This recap of Wednesday’s Pitt game can also be found on pittbriefly.wordpress.com.
I take my paper for my Introduction to Journalism class and turn it into a long-form article for the Sports Floor. The Oakland Zoo shows up every game to badger student athletes into defeat. An inside look of those (including me) who did the full two-day experience that was the Syracuse vs. Pitt game.
Okay, I’m on a roll. Sledding in freezing weather is really cold. However, this is about the Pitt game tomorrow.
I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the Pitt game against Depaul after the 4 pm start. However, this might be a really fun post.
Looking toward tomorrow’s game:
James Robinson: I firmly believe his starting spot should be removed; however, who the hell is going to replace him? There’s really nobody who could replace him, but he’s hurting the team more than helping it. Robinson, get out of the lineup.
Talib, you’re a beast. I guess our best offensive rebounder who doesn’t wear large oven mitts for gloves can stay on the floor.
Patterson – best 3 point shooter on a consistent basis – stay on the floor, play defense, and hit your threes
Adams – if it didn’t look like God forgot to give you hands, I’d love you. However, you will be the key to the rest of the season. Keep working, and we will beat Depaul and maybe Cuse.
Woodall – lead. that’s all you have to do.
This Pittsburgh Panthers basketball team is unbelievably hard to judge. The best recent example is their absolute annihilation of No. 19 (at the time) Georgetown in the nation’s capital. They followed that big win with basically doing very little right at home against Marquette in a game the Golden Eagles were begging to lose. They somehow managed a Lamar Patterson buzzer beater that sent the game to overtime, but the Panthers continued to look like the barely standing drunk guy on the basketball game at Dave & Busters from the line going 13-26 and eventually losing 74, 67.
Now things seem to have been directed back to the main course after solid wins at Villanova and home against Connecticut. The Connecticut game was one of the best game they’ve played all year, because even though they blew a 14-point lead in the 2nd half only to retake the lead and sail away with the game, they were good in almost all aspects of the game. They improved from the line, shot 42% from 3, cleaned up on the offensive boards, and implemented a combo man and zone that frustrated the UConn offense into turnovers.
So where does this leave Pitt come March? This depends of how this relatively young team can improve through the season. The players are finally starting to make their offense sets not look as dull and static as they once did. The 2-3 zone that Jamie Dixon implemented has started to become suffocating, especially the wrinkle that has Talib Zanna cheat up towards the wing creating a trap situation at the high post. Finally, Freshmen James Robinson and Steve Adams have proven themselves starters due to Robinson’s clutch factor and Adams’ vast improvement.
I think their ceiling is a 5 seed, provided they beat either Louisville or Syracuse and win the games they should. Their basement, not considering the possibility they completely tank and end up as back-to-back CBI champions, is an 11 seed. The more realistic range is within that 7 to 10 seed area. Their terrible non-conference schedule consisting of the Washington Generals and the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy (I know you saw this Disney Channel movie) will definitely hurt them in getting the highest seed.
A couple of quick things that need to go right/continue to stay the same for them to get the best draw possible:
Consistent Play of Tray Woodall
Woodall is the de-facto leader of this group. Yet sometimes, his play hasn’t reflected it. Against Marquette, he did not score after getting injured late in the 1st half. At Villanova, he had 8 points on 2-of-8 shooting. Today he did have 13 points and 6 assists, but he also had 2 fouls within seven minutes of the first half. Making smart decisions on the floor, especially staying out of foul trouble, something that has been a problem, and still providing that scoring is how Woodall can lead his team to the best-possible seed.
The Panthers are so deep off the bench that they have had two players transfer to seek playing time. JJ Moore provides length and athleticism. Cam Wright can do all the intangibles and is a great finisher at the basket. Dante Taylor is another big body that rebounds at an above-average level. Trey Zeigler, who severely struggled, has found his niche as a guy who can penetrate and finish. Finally, Durand Johnson can drain threes when he’s hot. All of them are coming into their own at the right time for the Panthers.
If you watched Steve Adams play early in the season, it was hard to understand why he was the 6th ranked recruit on the ESPN 100. Apparently, Adams is an extremely hard worker in practice and it’s easy to see in how improved his game has become. At the early moments of the season his offense game was non-existent, unaware that posting up was how you get the ball. His post game still has a long way to go but now its functional. He’s become great at creating space for himself and his post moves are starting to increase, with his repertoire including a good right hook, developing left hook, and a newly introduced spin move.
Where he’s made his greatest strides is on the defensive side. Being 7 foot meant that rebounds and blocks have been easy to come by all season. It’s the other things he’s gotten better at, help defense being the most important of them. Adams was sometimes late to rotate to protect the lane at start, but now he’s there right on time leading to an increase in his blocks. Another reason the 2-3 zone has been effective is because he understands where he needs to move to, making him a dominant presence in the middle.
So far their Big East play has been mediocre, but things seem to be looking up. A team that really didn’t have any chemistry at the beginning of the season is starting to mesh. Big match-ups against Syracuse and Louisville will be even better evaluations of where exactly they stand. But it seems their stock is rising as we head towards March.