There has been a prevailing media myth about Pitt basketball the last few years. It has been repeated ad nauseum about how Pitt is a great defensive team, but is offensively challenged. In truth, Pitt has been anywhere from a good to mediocre defensive team with a highly efficient offense.
What has been true about the defense, regardless of the media storyline, has been that Pitt players have taken pride in playing defense. That a strong defensive series tends to energize them and has often fueled their offense. That has not at all been the case this season.
Forget, if you can for the moment, the poor defensive performances this season. What we haven’t seen on the defensive side is enthusiasm to play defense, unless the offense is flowng. When the offense is going, the team’s energy is higher. While there hasn’t been great showings this season, we at least knew the effort on defense was there.
Now, compare that effort over the last couple of games — specifically the second half.
In the first half of Wagner and ND, Pitt shot sub-35% against teams with very different defenses — with one noticeable similarity. Wagner brought pressure. Trying and succeeding in forcing a ton of turnovers. ND stayed in a regular defense, occasionally showing a 2-3 look.
The one thing both did, gave very little space on the perimeter for the guards to operate — especially on Ashton Gibbs. An uncontested jumper was a rare sight. Gibbs was never given room to take a shot, and it has gotten into his head. Where he used to fire up with such a quick release, Gibbs is now hesitating. We saw early in the season that Pitt was much more of a jump-shooting team. Working the perimeter and finding shots.
Teams have made an adjustment. Taking away the perimeter and fighting through Pitt’s attempts to set screens. Willing to take chances on leaving the paint open for the frontcourt because they don’t fear them doing much more than lay-ups and putbacks.
Rather than keep the effort going on the defensive end and trust that they could find the shots in the second half, Pitt got impatient on the offense. And worse, stopped putting effort into the defense. It wasn’t as obvious against a smaller, weaker team like Wagner, but Notre Dame absolutely shredded Pitt.
Notre Dame shot 32.1% in the first half (9-28) and then went for 72% (18-25) in the second half. There’s no way to attribute that to simply the shooters getting hot. Especially when you see that Pitt held a +9 rebounding advantage in the first half and ended the game with the same +9 advantage. Despite ND only missing 7 shots — the Irish still grabbed 4 offensive rebounds. How does Pitt let that happen? Jack Cooley averaged 7.667 RPG coming into the game and pulled down 14.
The ND loss was a team effort. There isn’t one player on the Pitt team who played that can get a pass – maybe Woodall simply because it was his first game back from the injury. Name a player and the performance was subpar at a minimum. I wish it was just a couple players. Then the fix would be more obvious. Or it could be attributed to an off night.
Right now this team is behaving like a much younger team. They are letting frustrations at the offensive end impact their effort at the other.