And it already feels like Pitt has had its share of the latter.
Pitt got the job done. The front court continues to scuffle. James Robinson is finding out just how much tougher it is to go night-in-and-night-out in the Big East as opposed to getting up for a game or two in the non-con. Lamar Patterson had a bad night.
Thankfully Villanova was even worse. Some bad shooting by both teams made the defenses look even better. The thing is, as much as it was a defensive battle and both sides really did a good job of getting after it on that end. Coach Jamie Dixon felt compelled to play the offensive players.
Cam Wright saw a minute of action in the first half, and nothing more. Durand Johnson and Trey Zeigler were each out there for 13 minutes in the second half. Woodall played 17 minutes in the second half. James Robinson only played 10 second half minutes. At one point in the second half it was Woodall, Zeigler, Johnson, Moore and Adams on the court together. That’s a line-up I don’t think Coach Dixon ever envisioned using.
Durand Johnson had a very good game. As wild and poor shooting as he was against Marquette, he was on against Villanova. He stayed on his guy defensively and had active hands inside. The thing to remember is that this is Johnson’s first season playing. He’s going to continue to be up-and-down.
Trey Zeigler seemed find himself in the Marquette game, and he really stepped up against Villanova. Attacking the basket more, and being more confident out there. He went 6-10 (with all shots coming from inside the arc), grabbed 6 boards and only had one turnover.
The amusing/interesting thing is that the two seem to see each other as something of a team. Both looking for their chances to step-up.
“In the first half, we were struggling offensively,” Johnson said. “Me and Trey decided when the opportunity presents itself, don’t let it pass. It came, and we were able to deliver and help our team get a win.”
“I think it was huge,” Zeigler said. “Me and Durand are scorers. We took advantage of the minutes we had. We wanted to give our team a boost. We‘re guys that can give offense.”
“We’re both guys who can make plays,” Zeigler said. “We can both score. We’re instant offense off the bench. It’s just about giving the team a boost — whatever coach needs offensively or defensively.”
And in this game, offense was needed. Painfully needed.
Of course we know what made Coach Dixon happy.
But it was the way Pitt (14-4, 2-3) crashed the boards that pleased Panthers coach Jamie Dixon the most. Villanova led the Big East in rebounding margin at plus-9.7, but Pitt finished with a 39-27 edge and held the Wildcats to one offensive rebound.
“I‘m really proud of our guys. We spent the last couple days and pep talk before the game talking about rebounding,” Dixon said. “We won it by rebounding and defending against a very good rebounding and defensive team.”
Rebounding margin is a little weird. The official box score gives Pitt 7 additional “team rebounds.” The big deal was in the offensive rebounds. Limiting Villanova to only 1 offensive rebound. That’s amazing on a good shooting night. Villanova missed 30 shots. They only had one second-chance opportunity. That seems almost impossible to have happen.
Actually, no sooner did I write that, I see that the Philly.com coverage similarly notes the offensive rebounding (“borderline impossible”).
“We didn’t make shots,” Wright said. “But you hate to say that. It means the other team’s playing good defense.
“They picked the right people to lay off of. But they were struggling, too. Then they hit some big shots.”
Darrun Hilliard was the only Wildcat to reach double digits, with 14. But he got all of them in the first 18 minutes, when he made all three of his three-pointers. He took only one shot in the second half, when he was hampered by foul trouble and a jammed right (non-shooting) thumb.
“They were tough,” Hilliard duly noted of Pitt.
In the meantime . . .
“I love this [rivalry],” Wright said. “It’s always a tough, physical game, a grind-it-out game. They always challenge your toughness. I do think about it [being over]. I will miss it.”
Coach Dixon, after the game, indicated he would like to keep playing Villanova. Specifically because of Philly. Between a large alumni base and recruiting the area it is a no-brainer. It’s a question of Villanova’s willingness. Of course, even if they aren’t there are plenty of teams Pitt could do a series in the Philly area.
There’s also a piece on the struggles in Big East play for Villanova’s precocious freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. In so many ways he is mirroring the struggles that James Robinson is facing. Both are now struggling to score. Their committing more turnovers and their assists are down.
The grind and pressure Robinson is facing in each game has been very noticeable in the last two games. Versus Marquette, he had to play through his struggles because Woodall was concussed.
He saw limited minutes in the second half last night. In no small part because he was no threat to score. Villanova was daring him to shoot. They played the passing lanes and stayed on top of whoever they were guarding. They knew he wasn’t going to shoot. Robinson is a wonderful, pass-first point guard who has plenty of room to improve. When Pitt’s offense is struggling like it has the last couple of games, however, he becomes almost a liability.