Where to start, where to start, where to start.
How about with Coach Dixon.
“We knew when we scheduled Long Beach State that they were very good and we wanted to play an experienced team. We knew how good they were. I anticipated us being a much better team at this time and obviously we are not where I would like us to be. I want to give them credit for how well they played because they played very well. They played like seniors and like an experienced team. They played hard, they played aggressive and they moved the ball very well. On our part, we have a lot of work to do. I think we knew that, we have been talking about that, and we have to get better. This was disappointing, but we recognized going in that we have to be a better team and we’ve got to get better defensively. We usually get better as the year goes on (defensively) and we have to do that here and now moving forward.“
Obvious disappointment and a bit of frustration from Coach Dixon. As much as the outside expectations are high on Pitt, the expectations from within aren’t being met as well. The team has five days before their next game against LaSalle. LaSalle, by the way, took Villanova to OT before losing this past week.
Working on the defense might be a priority.
“Our transition defense is not good enough, it hasn’t been good enough, and so that was the key. Turnovers, bad shots led to that. Guys who are supposed to be back on the shot aren’t doing that when they are supposed to be, but the same guys aren’t doing it in practice either. It’s a new thing for a couple of guys. We got beat every which way and when you get beat like we did it is execution or could be construed as effort. The fact remains that they shot 59 percent so we are not getting our assignments. We are indecisive on what to do defensively and that is slowing us down. That is the bottom line.”
That was apparent. Pitt is not as slow and unathletic as they they appeared during the game. But they definitely looked very lost for significant parts of the game. A lot of that came from being unsure where they should be. There was more standing around on both ends. Questioning looks to each other — but no one doing a good job of directing things. That much is on the upperclassmen. Especially the guards. Communication has to be better. Directing, instructing. Not just waiting until after they get burned on offense or only passing the ball around on offense to the guys who are in the right place. Long Beach State scored 1.32 points per possession. That goes down as Pitt’s worst defensive performance under Coach Dixon — ever.
The other interesting thing in the quote sheets were the comments about the practices not being good. Coach Dixon noted that the guys not practicing well weren’t playing well. And both Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson suggested something similar.
“Yes. With us being the seniors and being the leaders, we have to do a better job during practice in leading, so our freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can follow us.”
“We didn’t necessarily feel it before the game. It starts in shoot-around and practice so we have to play harder in practice and can’t be playing around in shoot-around. We just have to focus and that’s what it really comes down to. We have to play every game like it’s our last and from now on that’s what we are going to do. Us as seniors, we have to step up and be better leaders. We have to take this as a learning experience. We can’t take this as a negative but as a positive almost and capitalize on it.”
Have a feeling a lot of players are going to be sore after the practices that take place for the rest of the week.
Perhaps some of the communication problems came from not having Travon Woodall out as much as usual. Woodall continues to be shooting very well. He went for 17 points on 5-6 shooting (3-4 on 3s and 4-5 on FTs), but played only 26 minutes. Woodall had foul issues, fouling out in the game trying to defend against Casper Ware. He also struggled as point guard — 4 assists and 5 turnovers. Woodall, though, is still the better option to run the offense than Ashton Gibbs.
Gibbs didn’t have his best night shooting. It wasn’t abysmal, but it wasn’t efficient. Some of that comes when he is holding the ball for much of the offensive sets. He is so much better when he just receives the ball and is looking for his shot or drive. It isn’t just draft status issues. Gibbs has to help run the offense this year — not just have the offense run through him. But that means he has to make faster decisions on helping to move the ball around better. Too much of the time — even in this early season — he will hold the ball out there. As if trying to decide whether to shoot, drive or move the ball. I saw him pick up his dribble a lot more as he became indecisive on offense.
