Lots of stuff basketball related I haven’t gotten to in a couple weeks. Hard to believe Pitt’s already played one exhibition game. There’s one more exhibition on Friday night and then it is realsies the following Friday.
I’ve made no secret over the year how much I like advanced stats in basketball. In particular the work by Ken Pomeroy has been very important. Turns out Coach Jamie Dixon likes the stuff too. He is quoted in an article about coaches who embrace advanced stats (Insider subs.).
Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon did his master’s at UC Santa Barbara on statistical analysis, and has been a numbers guy ever since he can remember, but even he is amazed by the recent explosion of analytical data.
“I love it,” Dixon said. “The numbers can be really helpful, but you’ve got to be able to understand them.”
Dixon said he has someone on his staff checking KenPom.com daily, and he’ll add different components each season. For 2013-14, he’s focusing on breaking down the Panthers’ efficiency after baskets, free throws, steals and offensive rebounds.
This also lends credence to my theory that Coach Dixon oft citing of rebounding margin (a highly discredited number by basketball stat people) is more as a motivating tool and quickie stat to look at after a game (like batting average and RBI are in baseball) rather than a vital statistic.
Pitt finally added their first recruit to the 2014 class. A power forward named Ryan Luther. He is a local product who plays is AAU ball in Maryland.
“They recruited me lightly at the beginning, but toward the end of the summer they really picked up their recruitment. It’s pretty hard to turn down a school I’ve like since I was a little kid. The opportunity to play in your home town and have your friends and family be at games is nice, and they have a great coach, great team and play in one of the best, if not the best, conferences in the country.”
Mike White of the P-G’s high school beat has more.
On this Western Pa. high school level, I’ve called him a baby Dirk Nowitzki. Now don’t get wrong. I’m not saying he’s as big or as good as Dirk, but around here, he does thinks like Dirk. In other words, he does a variety of things. He is a good shooter for a 6-8 player. He can bring the ball up against full-court presses and his size lets him see over pressure. He also can score inside on post-up moves. Yet he can go outside, make 3-pointers and also put the ball on the floor and drive it. Luther made the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 last year. His older brother, Bill Jr., made the Fab 5 a few years ago and is having a nice career at Pitt-Johnstown.
It will be interesting to see what kind of player Ryan Luther develops into at Pitt. He has developed into a highly-respectable young man off the court. He might have to play some more defense at Pitt (ha ha), but I think he has a world of potential. You may not see him on any top 100 lists in the country right now, but he could be a factor someday for Pitt. Plus, he may grown even more. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up 6-9 or 6-10.
The talent for Luther is debatable. If you are not big on star rankings, then the fact that his other offers were A-10 schools Duquesne, Dayton and George Washington might be a question mark.
At the star rankings, he is a consensus 3-star recruit with ESPN.com even marking him as the 4th best prospect in Pennsylvania (which seems to indicate 2014 is a down year for talent in the state). Suggesting there’s more to him than the schools that recruited him.
Here’s the ESPN.com scouting report (Insider subs):
Luther is an ideally complimentary player because he’s tough, heady, and skilled with the basketball. He’s going to increase a team’s floor spacing and drill open jumpers beyond the arc. He can handle the ball some in the open floor and will attack bad close-outs going to the rim in straight lines. He moves the ball well within half-court offense, doesn’t let it stick, and has a good understanding of how to play within offensive structure…
…He’s a “program guy” who is going to be a great presence in the locker room and in practice, but he’s the type of guy you don’t bet against because he’s never going to do anything to hurt his team, going to have a good understanding of what his team is trying to accomplish on the floor, and always give maximum effort.
Almost assuredly he is going to redshirt because he will need to bulk-up at the college level.
At the Trib., Kevin Gorman sees Luther’s commitment to Pitt in the context of adjusting to the ACC.
“I’d say maybe I’m a three or a ‘stretch four,’ whatever they call it,” Luther said with a laugh when asked to describe his playing style. “I have some versatility that gives me an advantage.”
The numbers are basketball parlance for positions, with the “three” traditionally serving as a small forward or swingman, and the “four” as a power forward.
It’s time to get acquainted with the “stretch four,” as Luther called it, as Pitt prepares for its inaugural season of ACC basketball.
Where the physical power forward was synonymous with the Big East, the ACC relies more on someone with length who can help spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter.
While almost every coach at ACC media day in Charlotte, N.C., downplayed the differing styles between the Big East and ACC, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey pointed to the power forward position as evidence.
“The one thing I heard all summer from ACC coaches,” Brey said, “is the second big guy in the ACC is more of a face-up guy and maybe not the brute force four-man, a less-skilled four-man that we saw in the Big East.”
It’s already reflective in Pitt’s recruiting. The Panthers signed skilled forwards Mike Young and Jamel Artis last year and have verbal commitments from a pair of 6-foot-8 wing-forwards in former Beaver Falls star Sheldon Jeter and Luther.
