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January 14, 2013

Unable to Step Up

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 11:58 am

I have started, stopped, deleted paragraphs, and just walked away from the post several times in the time between the end of the game and now. I have found things to distract me. Excuses to do other things. This game just really upset me.

I would guess because it seems more of the same from this season. The inconsistency. The inability to complete the game. The blown opportunities after opportunities. For all the complaints about the recent Pitt squads that didn’t go as far as we wanted in the NCAA Tournament, there was consistency for most of the regular season. A comfort at least in knowing what to expect. In effort, intensity, energy, desire and performance. You knew how much they cared each game.

None of that seems to be there with this group. From game-to-game; half-to-half; one minute to the next. The unevenness. The inconsistency. No one seems to know what they will do. And it was all on display in this game.

From the opening minutes, it was clear this was going to be a battle. Pitt was struggling with their shots. Marquette didn’t look much better. The only difference was that the Golden Eagles hit some early 3s and Pitt missed free throws to give Marquette the early lead. Then on a scrum for a ping-ponging basketball, Tray Woodall took a hit to his chin or head. On the floor and in pain, he was eventually taken back to the locker room. When he returned, it was to the bench with an icepack to his face. Word soon came down that he was out with a concussion.

Yes, losing Woodall played a role in Pitt’s loss. That wasn’t enough of a reason. Marquette played the second half without one of their guards. Pitt should have been able to beat this team, but they played a bad game.

Pitt didn’t shoot well. They didn’t defend well. They didn’t rebound. They didn’t hit free throws. And Pitt still had a chance. But when the game somehow ended up in overtime, they simply weren’t mentally there.

This is where I have to give some major credit to Marquette. I’m not big on the whole “will to win” thing. But I do buy into mental toughness. This Golden Eagles team has that in spades. They nearly came completely unglued in the final 20 seconds. The turnover, the failing to secure a rebound and then completely breaking down defensively to allow Lamar Patterson to step into a wide open three at the buzzer. On the road. Crowd completely into it.

How many times have we seen that sort of thing? That just breaks a team for overtime. All momentum, crowd, emotion on one side. And Marquette didn’t break. They responded.

That‘s when Marquette coach Buzz Williams told his team, “Guys, this is what we pray for. This is what I talk about all the time. Our character is going to be revealed. I don‘t know who we are, but we‘ll find out in the next five minutes.”

The Golden Eagles did what Pitt could not, sinking 13 of 16 free throws in the extra period and pulling through in a close game for a 74-67 Big East victory Saturday afternoon before 12,513 at the Pete.

They attacked the basket. Drove to the hoop. Didn’t make the lay-ups, but created the contact to draw the fouls. And, yes, made those free throws.

Conversely, Pitt has spent the first half of the season not being able to make those plays in any game.

That toughness, resolve and clutch play that led to so many victories in seasons past has been replaced by end-of-game mistakes, poor decision-making and an inability to come up with game-changing plays in crucial situations.

“In these losses it seems like whenever we need a big play we just didn’t come up with it,” junior forward Lamar Patterson said.

Pitt (13-4) is 1-3 in conference play and in danger of quickly falling out of contention in the conference for a second consecutive season. What’s most disconcerting for the Panthers is they had opportunities to win all three games.

Go back to the non-con and there is the Michigan loss as well. Only the Oakland game, where Pitt came roaring back did they make the plays. I’m beginning to believe that the only lesson they took from that was that they could get away with playing only one good half.

Pitt with all the emotion, the crowd, etc. They kept taking jump shots. Looking like the panicked team.

Pitt made 3 of 8 shots from the field and 2 of 7 free throws in overtime.

“I think we did it to ourselves, really,” Patterson said. “We took a couple errant shots to start the overtime. So, Marquette really didn‘t do much. They just did what they did and made free throws. We hurt ourselves.”

Lamar Patterson should have been the only player allowed to take a jumper in the OT — and even he rushed one. So many players not only played poorly, they failed to step up in the game and with the opportunity.

Woodall was out for the game. It meant James Robinson had to play major minutes, but it also meant bigger minutes and opportunities for Trey Zeigler, Durand Johnson, Cam Wright and J.J. Moore. Stunningly Zeigler was the only one to show something during the entire game.

[UPDATE/ADDITION: Sorry, so much I wanted to cram into the post, I forgot to explain why I thought Zeigler actually showed something positive. Inserting it in the paragraph below]

The bar, at this point, is set kind of low for Zeigler so you may not see it as stepping up as much as merely playing better than he has. He’s struggled mightily so far this season. In 23 minutes of action, which included playing at point when James Robinson got some brief periods of rest. He didn’t have a turnover. He was more active in pursuing rebounds than anyone else off the bench. He only forced one shot, and actually made an effort to attack the basket. It was the first time he looked like he had an idea of his role in the offense, and was giving an effort on defense.

Durand Johnson got 25 minutes where he tossed up shots. During which he had his brief minute-and-a-half spurt shortly before the half where he scored 7 straight points (he also missed two 3s). He scored 3 other points the rest of the game. He took the second most shots for Pitt. He’s an exciting young player, but he isn’t as good and definitely not as consistent a shooter as he thinks right now. He has a scorers mentality. Which Pitt needs, but he needs to know when to do more than take jump shots.

J.J. Moore takes the prettiest missed 3-pointers you will ever see. He had four of them on Saturday. Given a chance to briefly play some small forward, he didn’t use the opportunity to take players off the dribble or draw the contact to get to the free throw line while attacking the basket. No, it was time to show that he is a jump shooter. With predictable results. This was Moore’s 4th game this season where he took at least three 3-pointers and had a donunt (he has 6 other games where he was 0-1 or 0-2). His season average on 3s is below 30%, yet he is 3d on the team in attempted 3FGs.

