally televised game with either one or both teams in the top 25. Meaningful showdowns against a local rival makes for fun games. It may not be the same as it was in the Big East, but the renewal of the Backyard Brawl is a positive measure for both programs.

The Brawl is Back

Pitt and West Virginia to resume hoops series

The University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University announced today that the two schools will renew the Backyard Brawl on the hardwood. The series will be a four year deal with the first game being in Pittsburgh next season and again in 2019, while West Virginia will host the game in 2018 and 2020.

Pitt and West Virginia have met 184 times throughout history, with the Mountaineers edging the Panthers 96-88. According to the press release on the official Pitt website, the Panthers have won 10 of the past 14 meetings, including five of the past six games held at the Petersen Events Center.

The game has always been a spirited rivalry, and new Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings acknowledged that as well while watching from the outside.

“I saw the passion and intensity of the Pitt-West Virginia series from afar and felt it was important that we work to renew the series,” said head coach Kevin Stallings. “Our goal in scheduling is to put together games that will generate great interest from our amazing fan base as well as prepare our team for conference and postseason play. Bob Huggins is an outstanding coach and competing against his program enables us to accomplish both of those things. I can’t wait to witness this rivalry firsthand.”

One of requests by the fan base to new athletic director Scott Barnes was to upgrade the basketball non-conference schedule. Whether it was warranted or not, the non-conference schedule by Jamie Dixon in recent years was under heavy fire by both the fans and the media. Barnes has listened to a degree, and getting a home and home with West Virginia is a great start. It’s a competitive game for one, and one filled with passion. Some of Pitt’s old Big East rivalries still resonates more with the fan base than games against ACC opponents.

The Backyard Brawl will be coming back in football in a few years as well. Last September the two schools got together and made that official. With West Virginia off in the Big 12 and Pitt is the ACC, the rivalry has more less died. Conference realignment has claimed plenty of rivalry casualties, but it’s nice to see Pitt and West Virginia get this done, especially in basketball. Scheduling games in football is complicated that takes years of planning. Basketball, on the other hand, takes very little effort. It’s been a shame the game has been on a three season hiatus.

This rivalry has provided many memorable moments. Since the 2001-02 revival of Pitt basketball, the two programs have played in some epic showdowns. West Virginia made the final four in 2010, and they have a fantastic team that crushed Pitt in Morgantown. Nine days later, however, a scrappy Pitt team defeated the Mountaineers in Triple overtime 98-95 in perhaps the craziest game in Petersen Events Center history.

There was also the 2008 game that will be remembered for the Ronald Ramon buzzer beater to beat the Mountaineers 55-54. One more that sticks out is when the 14th ranked Panthers beat the 9th ranked Mountaineers 57-53 on February 10, 2006. It will be remembered mostly for the shutout of an all-time Pitt villain, Kevin Pittsnogle. He was held scoreless on 0-12 shooting.

What has made this rivalry great the past 10-15 years or so, has been the emergence of both basketball programs. Jamie Dixon had Pitt as a perennial top 25 team making the tournament annually while a member of the Big East conference. John Beilein and then Bob Huggins had West Virginia enjoying similar success. Every time the two teams met in recent memory, it seemed to be a nationally televised game with either one or both teams in the top 25. Meaningful showdowns against a local rival makes for fun games. It may not be the same as it was in the Big East, but the renewal of the Backyard Brawl is a positive measure for both programs.

Marshall Starting QB Chase Litton expected to play vs. Pitt

The top passer returns after missing last week’s game with a concussion

Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Panthers’ success in defending the pass against Marshall on Saturday may rest on which quarterback they see. It appears like they’ll be fully tested as the Thundering Herd’s starter, Chase Litton, returns to the lineup after missing their last game with a concussion.

Litton returned to practice on Tuesday and all signs point to him playing against Pitt. That obviously makes things more difficult for the Panthers.

So far this year, the sophomore quarterback has been pretty good. In the team’s opener, he threw for 309 yards and six passes against Morgan State before being pulled in a 62-0 blowout win. Against Akron, he was forced into three interceptions but still threw for 413 yards and four more touchdowns. Litton has also been pretty accurate, connecting on nearly 62% of his passes.

Obviously, he hasn’t seen anything like the Pitt defense yet. And with the three picks in an ugly loss to Akron, he’s been proven to make a few mistakes. But the amount of yards he’s passed for in those two games should be concerning for a Pitt secondary that’s struggled mightily the last two weeks.

Litton’s replacement, true freshman Garet Morrell, didn’t fare too well against Louisville last week. He was only 9-21 on the day with 59 passing yards. Suffice to say, facing him would have given Pitt’s secondary a much better chance at success. That’s not to suggest they can’t stop Litton, but there’s obviously no comparison between the two right now.

Hopefully Pitt’s secondary can step up to the challenge on Saturday.

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.

Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert pays Charlotte body shop $3,900 in coins

Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said he paid a car repair shop over $3,000 in coins after they wouldn’t accept his check.

In an Instagram post Tuesday, Tolbert warned anyone in Charlotte and the surrounding area to avoid the body shop.

