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February 6, 2014

Finding Space To Win

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:40 am

Lots of gallows humor with last night’s Pitt-Miami game. Miami plays an even slower tempo than Virginia. And it was a slog.

Pitt escaped with the win. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t good basketball. It still counts as a win.

Pitt is struggling. The reasons are obvious. Zanna is clearly hobbled with the ankle sprain he suffered on Sunday, but he is still the best option for Pitt so Coach Jamie Dixon is playing him the same minutes.

“We fought through, obviously Talib is not 100 percent,” Dixon said. “There is no doubt about that, and we had foul trouble from a number of our guys and we had to put some guys at different spots. We had to win fight through some things to win a game against the reigning ACC champion.

“It is a win on the road, another road win and there aren’t a lot of those in conference play, and we have four of them and there aren’t too many teams that have four road wins.”

Teams are now keying on Lamar Patterson. He came up big at the end of the first half and late in the game, but he is getting no room on the court.

Part of that lack of space for Patterson is no one else stepping up. Well, Cam Wright is doing all he can. He kept Pitt going in the first half.

Durand Johnson’s injury shouldn’t have been devastating to the team, but it is clearly having an impact. As much as I decried the way he favored taking 3s over attacking the rim too frequently. As much as his lack of consistency from outside only exacerbated it. His perimeter shooting was important in helping to create some space for the rest of the offense.

As it stands, teams know that the ball is going inside the paint. This piece highlights teams that run most of their offense inside (Insider subs).

Pittsburgh Panthers
78.0 percent of attempts are 2s

Congratulations, Jamie Dixon. Among likely tournament teams, you have the single most interior-oriented offense in the bunch. Just 22 percent of Pittsburgh’s shot attempts in ACC play have been launched from beyond the arc.

Which raises a question. Is Pittsburgh too interior-oriented? To this point that answer would be no. The Panthers offense has proved it can score points even when opponents know in advance that nearly four out of every five shots will be 2s. Dixon’s men have recorded 1.12 points per possession in conference play, good for third best in the ACC behind just Duke and Syracuse.

All those 2s are being shot, for the most part, by Cameron Wright, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, who have combined to make 55 percent of their attempts inside the arc. The interior orientation suits the Panthers on offense but keep an eye on this interior defense, where Pitt’s past six opponents have collectively made half of their 2s.

The numbers are based on conference play, only.

The problem has been in the last three games against teams with really solid defenses, Pitt is struggling mightily to get to the basket. Settling or being forced to take a lot of mid-range shots.

The issue is, who on this Pitt team outside of Lamar Patterson would you actually want shooting a three? Maybe Jamel Artis. He has shown is  some range, and it seems that Coach Dixon is playing him more to be a wing player.

But last night Artis was cold — as were the entire crop of freshmen. Thank goodness Michael Young rebounds well, because his shooting has been brutal. No confidence in his shot at the moment. I don’t even want to discuss Newkirk after last night’s brutal effort. There was no one aside from Patterson that could be counted on to shoot from outside.

Part of why Pitt was able to so efficiently destroy Clemson was that the threes were going. Pitt hit over half their 3s. The floor opened up and there was more room to attack inside. In the past week, Pitt has played teams with very good defenses that took didn’t simply take away Patterson but defended well inside. They were daring Pitt to beat them from outside but there was no one who could.

Oh, and that comment at the end about the Pitt interior defense. Also a little scary.

Again, though, Pitt won. They won despite shooting 14-40 inside the arc (35%) and 4-14 from outside (28.6%). Miami was a little better shooting a hair better overall. How? By being the better team at the free throw line. No matter how often I’ve typed that this year, that still feels strange.

Miami was bad. They finished 14-25 and missed key free throws late in the game and in OT. Pitt by contrast made their FTs to the tune of 73% (19-26).

Lamar Patterson led the way late.

Lamar Patterson certainly remembers the depressing feeling of missing two free throws with a one-point lead against Cincinnati that led to Pitt’s first loss of the season.

At Miami, however, he claimed amnesia.

Patterson made three of four free throws in the final 10.6 seconds in scoring a school-record 10 of his game-high 25 points in overtime to lead the No. 25 Panthers to a 59-55 victory over Miami on Wednesday night at BankUnited Center.

“That’s something I’ve been working on,” Patterson said. “We lost games because I missed free throws or lost opportunities because I missed free throws that could have given us the lead or kept us in the game. That’s not acceptable being that I’ve been here for awhile.”


Why would a former Pitt guy, unless he was on Jackie Sherrils staff, be better than a Wisconsin guy to replace Engram?

Wisconsin has been more successful than Pitt. Rod Rutherford would be a disappointing hire.

I’ll take another offensive assistant from the 49ers.

Comment by notrocketscience 02.07.14 @ 6:46 am

I do think Zanna’s gimpy ankle is a legit excuse for Pitt’s current mediocrity especially since there he has no real backup. Young, who is not yet nearly strong enough, is apparently Z’s backup at the 5. (Randall has played very sparingly lately.)

Z hadn’t practiced before the UM game and probably will not vs Va Tech. I would hope he will get lots of rest tomorrow.

Comment by wbb 02.07.14 @ 6:51 am

notrocket, you make a great point, however, you must keep in mind that Rod is already ‘in-house’ and will not be an expensive hire …. a couple of factors that seem to matter t PC.

Comment by wbb 02.07.14 @ 6:55 am

Few questions on FB:

1. When does the ACC money start hitting and how much of a bump is it for Pitt Athletics?

2. Do we know of any plan to raise the FB budget as a result?

In other words has the plan been to run as they have been until the ACC money is in the bank account and then expand the budget (staff, facilities, etc) from there?

