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November 8, 2012

So Much Basketball

Filed under: Basketball,Players — Chas @ 1:04 pm

Feel like I have neglected most of the pre-season and exhibition portion of Pitt basketball. Lots of  questions. Lots of curiosity. Lots of reasons for optimism. But no one really seems to be sure of the answers.

You can see it in all the preseason polls and predictions. There’s talk of Pitt being sleeper potential. Lots of polls putting them just outside the top-25, but definitely in the NCAA Tournament.

The headliner is Steven Adams in the middle as one of the best freshmen nationally and potential NBA lottery pick. Given his personality and sense of humor, he figures to continue being a popular figure for the national media.

Time for some links and thoughts:

With the first game of the season tomorrow, the starting line-up appears to be: Travon Woodall, James Robinson, Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna, Steven Adams.

It is something of a surprise that Trey Zeigler didn’t get the starting nod at shooting guard. Zeigler — while considered one of the best offensive players on Pitt’s team — is not quite measuring up on defense.

It’s probably not a good sign for Zeigler that Jamie Dixon mentioned Tray Woodall, James Robinson and then John Johnson as his three best perimeter defenders after the second exhibition game Friday night. John Johnson? He was perhaps Pitt’s worst defender last season.

And it’s probably not a good sign for Zeigler that he played just 15.5 minutes per game in the two exhibition contests. Seven other players averaged more minutes in the first two exhibition games.

It was presumed Zeigler would step in and win the starting job at shooting guard, but Dixon appears to be leaning toward a two point guard lineup of Woodall and Robinson instead.

Zeigler, a former top 100 recruit who was Central Michigan’s leading scorer the past two seasons, has had a hard time finding his niche off the bench. He has 12 points, two assists, four turnovers and no rebounds. Three of those turnovers have come on offensive fouls.

Pitt’s 2-point field goal defense was somewhere around 44 – 45%. It was hideous. There was no way Dixon would let that stand for another year. Zeigler is very talented. He’s going to get the minutes during the season. No doubt about that. But he also has to unlearn a lot of habits from being the only big-talent at Central Michigan. Where he almost had to go easy on defense to conserve enough energy to do what he had to do on offense. He and Pitt were lucky enough to get the waiver to play right away. But that also means he doesn’t get a year to integrate himself into what Pitt does as, say, Mike Cook did.

Some of this is simply that — and this is despite being a 4-star recruit, having a reputation for being an unselfish guy who works hard at both ends of the court, being part of the USA U-18 gold winning squad, and having been anointed the next great point guard for Pitt by many fans — James Robinson has come in and exceeded the coaches expectations. Especially on defense.  Robinson has also fit in right away with his backcourt mates.

“James could be our best perimeter defender,” Dixon said. “He’s strong. He has good size, good quickness. He has good understanding.”

Dixon was asked if that is uncommon for a freshman.

“James has some tools,” he said. “He’s a better athlete than people anticipated. He has a good feel for the game. He’s been well-coached. We thought he’d be pretty good. He’s probably better than we thought. His strength is not something you expect from a freshman.”

Senior guard Tray Woodall also heaped praise upon Robinson, who will be in the starting lineup tomorrow night alongside Woodall.

“He’s a smart kid off the court,” Woodall said. “He definitely has a basketball IQ. It’s great to talk to someone who has the same basketball knowledge you have. He sees a lot of the things you see. If he sees a play that I see, and he doesn’t make the play, he’ll know right away that I saw it.”

The move to start Robinson is part of Dixon’s decision to emphasize the defense. Including a bit of pressure.

Dixon is tweaking his defensive philosophy and would like to force opponents into more turnovers. Man-to-man defense remains the foundation, but the plan is to pressure opposing guards and double-team post players to create steals and transition scoring opportunities.

“It’s something where we hope we’re playing solid defense but also cause some turnovers which, hopefully, leads to some easier baskets in transition,” Dixon said Wednesday night after practice. “It’s not the first year we’ve emphasized it. We have good size and athleticism on the wings. Our big guys move pretty well. There are some things that we’re doing that will allow us to get some more deflections, but that remains to be seen.”

“I love it,” senior center Dante Taylor said. “Since I’ve been here, this is the first time I actually see us getting after it, taking pride in defense as far as on the ball pressure.”

Dixon is taking advantage of his personnel. He is deep and talented at guard position and 7-foot center Steven Adams will serve as a big shot-blocking threat in the middle.

