March 4, 2007

This might seem a little disjointed. I’ve had this up in my browser all day trying to find the right words, and I’m still not happy with the way it is coming out. Still, it doesn’t seem to be getting any more coherent, so I’ll just throw it out there and let everyone tell me where I’m off or unclear.

Don’t really know what to say. It was an incredibly frustrating game to watch and even more problematic in what to recap. There’s a part of me that just wants to give in and say, that this Marquette team simply has Pitt’s number. Whether it’s simply the match-up, something else. Whatever.

I don’t buy that.

I also don’t buy this lack of “toughness” on the team and/or how that’s a reflection of Dixon’s lack of “toughness.” Mainly because I don’t know what the hell that means. Is Dixon not a tough guy because he never says a negative word about the players? Because he doesn’t go off on rants in a post-game interview? Because his approach is to be positive and encouraging in the games? Because he keeps the criticisms behind closed doors? Because he generally doesn’t try to embarrass his players publicly or call them out? It sounds like some sort of cheap convention from a hack writer looking for an easy explanation and assign blame. Or perhaps just the way someone thinks a coach should do it.

Maybe it means, “these guys are no Brown, Page and Knight.” Well, yeah. Isn’t that what made those guys special? Those could be the only guys that would rank as the tough guys still pined for. They were the overachievers. They guys on the undermanned, not as talented or higher potential teams. They at least made the Sweet 16 before falling to teams that had at least 2 future NBAers on the squads.

Surely no one is pining for Chevy Troutman who came up small at the end of his career in the important games — the Big East Tournament game against Villanova and then against Pacific in the opening round — apparently the thing this present team is also failing to do. I definitely know no one is pining for the toughness of Chris Taft. Half the time Carl Krauser — a definite tough guy — is vilified for plenty of other things.

I see toughness as much about what a team does when it is down. Last night, Pitt went down. Deep. They didn’t hang their heads. They didn’t give up. They fought back despite nothing from the perimeter. They battled despite the guards not penetrating or finding the open men.

So, maybe it’s useless self-pity about what might have been if Howland hadn’t gone to UCLA. That’s just pathetic, if that’s the case. It’s been 4 years. Get over it. That’s the kind of speculation that goes no where.

Here’s the final thing, and it may be small comfort. Pitt doesn’t even come close to being a disappointing team this season. Pitt fans aren’t the only ones suffering. LSU was a preseason top-10 team that won’t make the NCAA. Alabama, a top-15 won’t make the NCAA. Washington was a top-20 and won’t make the NCAA. Arizona is unranked, after being expected to be a top-15 team. Florida State was top-25 and may not make the Tournament. UConn absolutely imploded with youth despite one of the best coaches in the Big East. Illinois has quickly fallen from elite to average. DePaul was supposed to be a NCAA Tournament team. Just about all of these teams had at least one All-American player or candidate. They all had big expectations. Almost all of them would happily trade positions to be where Pitt is right now.

Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you think the expectations of Pitt were higher and Pitt was obviously better than these teams from the start of the season. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve lost some perspective, because I’ve been covering so many different teams and had to hear from a lot more fans and their frustrations.

I’m disappointed with some of the losses this season. I wanted more from Pitt. I do know that I also like the future of this program even more. In the long term (the next 3 years or so) I expect a lot even more.

Pitt has gone 25-6 this season, 12-4 in the Big East. And for the entire season, no player’s singular performance was enough to even merit Big East Player of the Week. Obviously some of that has been a little luck where another player on another team had a bigger game or bigger impact that week. It’s also been reflective of the fact that this team has been so balanced and consistent most of the year.

Is there any one of us avid followers who thinks Pitt has played anywhere near their potential in more than 1 game all year? That’s my frustration.

I also fear we may need a point guard. Fields looks a step slower (and heavier) each time I see him play.

As alwats, great analysis though , you may be right and we may simply be no better talented than we have played…

Comment by Dan 72 03.04.07 @ 4:44 pm

We’re frustrated because we all know the Big East lost almost every bit of its front-line talent and Pitt still didn’t even come close to dominating the conference. We all fooled ourselves into thinking we had some talent, only to be rudely reminded that the talent isn’t here yet. We have a nice coach who works a nice system and we mostly beat the teams we should. If you’re satisfied with that, great.

