image from bnd.com
Pitt58 Marquette 51
Pitt 70 Villanova 65
Wow. This Pitt team sure is a lot of fun to watch. Before I could even blink (or get in front of a computer for an extended period of time), the Panthers rolled off two more really quality wins. I’m very impressed with how much the level of play has improved over the season so far. Both of these wins come against teams that have typically had Pitt’s number, and with good reason. Both are very quality teams year in and year out, and more to the point both teams are very small, quick and scrappy. They’re able to give the traditionally slower and more physical Pitt teams a hard time with their athleticism on the offensive end, and they use their quickness on defense and rebounding to keep up. But this is a different Pitt team than usual. It’s much more guard-oriented and athletic than past teams. They still play defense, but they’re a lot quicker and not as strong as past teams. That means that Pitt can neutralize that quickness from Marquette and Villanova a little bit and win with their consistency and defense. We saw this earlier in the year against Louisville. The Cardinal’s press always gave Pitt fits. But this year the Panthers were able to handle that pressure much better, and ended up winning the game. So that’s one takeaway, but I’ve got more:
- Gary McGhee played fantastic in both of these games. He had 10 points and 5 rebounds against Marquette, and 7 points and 10 rebounds against Villanova. Now, this needs to be put in perspective a little bit. Both Marquette and Villanova are both guard oriented teams, and it’s easy to dominate guys you’ve got by a few inches. But there are two things to take away from this and be pleased with. First of all, Gary was quick on defense. He didn’t let the smaller more athletic centers dominate him. That’s a big part of what happened against Georgetown (Greg Monroe), Seton Hall (Herb Pope) and West Virginia (Da’Sean Butler). The second thing I was pleased with was how much more aggressive he was playing. He was taking the ball up strong to the hoop, and he was grabbing tough rebounds with both hands. That’s what I’ve been looking to see (and what I hope to eventually see out of Dante Taylor). Now, I’d like to see him do that again against some bigger competition to make sure he wasn’t just feasting on guys he could literally look down on and then I’ll be thrilled.
- Dante Taylor. He had 6 points against Marquette, then got in too much foul trouble against ‘Nova to be a factor. While the 3 open dunks were a game changer, and they showed he could get himself open, I still wasn’t thrilled with his overall performance over these two games. He missed a lot of defensive assignments in both games (a LOT), and it’s a big reason for the foul trouble. I’ll give him a pass since he’s a freshman, but I see this as a bigger problem than the physical strength troubles. He’s not grasping the system quite yet, and I hope the light goes on sooner rather than later. As a side note, I’m sure the light will eventually go on. It always does. I’m not concerned with the long-term progress of Dante. He’ll be fine. But I’m kind of hoping against hope that he gets it before the end of the year because we could really use some more production from the frontcourt.
- Jermaine Dixon was a huge factor in these wins, but rather quietly because he made his biggest contributions on defense. He really put the clamps down on Scottie Reynolds for Villanova and Acker and Cubillan for Marquette. I don’t think we would have won either game without him.
- Rebounding! Pitt won the rebounding edge against both teams, and pretty handily against Villanova (though a lot of that had to do with ‘Nova’s defensive schemes). They allowed 11 offensive rebounds to Marquette which kind of irks me, but other than that I’m impressed.
- Brad Wanamaker had 14 points over these two games. That’s great, but coupled with 11 turnovers it’s not so great. But that’s Wanamaker in a nutshell: Brad giveth, and Brad taketh away (or giveth away if it’s a basketball).
- There was really balanced scoring in both of these games. It’s getting to be part of Pitt’s reputation: lots of people can hurt you. I guess it’s a philosophical debate whether you want one go-to guy or a bunch of capable scorers. I’m not quite sure what side of the fence I’m on quite yet.
- Travon Woodall continues to play very well. He had 11 points 5 assists and 2 turnovers over these past two games. Maybe the light switch has finally gone off for him. I really hope so. More depth is never a bad thing.
