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Local product McConnell commits to Colonials

Written by Craig Meyer on .

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The McConnell name is one that resonates in Pittsburgh basketball circles, from Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell to Pitt women's basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. For at least the next five years, another member of the family will be taking their talents to a higher level -- and doing so without having to travel too far.

Chartiers Valley senior guard Matty McConnell tweeted Thursday night that he has committed to Robert Morris, becoming the first member of the 2015 class for the Colonials.

"I just thought they were the best fit for me," McConnell told the Post-Gazette's Mike White.

The six-foot McConnell averaged 21.8 points per game in the regular season as a junior before helping lead the Colts to the WPIAL Class AAA championship. He is the younger brother of T.J., who played at Duquesne before transferring to Arizona after his sophomore season, and is the son of Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell.

I've gotten the chance to watch McConnell play a few times, one of which saw him score 32 points in his first game back after an appendectomy, and have always come away impressed. He's an excellent outside shooter and brings a high level of intensity on the defensive end. It's impossible to predict a player's production in college, but personality-wise, I see him meshing very well with Andy Toole.

McConnell's commitment adds to what's been a recent swell of WPIAL prospects for Robert Morris. After having two local products on the team from the beginning of the 2006-07 season to the end of last season, the Colonials could potentially have at least three by the time the 2015-16 season tips off (McConnell, Elijah Minnie and Ryan Skovranko).

 

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

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Boyd to return punts against B.C. and other pregame notes

Written by Sam Werner on .

It has become obvious as the week has progressed that the dislocated finger Tyler Boyd suffered in the season opener against Delaware is a decidedly minor injury, and won't keep him out in any way against Boston College tomorrow night. Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Wednesday that there will probably be some discomfort and pain tolerance for Boyd, but that it wasn't something he anticipated being a big deal.

"It's going to be inconvenient I think for him," Chryst said. "But he'll deal with it."

Chryst went on to confirm that Boyd will, in fact, continue to return punts against the Eagles tomorrow night. There's obviously a risk there (considering he got hurt on a punt return last week) but Chryst feels strongly that Pitt's best chances to score points generally come when Boyd has the ball in his hands (he's not wrong) and punt returns are one more chance to give him the ball and let him try to do something special. Here are a few other notes as Pitt prepares for tomorrow night's ACC opener against the Eagles...

- One of the biggest challenges Pitt will face defensively tomorrow will be containing Boston College dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy. Murphy, a Florida transfer, led the Eagles in passing (173 yards) and rushing (118) in their season-opening win against Massachusetts last week. One guy I think will be key to that effort on defense is linebacker Bam Bradley. Bradley isn't listed as a starter on the depth chart, but is one of the two linebackers in Pitt's first-team nickel package, which will see a lot of action when the Eagles spread things out tomorrow. Under Steve Addazio, Boston College isn't a "spread" team, per se, but facing a quarterback like Murphy means the defense will likely need as much speed on the field as it can get, and that will likely include a healthy amount of Bradley.
"I think he'd be important no matter who we're playing," Chryst said of Bradley. "I think he did some good things. Bam is one of those guys where when he knows what he's doing — which takes a little bit of time, he's still young — he's a good football player. I hope he's good versus the spread and I hope he's good when they're not in the spread."

- The running back carries were split dead even, 14/14/14, between James Conner, Chris James and Rachid Ibrahim last week. In what figures to be a closer game tomorrow night, I would expect the carries to skew a little bit more towards Conner.
"I think we'll see how things go," Chryst said. "We were pretty fortunate to be able to get a lot of guys really quality reps. You have to see how the game goes."

- In case you missed it, we had two Pitt pieces in today's Post-Gazette. First, my story on the depth and experience that is allowing the Panthers to move things around on the offensive line. And, secondly, my colleague Gene Collier sat down with new Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher and talked with him about what role athletics play within the landscape of a university.

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Dozen predictions to go .... Pine-Richland has something to prove

Written by Mike White on .

It's the end of the week, so it's time for ...

A dozen predictions to go

Here are picks for 12 top games around the district this week:

Last week's record: 8-4

CLASS AAAA

Pine-Richland at North Allegheny - North Allegheny could have - and maybe should have - lost last week to Seneca Valley, but didn't. Pine-Richland has a truckload of starters back from last year and certainly plenty of potential. Beating North Allegheny would definitely prove the Rams are one of the top five teams in Class AAAA. But until they prove it ... Winner: North Allegheny.