Comment by tiger paul 03.04.07 @ 6:06 pm

Yeah, I do think this Pitt team is soft. I think others in the game thread are right on when they say the team has lost its edge.

I don’t think that’s a reflection necessarily on Dixon. I just think it’s what the players are – simply not as tough as some of the players we’ve seen recently (Troutman, Brown, Page, etc).

As I mentioned before, I defy anyone to identify any players on this current team that you could clearly say is a ‘tough’ player. By tough, I mean just that…someone who beats their defender up. Someone who gives hard fouls rather than soft ones. Someone who intimidates the opponent…not giving up a touch foul every trip down the court.

We just have different players, that’s all. Maybe it’s for the better…but it is what it is. We have better shooters (although you can’t tell that by the way they have played recently), but the rough & tough style of play is basically gone.

Again, as I mentioned before. How many times do we hear announcers, opposing coaches, or opposing players say that ‘Pitt bullied them’ or ‘Pitt really beat them up’. There used to be so many complaints about Pitt playing TOO physical. It seemed like every coach in the Big East used to say that. When is the last time we actually heard that? I think the fact that we don’t tells us that this team isn’t the way they used to be.

Again, not saying that’s even necessarily a bad thing, it’s just what it is. For years, all Pitt fans complained about was that we had no shooters. Now we have shooters, but the toughness is gone, so now we complain about that. I’m not calling fans out because I was/am definitely in the same mindset. I honestly don’t know which I prefer, but we do have to recognize this is a completely different team.

Comment by PittHoops 03.04.07 @ 6:08 pm

Listen, when I first thought about it, I also assumed it had to be a lack of toughness. We just didn’t seem to get the boards last night, even against much smaller players. The fact of the matter is, there is not much more we can do. You think Ramon and T-biggs are quick enough to keep up with the likes of Matthews and Barro? Not a chance. We just do not have the athleticism to keep up with these quick or superiorly talented teams and when it comes to crunch time and they decide they’re going to try, then their talent takes over and we can’t keep up with that.

However, you guys can’t ignore the beauty of our complaints and our situation. We have a team with literally no top 100 players from their respective high school classes. That means we’re taking players that could just as easily be playing on the Temple’s and Manhattans of this world, and turning them into perennial top 20 teams. Thus, we should appreciate our team for what they are and heck, the season is not over yet. They can definitely still surprise, but we just can’t expect too much out of them.

Comment by Yi 03.04.07 @ 6:27 pm

I’ll do my usual threadjack and ask if anybody who lives in Allegheny County who has DirecTV also has a terrible HD picture on CBS/KDKA? All of my other HD channels are fine, but that one channel sucks.

Comment by Carmen 03.04.07 @ 6:41 pm

I’m not a bit surprised. I think we have a good team, not a great team. We were overrated coming into the season and played a better, but still fairly week non-con schedule that failed to disclose the weaknesses (until the only two really tough games). At first I didn’t buy that the Big East was all that down, but I think it was, and that also helped boost our W’s. Still, I go back to this, it’s a GOOD TEAM, and nothing to be ashamed of. Just ain’t a great team, that’s all. We won’t win it all this year, again, but we will have had a good season.

It seems not only the team, but the fans who aren’t stomping around in a snit, are getting abused for this attitude. Meanwhile, nobody rips the Nits for winning only the games they were supposed to in football last year, and losing all the tough games. We’re exactly the same but getting smacked around for it. Typical anti-Pitt mentality of Western PA media, those who didn’t go to Pitt (and some who did).

Not everyone can win it all, you know. Sure, when we inevitably lose in both tournaments (probably the second game of each) I’ll be disappointed those nights. But given the dregs of football I’m satisfied.

Comment by geeman2001 03.04.07 @ 6:46 pm

Maybe everyone is right…Pitt is not as good as we hoped but play well for the talent they have. But once I would like Dixon to be able to coach his players up, come up with some game plan and get us that big win…..The luck has never been there for Pitt, opposing teams always have that rising superstar, make crazy 3-pointers, and never miss a free throw. (Marq. was great in those last few minutes both games) Maybe the luck is not there because that extra emotion and passion is lacking on Dixon teams. I am still optimistic, but also realize that until we get some great recruits, winning the big games will elude us like a deserved BCS bowl game. Out.

