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January 23, 2012

Another Disappointment

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 1:18 pm

Travel day yesterday kept me away from the computer — and it was probably a good thing.

I don’t know what to say at this point. It seems as much in the players’ heads at this point as it is to the issues of talent. You don’t go on a slide like this. Losing the way Pitt has for the past month. I mean after watching Pitt football for the past couple of years, we should all be able to recognize a team that just doesn’t seem to have it all together when the other team doesn’t roll over.

Woodall was rusty — which should not have been unexpected. The initial spark he provided the team simply by his presence was quickly extinguished by foul troubles.

There are a lot of fingers pointed at guys like Robinson and Gibbs. And I’ll agree on the defensive side, they did not do a good job. Offensively, they were okay. Yes, Gibbs was only 5-13, but he was 4-10 on 3s. That’s much better than what he has been. Good production from Lamar Patterson (14 points. 6-9 shooting). Even Talib Zanna (3-6, 7 pts) and Dante Taylor (4-5, 8 pts) generated offense inside. The problem, offensively, is as it has been for the last month. No real production from anywhere else on the court.

J.J. Moore makes me crazy, the same way Dante Taylor seems to do to everyone else. Moore only wants to shoot jumpers and refuses to attack the basket if there is even a chance someone might get in his way. Coupled with his lackadaisical effort on defense. It is mind-blowing how he plays with such a sense of entitlement, considering how little he has accomplished. In this eight game slide, he is 11-40 with over half his attempts (23) being 3-balls — and only connecting 3 times. Couple that with 20 rebounds, 0 assists and 12 turnovers to boot in the same stretch and the question isn’t: why is he only playing 13+ minutes/game, but why does he get that many minutes?

Speaking of Dante Taylor driving people mad

Dante Taylor looked like he wanted to be anywhere else for almost the entire game, save for a quick burst of a couple of quick dunks followed by his normal routine of shenanigans that follow any positive play he makes.

The one question that came to mind watching Taylor last night was should he even be playing anything but spot minutes at this point? On one play he was out filling the lane on a rare transition opportunity when, inexplicably, he decided it was a better idea to try and screen a defender and let his guard try to score rather then make himself big and available for a dunk. Malcolm Gilbert is a freshman 7-footer on the bench. I understand Malcolm Gilbert is not the answer right now, but neither is Dante Taylor, and since Malcolm Gilbert’s red shirt was burned right after the departure of Montreal’s Gift — and here I always thought Montreal’s Gift to the world was Guy La Fleur — why not try to put him in a position to be the answer in the future by playing him some?

I’m starting to come around to the point of view that Gilbert should get more of Taylor’s minutes. Regardless of the problems. I know I’m late compared to a lot of others, but I have kept hoping that Taylor would finally find whatever spark he has occasionally shown. Zanna is inconsistent as all get out, but there is a sense of effort and that he is figuring things out. Taylor hasn’t even shown that since Khem Birch’s departure.

There’s no real production from Cam Wright or Isiah Epps — to the point where defenses essentially ignore them when Pitt has the ball. John Johnson no longer has the benefit of being lost by opposing defenses pre-Woodall injury.

Still those problems on offense pale compared to the defense. The perimeter defense remains a defense in name only. Regardless of whether Pitt is in man or zone. Opponents keep being able to penetrate easily. Putting the frontcourt into the position of leaving their man to help — and thus be out of position for a rebound. Or see a pass go for the easy score to the player they left, because no one rotated over. And god help Pitt if the guards sag off the perimeter to try and prevent the penetration. Kyle Kuric benefited from that on Saturday night.

And on Saturday night, no one in the frontcourt could handle Chane Beneham. It didn’t matter if it was Robinson, Taylor or Zanna. He made all three look silly as he moved around them with ease.

This team needs a win in the worst way.





What’s up with the Pitt jersey? link to unlvrebels.com

Comment by nevin 01.24.12 @ 9:39 pm

Taylor at the 4? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Taylor is a stiff that can’t hold Gary McGhee’s dirty uniform. Think about that. The 4? HAHAHAHAHAHA. This is hilarious. Learn the game.

