January 31, 2012

What Is This Thing Called Optimism?

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 2:28 pm

That’s strange. There’s a weird feeling among Pitt fans and the basketball team. It’s been a couple months since we had this sensation.

Pitt notched its first Big East road win. Coach Dixon moved to 5-4 in games at Morgantown — more wins down there than the previous six head coaches if you are wondering.

Pitt did a very good job defending the 3-point shot (though, the Hoopies own misfires didn’t hurt). The fact that WVU kept hoisting them really helped Pitt. WVU shot 4-19 outside the perimeter (with a 1-11 shooting out there in the second half). From inside, they were 17-33 — Pitt’s 2-pt FG defense still needs a lot of work. A bit of panic by the Eers. Not only did they have much better success going inside — and getting to the free throw line — they were also putting Pitt players in foul trouble.

Nasir Robinson was limited to only 25 minutes because of fouls. Lamar Patterson had to be careful. Zanna struggled on defense. The good news, J.J. Moore and Dante Taylor both did a nice job on defense. We — I have been hard on both of them, especially for their effort on defense. Last night, they did really good work. Even though, Moore, continues to be in a shooting funk (but at least in this game he tried going towards the hoop at points), he gave the effort and bothered WVU on the perimeter.

The work by Taylor, was especially good in the second half as he stayed on Kilicli, and wore him down.

Kilicli went toe-to-toe with Pitt forwards Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor in the post. He looked strong early, mixing powerful drop steps with soft hook shots. However, Kilicli struggled down the stretch, visibly fatigued, and couldn’t finish in crucial situations.

“I shot horrible,” said Kilicli, who finished 6 of 13 from the floor after a 2 for 10 showing against Syracuse on Saturday. “It’s under 50 percent.”

Taylor was grinding in this game. He worked for the boards and was patient with his chances in the second half. And yes, the WVU  gameplan was to go inside more. The WVU players just didn’t do it.

West Virginia called a number of sets to give their front court good looks. Kilicli made a habit of running off Jones’ screens on the block, which gave the Mountaineers opportunities inside.

“That was our main focus to pound it inside, get something close and get us some easy baskets,” Jones said.

“Once the game starts slipping away, everybody starts panicking,” Kilicli said. “We start doing things we’re not supposed to do, and everybody’s mind goes out of the game.”

Wait a minute. During the losing streak, I thought Pitt wasn’t tough enough — mentally or physically. Too easy to panic. Now, they aren’t.

But West Virginia coach Bob Huggins gave Dixon more. It happened during their postgame handshake and embrace.

“I told Jamie they’re tougher than us,” Huggins recalled. “They out-toughed us.”

What sweet words they were to Dixon.

It’s funny; that’s the exact sentiment the Pitt players had outside of their happy locker room.

“We’re a bunch of fighters on this team, a bunch of winners at that,” guard Tray Woodall said. “We all come from winning programs. That’s why coach Dixon recruited us. We’re not used to losing and we don’t like it. We’re always going to keep fighting.”

A week ago, that would have seemed like so much hot air.

Now Pitt is  the tougher, hungrier team?

Those of you who have done the liveblogs where I have been around during the losing streak, probably know how irritated I would get when someone would call the team soft and not mentally tough. They were playing poorly. They were frustrated. They were without Woodall. A lot was going wrong. But I consider the “toughness” argument as silly as the “they wanted it more” claim that even Nas would trot out after some losses. Effort, desire, will, chemistry, even toughness can be a difference when all other things are equal, and maybe even when things are not equal for one game. But when things like injuries, skill and ability are not equal; the intangibles matter a lot less over the course of a season.

The primary story, though was Tray Woodall carrying the team in the first half. Unlike the Georgetown game where Pitt raced out to the lead and never gave it back, Pitt took a big shot from WVU early. The Hoopies raced out to a 17-9 lead and looked like they had Pitt’s offense bottled up. Pitt battled back to show that this game would be tight. That it would be a brawl. Both teams would go back-and-forth to the end.

Then Tray happened. In the final 6:32 of the first half he scored 13 of Pitt’s final 18 points to take a 33-29 lead into the lockerroom. A lead Pitt never relinquished.

“I’m confident in myself that I can get it going,” Woodall said. “I’m a creative point guard first. But at the same time I’m a leader, and if my team needs me to step up and score some baskets, I try to do that for them.”

Pitt sorely needed it after scoring just nine points in the first 12 minutes of the half. The Panthers scored 24 points over the final eight minutes, and they never looked back once they took a 30-29 lead with 48 seconds to go before halftime.

