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November 20, 2013

Lehigh’s Back

Filed under: Basketball,Opponent(s),Players — Chas @ 8:42 am

Well, not in a competitive way. Just, you know, the second straight year of having them come to the Pete. Once more in the guise of an arranged game in the Progressive Legends Classic. Last year it was for the NIT Tip-Off Classic. The common thread for Pitt is that these preseason tournaments put Pitt in the NYC area. Something that Coach Jamie Dixon wants every year. Both for alumni support in that area and recruiting.

Lehigh is not as good as they were last year with C.J. McCollum graduated. Sporting News picked them for 3d in the Patriot League, and honestly, they haven’t looked that good. They lost to Minnesota, Fordham and recently to potential Legends Classic opponent — Houston.

It’s hard not to look past Lehigh. Next week Pitt will be at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn playing Texas Tech and either Stanford or Houston. Still, the team has to focus on Lehigh. A team that will be more Fresno St. than Howard in offense.

Against Lehigh, Pitt will have to guard the perimeter as the Mountain Hawks shoot the ball well from the outside. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will line up in that 2-3 zone they played the majority of the Fresno State game.

For one thing, that was a special circumstance against a team that is a bit unique personnel-wise. For another, Dixon has said the bread and butter of the program will always be man-to-man defense and the younger players need to learn how to guard.

That was welcome news to Patterson, who said playing zone may be a necessary evil for the Panthers at times but that it isn’t the defense they have made their name with over the years.

“We’re a man team,” Patterson said. “We really like to get after it in man defense.”

I don’t think Coach Dixon wants to do too much zone against a team like Lehigh, because of the risk of falling into bad habits. Pitt wants to use a more active zone, which means the players moving more to cut off lanes, prevent penetration. Plus, there is still the expectation of going hard for rebounds. Something that is harder in a zone because of where you are positioned.

Against weaker teams, playing zone can get soft. You don’t have to be as active because the opponent is not as skilled at beating a zone. They usually aren’t as big, so you can still get rebounds even if your effort is a little less.

I expect the zone for stretches, but not as much as used against Fresno State.

Here’s a nice piece on Derrick Randall being something of an early surprise for Pitt.

“He’s getting the basics right now,” said Dixon. “He still has to learn about getting up on the ball screens and rolling off of those and finding his position out there. I’m happy with him, and he is going to continue to get better as we move along.”

Randall, despite getting into early foul trouble Sunday in an 84-52 win over Howard, still had seven rebounds and made some solid awareness plays, including a nice screen at the top of the key, opening up Lamar Patterson for an and-one lay up.

“He’s getting it,” said fellow frontcourt mate Talib Zanna. “He is a good rebounder, and he has good awareness on the defensive end. It’s still a time to learn right now.”

Any offense he gives is bonus — and he’s shown a surprising touch. But he’s still doing what he was expected. Eat some minutes and grab rebounds. He is fitting comfortably into the role.

Finally a piece on Cam Wright not simply more comfortable on the court, but enjoying playing shooting and point guard.

When Pitt coach Jamie Dixon gave James Robinson a breather against Howard Sunday without putting in backup Josh Newkirk, Wright got to run the offense.

“He gets rebounds and he can take it up, so he’s playing point guard in a lot of ways, and our guys are interchangeable in most of our sets,” Dixon said.

“He’ll be guarding the point, so that’s pretty much a lot of point guard play right there when you talk about it in many facets.”

Never mind that Wright, a redshirt junior, still is settling in as the Panthers’ starter at shooting guard.

“As much as I love playing point guard,” Wright said, “I also love shooting guard.”

There were many concerns about Wright being in the starting line-up this year — primarily with his shooting. But the other major issue was his ball-handling. So far, both have been much sharper than we have seen from him in his first couple years of playing.

The jury is still out on Wright. From what I’ve seen, his shooting has not improved. His percentage might be higher now because he moves well without the ball and has made quite a few layups, but his actual shooting (from outside) has not looked good yet. The concern is, against better competition, he may not get as many layups and may be in more situations where he needs to make outside shots, especially as a 2 guard. I hope he makes the leap everyone is talking about, but I’ve yet to see. He seems to be a good guy, I hope he suceeds.

Comment by 1618mt 11.20.13 @ 8:59 am

Having a guard that can drive to the hoop is something we haven’t had much of since Wannamaker. Hopefully the shooting is better.

The defense and size and speed are there.

Comment by gc 11.20.13 @ 9:12 am

Agree with 1618 comments , I refer to Wright’s baskets as garbage points . Being in the (W)right place at the right time scooping up the ball and throwing it in. Against ACC opponents I think those opportunities will go away. He does seem like a good person, here is wishing him the best.

Comment by spindler's spirit 11.20.13 @ 9:16 am

If we are forced to go to zone against Lehigh, then this team may be in trouble. Hopefully, if zone is used tonight, it’s only for more practice and not necessity.

Wright is not a pure shooter but certainly does many other things well.

Comment by wbb 11.20.13 @ 9:44 am

Pitt should schedule them in football.

Comment by PittofDreams 11.20.13 @ 9:59 am

At the end of the game I don’t think they subtract
“garbage points” from the score.

