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November 14, 2012

So Much To Like

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 9:04 pm

It should be easy to tamp down some the excitement and revised expectations for Pitt after only three games. They were all home games. The first two were against clearly overmatched teams that no one will confuse with mid-major giant-slayers. The second-half rout of Lehigh was nice, but it’s not like the Mountain Hawks were sneaking up on anyone. Not this year. The first real test (and possibly the only one of the non-con) comes on Wendesday at Madison Square Garden against number 5, Michigan. Then, and only then should the expectations be reconsidered.

And yet…

I am having a hard time not being really excited for the possibilities of this squad. The way they dismantled Lehigh in the second half after a back-and-forth first half was thorough and complete. They shut the McCollum and the rest of Lehigh down on offense and were having their way with them on the other end. It wasn’t a short blitz that put the game out of reach. It was a methodical beatdown over the first 10+ minutes of the second half.  Seeing so many players not only contributing, but being part of the team as they beat them was something.

Talib Zanna looks so incredibly polished on offense. He looks nothing like the long-limbed project of his first couple years. Even when he seemed to start coming on in the CBI, it is a far different player. Much more confident in his own ability and with what he is supposed to do on the court. Showing an out of nowhere smooth mid-range jumper almost makes me think he cut a deal on his soul over the summer.

Durand Johnson is getting his chances. He shows moments of being too eager to prove he belongs at points on offense — as so many young players do — but he adjusted with more time. More importantly, he is working on both ends of the floor. His reputation coming into Pitt was that he loved shooting, with defense mainly potential because of his size and athleticism.

James Robinson is the opposite. His offense is mainly in facilitating. He is yet to make a 3, and if it isn’t a drive to the basket, I can’t bet on the shot going. That said, he has been everything you could hope to see in a young point guard. His defense is aggressive without being stupid. He was all over C.J. McCollum, and frustrated the senior guard to the point McCollum body shoved Robinson halfway across the court — and got called for the foul.

J.J. Moore remains a streaky shooter — especially on the perimeter. But playing more power forward is paying off with him being closer to the basket and staying aggressive rather than taking contested jumpers. He is definitely taking more pride in playing defense (though, results can vary at times).

Dante Taylor has a literal spring in his step these days. He is healthier in the knees than all of last year. But it also seems to be mental. That he is finally embracing more of his strengths. He is not the shooter he thought he was, but he is an excellent rebounder and is getting after it. 21 rebounds in 53 minutes leads the team.

Who leads the team in assists? Yes, it is Woodall, but second is Lamar Patterson with 13. While expected to be one of the main pieces on offense, Patterson has been content to facilitate to this point and wait for his chances. Teams have keyed on him early because of the way he played last year, and he has not forced things. As teams have to pay more attention to Zanna and others on the floor, Patterson will see more open looks.

Steven Adams is raw, athletic, active, awkward. Everything you can expect from a freshman center — even one with a very high ceiling. He is making mistakes, but he is also making lots of plays. His mere presence attracts attention on offense and is helping make things easier for Zanna or Moore at the 4.

James Robinson is the future leader of this team, but there is no doubt that Tray Woodall is the guy in charge on the court. He is a team leader and you can see the rest of the team not only follow his directions, but follow his example. In light of his injury from last year, I cringe everytime he drives to the basket — and gets knocked down to the ground — but he keeps doing what he feels the team needs. He isn’t threatened by Robinson, but instead seems invigorated to have him in the backcourt with him.

No question, the overall quality of opponents for Pitt has been sub-par. And this team will take some lumps along the way. At the same time, this team still has so much room to improve during the season, that I am having a hard time not being excited at what could be with this team.

I agree with your comments. This team is playing well together and has tremedous up-side potential.
Although unlikely, I hope they don’t take their lumps from Oakland.

Comment by xfmrman 11.14.12 @ 9:36 pm

A lot of the fun comes from having suffered through last year and enjoying being good again. This is so obviously a deeper, very athletic team that it’s hard not to be excited by the potential. It’s too bad that the non con isn’t more challenging to get them better prepared for the BE. But I think it’s going to be a great ride.

