Counting down to signing day 2014: Quarterbacks

Written by Sam Werner on .

We've got just under two weeks to go until National Signing Day, so today I'm going to start going through Pitt's 2014 recruiting class position by position. Unlike last year (and most years) it doesn't look like there's going to be a lot of drama for the Panthers leading up to and on signing day. For as much fun as it was to watch Tyler Boyd dramatically reaffirm his commitment to Pitt last year, I'm sure Pitt fans (and, you know, reporters) will appreciate a low-stress signing day.
Before we start, a quick note on scholarship numbers. Pitt currently has 24 verbal commitments set so sign on Feb. 5. The Panthers had 84 players on scholarship last season, and 17 spots will open up with seniors leaving. That means that, if all the underclassmen came back and all 24 recruits signed, Pitt would be six over the maximum scholarship limit of 85. We know that running back Malcolm Crockett will be transferring, and defensive back Cullen Christian has been granted his release as well. I would also expect Brandon Felder, Brandon Ifill and Shane Johnson to not be with the team next year, but those are less set-in-stone. Regardless, this is a discussion that comes up every signing day, and it always ends up working out in the end. Usually, the number even gets down to 81 or 82 and the staff can hand out some walk-on scholarships.
All right, with that out of the way, let's start with the quarterback position...

Verbal commitments:
Wade Freebeck (6-4, 175 lbs)
St. Thomas Aquinas (Davie, Fla.)
Rivals: 3*, No. 29 pro-style QB
Scout: 2*, No. 86 QB
247: 3*, No. 50 pro-style QB

Adam Bertke (6-5, 210 lbs)
Marion High School (Maria Stein, Ohio)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 50 QB
247: 3*, No. 33 pro-style QB

While I don't expect either of these guys to unseat Chad Voytik as the starting quarterback during fall camp, I do think either one could end up being a long-term starter for Pitt. Freebeck is probably more ready to play soon just because of the level of competition he played in high school. Before his senior season, Freebeck transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most successful programs in the country, and led the Raiders to a 10-3 record this year.
Bertke, meanwhile, played against mostly-small school competition in Ohio. Bertke, though, is a very intriguing prospect because of his size. He's listed at 6-5, but I've heard reports that he could be even taller than that. He's a bit more of a project, but one that could pay off in the long run.
Pitt is in a less-than-ideal situation at quarterback because, since Tra'von Chapman was dismissed, Voytik has zero experienced competition for the starting job this year. Competition is always a good thing heading into training camp, and if Voytik goes down with a serious injury, Pitt could be in a really dire situation at quarterback. That said, though, both Bertke and Freebeck have potential and, while the immediate situation isn't great, the Panthers will hopefully be set up nicely at quarterback in two or three years.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Harry Potter world expanding in Orlando, a preview

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .


Kings Cross Station
London Embankment
HP and the Escape from Gringotts
Some news for Harry Potter fans from Universal Orlando: 
ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 23, 2014) —  Never before has a theme park created a guest experience like this: you climb aboard the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade and moments later arrive at King’s Cross Station —  where the wonders of London and Diagon Alley unfold before you.  And it is all real.
With this summer’s opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley, Universal Orlando Resort and Warner Bros. Entertainment will bring even more of Harry Potter’s adventures to life inside a new themed area that includes a revolutionary attraction experience, as well as all-new themed shops and dining.
The two companies today revealed first-ever details about the new area and the one-of-a-kind adventures it will offer the whole family.  It will double the size of the sweeping area already dedicated to Harry Potter’s adventures at Universal Orlando, expanding it across both Universal theme parks.
And — just like in the books and films — guests will be able to travel between the two areas aboard the iconic Hogwarts Express.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley will give visitors the exciting opportunity to: 
• Board the Hogwarts Express and journey between London’s King’s Cross Station (located in Universal Studios Florida) and Hogsmeade Station (located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure). The journey will be filled with views of London and the British countryside — as well as a few surprises. Park-to-park admission is required. 
• Experience a groundbreaking new, multi-dimensional thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which will place riders in the middle of an incredible adventure as they navigate their way through the perils of the Gringotts vaults.
• Witness the magical experience of a wand choosing a wizard at Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC, one of the wizarding world’s premier wand shops.
• Discover the darker side of magic in Knockturn Alley, the darkest of dark places that features Borgin and Burkes — a shop specializing in the Dark Arts that will offer a wide variety of Dark objects, such as Death Eater masks, skulls, and other sinister items.
•  Explore some of Diagon Alley’s famous shops, including:
Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, a vibrant shop featuring novelty items, magical jokes, and toys inspired by the books and films.
 Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, where guests will find a variety of wizardwear from Hogwarts school uniform ties, scarves and jumpers, to authentic wizard’s robes and character costumes.
Magical Menagerie, which features a collection of plush animals, such as owls and Hippogriffs.
Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, where guests can grab wizarding essentials such as telescopes, binoculars, armillary spheres, compasses, magnifying glasses and hourglasses.
Quality Quidditch Supplies, offering a wide assortment of apparel and equipment including Quidditch sweaters, brooms, Golden Snitches, Bludgers, Bludger bats, Quaffles and more.
 Scribbulus, featuring authentic writing implements and products such as feather quills, ink and inkwells, bookmarks, journals, parchment paper, seals, stationery sets and postcards..
 Enjoy traditional British fare that includes favorite dishes such as fish and chips, bangers and mash and more at the Leaky Cauldron.
Visit Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour for frozen treats in a variety of flavors such as strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice-cream and many others.
More details to come. For more information about the area, visit 
Hogsmeade StationDiagon AlleyWeasleys Wizard Wheezes
Florean Fortescues Ice-Cream Parlour


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Examining Robert Morris' NEC turnaround

Written by Craig Meyer on .