Comment by omar 01.24.12 @ 10:29 pm

Even funnier is calling Nasir Robinson last year’s weak link after the team won 27 games, nearly outrebounded every team, and the biggest loses were at the hands of Scottie Hopson, Ben Hansborough, Kemba Walker, and Sheldon Mack- all guards.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 01.25.12 @ 7:59 am

I really do not think it is unrealistic to say Robinson was the weakest player on the team last year. His success was built largely on McGhee a space heater that boxed out opponents allowing Robinson to rebound. This is obvious this year without McGhee.

Robinson is a marginal athelete with marginal basketball skills (dribbling,paasing, certainly shooting, and rebounding against other SF forwards without Mcghee there).

Taylor even with his injuries and perceived deteration of his game (playing out of position) is a much more skilled player than Robinson. The same can be said for Zanna. They may not be as aggresive but they have greater skills and height to easily offset any hustle preception real or imagined.

I think there is a concensus (of course it means nothing since we have no influence on the coaching staff or are we as qualified) but it is time to for drastic measures. Play the young players now who could by March gain confidence and show why they were recruited (johson, Moore, Patterson, Zanna, and Taylor [play Zanna and Taylor at the 4 – or abandon the low post and go to 2 SF).

Gibbs and Robinson up to this point have done as much for the opponents, in turnovers and low percentage shooting, as they have contributed.

The real problem is even with very atheletic players it is like Bob Knight said “he cannot believe how fundamentally unsound todays basketball players coming out of high school are.”

Unlike football, basketball does not have numerous coaches and many coaches have never played. AAU is the biggest joke with the majority of the coaches being babysitters. Coaches in high school are concerned about there record not development of the players so they often let big men work on their Magic Johnson game rather than offend them.

Dixon has to let theses kids learn this year because he only has two seniors who do not have the skills to carry this team. He needs to see who can perform in the big show, not practice, when Adams and Robinson arrive.

If you want an indicatation of the quality of Adams offensive game query Steve Adams, addias games where he goes head to head with the number 1 center 7’0″. He outperforms him. However like all players before college his defense positioning is weak. Further he is not receiving any coaching at Notre Dame (Birch went there) plus I doubt they have him doing any weight training.

On defense when his oppoent gets the ball down low he does not body up on him but gives him space to dribble into the lane and then attempts to block the baby hook. Hopefully he will learn this quick at Pitt.

Offensively he is the most skilled 7’0″ center I have seen since Bill Walton.

Comment by DRW 01.25.12 @ 8:34 am

In the PG I ran across this quote by Naz Robinson that, not to point the finger only at him, but he certainly id describing his play more than any others.

Robinson said all the team needs is a shot of confidence that would come with a victory.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “We’ve been playing hard, playing better. It’s the little things that have been hurting us — not boxing out, the other team getting second chances and scoring, us making turnovers, foul shots. We’ve been concentrating heavy on those things in practice

Read more: link to post-gazette.com

Comment by DRW 01.25.12 @ 8:40 am

Omar, i don’t understand your point. Yeah, Taylor doesn’t play the 5 nearly as well as McGhee did his senior year. But, um, that’s sort of the point. And anyway, Taylor’s playing nearly as well during his junior year as Gary did during his. dont forget how bad Gary was until his final season. Yes, Taylor doesn’t play the 5 well, but what exactly does that have to do with the 4? What is it about the 4 that you find so complicated that Taylor could get? What do we have to lose by moving him over now and who else would play the 4 next year anyway? Its him and Zanna. I don’t see what’s outrageous about suggesting he play the 4 this year.

Silver, its not unreasonable to call Nas the weak link last year (even though I’m not sure i agree that he was). But while your right those guards beat us, those guards beat us on pick and rolls and screens resulting in layups. They drew McGhee out and beat Gibbs on the roll or streak to the basket. Half of the time, if you had a longer quicker 4, he could have stepped over to stop that play from killing us. Nas never did (though a big part of the problem was also Gibbs being too slow). Nas wasn’t necessarily the weak link, but his weaknesses were covered up a lot last year and he only played well in that context. Its not working this year cuz we don’t have the right players around him to compliment his strengths or hide his weaknesses.