Under Dixon, the Panthers forced more than 500 turnovers only once in his previous nine seasons. In 2007-08, the Panthers forced 519 turnovers in 37 games, or 14 per game. Last season, they bottomed out and forced 431 in 39 games, or 11 per game.

Senior point guard Tray Woodall is enjoying the change in defensive approach.

“Obviously, it’s different,” Woodall said. “In past years, we just wanted to play solid defense and try to pack the lane. It depended on us playing solid defense, guys missing shots and our guys getting rebounds and getting it out and going.

“Now we want to pressure the ball a little more and force more turnovers because we have the big fella in the middle. We have athletic bigs who can block more shots, but, at the same time, we have guards who can be pesky at times.”

It isn’t simply the type of personnel. I’m not downplaying that aspect, but that is the obvious portion. You have a big guy in the middle that will intimidate and alter shots by players trying to drive the lane like Steven Adams it allows a team to be more aggressive on the perimeter. There is more length and athleticism on the perimeter than Pitt has had… I want to say, ever under Dixon.

Just as important, there is quality depth on this squad, that can allow Pitt to take some more chances with a more aggressive defense. Risk foul trouble. Something they certainly couldn’t do the last couple of years. The drop-off or inexperience was too great.

Now, look at the guards and small forward spots. You have John Johnson, Cameron Wright and Zeigler all able to come in behind Woodall and Robinson. At the small forward, you can bring in J.J. Moore and Durand Johnson when they desire (I’m still assuming Chris Jones redshirts). Yes, J.J. Moore will also be at the power forward spot as part of an effort to make sure he is on the floor, but he can and will play both. It’s easier to be aggressive when there is enough of a bench.

After an off-year, people seem to be forgetting about the Panthers. This isn’t the same team that struggled through multiple injuries last season, including one that forced shooting guard Ashton Gibbs to run the point for a while. This one has no one currently on the injury report, and resembles those teams that have gone 238-77 in Dixon’s nine-year tenure at the school.

“I think so,” Dixon said. “But we’ve got to stay healthy.”

What is interesting, despite the high potential for Pitt. The fact that defense was such a problem last year. P-G beat writer Ray Fittipaldo’s concern appears to be over the offense. The decision to emphasize defense and start Robinson over Zeigler plays into that fear. Something that he feels more strongly about with Lamar Patterson not doing much in the exhibition games.

Patterson had the ball in his hands a lot more last season because of Pitt’s injury situation. He was in effect a point forward for much of the season. Now, he is playing in a lineup with two point guards. He is not touching the ball nearly as much and is in a different role to which he is not accustomed.

Will Patterson get back to his normal self when he gets more minutes in the real games? Or is this another situation that Dixon has to iron out on the go during the non-conference portion of the schedule?

Patterson was great during the Pittsburgh Basketball Club summer league. He won the tournament’s MVP. I had Patterson and Trey Zeigler pegged as two of the team’s top three scorers a month ago. I have no idea what they’ll contribute now.

I’m sure there is some adjustment for Patterson. For his first two years and half of last year, Pitt was effectively without a point guard. You had Wanamaker effectively run things and then he helped fill that role last year when Woodall was hurt. Now he is playing a lot more without the ball. Just as Zeigler is making that change.

I’m not that worried about either for the season. Patterson has proven to be adaptable to the needs of the team. And Zeigler hasn’t made any waves about his role.

J.J. Moore has been solid in the exhibition games. Both in terms of performance and in physical appearance.

For four months, the weight room became Moore’s refuge when he could do little else.

“He couldn’t do any shooting or running, so he was in the weight room working hard,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s always been a hard worker. He did about as much as he could with that situation. Lifting is what he focused on.”

That has allowed Coach Dixon to put Moore at the 4 as well as the 3, so he can get more minutes. It also puts Moore closer to the basket — and more likely (I hope) to take the ball to the basket rather than try and hit jumpers.

It will be good to see an agressive defense as a priority. Having a good shot blocker in the middle will keep those guards from having easy layups like the last couple of years. Secondly, having two good ball handlers playing together is a good thing. Remember how Pitt handled the press in recent years.

Comment by gdodson 11.08.12 @ 1:50 pm

Agressive defense????? IUP shot 53% against us. Hope it gets better as the season moves along.

Comment by alcofan 11.08.12 @ 2:29 pm

Yea…. Pitt Basketball….
can’t wait…
I to am surprised Zieglar is not a starter…
I had Robinson as the backup to Woodall with a 28/12 split for minutes.
I’m curious as to the rotation since J.Johnson or Wright really can’t run the point in my opinion.