It's been written about and mentioned ad nauseam over the past several weeks, but the point remains the same -- for mid- and low-major schools, especially those that are struggling, conference play represents a fresh start to the season.

Robert Morris has more than exemplified that mindset so far. A team that seemed unable to generate any sort of momentum in non-conference play has found just that of late, winning its first four NEC games, two of which came on the road against what many figured to be two of the top squads in the league.

Sure, the team's resurgence is a testament to the power of second chances. But how has it happened? What's taking place now that wasn't as recently as two weeks ago?

Some of the reasons for the surge are more important than others, but a few factors have played at least some part in Robert Morris' recent winning ways:

The zone defense has taken hold -- and done so effectively

The first 15 games of the season were confounding not only because of the Colonials' inconsistency, but what was causing that inconsistency -- particularly on defense, a facet of the game in which the program was so accustomed to thriving.

Andy Toole is a man that is normally very committed to man-to-man principles on defense, but he's also a very good coach. He noticed that his defense was having problems and made the necessary decision to switch to a matchup 2-3 zone.

As with everything, there were growing pains in the switch, especially for a group of players so accustomed to playing man-to-man. There are still some elements of a traditional man defense in the scheme (it's not like Syracuse's zone), but it was an adjustment nonetheless.

Since the switch has been made, the team's defensive numbers have improved. In the Colonials' first nine games, they gave up an average of 1.12 points per possession. In the 10 games since, that number has dropped to 1.09. Granted, that's not a huge drop, but it's an improvement, nonetheless. From a points per game allowed standpoint, those numbers have gone from 80.2 to 73.4. I will stress, though, that points per game isn't the best statistical measure, solely because it doesn't take tempo into consideration.

While the switch to zone has made a noticeable impression, the start of NEC play has brought about a more drastic improvement on defense. Robert Morris allowed 1.12 points per possession in its 15 non-conference games, but in its four NEC contests, it has allowed 1.03 points per possession. The former of those stats would rank RMU as the 323rd-best team in Division I (which has 351 teams). The latter would rank them as the 189th-best.

Is the defense where it has been in the past for the Colonials? No. But there's little doubt that the zone has taken hold for this team and with the scheme more firmly in place, Robert Morris has begun to thrive.

The schedule has been easier

For all the strides that the Colonials have made, it would be an incomplete picture of improvement if their opposition wasn't mentioned. Part of the redemption narrative exists in conference play is because, in some cases, the schedule starts to ease up for a team that plays in a smaller league like the NEC. For Robert Morris, that's been the case.

As disconcerting as the 5-10 start was at times, it didn't exist in a vacuum -- that is, Robert Morris played some pretty good teams during that stretch. Since I started covering basketball my sophomore year at Boston University, when the schedule of the team I'm covering comes out, I go through it pick out the "There's no way in hell they're winning that one" games. This season, I picked out Kentucky and Oklahoma State for the Colonials, two road games against preseason top-10 teams.

And it wasn't just those two teams that presented stringent challenges. Five of RMU's other non-conference opponents -- Toledo (65), Alabama (87), Delaware (93), Cleveland State (95) and Eastern Michigan (96) -- are all ranked among the top 100 teams in the KenPom rankings. So, for those of you doing the math at home, seven of the Colonials' first 15 games -- and seven of their 10 losses -- came against the top 100 teams in the country.

Obviously, since NEC play has started, that has changed.

The average KenPom ranking of Robert Morris' first 15 opponents was 142.2 (again, there are 351 DI teams). Meanwhile, its first four NEC opponents carry an average ranking of 251.3 and best team in that stretch (No. 149 Bryant) is rated lower than the non-conference average.

As the competition has eased up, the Colonials have started to find their way.

The 3-point shooting has been ridiculous

This reason's something of an add-in because in the grand scheme of things, it's not nearly as important as the first two. But you need three for a solid list, so here you go.

It's not as if Robert Morris has improved in an area of need; after all, it made 39.5 percent of its 3s in non-conference play (121 of 306), which is better than all but 28 teams in Division I have shot for the season.

It's simply been a matter of the Colonials being unconscious from deep of recent, draining 47 percent of their 3s in their four NEC games. For some context, the top 3-point shooting team in Division I -- Rider -- is making 42.4 percent of its treys this season. Undoubtedly, more than some of this uptick can be tied back to Karvel Anderson, who has made 56.3 percent of his 3s the past four games (18 of 32).

