January 17, 2007

UConn-Pitt: Game Recap

Filed under: Basketball,Opponent(s),Players — Chas @ 2:52 pm

I said it last night at the end of the game, and I still feel this way: I’m not thrilled with the way Pitt played, but the fact that Pitt had a bad game and still notched the win makes me feel pretty good.

There were struggles for Pitt. Especially on the offense. Cook’s shot wasn’t falling, Gray was missing a lot of close looks, being bothered by the inside guys for UConn. Pitt wasn’t doing a good job on the boards — Gray excepted. Levance Fields struggled against tight physical defense on the perimeter. Fields couldn’t get a shot to go and it effected him even at the foul line (1-4). The other guards had major struggles getting open for looks.

Kendall got himself in early foul trouble, limiting his ability to help inside on rebounding and just to box out, as he spent a lot more time on the bench. The bench was disappointing as Biggs was physically outmatched, Young looked lost again (and I’m not prepared to say that it was the lack of playing time in this game, he just looked unsure of what he was doing) and even Benjamin was unable to provide the instant spark of offense that he usually brings.

And with all of those issues Pitt beat a young but talented UConn team.

Gray kept fighting on the boards as a solo act and in the second half went 4-4 shooting — responding to the situation with some aggression rather than hanging his head. I think he has played very well when facing another big man straight-up this year (Wisconsin the obvious exception). Clearly he hasn’t forgotten how Patrick O’Bryant of Bradley abused him.

Ronald Ramon was so clutch with his threes in the game. I know, there is some sentiment that he should have had more than 5 shots when he was that on, but the UConn defense was keeping rather tight on the guards and Fields was struggling to find the open perimeter. Not to mention a clear gameplan by Pitt to go inside a lot for this game.

Fields despite a bad game (probably his worst since the BE Championship game), still fought through things. While not getting a lot of assists (in part because of all the missed shots in the first half), was getting the ball inside effectively more often than not.

Cook realized after the first half of 0-4 shooting that he was not shooting well. Instead he changed his offensive approach and made the inside pass to notch 6 assists (4 coming in the second half) and take advantage of the fact that UConn was playing him on the assumption that he would shoot first. Pitt may not be having any luck with JUCOs the last few years panning out, but the team hit a homerun with Cook’s transfer.

The defense and control of the tempo was fantastic. Let’s face it, Pitt was not getting shots to fall in the first half. A lot of shots looked good and were just off. Instead of forcing it, the team made sure to keep the intensity going on defense. UConn’s guards were not a factor. The perimeter defense kept UConn from finding open looks (2-13 on 3s) and while Dyson got 11 points it came on 5-16 shooting.

Free throw shooting was UConn’s problem, not Pitt’s. The Panthers shot 70.8% (17-24), which I will take with Pitt almost any time.

So, yes, it is okay to agree with Smizik’s column today.

Can Pitt win like this all the time? No. Will they win many games playing like this on the road? Hardly. This is basketball, not football. There are going to be off-games and bad nights. Nights where the team just isn’t all there or has a less than A game. No team can bring the max effort every game (compare OK St. losing by 30+ last week to Kansas and it’s triple-OT effort against Texas — which the only reason I am bothered by that game is it totally eclipsed the Pitt-Ok St. 2OT game earlier  as one of the best of the year, and how do the Cowboys get to win both?). It isn’t the end of the world or the end of all championship hopes. Naturally there’s a lot to do if they want to accomplish the goals, but there would be regardless. This is only January. They know they still have to get better.
The very good thing about this was how much better Pitt played in the second half. They adjusted. The whole way, they never let UConn get control of the game or play the way the Huskies wanted. They ground it out. They did coast in the final couple minutes — and I bet they will pay in practice for that.

Unless this team catches lightening in a bottle, they will lose their second round game in the tourney and at best make the sweet 16, where they will get bitch slapped by another 8-9-or 10 seed. I love Pitt, they are a great team at home, but away from the Pete they are average at best, and lack the, pardon the Rocky pun,”eye of the tiger.” In other words they don’t have a winner’s attitude, they don’t know how to put teams away.

I’m not sure if it’s the coach or the players, but even yesterday goes a long way to prove my point. After being up by 13, they almost gave the game away with sloppy play…..bring on Football LOI day!

Comment by Marco 01.17.07 @ 3:07 pm

Yes, bring on LOI day so every Pitt football fan can get excited about a bunch of “5-star” recruits most of whom will be complete busts. If that doesn’t happen then the Football coaching staff will completely misuse their talents or put them at positions where they don’t belong. I can’t wait for another 5-6 or 6-6 losing season. 2008 will be awesome though.

Yes, let’s forget about the team that is 17-2 and ranked 6th in the country and has won 7 games in row. Who cares if we are 5-0 in the big east with two road victories? We’ll get blown out in the Sweet 16. The third round of the tournament is such an embarrassment. I mean 16 teams get there out of 336. That isn’t an accomplishment at all. Let’s focus on a blowout early season loss in one of the toughest venues in the country to one of the best teams in the country. A team we probably wouldn’t have to play unless we got to the final 4.