Comment by Drgags 03.04.07 @ 8:19 pm

0-4 against ranked teams (when we played them). That’s all that needs to be said. You can try to sugarcoat this all you want Chas, but we underachieved this year.
Every team you compared us to above (LSU, Alabama, Washington, Arizona, FSU, Depaul (?), Illinois and UConn) faced extenuating circumstances in the form of either youth or injuries to key players. We lost Aaron Gray to a sprained ankle vs Seton Hall…
Also, not having the most athletic players is a weak excuse. Sure, athleticism helps. But a grasp of the fundamentals, a good basketball IQ and the ability to adjust and adapt on the fly are more important. Pitt has shown little or no improvement in these areas. This is very disappointing.
I will not make my final judgement about this team until after the postseason. But there is no doubt they have underachieved to date — by definition.

Comment by Dave in Orlando 03.04.07 @ 8:52 pm

Its too bad that we just miss out on some top players every year. But we are getting close. How many years ago was it that we would be lucky to even get on their list. At least we are fighting to the end to land a marquee recruit. I feel we will eventually and then we can go from there.

Comment by Jeff 03.04.07 @ 11:12 pm

Toughness isn’t always about fighting or throwing elbows, or even grabbing rebounds. It’s about not panicing and staying composed when things aren’t going right. Pitt plays very scared at times and completely loses it for extended periods of time.

Last night reminded me of an NCAA tounrney game where we just freak out and lose it. Athletic ability has nothing to do with it.

And when you have one of the best big men in the country and are playing against a smaller team, give him the ball. That’s all I ask.

Comment by J-Maile 03.05.07 @ 12:08 am

Also, the perception that the teams lack of mental toughness comes from Dixon is based on seeing him panic and get outcoached or overwhelmed by situations time and time again.

Confident coaches don’t just throw guys in the lineup haphazardly the way Dixon has in the past when Pitt gets in trouble. He seems like he doesn’t have a solid idea as to what he wants to do and that is exacerbated be pressure.

Comment by J-Maile 03.05.07 @ 12:21 am


Then I just don’t know how this team has done this well this year and in the past? A coach that panics, a point guard that has “sabotaged” the team the prior 3 years as you put it? Geez.

You want Gray to get the ball more. Gray has a 5’11” PG playing against bigger guards. I know this may be a shock to you, but just because Gray gets open, doesn’t mean Fields has a passing lane to get it to him each time.

You dismissed out of hand anything regarding Krauser when all I did was point out that he was very good at interior passing and getting the ball inside.

You ignore that Gray passes out of double teams very well. If the guards aren’t hitting shots, then when they get the opportunities or take too long to shoot — giving the defender a chance to recover — it doesn’t work. In the loss to Marquette, Gray was the leading assist guy with 4, followed by Cook and Ramon each with 3.

The guards aren’t shooting well. It’s a big problem right now. It means teams are zoning or doubling -down on Gray right away. Daring the guards to shoot, or try and force it inside.

So, what is the best approach to deal with that? With the players Pitt has? Gray’s ankle is still a concern. Kendall now seems limited with a toe injury. Young’s knees are clearly aching.

I don’t know what to say.

Comment by Chas 03.05.07 @ 9:33 am

Sound like an impending funeral you are foreshadowing two quick outs to soften the blow of the inevitable.

What bother the Pitt fans is that we get worse as the season goes on, not the other way around. It’s sort of like what George Steinbrenner used to call Dave Winfield “Mr. May.”

Also what is driving us crazy is the lack of leadership-the fact that Gray gives a halftime speech and Fields has to the next game, shows their is no leadership on the court and apparently from Dixon. We can deal with the poor shooting, poor ft shooting b/c it has been a hallmark of Pitt hoops; so has defense, hustling, and leadership which are now missing and make the poor shooting difficult to overcome.

Comment by Noel 03.05.07 @ 9:36 am

Hey—so what if Pitt lost to Marquette twice. I know a team that lost twice to an unranked South Carolina team and still did pretty well in the big dance.

Comment by Rob 03.05.07 @ 10:00 am

I believe Jamie is doing the best with what he has. He is the one who has to try to hold together a team that has trouble with more athletic teams who are also just as talented skill wise as Pitt (if not more).