Comment by PantherP 01.25.12 @ 9:34 am

I sure hope you’re right about Adams, DRW. To be honest, I’m a little gun-shy after the Birch debacle. I haven’t seen a lot of film on him, and I hope you’re right about his talent, but I’m not counting any chickens yet.

Comment by Lou 01.25.12 @ 10:11 am

PantherP:

I’m not trying to insult anyone, but please explain to me how Taylor has shown ANY ability to play the 4 position in college basketball? It is laughable to think he has the skill set to play the 4 at Pitt or anywhere. He can’t dribble, shoot, or pass the ball effectively. His lateral quickness barely allows him to keep up with players at the 5. His defense would go from bad to abysmal. He can barely make a free-throw, let alone a 16-footer.

I don’t know if Pitt fans did not play basketball or if they don’t watch enough of it. Dante Taylor is not a college power forward. The kid just isn’t a good player. It’s not because he is out of position. It’s because he sucks.

Thomas Robinson is a 4. Please watch him play and ask yourself if he reminds you of Dante Taylor. Then we can talk.

Comment by omar 01.25.12 @ 11:42 am

Most SF in college are not required to break the defense down by the dribble or outside shooting or eevn passing. Certainly Robinson has none of these skills. He has absolutely no conception of how to shoot except at the basket. He cannot dribble at all, and he has no quickness.

Most SF are compliments down low to the 5. Cleaning up the trash off the boards, scoring on put backs (Taylor would be usually matched against players smaller than him and shielded from rejections from the opposing center by his center).

SF are garbage men. One of the best SF’s was the SF who complimented Ewing when they won the national title. He had a small skill set but he was 6’9″, had a center to free him up for rebounds and put backs. Robinson is to small to be effective.

We really have no idea what Taylor can do facing the basket. He did win the skills comepetion (dribbling, shooting) in the high school McDonalds game. Dixon decided he could play the 5 and that decision has proved to be wrong.

Comment by DRW 01.25.12 @ 12:00 pm

post note -Birch is and will be a hell of a player. Like all kids out of high school, especially big men Kight hit the nail “it’s amazing the lack of fundamentals H.S. ball players have.”

As for Adams he is far from a head case. He is a soft spoken appreciative young man, not spoiled like many of the American players. Watch a video of him in the Addias games and tell me who the last 7’0″ you have seen with his athletic skills.
He needs some muscle, and some defensive positioning coaching but he is a force. He destroyed Twisack the 7’0″ number 1 or 2 center going to Arizona in the Addias games. Despite Adams dominance Twisack is a top notch college prospect.

Comment by DRW 01.25.12 @ 12:08 pm

Every time I see Thomas Robinson on TV I cringe, knowing how close Pitt was to landing him, but Taylor signed first. Talk about a program changer (or maintainer).

Comment by JW 01.25.12 @ 12:19 pm

DRW:

Contrary to your perception, the 4 is required to dribble and play face up. Nasir does this and is somewhat effective. Nasir gets into trouble when he tries to dribble too much, but he can put it on the floor. Furthermore most of the 4’s at Pitt have had this ability, e.g. Biggs, Young, Kendall, Jaron Brown, and Troutman.

More importantly, most teams play a hybrid player at the 4. Taylor would have to defend this player. Can you spell disaster?

Taylor ISN’T A 4. DIXON HAS NOT PLAYED HIM OUT OF POSITION. GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEADS. He just isn’t good.

Comment by omar 01.25.12 @ 1:13 pm

Omar,
the point I’m trying to make is less that he plays the standard PF role. It is more that
i) Nas is playing like garbage this year and doesn’t do any of the things you are saying a PF should do (Nas is NOT the template for a PF, if that is what you are saying) and
(ii) that Taylor is not playing the center well.
… so why not try something now that we have nothing to lose?

Why not try a front court that features more Zanna + Taylor for bigger teams or Zanna/Taylor+JJ Moore for quicker teams that have hybrid or quicker PFs?

We don’t have a true center this year until Gilbert is ready so there’s no sense in forcing any of the guys to play a position they aren’t built for.

We haven’t really seen Taylor anywhere but the C position. Of course he’s not shown much PF skill, because he’s not had any ANY opportunity to practice those things.

We know how players have historically developed on Dixon’s teams. We have nothing to lose by giving him some minutes there to see if he develops any PF skills.