This is certainly not a good week for top games in Class AAAA. It's hard to find meetings between two 1-0 teams. Heck, you have to look at non-conference games. So here goes: North Hills over Plum and Mt. Lebanon over Moon.

CLASS AAA

Thomas Jefferson at Belle Vernon - Ringgold was supposed to be a possible challenger to Thomas Jefferson in Austin Kempthe Big Nine this year, but TJ drilled the Rams in Week 1. Now comes a Belle Vernon team that also could challenge for the top of the conference. This one won't be as lopsided as last week, but it will still be Jaguars on top. Austin Kemp (pictured) and Thomas Jefferson's running game will be the difference. Winner: Thomas Jefferson.

Knoch at Greensburg Salem - Greensburg Salem didn't give up an offensive touchdown last week. But Knoch's offense is pretty good. With Mars and Franklin Regional losing last week, Knoch just might be the team to beat in the Greater Allegheny after this week. Winner: Knoch.

Indiana at Hampton - Indiana had a big win last week, but it was against a Mars team without star RB Josh Schultheis for much of the game. Hampton scored 55 points last week, but c'mon it was Albert Gallatin. So I'm still not sure about either of these teams. The coin is in the air, and the winner is ... Winner: Indiana.

Gateway at West Mifflin - It's a non-conference game. Could Gateway really be 0-2? Yes. Winner: West Mifflin.

CLASS AA 

Valley at Apollo-Ridge - Valley held Burrell scoreless last week. Will Charles Fitzgerald Tipton (ooops, I mean Tre Tipton) lead Apollo-Ridge to a big win after moving up from Class A this season? Winner: Valley.

Also, New Brighton over Ellwood City.

CLASS A

Brentwood at Fort Cherry - Brentwood struggled to beat upstart Vincentian last week while Fort Cherry squeezed by OLSH. This one will be close also. Winner: Brentwood.

Also, Frazier over Jefferson-Morgan, and Greensburg Central Catholic over Beth-Center.

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Vacation post - 09-04-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Happy 50th birthday to former Penguins forward Tomas Sandstrom (right). Acquired late in the 1993-94 season along with Shawn McEachern in a deal which sent Marty McSorley and Jim Paek to the Kings, Sandstrom spent parts of four seasons with the Penguins. He finished 1993-94 by appearing in 27 games for the Penguins and scoring 17 points. In six postseason games that spring, he failed to score a point. Sandstrom played in 47 games in 1994-95 and compiled 44 points, third-most on the team. He saw action in all 12 of the Penguins' postseason games that season and contributed six points. Despite being limited to 58 games in 1995-96, Sandstrom hit the 30-goal plateau by netting 35 goals and 70 points. He played in 18 postseason games that spring and contributed six points. After 40 goals and 24 points in 1996-97, Sandstrom was traded midway through the season in a deal which brought Greg Johnson from the Red Wings. In 172 games with the Penguins, Sandstrom, one of 14 natives of Finland to play for for the Penguins, scored 155 points, 53rd-most in franchise history.

-Happy 45th birthday to former Penguins forward Alex Hicks. Acquired early in the 1996-97 season along with Fredrik Olausson in a deal which sent Shawn Antoski and Dmitri Mironov to the Mighty Ducks, Hicks spent parts of two seasons with the Penguins. He finished 1996-97 by appearing in 55 games for the Penguins and scoring 20 points. He appeared in five postseason games that spring and contributed one assist. In 1997-98, Hicks played in 58 games and once again netted 20 points. In six playoff games that spring, he failed to record a point. In the 1998 offseason, he joined the Sharks as a free agent. In 113 regular season games for the Penguins, Hicks recorded 40 points. He is currently a coach for the Desert Youth Hockey Association in Phoenix.

(Photo: Robert Laberge/Allsport/Getty Images)

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Behind enemy lines: Boston College

Written by Sam Werner on .

This week, I enlisted the help of Michael Vega, who covers Boston College football for The Boston Globe to help preview this week's game between the Panthers and Eagles. Here are Michael's responses to a couple of questions...

1. How would you assess Tyler Murphy's debut for the Eagles under center? Is he simply a scrambler or does Boston College integrate a lot of quarterback runs into its offense? What are some of his other strengths and weaknesses?

