If I had to lay odds, I would have had Ron Cook as the prohibitive favorite among Pittsburgh newspaper columnists penning the “Pitt’s weak schedule is the reason for the loss” column this morning. But, no. Dejan Kovacevic grabs the superficial brass ring. Oh, he’s not coming and saying it’s the reason. He’s just saying the question is still out there.
You’d better believe the topic came up again, as it’ll continue to do for as long as it goes unaddressed. In this context, the question was whether or not Pitt might have been better prepared for Cincinnati with an out-of-conference schedule ranked better than 167th in the country.
You may remember Kovacevic’s previous “question” of whether this Pitt team is better without Steven Adams.
Time for a personal aside. I hate. HATE the “I’m just asking questions” pieces. Regardless of the medium. At the end of the day, it is nothing but pot-stirring crap that someone doesn’t have the actual courage to stand behind. They aren’t saying they believe it (wink, wink). They are just acknowledging the question is out there and opening it up to others to discuss. That way they don’t have to back up what they are saying. They don’t have to take one side.
They can just toss it out there. Repeat it. Let others pick it up, and see what happens. Skew the debate without having to get your hands dirty.
Skip Bayless may be a gasbag troll best ignored, but at least you know what side he is taking on something (usually the side that gets the most controversy and attention). When a media person can’t even reach that level, it should be a concern.
“We’re disappointed, to put it mildly, and did not deserve to win,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn’t play well the whole game. Give them credit.”
I’ll take that as a no.
As for the game itself. Let’s hit the standards.
But an unusual thing happened in this battle of toughness, heart and will — Pitt lost in all three categories and, as a result, lost the game, 44-43, in the Jimmy V Classic.
“We didn’t handle their physicality well at all, and that is disappointing for us,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “They were more physical than we were, they were more aggressive than we were and they were physical at the same time.”
Pitt senior forward Lamar Patterson added, “they were more physical today, and we knew that’s how they would play but we didn’t throw punches back like we are supposed to. Numbers don’t lie.”
The biggest issue for Pitt was the number of offensive rebounds it surrendered. Including the game winning putback. Cinci grabbed 16 offensive rebounds while Pitt only got 8 second chances on offense.
The ESPN crew noted it during the game, and it was strange. Pitt was getting out of position for offensive rebounds because several players would all go for blocks on drives or shots inside. They didn’t have position, became off-balanced and left themselves exposed to Cinci players getting to the ball first.
Then there were the freethrows. Up until the final couple minutes of the game, they were the thing that had Pitt in a position to at least escape with the win. Zanna went 2-4 from the line and then the brutal misses by Lamar Patterson with 22 seconds left.
Patterson, who was 6 for 7 from the foul line before his two key misses, said that, as the team leader, he should have knocked down the two free throws in order to give the Panthers a wider margin.
“I feel like I lost the game for us,” Patterson said. “Not only missing one, but both, I need to make them, I’ll take that one on the chin for the team, it is on me.”
Wright quickly stepped in and said, “it wasn’t Lamar’s fault. You don’t lose the game on two free throws. There are a lot of possessions. It was a team loss, and you have to give a lot of credit to Cincinnati.”
Well, sort of. This was such a slow, grinding game. Pitt only had 47 possessions. I don’t know, maybe scoring is really up because the old Big East is no more and that style of play is now more diffused. I suppose not.
The Cinci side rejoiced at simply stopping their two-game slide.
“Our guys were so upset about what happened Saturday night we had guys that couldn’t eat,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “I was more of a psychologist than a coach the last couple of days.”
The players were feeling a lot better Tuesday night after they reclaimed their reputation for toughness against an unbeaten Pittsburgh team that also takes pride in standing its ground on the basketball court.
So what else stands out from this game that could be part of a broader theme? Well, the 3-point shooting has become a struggle. Over the course of the last five games, Pitt is shooting a touch over 20% from outside (13-64). That’s going to make things crowded inside as teams focus on preventing penetration and cut off passing lanes.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Durand Johnson is 3-18 (16.7%) on 3s in that stretch. It’s hard to miss J.J. Moore when Johnson has so seamlessly replaced him as the sixth man with ridiculous athletic talent who should be attacking the basket rather than launching so many 3s. Johnson is 9-14 from anywhere inside the arc in that same stretch.
It isn’t just Johnson struggling to shoot. Michael Young is a great young player. I will really enjoy watching him continue to get better. But right now he shows his inexperience on offense. Bringing and gathering the ball before going up for shots to get challenged most of the time. In the last five games, only one game had him score more points from the field than the free throw line. It is rightly noted that his free throw shooting is excellent. While an occasional game where all the offense comes from the free throw line is a good offset, it shouldn’t be the norm. Especially for a front court player.
The only players who have continually hit double figures in scoring for this five game stretch are Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson. Cam Wright had his run snapped last night.
James Robinson does so much right on the court. And it should be noted that he is shooting better from inside the arc to this point in the season versus last year. But, his 3-point shooting is actually down from last year, and that is worrisome. We saw it last year in Big East play. Teams didn’t fear him shooting the ball. They played off him. Covering the passing lanes and staying back to prevent drives. Daring him to shoot.