First off, a big, big thanks to Curt and Voodoo Brewery for an excellent Sunday. That was a great time and plenty of Pitt guys showed up — especially from Grove City — to take a tour, sample some amazing barrel-aged beers and just have some good conversation — about beer and Pitt. I can’t say enough about the barrel samples that Curt provided. Those were some of the most complex, delicious beers I’ve had.
The HTP IPA was an excellent beer. Citrusy on the nose, that excellent hop bite, but still easy to drink. Glad I took home a couple growlers of that.
If you like good beer, you owe yourself a trip out to Meadville to tip a couple back at Voodoo. And ask to speak with Curt. As he freely admits, he is always there.
Okay, on to Saturday’s devastation.
The bad first. The first 8 or 9 minutes. When Pitt was not looking sharp — 8-21 shooting and 5 turnovers. Even then, Pitt ended up building a 10 point lead. Which — yes — is an indication of how bad DePaul is. How they beat Providence and Arizona State seems more surprising.
Everybody played for Pitt. Everybody scored.
Pitt’s bench accounted for 52 points. Reserve guard Trey Zeigler scored a game-high 18 to lead all scorers, but he was not the only one to have a star next to his name on the score sheet. In a phenomenal demonstration of balanced scoring, the Panthers had nine players with seven points or more in a rout that was basically over by halftime.
“We have a lot of balance, a lot of great players,” said Zeigler, who recorded his season high. “When you have 10 guys who all bring something to the table, you’ll have nights like this.”
It was an historic day for Pitt, playing its final season in the Big East. Barring another blowout in the final 10 regular-season games, this will go down as the biggest rout in the record book. The 38-point victory was the Panthers’ largest in a Big East game. The previous record was a 36-point win against West Virginia in 2003.
“In this league, you’re going to play good people and you rarely think you’re going to have a game like this,” Dixon said. “It just doesn’t happen. For whatever reason, it did. I think our unselfishness was a big part of it. Once we got ahead, we didn’t look for our own. We looked for each other, and that was the key to sustaining it.”
Not only scored, but rebounded and dished the ball.
For Coach Dixon, this game still gives him something to get on the team. The turnovers.
Despite the easy victory, Pitt committed a season-high 18 turnovers.
“We had too many,” Dixon said. “You are going to have more against the way DePaul plays (up-tempo). We have to be able to play through the press and attack on the backside.
“We did a good job, but too many (turnovers) and some were unforced.”
I’m not terribly stressed about the turnovers, simply because I expected more than usual in this game. It’s the nature of playing teams that press. There are going to be more turnovers. Maybe not as many as 18, but there will be more. The difference with this squad is that they get out in transition more swiftly. If the opposing team misses a shot, Pitt is ready to go up court on the rebound. They can’t spring a quick trap or press on this group off a defensive board. The press only can come when they make their shots.
Of course, you don’t have games like this without your team being on, and the opponent off. DePaul Coach Oliver Purnell really had nothing that could explain the day other than it being one of those games.
“This is one we’d like to flush away and burn the tape,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “I thought they were pretty good, and I thought we were awful.”
That’s probably their best option.
Moving on to tonight…
I admit, I’d feel much better about Pitt’s chances against Louisville if the Cards had beaten Georgetown. As it stands Louisville has now lost three straight after getting ranked #1. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino isn’t really panicking. He’s too experienced, smart and savvy for that. He’s a master manipulator. Right now he is “calling out” his team and the fans.
“We have got to get the KFC Yum Center — it’s got to be much better than Syracuse, much better than Kentucky, because we have to get this win,” Pitino said. “It’s a must game for us, because four … now you’re on the verge of like getting a sub-.500 record in the league and you don’t want to mess with that. We’ve got to get after it.”
It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling thing. You know the crowd will be juiced because it’s a Big Monday ESPN game. He’s putting it out there as an extra spur. Trying to claim that they weren’t pumped when Syracuse and Kentucky were there for games. Which on its face is absurd. The chicken place was packed and loud. Just like it will be tonight. The Pitt players know it.
No matter Pitino’s mood, Pitt guard Tray Woodall expects to see white at the 22,090-seat KFC Yum! Center, where the Panthers are 0-2.
“Every time I’ve played there, there’s a whiteout,” Woodall said. “It’s a crazy atmosphere. They feed off their fans, especially with their press. We’ve just got to be ready. They’re extremely well coached, and those guys play really hard. We have to be prepared mentally to go into that game.
“I’m sure after they lost the first one, (Pitino) was telling his team it’s a must-win. I’m sure he’s lighting a fire to their (butt) right now because he needs them to play better. He’s going to try to have them prepared for us.
“I don’t think they’re going to be on their heels because that crowd there, they ignite that team. I think those guys will be ready.”
Part of what has fueled the Cardinal losses has been that they are not shooting well. They have shot 63-163. That’s 38.7%, the Jamie Dixon favorite sub-40% shooting goal. So not only aren’t they scoring, it means they can’t run their press as much. And it turns out their half-court and transition defense is not so hot.
There is no question that Pitt is playing better. Just as those wins at Villanova and Georgetown are looking better, Pitt has been improving. The unknown is by how much. This is a road test at a place they have yet to win. Both losses there were by three points and painful. Winnable, but Pitt couldn’t quite get it.