The team is what it is, a bunch of overachievers who are doing the best they can. You cannot ask for more than that.

Look at the teams who have handed them their lunch. It was teams who had players that were gifted physically, with anomalies of the FSU & GU home games. Both of those teams were not playing well at the time of those games but each has subsequently gotten better as the season has progressed.

The players they have now as sophomores/freshman are truly transition players. I believe physically they are better than the upperclassmen. The recruits coming in next year are even better then the younger players and definitely better than the upperclassman.

What people have to realize is Pitt is in transition from depending on overachievers whose learning curve is 2-3 years to achievers whose cure will be 1-2 years, he** some of them will come in and contribute as true freshman.

The Howland to Dixon era have been one that has been based on getting overachievers to work within a system. The system is not the problem; the problem is that it is near to impossible for overachievers to rise above achievers on a consistent basis and especially in the NCAAs, where practically every team you face will expose your athletic liabilities.

No, we cannot question the hearts of our players nor Coach D. But we can at the same time accept the limitations of the players and the burden they put on the coaching staff that has to scheme to overcome them.

But as I have said, help is on the way.

Comment by Kenny 03.05.07 @ 10:15 am

I traveled up to Milwaukee to watch the game in person. You know what Chas, I’m with you 90% most of the time, but you’re nuts if you don’t think this team is disappointing. This year it was not unreasonable to think:

1) Pitt would continue to have great defense (and, for the most part they have).
2) That Gray, after significant improvement from his Sophmore to Junior years, would again take a step forward (he absolutely hasn’t).
3) That this team would get a couple of consistant shooters (they haven’t).
4) Pitt would make it past the Sweet 16 (I don’t see that happening).

The top of the Big East is weaker this year than it’s been in a long time and Pitt couldn’t take advantage. Pitt is a legitimate top 15 – top 20 team, and I expected more than that this year.

And please stop acting like having no high school All-Americans or NBA players on the team is a badge of honor. It’s more of an indictment of the recruiting staff that they’ve had the regular season records they’ve had and still can’t pull in the big players.

Comment by frankinchicago 03.05.07 @ 11:01 am

I will throw out one ray of hope from this year’s play. Truth be told, we never ended up losing to an inferior or bad team. (OSU has fallen but at that time they were top ranked)

Just last year we lost to both Seton Hall and St. Johns.

True..we were unable to beat any team that was better than us or equal to us.

My ray of hope is that if we end up with a four seed then maybe we actually can get in the sweet sixteen, again.

Comment by GM 03.05.07 @ 11:19 am


I didn’t say wasn’t disappointed. I had big expectations going into the season like everyone else. I was disappointed in the Marquette game. I’ve been disappointed in every loss to some degree or another.

If Pitt can’t get to at least the Sweet 16 I’ll be disappointed in the season. I’m still holding out some hope that somehow the guard-play can at least get back to adequate.

While Gray’s scoring and rebounding haven’t substantially increased, he has gone from shooting .526 to .591 meaning he has shown stronger shooting touch and with less misses means less chances for his own put-backs which cuts down on rebounding opportunities. He has regressed with free throw shooting as the season has progressed. He had been in the low 60% area in the first half — where he was last year — but has fallen down to mid 50s overall. Meaning, he has gotten worse during the season. I would take that to be mental more than anything else.

As for recruiting, it keeps getting steadily better each season. No, Pitt hasn’t gotten a McDonald’s All-American yet if that’s what you are talking about, but Pitt hasn’t been in the most fertile base for the last 10 years.

Do you know when Jim Calhoun had his first McDonald? 1996, Richard Hamilton.

link to

That was 10 years after taking over at UConn and 2 years after he got his team to the Elite 8.

I realize times are different than 10 years ago or 20 years ago. Whether you designate Dixon to have been here 8 years total or just 4 years in-charge,
but it’s hard not to be encouraged with recruiting.

Probably the best thing for Pitt was the number of assistants who moved on last year. New blood and ambitious assistants to really go after kids as Pitt expands its recruiting avenues.

Comment by Chas 03.05.07 @ 2:06 pm

“You ignore that Gray passes out of double teams very well. If the guards aren’t hitting shots, then when they get the opportunities or take too long to shoot — giving the defender a chance to recover — it doesn’t work. In the loss to Marquette, Gray was the leading assist guy with 4, followed by Cook and Ramon each with 3.”