Much like his team, Anderson's 3-point percentage in non-conference play was already more than respectable (45.4), but over the past two weeks, it's just been something else entirely.

The question now becomes how sustainable this improvement is in these three different areas of the game. While the 3-point success is going to be hard to replicate the rest of the season, there's no reason to think some of this can't continue.

The grind of conference play can weigh on teams, but Robert Morris has already played the highest-rated team in its conference (Bryant) and that came on the road in a win. KenPom predicts the Colonials will lose two more games in NEC play -- at St. Francis and at Wagner -- so expect the relative lack of competition to be a constant.

The defense is more of a toss-up, one that could ultimately define the team's season. The Colonials rank 231st in Division I in adjusted defensive efficiency, which isn't great, but it is surprisingly enough the fourth-best mark among the NEC's 10 teams (offensively, they're 95th in the country and second in the conference). This is far from the strongest defensive league, so this doesn't necessarily need to be a traditionally-stifling RMU defense. And as the season progresses and the team works to get even better at the matchup zone, this kind of defensive improvement could continue.

Whether or not they're sustainable, those three factors have salvaged the Colonials' season at a critical juncture. And, at least for now, that's been good enough.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Divergent soundtrack details; can be pre-ordered Jan. 24

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .


Interscope Records will partner with Summit Entertainment to release the soundtrack to “Divergent” on March 11. 
It will feature a new song by multi-platinum British singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding, titled “Beating Heart” as well as songs from Goulding’s sophomore album, Halcyon. Goulding will also contribute vocals for the film’s score composed by electronic artist Junkie XL and executive produced by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer.
The film, which is based on the best-selling novel “Divergent” by Veronica Roth, is one of the most anticipated movies of 2014. It will arrive on IMAX and other screens March 21 and stars Shailene Woodley (photo above).
“We started working on the film with songs from Ellie Goulding’s album Halcyon and soon found that the texture of her music and the tone of her voice matched perfectly with our film,” said director Neil Burger. “In many ways Ellie has become the inner voice of our heroine Tris.”
In addition to “Beating Heart,” the soundtrack album will feature new music by Zedd (the track “Find You,” featuring Matthew Koma and Miriam Bryant) and more artists to be announced soon.
North American fans can pre-order Divergent: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack exclusively at starting Friday, January 24. Pre-order bundle options include the soundtrack on 12” picture disc vinyl, as well as a pre-order exclusive poster with the names of fans who order, plus more to be announced soon. 
keyartpromo1800x506 art


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Hooker scores 36 with Meyer watching

Written by Mike White on .

Some items that fell off my laptop.

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer stopped at New Castle High School two nights ago to see one of his recruits. He should have bought some popcorn, a soda and enjoyed the basketball show that Malik Hooker put on for his future coach.

Malik HookerHooker, who made a verbal commitment to Ohio State last summer, tied a career-high with 36 points in a 93-61 victory against Pine-Richland. Hooker made 14 of 16 shots from the field and also pulled down 10 rebounds.

Hooker (pictured) is now averaging 23.2 points. There is no doubt in my mind some mid-major colleges would have been interested in Hooker for basketball if he hadn't already decided on football. But he would not have been as heavily recruited as he was in football.

As for Meyer, while in the area, he reportedly stopped at Central Valley High School. Ohio State is one of the many colleges that have already offered Central Valley defensive back Jordan Whitehead.

Only at New Castle

The New Castle boys basketball team has quite the fan following the past few seasons. It's great to see.

How big is the following? Well, how many schools do you think there are in Western Pa. that request 300 tickets presale for a road game about an hour away against a 9-8 team?

But that's exactly what happened for the New Castle at North Hills game tomorrow night. New Castle asked North Hills athletic director Kevin Deitrick for 300 tickets ahead of time.

About Aloi's transfer

Ellwood City basketball coach Anthony Ovial had no comment on the transfer of Nick Aloi to Lincoln Park.

Aloi averaged 15 points a game as a freshman and showed plenty of promise. He hasn't played this season because of a torn ACL. Then Tuesday, he enrolled at Lincoln Park, a charter school in Midland that has the No. 1-ranked Class A basketball team in the state.

Ellwood City principal Kirk Lape also had no comment about the case. Is it a blow to Ellwood City? Well, consider that Aloi's grandfather, Frank Aloi Sr., is superintendent of Ellwood City schools. Nick Aloi's father, Frank Jr. and Dan, played for some strong Ellwood City teams in the mid 1980s..

Nola to return

Tom Nola has decided to return for another year as Clairton's football coach.

Like the past few offseasons, Nola was seriously contemplating retirement. But he said today that he is coming back.

Making the same points

What are the chances that two players from the same team would play 16 games, and their point totals would be only one point apart?

Ambridge's Stephon McGinnis has 309 points in 16 games, a 19.31 average. Teammate Dayton Carter has 308 points in 16 games, a 19.25 average.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.