I hope Dixon uses his bench (uses 9-10 players per game) and max minutes is 30 per player… and run it… press it… blow the doors off the oppenents by tiring them out for the last 10 minutes of the game. That should be the strategy. He has the depth to pull it off.

Comment by Joe D 11.08.12 @ 3:06 pm

I’m not worried about Ziegler. I think he’ll come around and fit in nicely.

And Dixon starting two freshman. Go Jamie, go Jamie, go Jamie, go!

Gosh am I glad hoops is back. I want to see this team finish its run in the BE in style.

Comment by Carmen 11.08.12 @ 3:46 pm

The apparent depth looks like it could be a huge asset – ie hide flaws of players with certian weaknesses, allows us to adapt to a wider variety of teams for L-Ville’s full court pressure to NDs slow burn, to etc, and as Joe say wear down opponents.

Hopefully the silver lining of last years poor showing will be to motivate these guys and keep egos in check (not that either were a concern, but always moments these things creep in).

Really don’t know what to specifically expect from this team but can’t wait to see them in person tomorrow night.

Comment by PantherP 11.08.12 @ 4:03 pm

Where are all you guys hiding that claim Jaime Dixon does not play freshmen? IMO, Jaime has always played the best players, regardless of year. We just have not had many freshmem with the telent to start right away.

Comment by Rayhpgh 11.08.12 @ 4:07 pm

maybe Dixon finally realizes… if he doesn’t start the top recruits… ie. Adams, etc..
then he won’t be able to land top recruits next year or the year after that…
Most other schools… ie. Kentucky, the top recruits start as frosh.

Comment by Joe D 11.08.12 @ 4:18 pm

I don’t take Jamie’s comments about defense at face value. He preached the same thing for the last two years, “the best defenders wil play” blah, blah, blah. YET, the worst defender in the Dixon/Howland era, Gibbs, played 35 minutes a game.

It isn’t shocking that Zeigler isn’t starting right away. Why, Robinson is tailor made to play point for Dixon. He isn’t going to do anything spectacular, but he won’t make many mistakes. Woodall is a decent shooter (Pitt needs shooting) and can push it in transition. Plus he is a high character, fifth year senior, and a team leader.

But there is no way either of those two guys has more POTENTIAL to play better defense than Zeigler. Trey is bigger, longer, faster, quicker and stronger than either of those guys. He has a high motor and plays hard. Plus he is a much quicker, stronger rebounder.

My guess is that maybe Zeigler isn’t picking up the nuances of the Pitt defense yet and that Jamie is trying to send Zeigler a message early.

More likely, all that defensive stuff that Jamie talks is just that, TALK. Defense is important, BUT SO IS OFFENSE.

Truth is, Zeigler has looked much more lost on offensive so far than he has on defense. Watch, as soon as Zeigler figures out how and when to attack the rim within the context of this offense, he’ll be getting starter minutes.

Comment by boubacar aw 11.08.12 @ 4:45 pm

Oh and as soon as Zeigler’s offense improves, Jamie will be raving about his defense…….

Comment by boubacar aw 11.08.12 @ 4:49 pm

Elite kids want to play right away. Jamie is finally getting some near elite to elite talent. I’m excited about the possibilities. The team’s offense will come once they find their rhythm. Defense better be there on day 1. I see a deep team with players that compliment another.

Comment by TX Panther 11.08.12 @ 5:03 pm

Rayhpgh…I think that you are spot on…There is no way coach Dixon is starting players because of their status as recruits.

Comment by HbgFrank 11.08.12 @ 7:48 pm

With such a non-challenging non-con, I would have thought Zeigler would be in there right away, as he gives PITT something it hasn’t had for eons.

SIZE at the 2 guard and some who can create off the dribble.

We’re really going to go with a pint sized backcourt with 2 PG’s. Yikes !

Comment by Emel 11.08.12 @ 9:34 pm

Woody would be better coming off the bench. He would bring instant energy and instant points off the bench.

And that is exactly what you want in a 6th man !

5th year senior or not.

Comment by Emel 11.08.12 @ 9:37 pm

Aggressive defense is fine and I look forward to it.
Man to man means we’re going to see Adams flailing his arms ala Aaron Gray, 25 feet AWAY from the hoop.
You do all realize that don’t you ??

Because any opposing coach worth his paycheck will want to pull Adams away from the basket.
So again it appears no-one was brought in to teach how to play an aggressive good zone.