Actually, this is the point I’m making entirely. Gray being such a good passer means we need to feed him more. Gray doesn’t need to score 20 for us to win, but he needs to get the ball in the low post time and time again to create shots for the spot up shooters. It’s quite simple, really. When we play inside-out we typically shoot much better. Fields is a willing and able passer as are all of the other players. You do not need to be 6’6 to deliver a good entry bounce pass and I dare you to find anyone who says that’s the case. And Fields is not the only person who needs to be doing this. The offensive direction needs to come from the coach and it needs to be a team wide philosophy. Your idea you keep bringing up that all of the passing angles to the pose are shut down for the entire shot clock against teams that trap is inane.

As for why we’ve been winning? Well, to my mind we’ve had some of the best interior players in the country the last 4 years and up until this year, a shut down D. But let me ask you this… why do we lose to teams like Bradley in the NCAA? Panic… or would you just say “bad luck”.

And for the last time, Krauser was not a good interior passer. He simply was getting trapped in the interior of the defense time and time again. Where do you think all of those turnovers came from, big guy?

Comment by J-Maile 03.05.07 @ 5:22 pm

Few thoughts:

When is the last time we heard that “pick your poison” stuff in reference to Pitt? We know this: Gray will get the ball, teams will double him, knowing our open shooter isn’t going to drain it. But we still need to get him the ball on every posession, and when he gets it, instead of passing immediately, he needs to – no, wait, here it comes – fight through the double team and shoot it when he’s 2 ft from the rim. I’ve seen hansboro take it up with 3 guys on him and draw a foul. Whens the last time gray made a shot when someone even breathed on him?

And pitt has gone soft on defense – we’re down to about 35-40ish in all teams. Not like teams of the past, and definitely not a top 8 team. Is it from our bad shooting giving the other team more opportunities from transition? Or us being soft? On of two things is going to have to happen: Better O to go with worse D, or better D to go with our worse O.

Obviously we’d rather have been Pitt for the last 8 years instead of George Mason with their 1 final four, but i think about 90% of Pitt fans agree we should be making the move into the Elite Eight/Final Four area about now. I’m tired of hearing the “Pitt has been great, quit complaing” vs. “Pitt has underachieved” arguement, AND ALL VARIATIONS OF IT, by now. Also, don’t really understand what the arguement is when we compare ourselves against other teams that have been failing/underacheiving this year….”it could be worse?” I cheer for pitt to win, not to “not fail.”

I’ll agree with those that think Gray *could* get the ball on every possession. Get a different angle, re-post, move the ball around, lob over the top, bounce pass, etc, etc, etc. If we can’t even get the ball to the largest guy on the court on every single posession, we shouldn’t even be worried if we’re a top 25 team, we should be in division II.

Comment by Stuart 03.05.07 @ 8:54 pm

The D and rebounding have let this team down, no question. In past years, we couldn’t shoot consistently well either, but could usually count on keeping teams in the 50’s. We also were the intimidators and forced bad shots and panicky turnovers. Now it’s us getting intimidated. It made me nauseous that a 5’11” 170 pound kid like James had us cowering and allowing him to penetrate like it was an NBA all star game.

Comment by geeman2001 03.05.07 @ 11:13 pm

” but i think about 90% of Pitt fans agree we should be making the move into the Elite Eight/Final Four area about now.”

I am one of the 10% that does not believe that. How can you get past the Sweet 16 let alone beyond with players, who for the most part, were not wanted by the perennial powers in our own conference? You can’t unless the stars/planets align and you have a beyond all reason season run like George Mason did last year.

Why after only 6 seasons of RELATIVE success should they be considered good enough to go to the Promised Land? The only reason I can come up with is unrealistic expectations. The deck is stacked against you. History is stacked against you. He** the perennial powers are stacked against you.

The players, who played on those teams these past 6 seasons, have done the best they could do. You cannot ask them to reach the mountain when they are not equipped to do so. You cannot ask the coaching staff to get water from the rocks they have. No, they can only get the players they have to perform to the best of their ability. To expect anything more is to move into the realm of fantasy, with the emphasis on “FANtasy.”

