January 11, 2012

Rutgers, Zone and Something

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 11:02 am

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.”

And no shortage of advice.

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, and FullCourt package at 7pm.

Unfortunately, I disagree with Gibbs’s suggestion that defense is something you “just have to want to do”. Talented defenders are, arguably, more talented than talented offensive players. There’s a reason that we remember all of the tremendous scorers but so few remarkable defenders. On-ball defenders, much like cornerbacks in football, have to play their men meticulously, particularly when guarding the opponent’s best player. Gibbs is a fine shooter (despite this season’s numbers), but an abysmal defensive player. He has no business being the go-to perimeter defender. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we had a genuine shut-down guy.

Comment by MikeZimmerman 01.11.12 @ 11:42 am

Did you notice that Seton Hall is now 15 and 2, ranked, and had no problem with DePaul last night? Thus, after Dixon is axed, maybe S Miller is not the only Pitt alum to be considered as his replacement.

Comment by wbb 01.11.12 @ 11:50 am

Very funny, wbb…much needed.

Comment by Pantherman13 01.11.12 @ 12:02 pm

Pitt is dispirited right now and for good reason. One highly touted player quit, one starter hurt and return is mystery and 4 losses in a row to teams they could have beaten if they had played only marginally better.
I won’t argue talent here, but I do think that mentally this Pitt team is cooked…out of gas…toasted.
The slightest amount of adversity dooms them and that IS attitude.
If I knew how to turn it around, I would. In hockey, they fight, in baseball it is a bean ball war, in football it is a 3rd stringer who lites a fire. In basketball??????

Comment by SFPitt 01.11.12 @ 12:24 pm

wbb: Surely, you can’t be serious??? Rev. George in Columbusm which is REELING from OSU’S defeat by Tllinois. Even good teams lose. No reason to jump ship!

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 01.11.12 @ 12:30 pm

Rev, see Pantherman’s memo above .. he took my message the way it was intended. Heck, I still don’t think Wanny should have been fired … let alone Dixon!

Comment by wbb 01.11.12 @ 12:37 pm


In basketball, it’s a win.

Comment by omar 01.11.12 @ 12:40 pm

You could probably get a 2 for 1 packagae with Jr and Sr Willard for the nostalgic among us

Comment by Ghost of Hornman 01.11.12 @ 1:07 pm

PITT going zone means Gilbert has to play more & JD is reluctant to give Gilbert more playing time.

Comment by DC33 01.11.12 @ 1:21 pm

Gilbert is absolutely clueless on offense. He was standing literally under the basket the other day. I’d like to see him get a few minutes, but would prefer Zanna to swing to 5, keep Robinson or Patterson at 4, and let JJ play. Our problem is not getting burned under the basket. It’s closing out shooters on the wing and preventing penetration.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 01.11.12 @ 1:29 pm

I meant JJ Moore playing at the 3….On John Johnson, he tries hard, but he’s not a particularly strong defensive player. Watch him. Gets burned on picks and shots. If we could combine him and Wright, we’d be golden and have a scholarship available to boot…

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 01.11.12 @ 1:31 pm

Towards the end of the DePaul game, Ashton Gibbs began to take charge and they seemed to get back on track and it looked as though they would pull out the win. Actually with a 2 point lead and the ball, they should have won. They need someone to take charge at crunch time or when they get out of sync to settle them down and get them back into what do well. I thought by now that Travon Woodall would back, but apparently his injury was worse than anyone thought. Woodall won’t solve the defensive problems, but his ball handling, penetration, and ball distribution will greatly help offensively. Right know there are too many passes around the perimeter and not enough penetration. In addition to that, handling pressure is causing too many turnovers and it’s taking too long to get into the offense.

Comment by Justinian 01.11.12 @ 1:34 pm

You can also change the pace/tempo of the game.

A zone is a good way to slow it down.

Jamie should consider speeding things up, especially at home versus a inferior opponent. Pitt did well in the first half against Depaul by attacking the press.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 01.11.12 @ 1:34 pm

@Boubacar Aw: The Pittsburgh offense is predicated on getting into a half-court set and executing plays. Not to mention, Jamie does not have the talent capable of running — not with Birch leaving, anyway. Mobile big men is a MUST.