And btw, he does have SOME skills of a PF. He can make cuts for back door passes. He can play PF fine in any zone defense scheme.

I don’t dispute that he doesn’t have the PF skills right now that would make him a very good PF (shooting, lateral quickness) or any thing more than just below adequate. But he does have a skill set that could perhaps be useful in the right context and could conceivably develop additional ones if ever in an environment where he was allowed to.

Maybe I just refuse to accept that Taylor has nothing to offer, despite that he doesn’t appear to have half the work ethic Gray, Young or McGhee had that led to their steep improvements. I’ll admit i’m probably grasping at straws, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

But again, who plays the 4 next year if not him? I’d even agree that Zanna should start there ahead of Taylor. But who backs him up? Moore? Maybe. Why not experiment this year?

The guys you mention – I’d love to have any of them on this team. But we don’t.

Also, as is usually the case about the guy i choose to rail against, Nas will probably have a great game tonight. So i’ll have the crow ready to eat before the game starts.

Comment by PantherP 01.25.12 @ 2:02 pm

The first problem PantherP, is the claim that Nas is “playing like garbage.” He’s averaging better than 7 boards a game plus 11 ppg in Big East play. He’s not a star, but he never was.

He’s being asked to do a lot more scoring inside rather than simple put backs on the rebounds, because of the lack of offensive production from anyone else inside. Moore won’t go inside. Zanna and Taylor are inconsistent at at best. Teams know that the guards struggle to penetrate, so they are playing tight D on the perimeter to make it harder to shoot an open 3 or any jumper.

I will agree that you are grasping at straws, because frankly the idea of Taylor at PF is laughable. Whether in zone or man, Taylor struggles to move and get any position on defense.

A Taylor-Zanna-Moore frontcourt would be a defensive nightmare — for Pitt. Moore doesn’t like to play defense which is part of his problem. Size is nice in theory, but kind of useless when they aren’t in any position.

Comment by Chas 01.25.12 @ 2:18 pm

Chas,
admittedly, my saying Nas playing like garbage is an exaggeration. 7pts 11 rebs, sure. but he also has more minutes and touches the ball more per minute than anyone but Gibbs. His per minute scoring numbers are marginally better than Taylor and Zanna’s and his rebounding per minute is significantly lower than Taylor and Zanna’s. and He’s also averaging 4+ TO per game in Big East play (worst on the team).

No doubt he’s being asked to do a lot more this year. I just don’t think he’s really doing it. And I don’t think we lose to much by experimenting at the expense of his minutes.

Again, the suggestion isn’t exactly Taylor at PF. I’m not claiming he’s a PF. But the designation (PF vs C) isnt helpful. I’m talking front court combinations that shake up the current stagnation we’re seeing. Call Taylor your C and Zanna your PF if you want. But is a Taylor-Zanna-Moore frontcourt really gonna be much worse defensively than what we’re seeing now?
(You’d likely say “Yes!”, but I’m not so sure)

Maybe it IS laughable that Taylor plays PF in our defensive schemes. But you have to adapt to the guys you have. Taylor/Zanna at C and Nas at PF in our traditional man-to-man appears so far to be an exrcise in putting a square peg in a circle hole. If you can’t change the pegs, you have to change the holes.

So any modification to Taylor/Zanna/Nas’s roles would call for changes in minutes and the defensive scheme. To get anything out of this year, and with an eye towards the future, I still don’t see why Dixon wouldn’t try things with Taylor’s role at the expense of Nas’.

Lastly an open question: Is Moore’s reluctance to drive coached into him or is he’s electing to shoot rather than drive on his own? Seems like Gilbert Brown had almost the exact same mentality most of his junior/senior years, which makes me think its a coach driven thing, not a player driven thing.

Comment by PantherP 01.25.12 @ 3:11 pm

Taylor is not good. It doesn’t matter where you play him. He hasn’t put in the work to get better. His body has not improved at all since he walked on campus. He doesn’t take the strength program seriously and it shows. How many times has Taylor missed easy layups? It is because of a lack of strength. He gets bumped and it’s over. He has his shot blocked by smaller players all of the time. He hasn’t worked hard enough on his upper body strength. Many of these blocks and missed wouldn’t happen if he put in the work. He won’t. He just isn’t a player. It’s his own fault.