Also what has to go along with aggressive defense is the ability to score in transition off the turnovers created with it. Again not another one of Coach’s strengths.

Adams has scored a grand total of what….8 points in 2 games against IUP and Hawaii-Hilo, two joke teams. Not exactly tearing it up.
Not to be overly negative, but you’d think he’d be able to score at least 10 a game against this lightweight competition. Just on putbacks alone being 7 foot tall and who the competition was.

Oh well, I’m sure he’ll get better. But then again as he gets better so will the competition.
Let’s hope he has a fast learning curve and we have some unselfish players who will actually feed him the ball. As Taylor never got the ball much over the last 2 years. Gibbs, Woody, Moore & Patterson were too enamored with taking 20 foot jump shots. Which is prolly another reason why Robinson is starting as well as his defense.

His MO is…. he looks to pass first, not sling it up from 20 feet.

Comment by Emel 11.08.12 @ 9:55 pm

I have to be honest here. Adams has not shown me much on offense. He looks like someone who has relied on height. There is no way he is a one and done. No way.
This team will search for awhile before it finds the right combinations.
The best player I have seen us Dante. No one else has been close.

Comment by SFPitt 11.08.12 @ 10:03 pm

Regarding Adams scoring…
give it some time…
however, this summer at Greentree… I know that doesn’t count… he doesn’t look to score even when they feed him the ball… he scored most of his point off offensive rebounds (missed shots, etc). I think I remember Robinson telling him to shoot it if he fed the ball.
However, last year… Pitt was a perimeter team… rarely feeding the bigs. The bigs were not asked to provide offense…
Lets hope this year is different.

Comment by Joe D 11.08.12 @ 10:24 pm

Yea well Gibbs was shoot first and Woody wasn’t much better in that regard. PITT can’t be a perimeter team until Coach recruits some shooters and then provides some better offensive sets to get them open.

It’s much easier to feed the bigs if you have someone who can slash/drive to the hole, draw a defender and then dish off to a big. Rather than the pass into the big from a Guard from the perimeter. And the latter method seems to be the sole method we’ve used in the past, since we never had a slasher/driver that could dish. Yes we had Wannamaker, but then McGee rarely finished.

We’ve never really had that and that was why I was excited about Ziegler. He gives us size at the 2 guard we’ve never had(cause when Wanny came into his own he had to play more like a PG with Gibbs there) and they say he can slash/drive and dish.

In the current scheme of passing into the post, Adams has to play with his back to the basket, ala Aaron Gray. And he apparently is learning on the fly how to play with his back to the basket.

I’d prefer we play like the video of watching him play against Nerlen Noels. Instead of fitting him into a square hole and having to wait for him to develop into it, as the NBA still could make him a lottery pick based on potential alone.
As they do and have done on tons of players less talented than him over the last decade.

Why does Adams have to play like Gary McGhee and Aaron Gray before him, with his back to the basket. Clearly he is more athletic than both of them. Open up the court, drive/slash to the hole, all the way for a deuce if you can or dump off to a big if you can’t. Instead of this all around the perimeter passing BS, looking to feed the low post and then back out to the perimeter.

That offense alone suggests to the other team, you’re less talented than them. And let’s use Adams athleticism while we got him, not turn him into another McGhee or Gray, in some static position on the High Post (free throw line).

Sheesh let’s get creative for a change !

Comment by Emel 11.08.12 @ 10:59 pm

adams averaged 8 pts 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game… and nobody tore it up. these games were the first time theyve played against people they dont know in about 6/7 months. im not concerned one bit. the thing that showed me that adams is the real deal (i went to both games, stats are deceiving) is even though his stats were average he was flying all over the court and making his presence felt. i was kind of amazed at his athleticism.

Comment by pk 11.09.12 @ 8:52 am

Adams will be fine. And it won’t take much creativity (not exactly Jamie’s strong suit).

How about an occasional pick and roll for God’s sake?

Why not have Adams set a ball screen for Robinson at the top of the key? Both of those guys have the game to execute it. And it gives the offense all kinds of options. Especially if Moore is playing the four, there would be three shooters (Woodall, Patterson and Moore) ready to knock down open shots after Adams and Robinson force the defense to help/slide.

Think about how much trouble that high ball screen with a big has caused for Pitt over the years. I still have nightmares about Kemba Walker making Gary fall down in the BE tourney. Or Hansbrough single handedly killing Pitt at the Pete.

Pitt hasn’t used it in the past because they haven’t had the personnel. With Robinson and Adams they might. Worth a shot.