Comment by MikeZimmerman 01.11.12 @ 1:47 pm

Maybe I’m naive, but I think this level of significant adversity is good for the program and for the coach in the long run. Jamie’s first decade has been solid as can be but as we all know we have not gotten to the proverbial next level.

Jamie’s system and method (getting the most out of “ham-and-eggers” as it has been characterized) has been like cruise control. The Big Dance, Sweet Sixteen, lose to a lower seed, yeah too bad but dontcha love that consistent winning program? Yet we’re all sort of vaguely dissatisfied.

Adversity forces you to rethink and retool if you are going to overcome it by doing things differently. And that re-tooling may be what finally achieves that next level. We shall see if Coach feels the same way.

Comment by BATR 01.11.12 @ 1:58 pm

Good point BATR. Hopefully Jamie isn’t stubborn in his ways or reluctant to try different approaches to ‘save’ the season and get to that next level in future years. Defeat and adversity are often good learning experiences. The talk of a zone defense is a good start.

Comment by TX Panther 01.11.12 @ 2:11 pm

The only guard we have that plays anything close to decent defense is Wright and he plays the 2. Even Tray does not play really good D but at least he seems to be quicker than the others at the 1.

Comment by wbb 01.11.12 @ 2:24 pm

Zimmerman – two quick thoughts. First, it may be that Pitt’s big men are more suited to running the floor than typical half court play. I’m not saying that they would be great at it, but both Zanna and Taylor have shown some ability to run the floor (even though neither appears to have a great basketball IQ), and neither seems physically intimidating enough to play the traditional role of big, beefy center.

More importantly, what Pitt was doing well against DePaul (and what Boubacar might have been referencing) was more than just attacking as part of a press break, but also attacking the basket out of the half court offense. The guards were moving the ball towards the hoop rather than just passing along the perimeter, and looking to get good 2 point looks rather than settling for 3 point jumpers. It did seem to work well in the first half.

Comment by Pantherman13 01.11.12 @ 2:27 pm

While the Panthers did attack DePaul’s press pretty well in the 1rst half, it was after all…..DePaul.
But a couple mental errors in the last minute or so erased a double digit lead to seven and those inane turnovers at the end of the half gave DePaul one big thing……hope.

Glad to see Coach is talking about using some Zone. But for something, anything to work….you have to believe in it. I’m not hearing that in most of these quotes. This appears to be the perfect team to use it against, one that isn’t a great outside shooting team. But again…it isn’t going to work, unless you get….the first thing required in any project….belief.

We shall see what that belief level is tonight.

Comment by Emel 01.11.12 @ 2:51 pm

Oh and you just don’t switch out of it, if Rutgers happens to score a basket or two when you switch to it. Everyone is doing that against the man anyway.

And I hope they’re going to have the perimeter guys in the zone, overplaying the passing lanes. You can get quite a few turnovers by doing that.

Comment by Emel 01.11.12 @ 3:00 pm

Yes, Emel, Dixon saying “we’ve tried the zone but it just didn’t seem to work” is b.s. Trying a zone for one possession does not constitute a valid attempt.

Comment by Carmen 01.11.12 @ 3:13 pm

Size & intimidation prevents penetration == Gilbert has to be in the rotation w/zanna & taylor. Adams comes in next year & leaves after 1yr==he currently is projected as a #2 pick in 2014. If Gilbert does not receive playing time & gain experience PITT & JD will be in the same situation a year from now == i’m not suggesting 30+ minutes but his size has to help the defense & rebounding==on offense if you run the offense through your big men first may also help free up shots for jj,patterson,gibbs etc..IMO HTP

Comment by DC33 01.11.12 @ 3:32 pm

wbb: OK! Now I get it. Clever. I’m just getting paranoid about Pitt sports. I’m ready to jump at even unintended slurs. I know you are with us and I look forward to your blogs. Rev. George

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 01.11.12 @ 5:08 pm


Consider me to be informed. Now, how do we get that elusive win?

Comment by SFPitt 01.11.12 @ 10:07 pm

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