Comment by Classof69 11.20.13 @ 10:39 am

Wright looks much more comfortable out there than in his first two years. His shot although it looks unconventional has been better this year. He has hit a number of 10ft. pull up jumpers that he would not have taken last year. He looks like a different player. Let’s see how it plays out against better competition.

Comment by JP 11.20.13 @ 10:58 am

CO69 – what we’re saying is it remains to be seen how his type of points will translate againgst better competition. Not saying it won’t, and we’re routing for CW, but there is reason for concern here. Follow along.

Comment by 1618mt 11.20.13 @ 11:00 am

You guys banging on Wright’s game haven’t noticed the mid-range jumper that he’s developed over the end of last season and the beginning of this one? Crazy. I was a big Wright detractor but the guy has made huge strides – not to mention the advantage having him at the 2 provides given his size. If you’ve watched him this year it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that he’s a player.

Comment by Brendan 11.20.13 @ 11:03 am

Wrights shooting form has actually drastically changed as well. (for the better)

Comment by Snala The Panther 11.20.13 @ 12:17 pm

He’s gotta a nice little pull-up and he has hit a couple of nice shots on that double screen curl they call on inbounds plays from the endline. He actually jumps when he shoots and has a high release, with a slow rotation, similar to Gilbert Brown…I’m liking what I’m seeing from Cam all around.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 11.20.13 @ 12:30 pm

Agree with Silver and wbb, Wright has many more positives than negatives. Impressed with his conditioning and strength. His overall athleticism, energy, effort, defense, rebounding, passing, ball handling and ability to score in transition will be a big plus this year.

Even though Cam will never be a pure shooter, he will shoot a high percentage because he’ll only take good shots. He’ll never be that “go to” guy we’re all looking for, but he’ll be a very good role player.

Pitt will be better off with Cam than they were with two previous “one trick ponies” they had at the two in previous years. Cam will be an upgrade over Woodall and Gibbs, as long as Johnson, Patterson, Young and Robinson pick up some of the scoring. I think they will.

Watched the Texas Tech v. Texas Southern game. The zone will be useful against TT. They aren’t a great outside shooting team, they have one kid off the bench who can shoot, that’s it. Texas Southern used a zone and it gave TT trouble.

And while playing a zone too much can make you less energetic, it can also make the other team more passive. A good coach, like Dixon, should be able to mix in the zone to control tempo.

See you all at the game tonight, I will be siting by myself, could not give my other ticket away. Kind of pathetic. Maybe I’ll just head straight to the club and pound $7 beers.

Comment by Boubabcar Aw 11.20.13 @ 4:05 pm

Recently listened to J. Feinstein interview former UConn Coach J. Calhoun, and he talked about building a NC caliber basketball program. He said that being in a high profile league, getting the talent, and repeatedly “knocking on the door” (i.e. getting to the field of 64) was crucial to finally kicking the door in. The most important is obviously getting the talent. Forgot how talented Calhoun’s first NC team was, eventually sending 7 to the NBA. Anyway the point is we got the league, check, JD/company is always knocking on the door, (I know, I know you want some deep NCAA field runs, me too) check, so it’s the talent right. Whose fault is it when Adams takes the money- one and done, or Sleepy, God bless him, doesn’t develop to match his recruitment cred? As much as we love our Panthers, we aint recruiting meccas like Kansas, UNC or Yuckla. Appears JD’s margin for error is razor thin. Throw in that Western PA isn’t the center of the basketball recruiting universe (no kidding, it aint even an alley off the NJ freeway) and you see that what a difficult job JD has. H2P UPone

Comment by UPone 11.20.13 @ 4:23 pm

“We’re a man team,” Patterson said. “We really like to get after it in man defense.”

That’s funny. The better teams with better players in the post-season love to see PITT play man. Yea it works for the most part when you have the better players like in the non-con and against weaker conf. opponents and yes we can ‘outwork’ better teams in the regular season.

Need something different when the games are ‘one & done’ and the opponents are playing as hard as PITT and have better one on one players.

Comment by EMel 11.20.13 @ 4:33 pm

As far as Wright, I think I’ll wait until we play someone a little better than Howard, Savannah State and Fresno before saying he can play PG.

I would think you’d want to play Newkirk there as much as possible during the rent-a-win season.
Yes/No ?

Comment by EMel 11.20.13 @ 4:37 pm

It’s the complete opposite. Teams hate to play Pitt in the post-season. Butler, Xavier, Villanova, were all tight hard fought games that could have gone either way. The Sweet 16 losses to Marquette and also UCLA we weren’t put away until the end. In Big East tournament we went 3 years in a row to C’ship, including a win, have been knocked out on a last second shot twice, and had a couple of other reasonably close games. We’ve definitely laid some big eggs in this period, but not because of the defense we were playing. Most teams do not want to have to play a physical opponent.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that teams that have tough games with us go on to advance far in the tournament every year.