It’s very true that Pitt’s power forwards for the last decade have been, shall we say, offensively restricted to within a few feet from the hoop. Talib Zanna has tried to show some range last year, but that ended up hurting him later in the season.
Some of this strikes me as adapting to the ACC. Some of it also strikes me at adjusting to paucity of true centers out there for recruiting. If you don’t get The trade-off when you are trying to recruit at a higher talent level, is that there just aren’t a lot of true centers. Most of them envision themselves as a power forward. This means if you don’t land one of the few centers, you either have to take a flyer on developing someone or adapt a bit.
I really am not sure Pitt will see Joseph Uchebo on the floor this season. At least not for the non-conference. And if he does get out there, his effectiveness will be a question mark. The micro-fracture surgery he had is not something that is easy to come back from. And it is definitely not a quick return.
Coach Dixon emphasizes rebounding. Especially offensive rebounding, and that’s not changing. But with that emphasis, it has been as much about the teaching the kids position to go with their effort and energy. Last year with Zanna and Adams was the first time since the Gray-Kendall combo that Pitt had big size inside as opposed to 6-7/6-8 inside presence. So, I’m not going to stress at the lack of inside size on the Pitt squad in the near future.
Speaking of effort, energy inside… Mike Young.
But this exhibition season is about building depth and finding younger players who will be able to step into the lineup and give the team quality minutes off the bench.
To that end Friday, Dixon may have found one freshman who is ready to contribute almost immediately and that is 6-foot-8 forward Michael Young, who is from Duquesne but played at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey.
Young played only 18 minutes but scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, showing the kind of athleticism and scoring touch Pitt hoped he would bring when he was recruited.
But Young also showed some intensity and physicality, and those are things freshmen sometimes struggle with as they transition to college.
Yes, Pitt’s first exhibition game was a bit tighter than hoped/expected. The final score of 72-59 looks like a coast to a win, but Pitt was struggling to put away the Tritons. Pitt had large stretches where they didn’t score and let San Diego back into the game.
Coach Jamie Dixon said that while the Panthers didn’t play well for long stretches, there were plenty of positives.
“I can tell you that nobody in that locker room feels good about how we played tonight and that’s good,” Dixon said. “We are definitely not going to be overconfident after this, that’s for sure. We have to rebound better, we have to take care of the ball better, our shot selection at times wasn’t good and we have to finish better. We missed a lot of layups and some free throws.
“Positives were our conditioning for some of our guys was good down the stretch, we made some plays at the end to win the game and we made some adjustments on defense to their action on offense. So it was good to see how we responded.”
The closest thing to a caveat was the front court was undermanned with Derrick Randall out as well as Uchebo. Randall will not be a star player, but he has experience and can be physical inside.
Still, this was not a well-oiled machine out there.
“Lot of miscues defensively,” said senior Lamar Patterson, who started at power forward because of injuries and finished with 16 points and four rebounds in a game-high 36 minutes. “We’ll get out there tomorrow and fix our mistakes. It’s only October.”
It shouldn’t be unexpected. Lots of turnover from last year in graduations, NBA and transfers. And the struggles may be more helpful than just coasting to a win.
Coaches like to use exhibitions to get the kinks out, to finally watch their team against other competition. Preseason match ups often provide opportunities for coaches to- try different defenses, experiment with lineups, work on new sets and play against different sorts of playing styles than normal – all while hopefully winning in a comfortable enough fashion for the team to still feel decent while the flaws they displayed against inferior competition are being pointed out.
College basketball CEO’s often hope for a close-but-not-too-close situation that allows the swelled-up cabezas of their players to deflate just enough that their message gets through loud and clear as they watch the film at practice the next day.
For Pitt, mission accomplished.
It’s just hell on fans. Not you guys, of course. All of you are calm, well-reasoned individuals who would never overreact to anything related to Pitt athletics.
Going back to the big men, this piece on Talib Zanna is topnotch human interest. Not even bothering to excerpt it. It is all worth reading. Okay, maybe just this bit near the end.
In his first four years at Pitt, Zanna earned a degree in social sciences, and while he plays out his final year of eligibility, he has started working on another, in legal studies. His mother, Maimuna Zanna, a Christian who has grown close to his host mother, flew in from Nigeria for the ceremony. Zanna’s sister and brother-in-law were there, as were members of his host family. Keithline and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon were there. So was Patterson.
Something intangible happened at this gathering, as this collection of disparate people from all across the world celebrated Zanna’s graduation. “We sensed it before. It was becoming an event,” Dixon says. “The whole family was coming in. We had to kind of organize it, make sure every one was in the right position. We had to take (Maimuna Zanna) up, get her to the right spot, because we had it in an arena with 15,000 people. It was not our typical graduation.”
Players you just root. Zanna is one of them.
Okay, this is getting too long. I’ll have to finish the rest in another post.