Instead we should look forward to another OT loss to the mighty UCONN Husky football team that doesn’t have half the talent as our’s. What a great effort! Forget about the fact that we just beat them in basketball where they have a “5-star” recruit at every position. On to football!!!!

Comment by Omar 01.17.07 @ 3:24 pm

Hey Marco, What substantiates your claim that Pitt is an average road team? They’ve only lost two roads games this year, both against ranked teams. In fact, Wisonson may be the best team in the country and Ok St. is a very solid contender, which Pitt lost to in double OT. You cannot judge this year’s team on the merits of past year’s teams. This is the golden era of Pitt hoops. Be happy with what you have, if you are indeed a Pitt hoops fan.

Comment by Crackbaldo 01.17.07 @ 3:54 pm

I think this is their best team since at least their last sweet 16 team. Even the elite programs don’t make the sweet 16 every year. One could argue that Pitt is a member of the “elite” programs, but at the very least they are among the best of the “near elite” programs. They did have somewhat of an off night, but if I had to complain about anything (and this is nitpicking) I would say they could sometimes move the ball a little faster in the half court offense. Quick passes and reversing the ball especially. UConn was so quick, sometimes if they just dribbled or were not as crisp with passes it didn’t force UConn to work as hard as they might have. Not much to complain about, as they actually do a pretty good job of that.

Comment by B.B. 01.17.07 @ 4:04 pm

I’m happy we beat Uconn because we need to create some seperation. We have to be honest though and admit that we should have won by 15 at least last night. I think we’ll be a better team next month in time for the Big East Tourney and the Dance. The two road losses early in the year to 2 Top 10 teams did not hurt us because we became a better team by playing the best from the Big 10 and if not the best, then damn well close to it from the Big 12.
As for Football LOI day, I’m excited too because this class has 2 kids that can potentially start in the backfield as freshmen(Shady and Hynoski). Ofcourse with DW you never know but some of us can dream. If that happens then we could look a bit like Rutgers did last season.
But back to basketball…..We are the class act of the Big East and that feels damn good right now. I think every PITT fan can admit that they were proud after the G’town game. I want more please! GO PITT!

Comment by Panthoor 01.17.07 @ 4:39 pm

Yes this is the Golden era of Pitt BB, and I’m not denying that, but quit looking at this team as they are perfect….this is a very good team, however, this is a down year for the Big East in basketball, that UConn squad from last night should have been blown away. Pitt for the past 6 years has played great at home, it’s on the road that they stink it up or at best average.

And no beating an average Syracuse team that is flat is no major accomplishment. As for the comments disparaging Dave, I don’t deny his teams during his two first seasons have woefully underperformed, however, at least they are getting the big time talent….and they are doing it with a lousy track record. Pitt BB on the other hand has received only one or two marquis players in the past several years…take this year for example…great we’ve locked up two 3 star athletes…who knows they might be great…but you have to admit if they are top talent why hasn’t anyone else heard of them or offered them?

Comment by Marco 01.17.07 @ 6:07 pm

I think the truth is in the middle. Maybe toward the top, but not at the top. If we played every game like the Georgetown game we would be great. If we play every game like UConn we will finish below .500 in the conference.

Comment by geeman2001 01.17.07 @ 6:40 pm

Marco, I have to disagree with your reasoning about Wannstedt/Football Vs. Dixon/Basketball in regards to recruiting. If anything, Pitt basketball should be commended, not degraded, for winning without the top recruits. I’m a fan of both sports, but the basketball team has outperformed the football team by leaps and bounds for the most part over the past five years.

What good are the top recruits if we can’t win? I’m not saying the football recruits won’t bring us success, but let’s see what Wannstedt does with them first. Dixon has a PROVEN track record.

I think part of the reason Wannstedt has the success he’s had is that he has a Super Bowl ring from his days as a coordinator with the Cowboys. That type of stuff means so much to recruits…even if Wanny hasn’t really panned out as a head coach. Dixon doesn’t have that luxury or pro track record, but he’s done a heck of a job.

And for the record, teams have heard of Nasir Robinson, one of the stars of the ’08 Pitt basketball class. He’s been recruited by a lot of top programs including UCONN, Kentucky, and others. He’s projected as a top 50 overall player in his class. Same to a lesser extent of DeJuan Blair. Not to mention, they were in the final running for Michael Beasley and Herb Pope. Top talent is coming.

Comment by PittHoops 01.17.07 @ 7:48 pm

And winning against subpar conference teams on the road is still a good accomplishment. Just as UNC who was really blown out until the final few minutes by Virginia Tech. Nearly all conference road games are a struggle for just about everyone.

Comment by PittHoops 01.17.07 @ 7:50 pm

Marco your post at 6:07 PM confirmed my suspicions. You should never comment on Pitt basketball again.