…It’s really weird around here. People on the basketball threads treat the offense and defense discussions like they are football schemes.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 11.20.13 @ 4:54 pm


Don’t know if you noticed but 6’8″ Mike Young, our best recruit on this year’s team is from McKeesport. 6’7″ Sheldon Jeter, the transfer from Vanderbilt is from Beaver Falls, and we just got 2 verbals from 2 other kids, 6’6″ Maverick Rowan from Beaver Falls and 6’8″ Ryan Luther from close to my old stomping groungs, Allison Park.

Last time I checked, all these places were in Western Pa. And the best player to play at Pitt in the last 30 years, DeJuan Blair was from Oakland.

Certainly better, then an alley off a NJ Freeway, wouldn’t you say ? 🙂 Doesn’t smell as bad either. lol

Comment by EMel 11.20.13 @ 4:54 pm

Well maybe Charles Smith was better, ok we’ll say last 25 years.

Comment by EMel 11.20.13 @ 5:03 pm

EMel – big yes on Newkirk. He has a ton of talent, he needs experience.

I think you are really close in your analysis, but missed the right conclusion. The zone, in and of itself, is not the answer to winning in March. No one plays the zone better than Syracuse, they get bounced early in the tournament about every other year.

Pitt’s problem is talent, plain and simple.

When the other teams turn up the defensive effort in the post season, Pitt needs to have players who can break down the defense OFF THE DRIBBLE. Once you beat your man, you force the other team to help, move and leave someone open. Defenses in the post season are too good try to beat them with player and ball movement only.

Dixon, to his credit, has recognized this and started to adjust his recruiting. Newkirk, Mostella and Wilson are all guys who can initiate offense with the dribble, drive and dish (or score). Pitt hasn’t had that guy since Knight, ok maybe Brad too.

Dixon has also been recruiting power forwards with perimeter skills. Young, Jeter and Luther are highly skilled and all have guard skills. These guys are capable of finishing when the man guarding them leaves to defend the dribble drive. These guys can also execute the pick and roll, pick and pop, etc.

They need to get some difference makers, go to guys.

Talent is the key. If you want to be a final four coach, YOU NEED FINAL FOUR PLAYERS. Pitt isn’t there yet, but there are signs they’re moving in that direction.

Comment by Boubabcar Aw 11.20.13 @ 5:12 pm

Agree Boubabar.

Talent always helps, lol.

However we’ve seen teams with lesser talent get to the Final Four by playing defenses that take advantage of their talent and the other team’s weaknesses. VCU comes to mind.

Yes Syracuse does lose it seems, every other year, but I think that is more likely due to, who they get matched up against and whether that team is effective against a zone. They’ve also won 1 NC albeit with a great player, (Anthony) and they were in another NC game they lost at the buzzer, (IU in ’87 or ’88, I think),

I’m not advocating we play nothing but zone like Cuse, just use it more to get good at it and have it to mix in.

Of course the kids want to play man since it’s what they play outside when they ball. And it’s a respect thing, beating someone off the dribble is the ultimate for them. They don’t want to admit that someone else might be better than them and they only play zone in the suburbs, right.

Until we get better talent, the zone might be just the thing to advance this team past teams they should beat in the post-season.

Again NOT ALL THE TIME. Because if you’re getting tore up in the zone, obviously you don’t stay it. Goes without saying. And that should apply to the Man to Man as well.

Yep we aren’t there yet, some of the recruits coming in look promising, Young looks promising.

Hopefully we get over, ‘the hump’ in the next few years.

Comment by EMel 11.20.13 @ 5:27 pm

Talent…and luck. Not some dude in a headset on the sidelines in a headset calling a defense.

Newkirk should earn his minutes, like any other human being in a merit-based organization.

Comment by SilverPanther in NYC 11.20.13 @ 7:17 pm

Emel have noticed that we are picking up a few Western PA recruits and love it. We need to fence off the area for true Division 1 recruits to go to PITT only. But between Sam Clancy, Sean Miller and D. Blair can’t name many local real program difference making recruits. So I know you catch my drift, that JD’s job is no piece of cake. We may really have found a gem in Young! Upon further review it is amazing how hard coaches like Calhoun and the Wizard of Westwood had to work to sample their first NC! Let’s hope that all Panther fans get to enjoy a Final Four within the next ten years. H2P!

Comment by UPone 11.20.13 @ 8:19 pm

We missed out on a few locals, like Ron Rowan, Bill Varner, Puffy Kennedy, Dante Calabria, Ron Carter and some more I can’t remember at the moment.

But you’re right Upone, need to fence in basically everything west of Philadelphia. haha

Comment by EMel 11.21.13 @ 1:15 am

EMel – Danny Fortson. He was Dejuan Blair 20 years ago.

Comment by Boubabcar Aw 11.21.13 @ 6:42 am

Talent really has been the key. I think with Newkirk and Mostella and Young prove he’s going after higher tier players. He’s even said as much in interviews. He talked about he only focused on guys “he thought he could get” and that’s changing now. I’m not sure these WPA guys are actually anything to write home about (other than Young). Luther in particular, but whatever. We need more NBA level talent than Dixon’s had to consistently be in the Final 4 conversation year in and year out.

Comment by PittHW 11.21.13 @ 2:20 pm

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