Boston College is going back to the future, in some respects, with the arrival of Tyler Murphy, a graduate-transfer from the University of Florida, where he went 2-4 in six games as a starter last year before having his season cut short by an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. It's funny to note, though, that at a school that produced Doug Flutie, who set the gold standard for mobile quarterbacks, it seems dual-threat quarterbacks have been the exception rather than the norm. In his BC debut, Murphy gave notice he was here to do more than just serve as a bridge to the future while freshmen QBs Darius Wade and Troy Flutie, Doug's nephew, gained some much-needed seasoning. Murphy led the Eagles to a 30-7 victory over UMass by accounting for 291 of BC's 511 yards total offense, passing for 173 yards and a 43-yard TD pass while rushing 13 times for 118 yards and a 1-yard TD (on a third-and-goal naked bootleg). Believe it or not, it was the most yards rushing by a quarterback in school history.
As [head coach] Steve Addazio has said before, ''I want a thrower who can run and not a runner who can throw,'' and Murphy showed against UMass he fit that bill, converting some quarterback runs on the read-option. But Murphy recognizes that he cannot solely rely upon his feet to make BC's offense go, and therein lies his greatest strength and weakness: While he possesses the ability to breakdown a defense with his feet, he knows he must resist the urge to do so if he intends to help BC's offense establish any kind of vertical passing threat.

2. How does B.C. go about replacing a guy like Andre Williams? Is there one guy in the backfield or will it be more of a running back by committee? Who are some other skill position players Pitt needs to look out for Friday?

Andre Williams was the workhorse of BC's backfield last year and it was clear that replacing him was going to take more than one man to do the job. Sophomores Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse have been tabbed to help fill that role. While both have good speed on the perimeter, Willis and Rouse, both small and speedy backs, do not have the same physical stature and raw shock-and-awe running power as Williams or James Conner, as is the case this week. But they managed to combine for 134 yards (Rouse 87 yards; Willis 57 yards, 1 TD) against UMass. There is plenty of talent behind them on the roster with the arrival of freshmen running backs Jon Hilliman, a four-star recruit from Plainfield, N.J., who seems cut from the same physical mold (6-foot, 215 pounds) as Williams, and Marcus Outlow, a 5-10, 207-pound three-star prospect from Norwich, Conn., who has an interesting blend of size, speed and strength. BC's wide receiving corps will be led by a trio of physical, hybrid-type wideouts in Josh Bordner, a 6-4, 230-pound senior who was converted form quarterback to wide receiver in the winter, Dan Crimmins, who at 6-5, 237 pounds ranks as the biggest and most athletically-gifted of the group, and Charlie Callinan, a 6-4, 220-pound sophomore who probably is the fastest of the hybrid trio.

3. B.C. has a pair of really tall defensive linemen in Brian Mihalik (6-foot-9) and Mehdi Abdesmad (6-foot-7). How important are these guys to the Eagles' defense? Is there a guy at linebacker this year that keys the defense a la Luke Kuechly, Kevin Pierre-Louis, etc?

Certainly, Mihalik and Abdesmad make for an imposing pair of defensive linemen BC basketball coach Jim Christian no doubt would love to have in his frontcourt. Both are physical run-stoppers who have the ability to get upfield and disrupt passing lanes with their length -- a la J.J. Watt. While they are anchors on BC's front seven, senior middle linebacker Sean Duggan, who was elected one of BC's four team captains, has emerged as the defensive ringleader, with his strong interior play and his understanding of [defensive coordinator] Don Brown's attack-oriented defense.

4. How close is Boston College to returning to contention in year two of Steve Addazio? Without Williams, Pierre-Louis an four-year starting quarterback Chase Rettig, how much is this year a rebuilding year for the Eagles and what are reasonable expectations for this season?

No one expected Addazio to do what he did in his first year at BC, taking a team that had won just two games in 2012 and turning it into a seven-game winner that earned its first bowl berth since 2010. He exceeded all expectations. But now that he's been able to set the foundation for his program, and recruit the type of players he will need to implement the spread-type offense and the attack-oriented defense he wants to run, Addazio isn't about to scale back his goals for the team just because they graduated the school's all-time leading rusher (Williams), all-time leading receiver (Alex Amidon), all-time leading scorer (kicker Nate Freese), in addition to a 46-game starter at QB in Chase Rettig. Quite the contrary. Addazio made clear at the ACC's Football Kickoff that he wanted BC to set the bar higher by challenging his team to make it to Charlotte for the ACC Championship. Now some cynics would cite those notable losses and say the only way the Eagles make it to the championship game will be as spectators, but Addazio believes Year 2 is when the real building of his program -- not just the rebuilding of it -- will take place.

Good stuff from Michael, and thanks again for helping us out this week. You can read Michael's work here, and follow him on Twitter @MBVega

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