Comment by boubacar aw 11.09.12 @ 10:00 am

Our team was soft last year both offensively and defensively.

Basketball is a mindset wherein defense creates better offense. It’s winning possession and individual battles. If the players commit to defense and playing strong as a unit, they will improve. If the play offense or defense like Mr. Gibbs, they will be in trouble.

There should be no flopping around. Physical and fast will prepare them best for the ACC. Have a good season boys of winter!

Comment by dhuffdaddy 11.09.12 @ 10:05 am

A lot of this and that…. Let’s get the season started, get the guys playing together against some live competition, and then we will see what we have. Adjustments certainly will need to be made but first Coach needs to see what he has. Let the season begin!

Comment by PENGUIN 11.09.12 @ 11:11 am

I’d buy all the Dixon talk about a new defensive style if he had the horses on the perimeter to play that way.

*Woodall’s not a ballhawk, no matter what Dixon says in the paper about his potential to cause problems for the other team. 5th yr senior and I’ve never seen him get in anybody’s grill
*Patterson’s going to get most of the minutes at the three and he’s slow on D
*We’re all excited about Robinson, but not because he’s lightning quick or a pressure defender
*Moore isn’t a quick-footed defender either (glad to hear about his strength gain and getting some minutes at the 4, though)

As far as I can tell, Wright and Zeigler are the two players most suited to applying some defensive pressure — the rest of the guards and small forwards just aren’t quick and long.

This has to be about sending Zeigler some kind of message.

Comment by hugh green 11.09.12 @ 11:34 am

have been to both exhib games thus far and will be there tonight. As stated above, Adams is indeed the “real deal”. Athletic, quick and feisty with a huge wingspan. Is a presence on the court we have not seen for a while. Nice passer and shoots with both hands. Has Sleepy focused and hustling but is much more talented. Will be fun to watch him “grow” under Jamie’s tutelage. Needs to work on his foul shots, like most of our hoopers.Will not be a big stat player but is still the best talent on the floor.

Robinson also looks good. Athletic and poised for a freshman. Agree with the comments above on Zeigler and would love to see him adjust to Jamies’s scheme and start. Our guard play should be significantly improved this season, especially on D. No “assassin” out there (Durand Johnson has yet to show anything),but better D and better penetration where Adams, Zanna and Sleepy can score on put backs.

Comment by Bossdaws 11.09.12 @ 11:46 am

Agree with Boubacar on his analysis of Zeigler. Definitely bigger, faster and more athletic than Woodall and Robinson. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson and Zeigler starting when everthing shakes out. Woodall is small and slow and has never impressed me with his defensive abilities.

Comment by Floyd 11.09.12 @ 1:48 pm

Woodall has learned how Gibbs used motion and screens to get free for 3-point shots. Woodall will be playing that role.

Comment by Howard 11.09.12 @ 1:49 pm

I hate the decision to start Woodall and Robinson. The team has stunk on defense for years. Playing two small guards is not going to help on that end. Dixon knows what he is doing, but I don’t like this decision one bit.

Comment by Omar 11.09.12 @ 2:09 pm

Woodall, Robinson, and Patterson are not going to intimidate anyone on defense. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Comment by Omar 11.09.12 @ 2:10 pm

But Omar, Robinson is a big guard…he is a legit 6 3 and strongly built. I think that is biggest difference from past years…only one undersized perimeter guy out there at all times hopefully (woodall or johnson, likely never both) compared to a 6 1/6 2 gibbs w 5 11 woodall.

Comment by Joe 11.09.12 @ 2:33 pm

i haven’t seen enough of Robinson yet, but I’d be psyched if it turned out he was really ready to assume the primary ballhandling duties and guard the opposition’s PG.

bringing Woodall off the bench for some spark and scoring would be a great way to utilize his skills.

Comment by hugh green 11.09.12 @ 2:43 pm

but the chances of Dixon starting the freshman over the 5th yr senior are nil……

Comment by hugh green 11.09.12 @ 2:44 pm

Bringing Woodall off the bench is cuckoo crazy. He will rightly play 30+ minutes per game and be first or second leading scorer on the team. A defensive two guard who won’t turn the ball over is not a bad idea as a complement to what Woodall brings.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 11.09.12 @ 3:07 pm

I will have more to say after tonights game.

Comment by Omar 11.09.12 @ 5:20 pm

My bad- Robinson is playing the point.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 11.09.12 @ 6:12 pm

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