Comment by Velvil 11.14.12 @ 9:52 pm

I recall watching the Wagner game last year and gradually realizing that Pitt was not only not very good, but that their mental outlook was poor. I sat lower than my regular seats at that game.
This year my seats are in the same spot as I inch toward the floor.
The 2012-13 version is entirely different. Attitude is 180 degrees different. Taylor, whatever you think of his skills, has got it going between the ears. He is unselfish. Tray is like Polamalu. Leadership matters. Always has always will.
Now, throw in Adams who is unlike any player I have ever seen and Robinson who is the mental toughness equivalent of Branden Knight (my highest praise) along with Zanna learning the game and all the aspects you guys have mentioned and you have the ingredients of a damn fine team.
Last year was not a fluke. But as bizarre as it sounds, winning the CBA was meaningful…not to the college basketball world…but it was to the players.

Comment by SFPitt 11.14.12 @ 10:38 pm

I like this team alot!!..James Robinson is a stud…It scares me a little that woodall is our go to guy..not sure if he can handle that…I love our’s def the stregth of the team..lets turn this thing around and win the Big East!!..h2p

Comment by pitt-for-life 11.14.12 @ 10:40 pm

Zanna really seems to have made the leap from an athletic but inconsistent offensive contributor to their most legitimate forward scoring threat. Moore’s game reminds me so much of Gilbert Brown. He is clearly the best athlete on the team and has the potential to score 30 but is just as likely to score 3. I really think Robinson is the real deal. He’s not a shooter but every other aspect of his game is advanced. Adams is very agile and athletic and I can see why he is so,highly touted, but he needs work on both ends – if he does what is best for his development, he’s definitely not one-and-done. I love Woodall but he can’t be the focus of the offense. Hoping either Zeigler or Patterson or both can step up their offensive contribution. Durand is better than expected. He has size and skill.

This appears to be the deepest Pitt team by far, but they are lacking the skill level of a Blair or Young. Without those superior skill players, they are probably a sweet 16 and no more. Realize Woodall will be gone but nex Michigan will be a nice early season benchmark. Wish we had more of those type of non-con games.

Comment by Iron Duke 11.14.12 @ 10:44 pm

To finish thought, if Adams back,, next year could be tremendous.

Comment by Iron Duke 11.14.12 @ 10:46 pm

Yes, winning that cbi was important. It allowed the team to play more, overcome adversity, find redemption, and gain confidence. It was a good spring board to this year. And having zeigler, adams and robinson help complete the chemistry will make this team even more dangerous. I also think jamie wants to prove something this year. I see Pitt as a number 3 seed in the tourney and another Elite 8.

Comment by TX Panther 11.15.12 @ 6:14 am

This team has a lot of depth. I believe it will payoff later in the year. Looking forward to an exciting year.

Comment by gdodson 11.15.12 @ 7:03 am

Last year’s team was flawed in so many ways. They didn’t have a true center or a reliable perimeter defender. Woodall played most of the season with a sports hernia. And let us not forget Mr. Glass from Canada bolting for Las Vegas, even though he was starting as a freshmen.

Miraculously, all of those problems have not only been addressed, but they have become strengths. If Tuesday is any indication of the type of defender Robinson will be, we’re in good hands the next four years. Zeigler did a good job against McCollum as well. The front line has gone from small to dominant in six months. Woodall looks like the best point guard in the big east.

I disagree with Gilbert Brown and JJ Moore having similar games. They are similar athletes for sure, but that’s where the comparison ends. Gilbert was Pitt’s best perimeter defender, despite being 6″6′, where JJ still struggles with that end of the court sometimes. Gilbert never had the offensive instincts and shooting ability of JJ.

Comment by Denny 11.15.12 @ 7:08 am

Denny I think you are spot on in your analysis of Gilbert Brown and JJ Moore. Although Moore has more of upside offensively I don’t think he will ever be the defender that Brown was. I think the wild card on this team is Zeigler. If he plays the way he is capable of playing, this team can really be something special.

Comment by Floyd 11.15.12 @ 9:00 am

Zanna has shown flashes before, but seems to have evolved into the player we thought he was capable of being. Exactly the path Sam Young took. If this team manages to stay healthy, they are going to be dangerous come March. HTP!

