Another game, another must win. This time against a Rutgers team capable of beating Florida (who lost to Tennessee who lost to Pitt) and UConn (who also lost to UCF and Seton Hall); and losing to USF and Illinois State.
There’s not a lot that makes sense right now. Whether you are applying it to Pitt, the Big East (L-ville 1-4 in last 5 games after being blasted by Providence by 31 as an example), or nationally — Florida St., Wisconsin, Purdue, Texas…
Pitt is smack-dab in the middle of the craziness this season. Most pundits — and a significant number of fans — have declared the team dead for this year. I don’t know. It is hard to find the optimism right now. So much not working and no apparent easy fix. It isn’t a matter of simply “wanting it more” than the other team.
How crazy is it? The zone is being legitimately discussed as an option by Coach Jamie Dixon.
Gibbs, who has missed 28 of his past 36 3-point attempts, said the combination of bad shooting and poor defense is why the Panthers (11-5, 0-3 Big East) will bring their longest losing streak in 11 years into tonight’s game against visiting Rutgers (9-7, 1-2) at Petersen Events Center.
“You just have to want to do it, that’s all defense is,” Gibbs said. “Having an inner pride to stop your man from scoring and stop the other team from scoring.”
One strategy to contain penetration is to play more zone defense. The Panthers practice the zone every day at practice and have played a 2-3 zone a couple of times this season. But Dixon said it hasn’t been effective, so he’s reluctant to switch.
“Our zone hasn’t been very good in the games that we’ve used it,” he said. “It’s something we want to play, but we’ve got to get more out of it than we’ve been getting.”
There’s an air of desperation right now. A Pitt team, looking for something, anything to get them a win.
“If a zone is going to work, I think we should definitely try it,” sophomore forward Lamar Patterson said. “If it works, stick with it. Whatever it takes to get a ‘W’ right now.”
“Everyone is mad,” Patterson said. “We’re all sick of losing. We hate the feeling. We want to get back to winning. That’s what we came here for. That’s why we became Pitt Panthers because it’s a winning program. That’s what we’re trying to get back to. Everyone is just mad. We’re going to get it changed around.”
While Dixon has tried to keep the team upbeat, his players are hearing it anyway. Patterson cringes a bit when he sees an incoming Skype call from former Panthers.
“We have little conversations and they’re asking (what’s wrong) and they just tell us what we need to do,” Patterson said.
Not that the Panthers need reminding.
The other reason that Pitt is considering strongly (and apparently openly) tossing in more zone defense is the opponent. Rutgers does not emphasize 3-point shooting. They shoot less than 34% from out there and attempt only 14 per game.
The added reason for a zone, their head coach Mike Rice, has implied that it is a good way to beat his team.
Rutgers is a middle-of-the-pack Big East team in 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. The Scarlet Knights, led by second-year coach and former Pitt assistant Mike Rice, are coming off a 67-60 victory over Connecticut, their second win over a top-10 team in nine days (they also beat Florida).
“We’re a pretty good team when we get out of our own way,” Rice said. “When we’re not pouting, we’re not frustrated.”
This is a team that wants to get inside. Penetrate, especially by the guards (Myles Mack and Eli Carter) and finding power forward Gilvydas Biruta. So going zone and not making it easy for them to attack is a good way to frustrate them. That also requires not letting Biruta alone inside to shred the zone like Nas has done to Syracuse.
The game tonight is on Root, SNY, MASN, ESPN3.com and FullCourt package at 7pm.