Not sure why, but every year the night of the father-daughter night sponsored by my daughter’s school coincides with Pitt playing a late Saturday afternoon/Saturday evening game. This is no exception. I can probably catch the first half, but the second half will be complete overlap.
Last year, even more than the Rutgers debacle, losing and the way they lost to DePaul was a summary of how bad things were. The only upside is not only does this keep it from letting Pitt look ahead to Louisville on Big Monday. The way they blew it last year should serve as a reminder about how Pitt has lost and struggled at the end of games to finish strong.
DePaul had lost 53 of its previous 55 Big East games before upsetting Pitt, 84-81, last year at All-State Arena outside Chicago. The Panthers blew a 10-point second-half lead and a four-point lead with 17 seconds remaining.
The loss was shocking for the Panthers, who were the defending Big East regular-season champions. It was the first time in Jamie Dixon’s tenure as head coach that he had lost four consecutive games, and the fact that it came against the Blue Demons was the first sign that last season was going to be a long one.
If not for that loss against the Blue Demons, the game today could have been a “trap game” for Pitt with two games against top five opponents coming up next week. The Panthers will travel Monday to No. 5 Louisville and play host to No. 3 Syracuse next Saturday. With the memory of the loss against DePaul last season lingering, though, it’s unlikely the Panthers will underestimate the Blue Demons.
No, I imagine the coaches and players who were involved in the game — Moore, Taylor, Zanna, Patterson and Wright — haven’t forgotten the stinging humiliation of losing in a half-empty Rosemont Arena.
Pitt is in better shape physically and mentally than they were last year. Everyone is healthy. Pitt has shown much more competence at handling the press.
“We have to handle the press. We have to know they are going to be coming at you,” Dixon said of the Blue Demons. “They want to get up and down and shoot quick, make you shoot quick.”
DePaul is third in the Big East in steals (9.56 per game), but Pitt counters with patience on offense and a plus-4.3 turnover margin, which is second in the conference.
Dixon said Providence tried to keep his players off balance Tuesday with pressure defensive tactics similar to what DePaul will try. Pitt remained calm and hit 51 percent of its field-goal attempts in a 68-64 victory.
“I thought we did a good job not settling for contested jump shots,” he said.
“They aren’t the only team to pressure us this season,” said freshman guard James Robinson, who is averaging a team-high 28.1 minutes per game.
The contested jumpers. Something that bit Pitt last year in the second half that fueled the loss. It allowed DePaul more possessions and more time to score.
I have to believe Pitt has been preparing hard for the press this week. Not simply because of DePaul bringing it, but because they will see plenty of it against Louisville on Monday. Pitt will look to control the tempo to help keep the Blue Demons from getting flow and rhythm.
DePaul is still, well, DePaul. They have some very talented players that can go off on offense — Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young. Aside from pressing and forcing turnovers, though, they don’t handle half-court defense well. They will gamble and go for steals. That is scary from the perspective of meaning Pitt will likely shoot plenty of free throws.
It’s a 4pm game. Airing on Root Sports, MSG, MASN, WPHL and some other Big East affiliates. It will also be on ESPNU.