We as fans of Pitt must come to the realization that this program is still in the rebuilding process. Part of that process is getting better recruits. The ironic thing is that the current success of the last 6 seasons is part and parcel attaining better recruits, recruits, who if attained, will take this program further.

How does North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, & UCON be consistently regarded as possible Final Four teams…….it is because they have been getting upper tier recruits on a consistent basis. Why are UCON and the Cuse always in or near the top of the BE, great recruits.

I will not be heart broken if this team does not make a deep NCAA run. I realize their limitations. Any failure on their part will be comforted with the fact that this program is a work in progress, that will get better recruits next year and in the years to come.

You can’t ask for more than that, unless of course you’re a “FANatic.”


Comment by Kenny 03.06.07 @ 10:30 am

I wasn’t saying 90% think these players should be going to a final four, but 90% think a program doing well for the last 8 years should be about to make a move on a final four, and have the atheletes to do so by now.

Comment by Stuart 03.06.07 @ 7:20 pm

“I wasn’t saying 90% think these players should be going to a final four, but 90% think a program doing well for the last 8 years should be about to make a move on a final four, and have the athletes to do so by now.”

I quoted what you said and it was “but i think about 90% of Pitt fans agree we should be making the move into the Elite Eight/Final Four area about now.”

That statement was easy to understand. 90% of Pitt fans are of the mind that by this year the team should be able to move beyond the Sweet 16 (which they have not done in the current 6 season run to the NCAAs), the Elite 8 and perhaps even the Final Four.

My point was to show that the supposed belief of 90% of Pitt fans was “Fools Gold” so to speak. Just because a team has a relatively short span of success, 6 years, does not mean or even guarantee that it will have within its system better athletically gifted recruits who can take them through the 16 barrier.

Listed are the seasons’ record in the Howland-Dixon era:

99-00 13-15

00-01 19-14

01-02 29-6

02-03 28-5

03-04 31-5

04-05 20-9

05-06 25-8

06-07 25-6?

Yes the numbers look great from 01-02 & onward, but numbers can be deceiving. You need to ask “how were these numbers attained?” They were attained by mid-level recruits who worked within a good system and did they best they could do. If they could have done better, the Sweet 16 door would have been opened. It was not.

A case in point to validate my argumentation is the marked improvement of UCLA with the arrival of Howland. Since his tenure there, he runs basically the same system that Pitt continues to use today. This is his 4th season there so we have some data to work with.

03-04 11-17

04-05 18-11 (First round loss in NCAAs)

05-06 32-7 (Final Four/Championship Game)

06-07 26-4? (Most likely a #1 Seed in NCAAs)

In the first four years of his tenure at Pitt, he had a record of 89-40 (69%).
In his first four years of his tenure at UCLA his record is 87-39 (69%), of course if he makes another run in the tourney the numbers go up.

So it can be seen that in the time span at both schools, four years, he got the program to succeed. But what is the difference in these scenarios? It is that in his second year at UCLA he made the tourney, in the 3rd the championship game, and as for this season it looks like they will get beyond the 16.

Why and how did he do at UCLA what he could not do at Pitt, and what Jamie cannot do either? The answer is simple. UCLA has not only name recognition but a storied tradition. They have a foundation that was laid by the “Wizard of Westwood.”

What foundation does Pitt have? The recent run of success, the success of Smith, Lane, Mathews, & Miller in the 80s, Billy Knight, Brian Shorter….. That is not a storied tradition.

Because of the already laid foundation at UCLA, there were better recruits in the system and more came under Howland (Collison). Add the aforementioned fact with the system Howland installed and you have the 16 barrier broken in the 3rd season. Alas that barrier has not been broken for the current Pitt program’s NCAA run to date.

Pitt fans have to realize that a foundation has/is being laid AND that the house will be built upon better recruits, athletes who will take them to the 16 and beyond. It does not add up that recruits with limited athleticism will take them further than they are capable of doing.

Just because a program has risen from ashes, has had recent success, and has acquired name recognition does not mean to expect the program to bust through the 16 barrier with players who cannot take them there. It is not rational to think otherwise.

Better days are ahead and those days will be better because of better athletes.

Comment by Kenny 03.07.07 @ 1:37 pm

We aren’t going to be a one seed and we have good players. Most of this is not making sense.

Comment by J-Maile 03.08.07 @ 4:45 am

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