“That’s a big plus when he does that,” senior forward Nasir Robinson said of Woodall’s shooting ability.

“When he gets it going like that it’s huge.”

“He came out and played his heart out,” junior center Dante Taylor said.

“He was doing everything he worked on in the offseason tonight. He was doing that dribble and step-back 3. I’m happy for him.”

The one thing that has become clear, is that this Pitt squad is Woodall’s team. Not Gibbs. Not Nas. Those two are team leaders, but it is from their work-ethic and how hard they go in practice and games.  Woodall is the guy the rest of the team looks to set things up. To make everyone know what will happen. To talk to them. Make them know where they should be and that they will be rewarded for doing it.

maybe we can get the MBA girl to sit behind the bench, she should cure any impotency problems.

Comment by marcus of schaumburg 01.31.12 @ 8:19 pm

Wright played his best game last night. His defense was stellar. Johnson has onions. Jamie has to spell his starters and these guys are not only the future, but they are part of the present and contribute. He can’t just ignore them.

Jamie has always done this, to Pitt’s benefit. Remember that out of control PG Woodall? Or the walking foul as freshman, McGhee? He played them in pressure situations too.

Comment by velvil 01.31.12 @ 8:22 pm

I agree that Johnson and Wright both need to play and will be much better in the next couple of years. Al McGuire used to say that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.

Comment by wbb 01.31.12 @ 8:48 pm

The main thing we needed was a LEADER. Ash and Nas are too quiet to take over. Tray is the man

Comment by Tony C 01.31.12 @ 8:57 pm

wbb, Cam Wright is HORRIBLE. I hope Jamie cuts the kid

Comment by Timmeh 01.31.12 @ 9:01 pm

Wright will be a big time player by the time he graduates. It’s Moore we need to hope makes the leap next year to more than a bit player.

Comment by Velvil 01.31.12 @ 9:08 pm

If pitt lands rippy and bradley, which is extremely likely, they will have quite a bit of young talent at linebacker. Theyll need a ton of linemen in 2013.

As for woodall, i never wouldve thought hed make this much of a difference. Cam wright is a lot like wannamaker was. Turns the ball over, cant score, makes you want to tear your hair out, but tries really hard. Hes going to develop into a wannamaker type.

Comment by Pk 01.31.12 @ 9:14 pm

It’s so much easier being a fan than a coach. Many on this board ripped Dixon for not playing or never playing freshmen enough. Consequently they took too long long to develop and we lost Birch.

Now some complain about playing freshmen together or during crunch time. Not saying anybody is right or wrong, but coach’s can’t ever get it right. Unless they win, of course.

Here’s hoping Jamie keeps on winning and proving people like me to be fickle know-it-alls. May he keep over-achieving…

Comment by Bowling Green Panther 01.31.12 @ 9:17 pm

Dokish reporting that rippy will signing with pitt

Comment by Pk 01.31.12 @ 9:40 pm

HUGE commit! Had offers from EVERYONE link to

Comment by Tony C 01.31.12 @ 9:46 pm

Hmm.. apparently Rippy is maintaining he hasn’t committed yet on his twitter. We’ll see what happens

Comment by Tony C 01.31.12 @ 9:54 pm

Dokish said that rippy just wants his special moment tomorrow when hes got a big shin dig planned for his announcement, plus he hates mike white

Comment by Pk 01.31.12 @ 10:02 pm

Doesnt like mike white

Comment by Pk 01.31.12 @ 10:04 pm

In the last three games, from my armchair, I think that Coach Dixon has done his best job all season of pushing the right buttons and pulling the right levers in terms of line-ups, substitutions, and defense. There’s times when he has used pretty much every opinion that has been tossed around here- except for all those spasmatic benching demands. There seems to be right times and places to shorten the bench or play certain guys, etc. Hopefully he can parlay this successful experience the rest of the way.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 01.31.12 @ 10:05 pm

post says rippy to pitt are they wrong

Comment by FRANKCAN 01.31.12 @ 10:06 pm

Frank, mike white from the post gazette got that from the sto rox head coach

Comment by Pk 01.31.12 @ 10:08 pm

@FRANK, it’s Christmas Eve!!! Will we get presents or a lump of coal??

I’m thinkin’ quite a few presents!!

Comment by Dan 01.31.12 @ 10:09 pm

Rippy is a nice pickup. Hopefully the kid can qualify and then maintain in school.