Comment by longsufferingpittfan 11.15.12 @ 9:56 am

Denny, good point about Gilbert’s defense, no comparison there. I was thinking more on the offensive end. JJ a better shooter, but Gilbert was a very streaky scorer, he would go 20+ one night and nothing the next – I see that with Moore as well. And the headband…

Comment by Iron Duke 11.15.12 @ 10:15 am

I think Moore is a better shooter than Gil Brown. There comparisons are definitely there, but I think Moore has a little more potential. Anyway, he’s looked solid thus far this year. To have a player of his caliber coming off the bench shows you just how deep this team is. It’s great to see after the fluke of a season we had last year.

Comment by PatMac 11.15.12 @ 10:43 am

The depth of this Pitt team has really been the story so far this year. Joe Lombardi said it best, Jamie has Noah’s Ark, two of everything. There’s no way a mid-major is going to be handle a team with 10 guys who are big, strong, athletic and play tough defense. Eventually, they are going to wear you down.

Can’t wait for the Michigan game. Watched them crush Cleveland State on ESPN3. Like Pitt, UM is very deep and talented. They have some big time names, Hardaway, Robinson (as in Big Dog) and Horford all had fathers/brothers that were really, really good. They also have a 6’10” freshman who runs the floor pretty well.

Michigan’s defense does NOT look like the old WVU 1-3-1. This Michigan defense is more like a match up zone. They really look like a man to man defense with a lot of switching. Pitt will run its man to man offense against it. This Pitt team passes very well and should be able to score points. Moore and Zanna should have a favorable match ups and will get shots. If they can knock them down, I expect Pitt to do well.

This will be a great test for Pitt’s defense. Hardaway will be a real tough match up for Robinson and/or Zeigler. Their point guard is very fast. He beat the Cleveland State guards off the dribble forcing a lot of help and leaving Michigan a ton of open shots. Woodall needs to be able to stay in front of him.

Michigan, probably in part due to their defense, gives up offensive rebounds. If Pitt can get on the offensive boards, they can slow down Michigan’s break and get some easy buckets.

Lastly, since this should be a close game, it will be good to see how Pitt handles end of game situations. Zeigler and Robinson handle the ball well, but look to be shaky from the line. I would probably go with Zanna, Moore, Patterson, Robinson and Woodall at the end if Pitt is up. And if Pitt is down, who steps up?

Whatever the betting line ends up being, I would take Pitt (probably getting a couple points). Don’t think the betting public has caught on to how good Pitt is yet.

Comment by boubacar aw 11.15.12 @ 12:14 pm

The other thing I see with this squad is that they seem to be jelling as a team more so than last year ever did. Kind of a touchy-feely subject, but very important. Their attitude seems better and appear to be having more fun as a result. Let’s see how this carries into the Michigan game.

Comment by Pitt it IS 11.15.12 @ 12:24 pm

LOVE having a defensive stopper in both the starting lineup and backcourt. In the guard centric ACC, this is going to be a BIG plus. Robinson is the real deal. If he continues to keep otherwise dominant scorers in check on D I’m cool with him posting 0 3s on the year.

I also like the message Coach is sending to his team. Ziegler is probably the more polished player, but Robinson starts largely because of his D.

Bring on the Wolverines!

Comment by Ghost of Hornman 11.15.12 @ 1:58 pm

chas, well put. i got to watch the lehigh game the other night, first since the cba. i was blown away by how fluid zanna looked, especially that mid range jumper. where did that come from?? adams is raw, like you said, but i was impressed with him in that game. sure he made mistakes, but he’s a big body who is going to demand attention. robinson looks good early on handling the ball, but man, i almost forgot what it was like with a healthy woodall. i wanted to see more from zeigler, he just kinda seemed to be there in that game. i think the michigan game will tell us a lot. its kinda depressing that its november and i’m looking forward to a basketball game thats a week away when there’s football on saturday still. but, such is life as a pitt fan i suppose.

Comment by usd121 11.15.12 @ 3:24 pm

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