Queen City and surrounding areas!!!! If you need any motor work or anything done to your car I urge you DO NOT I repeat DO NOT go to this place! I was quoted a price and a 10 day completion time frame!!! 2 1/2 months later still not done and upped the price from the original quote! Terrible business and owner! I expected a level of professionalism that I did not receive and the owner expected me to pay more because I'm "a millionaire"!!!! Charlotte beware they are crooks to the fullest extent!!! A photo posted by Mike Tolbert (@yogidagreat35) on Sep 26, 2016 at 3:24pm PDT

He said he was quoted a price and a 10-day completion time frame, but after 2 1/2 months later, the repairs were still not done, and the shop upped the price form the original quote.

>> Read more trending stories  

“I expected a level of professionalism that I did not receive, and the owner expected me to pay more, because I'm ‘a millionaire,’" Tolbert said.

Tolbert spoke to the media Wednesday, saying he went to the bank and got $3,900 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

“So what kind of respectable establishment won’t take a check? So they wouldn’t take my check. They said it wasn’t going to clear the bank, so I was like, ‘Hmm, you throwing shots. I got one for you.’ So I went to the bank and got $3,900 in coins.”

When asked what did the body shop say? “Oh they was upset. You’ve got to sit there and count, basically, four grand in coins, you’ll be mad too. They got what they asked for,” Tolbert said. 

The body shop responded with a Facebook post saying:

"From the beginning, he attempted to get us to do work for free because he is 'Mike Tolbert.' So today, I am disappointed that it came to this, I had to call the police on Mike Tolbert. He and his buddy threatened me. CMPD actually banned him from the property today. They forced him to pay his bill before leaving though."

The body shop's response has been removed. 

Heartbreaking video shows Jose Fernandez's joy when he learned he was having a daughter

In August, Jose Fernandez nervously cut into a cake with his smiling, pregnant girlfriend, Maria Arias, nearby.

POR FIN YA ME TOCABA SER ABUELOPosted by Orlando A. Sanfiel on Thursday, August 11, 2016

The cake was pink. The two were going to have a baby girl.

“I knew it! I knew it!” Fernandez can be heard saying in a video posted on Facebook by Arias’ father, Orlando A. Sanfiel.

It was clear the Marlins’ star pitcher was excited to be a dad.

>> Watch the heartbreaking video here

On Wednesday, Fernandez's teammates, family and friends celebrated the 24-year-old’s life, which was cut short Sunday in a fatal boating wreck that also killed two of his friends.

The Marlins held a public memorial service for Fernandez, starting with the departure of the funeral motorcade, which was followed by a public viewing at St. Brendan's Catholic Church.

As the motorcade entered the roads alongside Marlins Park, fans could be heard chanting, “Jose!"

The funeral motorcade departed from the park at 2:16 p.m., a time set in honor of Fernandez’s jersey number, but not before his teammates had an opportunity to pay their respects and surround the hearse.

>> WATCH: Dee Gordon pays tribute to Jose Fernandez with emotional home run

The procession came with the sobering reality that this would be the last time that Fernandez’s body, a body that just days ago represented the hopes of a fan base and the city's Cuban community, would be at Marlins Park.

Following the departure of the hearse, Marlins Tom Koehler and David Phelps went over to the memorial wall that was set up by the Marlins and left their friend and teammate one final note.

Several other teammates also took time to sign the memorial wall.

>> Read more trending stories

Fernandez’s family, including his grandmother, who was wearing a Marlins jersey with pink lettering, arrived at the church a short time after the procession departed.

Following a priest blessing the casket, Fernandez’s family placed his All-Star Game and Marlins jerseys on the casket.

Doctor Robert: Pitt-Marshall Injury Report

Here’s a look at the Panthers’ injuries heading into this week

Since the ACC requires its members to provide injury reports for in-conference matchups, Pitt released an official report last week. But with the Panthers playing a non-conference team this weekend, that’s not mandatory so we’re left a little more in the dark.

The good news is that it didn’t seem like there were any major injuries coming out of the North Carolina game. However, the team does still have some injury news to watch for this week.

The latest injury news was surrounding starting linebacker Mike Caprara, who didn’t play against the Tar Heels with a ‘lower body injury.’ If you’re keeping score at home, Caprara is already the second key linebacker to miss time with Elijah Zeise out for the season. Head coach Pat Narduzzi said during his press conference this week that he expects Caprara to play.

Keep in mind, however, that Caprara was listed as probable for the North Carolina game and wound up not playing, so it’s hard to tell at this point. Plus, Craig Meyer of the Post-Gazette noted that Caprara and fellow linebacker Bam Bradley were wearing yellow jerseys at practice on Wednesday, meaning they weren’t full participants. Obviously something to watch going forward.

Another key thing here is that freshman cornerback Damar Hamlin could be on the field sooner rather than later. He’s been a full participant in practice per several media members on Twitter and seems like he could be ready to go soon. Pitt’s cornerbacks have struggled so far but the question is when Hamlin could be ready to play after having missed so much time.

Finally, on top of the season ending injuries, wide receiver Dontez Ford will obviously miss this one since he’s expected to be out for quite a while longer with his shoulder injury. Head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t commented much on Ford, but Ford’s high school coach did confirm that he underwent surgery earlier this month. His loss continues to hurt as the team hopes to improve upon its passing game.

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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