Let me clarify my remarks concerning the playing of freshmen and shortening the bench. The time to play those guys a lot have come & gone. It was during the lightweight portion of the non-con schedule. None of them are dependable on a game by game basis. As is the case with Moore as well.

We have to win just about every game now, both JJ & Wright made several bad plays very close together in the last 10 minutes of the game. Why they were both in, at the same time is certainly questionable as you just lowered your % of scorers to 60% ( 3 of 5 ), as JJ wasn’t on his game last night and Wright isn’t much of an offensive threat at all. As far as rebounding being less in the zone, well how did those huge rebounding margins that favored us, in that 8 game losing streak work out for us.

Don’t think that needs explained any further.

Comment by Emel 01.31.12 @ 10:39 pm

I don’t know what is true and what is not. I just hope that Rippy is coming to Pitt. He a guy they really want, he’s a local kid and I’d like to see him wearing Blue and gold next season. Hail to Pitt!

Comment by Justinian 01.31.12 @ 10:44 pm

Dan i like presents lets hope you are right lets hope it is blue and gold

Comment by FRANKCAN 01.31.12 @ 11:03 pm

Obviously Rippy is committing to Pitt and he just doesn’t want Mike White talking about him since White has been critical of him all year.

Comment by Mike 01.31.12 @ 11:16 pm

No need to explain yourself, Emel.
As I stated in my post I wasn’t questioning anybody’s assertion about playing freshmen either way. Just pointing out how WE fans complain no matter what Coach does. Unless he’s winning. It’s our nature. That’s why I referred to myself as a know-it-all. Just further proves that coach’s can’t win with fans. Unless they win.

Comment by Bowling Green Panther 01.31.12 @ 11:19 pm

If young Mr. Rippy does not like Mike White, then he has a very good head on his shoulders.
I won’t mince words.
Mike White is a fool of the highest order.

Comment by SFPitt 02.01.12 @ 2:55 am

On to hoops.
Playing guard in D1 is serious work. In the old days, phenoms like the Pearl or Lebo would come in a change a team.
They did change it too….changed college basketball into a guards game.
Now, that is the deepest and toughest position to play. Come in from high school and start at PG!! fairly common in the old days, i.e. Sean Miller.
I like all our guards actually..they all are good. But, they are rookies and the learning curve is steep, the competition cut throat and the pressure intense.
Next year, I suspect we will be talking about how much they have grown up with a year under fire in their satchel.
Especially liked Wright on the break in Morgandung. Villanova next.

Comment by SFPitt 02.01.12 @ 3:08 am

Robinson got into foul trouble, so Patterson had to swing over and play the 4, which meant that Moore and Wright had to take over duties at the 3. Wright has played well lately and is a better defensive stopper than Moore, so he was in to maintain the lead. Woodall is coming off a major injury. He cannot be playing 40 minutes per game. This is a young team and freshmen, redshirts, and sophomores are/will see playing time- especially if there is foul trouble from a starter. Dixon did what every other coach does and plays the subs around the media timeouts. Down the stretch, he always makes sure to have his most experienced lineups in- a la Georgetown.

This team has not proven to be totally effective at either zone or man defense. It is the combination of the two. The opponent and the situation dictates which and Dixon has been playing the right card as of late.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 02.01.12 @ 7:57 am

Silverpanther, well said.

I’d add that though the numbers can skew, rebounding margin is always important. During our stretch of losses, we did maintain high-ish rebounding #s, but its largely because we also missed so many shot, many of them put backs that result in inflated numbers. This doesn’t change the importance of rebounding — which is basically as valuable as TO margins in that it too usually results in more shot attempts.

We’re a little stuck between a rock and a hard place, because our perimeter D remains weak. Its getting better though we still need to keep mixing it up between zone and man, as Silver said. When/how to do mix it up is a tricky balance of opposing shooting % that night, the strength of their front court, etc, which is near impossible for fans to calculate. I trust Dixon with this. As said a few posts up, he’s done a lot of expirementing and seems to be pulling the right levers now. It’ll be really intersting how the rest of the season plays out defensively and a pretty definitive statement of his coaching ability (either as a pro or con).

Comment by PantherP 02.01.12 @ 2:10 pm

add to last sentence of first paragraph above: So that we had high rebounding # and still lost should not necessarily be read to mean rebounding margins are unimportant. (all in response to Emel’s comment)

Comment by PantherP 02.01.12 @ 2:15 pm

[…] I wrote it after the WVU game, but it bears repeating. This Pitt squad is Tray Woodall’s to lead on the court. When I watch […]

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