This is also the time to point out that Moore had one. Count it. One rebound for the entire game. How is that possible for a forward?

If possible, the frontcourt was worse. Ray Mernagh had a write-up after the Georgetown game about what Pitt did right and needs to keep doing.

It’s never been more evident that this Pittsburgh team needs to play with pace as much as possible. James Robinson and Tray Woodall both make good decisions in transition and when they push the pace it tends to give athletic shooters like Durand Johnson (who needs to continue to see his minutes increase) and JJ Moore shots in rhythm off the secondary break or the chance to attack the rim on the hard, desperate closeouts those kind of situations create. Playing with pace also counters the areas where Pitt can struggle. Easy baskets are good for this team because in the half-court they often settle for late-clock contested three point attempts that lead to bad results.

And once they get into their half-court sets, those plays should be designed with the priority of getting Talib Zanna and Steven Adams involved. Zanna and Adams aren’t your typical post players so they need the ball in different spots. Zanna needs it in space from 14 feet and in as he can face up, hit the mid range jumper, or read the defense and make a play with the pass or drive. Adams also needs it in space but on the move and closer to the rim. There’s no reason Adams shouldn’t get four dunks a game with the way he rolls to the hoop off the ball-screen action Pitt runs. He should also get a few more buckets in transition and he and Zanna can play off of each other with some high-low action if Pitt draws it up. They can make the game so much easier because both are willing passers who should make opposing defenses worry.

There is no question Pitt made an effort to get it inside. Even if they couldn’t push the pace because Marquette shot so well in the first half. But the Marquette front court was too physical for Zanna and Adams. Zanna was hideous on offense. He got the touches, but managed only 1 basket in 9 attempts (plus 1-2 on FTs). His frustration at shooting led to his disappearance on defense. Only five rebounds and no interior defense. Another indicator of how soft on defense Zanna was playing, he only had one foul the entire game. Zanna has usually been more fiery in games, but he seemed to have let the poor shooting put him in a complete funk.

Adams was continually muscled out of the paint by Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. Both of whom, while smaller had more strength to push him out of position, so that even if he got the ball he just had to pass it outside. He wasn’t close enough to the basket, often to do anything with the ball. He could only corral six rebounds.

Dante Taylor, who should be strong enough and been playing in the Big East long enough was useless on defense. He only played 10 minutes and could not even grab one rebound.

Along with Moore, the three of them let the back court of Marquette dominate. Gardner was 6-6 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds.

On the subject of rebounding. Since that is always a favorite of Coach Dixon’s.

Dixon was more disappointed with Pitt getting outrebounded for the third time in four Big East games — all losses — than he was with the Panthers‘ paltry percentage at the free-throw line. Marquette had 38 rebounds to Pitt‘s 33, even though the Eagles had fewer offensive rebounds (14-11).

That Pitt made only 13 of 26 free throws was less disconcerting to Dixon because the Panthers were shooting 68.4 percent entering the game. Dixon said he views the rebounding as a continuing problem.

“Rebounding is something we‘ve been stressing all along,” Dixon said. “You‘re going to have games where you don‘t shoot as well from the free-throw line. We‘re close to 70 percent. They shot higher than their percentage. We shot lower than our percentage. But the rebounding has to be a constant.”

Unlike Coach Dixon, I don’t get too bent out of shape about total rebound differential. It’s the fact that Pitt only had a +3 offensive rebounding advantage in this game that bothers me. Pitt’s missed free throws gave Marquette some easy defensive rebounds, while Marquette drilling a large number of theirs helped skew the defensive rebounding numbers a little more. The fact that Pitt missed (and took) ten more shots than Marquette, yet had such a slim advantage on the offensive boards can be upsetting. Pitt’s size inside should be resulting in more putbacks on misses, yet it isn’t happening.

As for the free throws that makes everyone crazy. 13-26 is bad. Really bad for a team. Yet, when I look at the box score, and compare the individual shooters with their season averages, it’s hard to say that Pitt left much more than 4 or 5 points out there — mostly from the first half (Patterson, Adams, Johnson and Wright each should have had 1 more made FT to be around their average.

Everyone was just a hair off.

That essentially sums up the entire game for Pitt. Just a hair off on everything. That’s why it is so frustrating. Another game where they were just off. Seemingly so close, but falling so short.





Pitt is a 5.5 point favorite at Villanova?

It is clear the gamblers have no better idea how Pitt will play than we do. I am guessing many of the gamblers look at the numbers and statistics, which Pitt inflated playing a weak non-con.

Nova is bad, but I still think, gun to my head, I would take Nova and the points. Hope I am wrong.

Zeigler and Johnson need to emerge for Pitt to turn this around.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 01.16.13 @ 2:02 pm

I don’t think Dixon is a candidate for the vacany, not because he “could never leave Pitt,” but because his star is fading. We don’t exactly have a very good program right now at a time when we should be better than ever following a 10 year build up. We are going the opposite way, and athletic professionals around the country know that.

Comment by Get the Glory 01.16.13 @ 2:31 pm

Correction: It looks like Pitt’s home court did make ESPN’s top 10 list. It just wasn’t in the film.

The 10 best home courts in college basketball:

1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Assembly Hall, Indiana
4. McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga
5. The Pit, New Mexico
6. Breslin Center, Michigan State
7. Koch Arena, Wichita State
8. Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh
9. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
10. Rupp Arena, Kentucky

link to espn.go.com

Comment by Jackagain† 01.16.13 @ 2:56 pm

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