Next up is Notre Dame tonight. Harangody is not playing. So there goes the opportunity for McGhee to show what he can do against better competition. It should still be a great game, and South Bend always has a good atmosphere. I’m excited to watch.
image from cnnsi.com
Wow. I think of all of the wins we’ve had so far, this may not be the most surprising, but it is the most significant. We showed that we can slow down more athletic teams like Syracuse and UConn. We showed we can be physical with a team like Cincy which was to be expected. But this was a different type of team we beat. Louisville pressures you at every turn, trying to get you to make mistakes. We’ve traditionally struggled as a program against Louisville, so getting this one shows a big step in the right direction. It shows that our guards are ready to think and react under pressure (both physical AND mental in the case of Brad Wanamaker). So what won this game for us?
Well, first and foremost, this game showcased the more guard-oriented team we’ve got this year. Usually with only 2 or 3 capable ball handlers on the floor (when we had a big lineup), we would turn the ball over an awful lot. In this game, we only had 14 which is not bad at all. Pitt also got a huge boost from Nasir Robinson. He had a big mismatch against Reginald Delk and Kyle Kuric, and he took advantage. He was taller and more athletic than each of them. He crashed the boards, he drove to the basket well and finished, and he just had a great day overall. Pitt also got a huge effort out of Brad Wanamaker. He knocked down some huge shots, but none were bigger than the 2 free throws he hit at the end of regulation. He went 11-12 from the line over the game. That’s just amazing. We were 24-30 (80%) as a team for the game. It’s clearly what won us the game. As much as Louisville can rightly feel like they out-played Pitt, they can only look at the man in the mirror for someone to blame. Louisville didn’t knock down their free throws when the game was on the line. We did. That’s something you haven’t been able to say about Pitt in a while.
Now, I’ll admit that Louisville is not up to their usual level of play. They lost a lot last year, and they’ve been struggling a bit this season (bad losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina). However, they’re still an extremely talented team with a lot of weapons. Plus, this was a huge step forward for Pitt in terms of the style of play with Louisville. It may seem a little tainted because Louisville lost this game as much as we won it, but it’s still something to be very proud of. In a season with a lot of steps forward, this was a huge one. Next up is Georgetown. I like the matchup, but the Hoyas have a lot of guys that can step up and take a game over. I almost feel like someone is going to pop up with a huge day (like Samardo Samuels and Preston Knowles had today for Louisville) and we’ve got to identify it and stop it. I can’t wait.
image from postgazette.com
Well, the news out of Oakland was that Jamie Dixon was really working his players this week. The result was probably their best played game of the season yesterday. Which isn’t saying all that much about this team. That stats didn’t seem too bad. We didn’t shoot the lights out (45.6%), but we weren’t as inept as we have been at other points this year (I’m really grasping at straws now). We shot 23% from beyond the arc: once more not outstanding but we’ve been worse. 10 turnovers isn’t too bad. We had a solid 37-26 edge on rebounds. I think those shooting numbers can be improved as Jermaine gets some more playing time and Gilbert gets back into the swing of things, but this might be about as good as this team will get. We still have absolutely no post production. Gary had a decent game, but Dante had 2 points and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes. Now, he’s been struggling mightily with the physicality of the college game. That much is obvious and understandable. And the refs in this one were being a little more loose (which is fine. They were consistently loose). So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he didn’t have a great day. But a point and a board for every 7.5 minutes is not an acceptable level of production for anyone playing the center position. I don’t care who you are, how old you are, or how highly you were recruited. I’ll give Dante some credit. He played a lot stronger yesterday than he has in previous games. The improvement is visible. But he’s got to get better. Especially on the offensive end.
The main story line I saw was the pace of the game. Each team had around 53 possessions which is obscenely low. I’ll put it this way. If each team takes the entire 35 seconds and takes a shot with a defensive rebound every time, there would be 34 possessions for each team. We weren’t much above that pace. It’s very obvious that Coach Dixon’s strategy with the hand he’s been dealt is to slow the game way way down, play good defense and hope that we make less mistakes than our opponent. It’s going back to the original Pitt basketball that Ben Howland brought, but it’s probably even more exaggerated. It’s not a bad idea with this group, but we’ve got to rebound and play defense better if we’re going to be successful at it. It seems to be what’s being stressed because I’m noticing improvements in both areas that are stronger than what’s happening on the offensive end. The number of defensive lapses against Mt. St. Mary’s was drastically reduced from the beginning of the season. We got a huge rebounding margin that was partly due to the Mountaineers being a pretty bad rebounding team, and partly due to some better technique. At the beginning of the season, we were taking rebounds that came to us. On Saturday, we were going after and grabbing rebounds. We weren’t letting them come to us, and we were grabbing them with 2 hands and holding them strong. It was a fantastic sight.