He was never going to be a star, but he could have been much better than he is with some hard work. I don’t care where you play him. He is going to struggle.

Comment by omar 01.25.12 @ 3:58 pm

Watched some of the Memphis-Portland NBA game last night. Poor Sam Young. He got stuck playing his minutes at the 4, matching up against a larger player on defense and running around the baseline on offense. And most of the time he seemed to be on court with O.J. Mayo whose explicit role is to chuck it up and be the focal point of the Memphis offense. I’m sure that’s not how Sam imagined his career to be at this point. He’s really a wing player- a 2 or 3- because of his ability to drive and shoot and matchup with guards. When he was at Pitt, he lacked some of this ability and because of some personnel issues, he played 4. There’s a big difference in Pitt’s system between playing the 3 and 4.

The differences between the 4 and the 5 are less so. But the most critical is the ability at the 4 to move well without the ball and have a strong understanding of what is going on around you from the high post. Nasir Robinson, his last two years, has been very solid in this role and a critical part of the team’s success. He was complemented by McGhee, not propped up by him. He is undersized by conventional terms, but moves well without the ball, has a nose for rebounds, is not afraid of anything, and can operate quicker than larger opponents. Sorry, Pitt lost games last year because they couldn’t close out shooters on the perimeter more often than not. It had very little to do with Nasir Robinson swinging over to cover on a screen. Defensively, Gibbs and Woodall were weaker links and while McGhee was an excellent one on one defender, was only a marginal quality help defender- especially on broken plays.

More on Nasir: Last year, he came out in great shape. He was trimmer and hoppier. He occasionally finished plays with dunks. Even after his injury, he still maintained good fitness and decent athleticism. His re-injury this year however has really seemed to set him back. He’s making bad decisions and turning the ball over and that’s his problem this year. But he’s also not physically as up for it as he was last year.

On Taylor, Omar has captured it all. I was courtside last year for the St. John’s game at MSG. That Johnny’s team, physically, was so impressive in terms of body condition. They looked as if they spent a lot of productive time in a weight room. Both Dante and Talib both look physically stronger than before, but they still don’t compare to our competition and the inability to finish and getting their shit stuffed back in their face is gametime proof of this.

Regarding the appeal to play our younger players, which is something that comes up here every year regardless of how well the team is doing, the answer is- THEY ARE PLAYING. What you see is what you get. This is the youngest Pitt team in years. They just aren’t going to bench seniors because they are struggling. Especially two who have been successful in the past. Except for Gilbert, all these guys are getting chances to show their stuff.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 01.25.12 @ 4:15 pm

I agree with PantherP and would take it further/ Taylor – scored 15 points (6-11 FG) and grabbed six rebounds for the East All-Stars in the 2009 McDonald’s All-America Game…Won the McDonald’s All-American Skills Competition, in which he completed a full-court dribbling and shooting course in 37 seconds…

This maybe inconsequential but we will never know. To me you can not ignore it as fact. And as a basketball player I know the difficulty of playing out of position. For long periods of time this can erode your skills that do not translate to the position the coach needed you.

Face it Dixon needed Taylor to back up McGhee since he had no one else. So that continued for his first two years.

It is the same as Gibbs being required to play point which he does not have the skills. If he had to play point from his freshman year it is without question that his shooting would have not developed as it has and he would of never been an All-Big East player.

Does any of us know what Taylor and Birch would have done at the 4. I think based on their offensive skills in high school that Taylor would have been better once he got into shape after arriving at Pitt.

Just because Dixon had needs does not necessarily mean he gave Taylor a fair opportunity at SF and he was a bust. If you remember Dixon answer for not giving Taylor a chance at the 4 was a evasive it is too hard to learn two positions, i.e., he needed him at the 5 and he was sold on Robinson (who was carried by McGhee, Wannamaker, and Brown).

Comment by DRW 01.25.12 @ 4:15 pm

DRW:

The 4 is techically the Power Forward position. The 3 is the small forward position. Do you think Taylor should play small forward? Really?

Comment by omar 01.25.12 @ 4:56 pm

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