No one is going to claim that Pitt has fixed things. There’s still a lot that Pitt needs to do to really be a top-15 team this year. There was good and bad in this game. It was a win. Pitt seemed close to busting it open a couple times and then LaSalle came right back and made it scary.
Just as we don’t know everything about Pitt yet, we don’t know how good or LaSalle really will be. They scared the daylights out of Villanova last week. They beat James Madison. They would appear to be better than they have been in a while, but how good? Probably not as good as they looked at Pitt.
In the fourth game of the season, we are starting to see some signs of a rotation being formed. Birch’s minutes went up. Zanna’s somewhat-inexplicably stayed consistent in minutes. Moore is getting a little more time. Cam Wright may be playing himself to a permanent seat on the bench.
The Good Stuff:
Pitt won despite a bad shooting night from Ashton Gibbs. 14 points for Gibbs, but 3-15 shooting. He was flat missing shots. Silver lining was that 7 points came on free throws, so Gibbs was being a little more aggressive and getting contact.
Khem Birch started to show why he has so many excited. Only 13 minutes (but it seemed like a bit more), yet he pulled down 6 rebounds (4 offensive) and had 3 blocks. Still struggling with defensive positioning and footwork (he picked up 3 fouls as well), but does make up for quite a bit of it with his athleticism.
Travon Woodall with a double-double. 12 points and 10 assists. He also had a huge block in the final minute when Pitt nearly let the lead slip away. Efficient shooting continues.
Ball movement and sharing. Pitt had 20 assists on 26 baskets.
Getting the ball inside. Pitt took a lot fewer 3s — in no small part because LaSalle was guarding tighter outside, but the frontcourt got 20 FG attempts. The frontcourt also had 9 turnovers, so there could have been more opportunities.
Nasir Robinson’s consistency. 17 points on 8-10 shooting. He constantly slips inside past the defender for the pass an easy lay-in.
Dante Taylor has signs of life. But for the inadvertent elbow to the face, he probably would have played more. He came up with 11 points and 6 rebounds. A little better defense, but I think we all have to accept that his defensive profile is more Tyrell Biggs than Gary McGhee.
J.J. Moore getting minutes. Honestly Moore is closer to a neutral than simply good, but there is no denying the numbers. 9 points (3-3 on 3s, 3-5 overall) and 6 rebounds (all defensive) in 19 minutes. His defensive effort, though, is a frustrating sight. So eager to have the ball. In his first couple minutes when he was inserted into the game this was his sequence when the ball reached him: drill a 3, turnover, pulling up for a mid-range jumper and missing badly when he had a clear lane to the hoop, another 3. Someone on Twitter suggested that he could be as good as Sam Young if he made the commitment to defense. I would take Gil Brown comparisons, because I don’t think you can easily match the commitment Sam Young took to being a better defensive player. Moore says the right things about it, but on the court is something different.
The Bad Stuff:
Turnovers. Good lord. It wasn’t like LaSalle was pressing Pitt the entire game. That only happened in the final couple minutes. Pitt was just bad with the ball. LaSalle was getting their hands on the ball defending the perimeter. Slapping at it. Trying to poke it away. And the backcourt struggled with it. It was sloppy ball handling. It kept LaSalle in the game, Pitt had a 7:32 stretch in the first half where they only scored 3 points. In that
Talib Zanna is simply not very good. He would not have had as many minutes last night if Taylor didn’t have to go out for an extended break in the first half after taking the elbow to the face. He has no defensive presence beyond being a roadblock. Literally just standing there flat-footed and letting the LaSalle players detour around him to the basket. Bad hands kept him from grabbing many rebounds and 3 turnovers. Heplayed all of 3 minutes in the second half. At some point he goes from being a high potential project to pure bench player. It is rapidly approaching that point.
The defense. It looked at times in the first half, that Pitt was finding its footing on defense. Then the second half happened. LaSalle shot 15-30 in the second half, after going 11-30 in the first half. I guess it is some progress that they held a team under 50% for a half. The biggest problem on the defense is simply that the team relaxes. LaSalle kept having spurts in both halves where they clearly caught guys napping. Pitt’s frontcourt defense is not great. I think it will improve as Birch sees more minutes and gets more comfortable (saw some of it last night), but the backcourt is the bigger issue, and it puts more pressure on the frontcourt when they have to decide to leave their man to stop the penetration and risking being late and picking up the foul. Or then letting the guy they left score easily because the help defense couldn’t react in time.
I know Gibbs is average at best. Woodall doesn’t have the size. But they need to keep their man in front of them. Still seeing too much of penetration and blowing past the guards.
Cameron Wright is a man without confidence. Indecisive, hesitant. Scared. He got out on the court for a minute. Let the ball get poked away from him when Pitt was trying to run the offense, forcing Woodall to foul the LaSalle player to prevent the easy breakaway basket. That was the end of his night.
John Johnson had his first bad game. Picked up a couple fouls very quickly. Seemed out of sync. Didn’t get many minutes.