Offensively, we’re still a mess. We have no consistent scoring after Gibbs and Wanamaker. Jermaine Dixon is starting to take some more shots (and therefore get some more points), but who else can step up. Travon Woodall is more of a distributor, and his shot hasn’t been there for the past couple of games. Chase Adams is may be too unselfish (never thought I’d say that). Nasir Robinson hasn’t been the same since he dislocated his finger. Gary McGhee has really improved some of his technique but he’s got the worst pair of hands I’ve ever seen (they don’t keep that stat, but I’m sure half of the entry passes to him are fumbled out of bounds). We’ve already covered Taylor. I sure hope Gilbert has been shooting around while he waits, because we could really use him putting the ball through the hoop a few times. It’s obviously not the priority of the coaches, but if we could find some deeper scoring, it would go a really long way for this team.
So that’s that. The defense and especially rebounding have really improved. The offense continues to struggle. We’re going to play some really boring basketball over the next few months. I’m a little worried about Big East play. I don’t think this team is ready at all. But in about a week it’ll be here, so ready or not we have to go. We really stepped up our game to play Texas. Hopefully something like that will happen again. That may be our only shot at a .500 league record. Ohio is the last non-conference game on Tuesday night. The Bobcats are a decent MAC team, and they love to run the floor (at least they have in the past, I haven’t seen them yet this year). It should really be a challenge for the backcourt.
image from pittsburghlive.com
During the season, I generally watch an average of about 5 to 10 college basketball games a week. By the end of the season, I’ll probably have watched about 150-200 or so. So over the course of my life, it’s no stretch to say that the number of college basketball games I’ve taken in numbers in the thousands. Well, never have I witnessed in any of those thousands of games a worse basketball game than what I just witnessed (including games between the likes of Lehigh and Qinnipiac which I watched last night). And it’s not even close. That score up there is not a type-o. It really was 47-32 and just a plethora of suck at both ends of the floor.
So, how exactly did it get so bad? Well, New Hampshire is easy: they shot 23.5% from the field. That’s a good way to only get 32 points. Pitt wasn’t doing anything special on defense. New Hampshire just had one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen. There were, no lie, at least a dozen legitimate airballs. Not blocks. Just totally missing the rim…and the backboard….and thankfully just missing the poor ball boy under the hoop as well. It was so bad that the students got tired of chanting AIIIIIRR BALLLLLLL every time and gave up after about 6 of them. Now, the Wildcats have shot much better over the rest of the season. They average 41% on the year. They have in fact won a few games. This was totally out of character for them, and this is not indicative of the program, but they just sucked bad tonight.
So, what about Pitt? 47 points is a bit low. What happened? Well, we didn’t exactly set the nets ablaze at 40.5% on the game (which was an improvement over the around 15% or so we shot in the first half). But the glaring thing on the stat sheet is the unbalanced scoring. Ashton Gibbs had 23. Brad Wanamaker had 19. That’s 42 of the 47 points right there. Nobody else had an impact. Gary McGhee had 0 points. Nasir Robinson had 0 points. Dante Taylor had 2 and Dwight Miller had 1. That is an absolutely mind-blowing lack of production from the frontcourt. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to see that that’s where the problem was last night. So what happened? Well, Gary just couldn’t collect the ball (he fumbled it out of bound or into a defenders hands at least a half a dozen times) and nobody was aggressive. New Hampshire, to their credit, did one thing right. They were physical and aggressive on defense. Pitt did not match that intensity at all. Look at the numbers. Gary only had 1 shot and Nasir had 4. In 18 and 26 minutes respectively. They clearly were not able or willing to bang bodies down low, and that is not Pitt basketball. I must say that I was extremely disappointed by that, and it has to change by Tuesday or Indiana will have a fun night with us. Fortunately, that wasn’t the only part of classic Pitt basketball to take a hike tonight. We actually made 76.9% of our free throws instead of the normal sub 50% night I’m used to. So I guess the team giveth and the team taketh away.
Overall, this was a game to forget for both teams, so I’ll leave with one more sentiment: we’ve got some more guys coming back soon, but I sure hope that was an anomaly because it will be a looooooong season if it wasn’t.