Comment by Omar 01.17.07 @ 10:13 pm

You have to admit that intra-program arguing is at least better than being completely down on both programs.

What we actually have is two sports that PITT competes pretty well in overall. One program (BB) has risen to consistently good status, apparently without the big time recruits. The other (FB) has good things happening, and are getting big time recruits to the point where they might get to that level also. A point to remember is that it takes longer for young kids to flourish in football than it does in basketball. So, we may not have the abundance of riches Florida or Ohio State are experiencing this year in both sports – but both PITT squads are still fun to follow.

Again, somehow these topics always seem to come back around to our expectations. If we have a need to see only championships in either sport – well, we are going to be disappointed. But, if we are satisfied with competitiveness and progress in the programs (and I believe we’ll start seeing that even more with the football team) then we can look forward to whatever the seasons bring us. There really is no need to build up one team’s reputation by insulting the other.

Comment by Reed 01.17.07 @ 10:30 pm

Omar, grow up….this is a message board on everyone’s opinion…not just Omar’s opinions.

Comment by Marco 01.18.07 @ 12:07 am

Marco, haven’t you figured out yet that only Omar is allowed to have an opinion? And whatever that opinion is, it’s guaranteed to be right.

Have to add one thing to the discussion – I’m as excited as everybody about Pitt hoops being 5-0 in the Big East, but I have never seen the league this bad in 20 yrs. Syracuse, Nova, L-ville, UConn….the list goes on and on. This isn’t meant to disparage Pitt, but these teams are really sub-par compared to what you expect from those programs. I realize that many of them got hit with early departures, but others just didn’t have underclassmen ready to go. (UConn lost everybody early but Nova only lost Lowry early)The fact that a league this over-sized only has 1 top-level team is amazing. Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino have fielded some lousy squads and Pitt is the beneficiary this year. I guess conference strength is cyclical, and the stars aligned wrong for the BE this year and WVU, UConn, Nova, Marquette (Novak), Rutgers (Douby), L-ville (Dean) all lost the players that made the difference for them and the lower-level programs (Seton Hall, Prov,USF, Cincy, St.John’s) stayed down. This is the first year I ever wished I could watch Pac 10 ball instead of the crap that Gavitt and Tranghese are dishing out this year.

Comment by billy knight 01.18.07 @ 10:39 am

Billy what in the wide, wide, world of sports are you talking about when you say “the crap that Gavitt and Tranghese are dishing out this year.”

I mean come on you say it is a down year for the BE and in the same response seem to be saying it is Gavitt’s and Tranghese’s fault that the conference is down this year?

It is what it is, Pitt is the best team in a confernece that is not as good as usual. Also I might add that there will most likely be 5 teams from this conference that WILL make the big dance.

I have watched Pitt BB since the 70’s and I can tell you this program has never been healthier nor had more continued success, NEVER!

As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come!” The foundation for the current success was laid in 99 and has not stopped being built. Calhoun took 10+ years to win a national title at UCONN. Dixon is in his 4th year.

Comment by Kenny 01.18.07 @ 11:24 am

I wasn’t saying it’s the league office’s fault by any means. I’m not sure it’s something that’s anybody’s fault……it’s just lousy hoops across the conf this year, which is hard to understand when the conf has 16 teams and covers 1/4 of the country and half the population. I love seeing Pitt win and agree that their program is in the best shape ever. I just wish their comp was better so the games were more enjoyable to watch and more meaningful to savor. Purely from a fan perspective, it’s rough having to watch Devendorf and Reynolds and Harris and Thabeet stink while they get freshmen minutes.

I don’t doubt that 5 teams will make the big dance, because the media is based in and around this conf.

Comment by billy knight 01.18.07 @ 1:43 pm

Billy I agree!

Comment by Kenny 01.18.07 @ 3:04 pm

“great we’ve locked up two 3 star athletes…who knows they might be great…but you have to admit if they are top talent why hasn’t anyone else heard of them or offered them?”

O.K., the lack of Mickey D’s star pupils on our recruiting list does give a lot of pause. The emphasis here, however, is on “pause.” While we haven’t loaded up on this superstars, we have managed to do a lot with the talent we do get. Maybe it has something to do with the kind of “system” that Dixon coaches, maybe it has to do with our recruiters seeing something that others miss, or maybe (probably, I think), it has to do with both. A good system and underrated talent can add up to a solid team. Ain’tcha ever read “Moneyball?”

Comment by Shawn 01.18.07 @ 5:09 pm

Who is this Omar character.If he doesnt agree with you,he trys to make you look bad.He must know everything.This is a message board that is designed to provoke different opinions and to talk about them.I guess if you have different opinion than his highness OMAR you shouldnt express your opinion.We could call it the OMARBOARD.It would be read by just Omar.

Comment by LuvPitt 01.18.07 @ 6:38 pm

My opinions are backed by facts. Most of the “opinions” in this thread are pure speculation. Good idea, I hereby officially rename this the OMARBOARD.

Comment by Omar 01.18.07 @ 11:01 pm

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