Cameron Wright and J.J. Moore are the early big disappointments for me. Moore said all the right things going into the season about how he has to and will play defense. Instead, he has shown little inclination to put forth the effort at that end — resulting in his very brief time on the court. The only good thing I can say, is that at least he didn’t hoist a shot right away on the court. Reading body language is such a subjective thing at times, but it is hard not see petulance riddling his. I don’t know if he’s still stewing at Lamar Patterson getting the starts — and minutes — but he is not doing anything to make a case otherwise.
Wright is surprisingly disappointing because he was supposed to be a defense-first guard. He has better size at 6-4, but plays small. He looks completely lost out there. Despite Woodall’s foul issues, his minutes dipped even further because he was essentially inept. He could not keep his man in front of him, and got easily confused on offense. As a redshirt freshman, there can be some growing pains when you actually start playing, but he is on the verge of being passed by freshman John Johnson as the guy brought in off the bench.
Johnson has been a pleasant surprise among the guards and freshmen. He was the biggest question mark from the signing class. Questions about qualifying were there. There were some questions about how well he’d play defense. Even though he looked great in the Greentree Summer League, that doesn’t always means much (see, Moore, J.J.). But I’ve been impressed with his tenacity on the defensive side.
Then there’s the frontcourt. Ugh. Remember when there were questions about whether Nasir Robinson would be recovered from his minor knee surgery to start the season? Plenty of people were looking at the silver lining of maybe getting the Birch in early. Along with more PT for Talib Zanna and Malcolm Gilbert. Suggesting a possible Wally Pipp scenario with Nas being the energy guy off the bench. Yeah. Safe to say, that view is now consigned to the dustbin.
Nas is the only one who is doing work inside. He is the only one continually getting free for the passes and easy buckets inside. He gets a fair share. As always he is inside mucking and playing defense.
Dante Taylor had foul problems last night. Some of it was ticky-tack calls, but even the weak calls came from being late to get out on defense. He’s really the only option at center right now, but he still has well-documented issues with position and footwork inside. He’s improved on offensive positioning, but it isn’t yet consistent for the guards to trust him with the pass inside.
Zanna continues to be — at best — a work in progress. He doesn’t have the best hands. He really hasn’t figured out where to be on the court. Honestly — and I may be being charitable — I think his cluelessness out there creates such indecisiveness that he simply doesn’t move. Making him appear more disinterested than he is. Assuming Birch starts to figure more things out, Zanna is going to have his minutes drop further into the season.
As for Birch, he is learning the hard way about how hard it is to play defense when you can’t simply swat every shot. You can’t block what isn’t in front of you, and he has been of position often on defense to keep from being much of a factor to this point.
Long Beach State flat out played a better game on both sides of the ball than Pitt.
Pitt did not hold a lead in the game after the 13-minute mark of the first half. Long Beach State had the lead for the final 25 minutes after a rally at the end of the first half that netted a 45-36 halftime lead.
It was the second consecutive game an opponent scored 45 points in a half against the Panthers. Long Beach State shot 69 percent (18 for 26) from the field in the first half.
“We didn’t execute,” Gibbs said of the Panthers defense. “There were certain spots where we were supposed to be at certain times, and we weren’t there. They played harder than us. They executed better, and it looked like it.”
Credit does have to go to LBS. Were it not for the fact that they were doing that to Pitt, it would have been a joy to watch them play. They played team ball, even as they were led by an excellent point guard who scored from everywhere.
Truthfully it was about all of them, about how they played together collectively, about how they’re a tight unit right now. About how they’re what Pitt isn’t right now (it’s early), a team in the truest sense of the word.
A team led by Casper Ware, who seemed to understand exactly what to do in order to give his team the best chance to win on just about every possession. That’s Casper Ware’s job.
It’s what he, and his teammates, expect him to do, to help them win. And tonight, they became only the second non-conference team to accomplish that in the history of the Petersen Events Center.
While for much of the game it seemed that they never missed, what it was, was that they just didn’t miss opportunities and never seemed to wilt when Pitt was on the verge of getting back into the game in the second half. For all the talk of how they wanted it more than Pitt. That they had more energy than Pitt. LBS simply put, played better than Pitt.