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.