For BB,

…the ACC team came into our house and took something away from us… the intimidated out of the gate that when you come to the Pete… you lose.

Something we had in the Big East, until last year or two. Rather, now, out of the gate the ACC has experienced, no think that, they can win.


The only thing to do is go into their house and take that back. That simple.

Go win there, and make sure then the next time they are here make sure we take care of business they way we use to at the Pete.

Comment by Pittscript 02.07.14 @ 8:36 am

I like the idea of a former pro wide receiver who knows the intricacies of playing the position.

Need someone who is still hungry and willing to do the hard work of recruiting.

Hines Ward is too much of a celebrity with options to make big money.

Big thanks to Engram for not making a move before signing day.

We definitely need someone capable of schooling Boyd and Jennings et al.

Comment by gc 02.07.14 @ 9:06 am

I also like the idea of trying to win without Zanna tomorrow. Play without him in the first half and only use him in the second if you really need him.

The only thing that helps a sprained ankle is rest and treatment. He will be nursing it all year so best to use it sparingly. They usually only get worse while your playing on them.

The additional playing time will help Artis, Randall and Uchebo for when we really need them, which is for the rest of the season.

If there is any chance to beat Syracuse it will require a strong game from Zanna, and some points from anyone not named Patterson.

Comment by gc 02.07.14 @ 9:21 am

I am sure there have been other occasions, but I remember when Julius Page’s ankle was sprained.

His real talent was his leaping ability, without that sprain we might have got our first final four.

He was a great defender and I’m sure that ankle affected his play there as well.

Comment by gc 02.07.14 @ 9:27 am

After the offensive challenges of the last few games, I was wondering how much this team really works on its shooting and just on offense in general. I know individual players do their thing, but how much emphasis is there in practice on offense?

And then yesterday, in the car, I hear a clip of Cam Wright on The Fan saying that they “had to play good D, that’s the hallmark of the program, and that’s what wework on most in practice, spend most of our time working on defense.”

Is it any wonder, then, that game time comes, and that they’re going through the motions on offense, the movement of the ball getting slower and slower with each passing game, fewer and fewer shots going down?

Like most others, I’ll give Dixon his props, but offense is important! Great D is too, but if this keeps up, yes, they may make the tourney, but they will very likely get bounced in the first round… again. Time to stop doing the same things and expecting different results.

Comment by Carmen 02.07.14 @ 9:39 am

@Wardapalooza, Stanford might be 38 now but when we played them they were50+. It is embarrassing if that is our signature win. If all we have to hang our hat on is no bad losses then we had better play better than Wednesday night or we will have some. We still have work to do. The Zanna ankle thing is perplexing, because without a healthy Talib we really aren’t very good. We do not have a substitute for what he brings in inside quickness and strength and without that there goes the rebounds and transition game. I am not normally the one screaming that the sky is falling here, in fact just the opposite , so you might want to reconsider the concerns I am convinced are real.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.07.14 @ 9:59 am

Carmen, If you think our current dilemna is due to practice time spent on offense I think you must have missed most of the season. Our offense was clicking along at an ACC enviable pace until the second half of the Maryland game. Patterson was conducting a league wide clinic and being likened to the best passers in school history at that point. Our offense had just rolled up a couple 80 point games without benefit if Duran Johnson. Then we ran into a red hot Duke team that sank about a dozen 3’s and ended every inbound play with an easy bucket. We quit playing D and the transition points disappeared. Then Zanna goes down in the first half of the Virginia game and his injury changes the whole picture. Without his strength and quickness inside we struggle to rebound. Did you notice Cam Wright had 9 boards at Miami. Instead of running in transition he is stuck in the backcourt trying to secure the balls Talib normally gets to. The transition game goes south and we have to work harder for points in the halfcourt offense. This causes us to look and play tired. No amount of offensive practice will fix this. I wish the solution was that easy. Our only hope at this point is that Zanna has a miracle recovery or our freshman step up dramatically. If the Miami game is any indication neither are going to happen which leaves us in deep doo doo. Everyone has us in the NCAA’s already but we are not there yet.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.07.14 @ 10:27 am

PITT’s RPI is a solid #23.

Our SOS is #57

There are still more than a few higher ranked teams with lower SOS’s than us.

For instance the # ranked team in the country.
Cuse’s SOS is #92.

Yet we don’t hear a dang thing, not one iota, not one iota of an iota, that Cusey’s SOS is almost twice as low as PITT’s.

Nope, nope, nope…Pitt is the poster child here.

And that’s the way the non-factual media is going to spin this.

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 11:48 am

^the # 1 ranked team in the country^^

(although I think everyone could have figured that out, except maybe for sos22…lol…parole officer)

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 11:49 am

I agree that Z should be rested against VT if the Dcotors think that is the way to go.

For Cusey and the Tarholes loom next week.

This should be a good game to get Randall & Uchebo big minutes and see if Uchebo can possibly contribute at all this season. If not, I don’t see why they burned a redshirt for him.

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 11:57 am

I agree, spirit, that the offense had looked great — as good if not better than I can recall in the past decade — but that has disappeared. We’re playing teams with better defenses who have seen our offense and understand that, particularly without Durand, we are quite the one-trick pony. We don’t have particularly strong shooters to begin with outside of Patterson. So, in my view, it’s particularly important in practice to work on the offense, adding new wrinkles and building up the confidence of guys like Robinson, Newkirk, Artis, and even Wright. We need other players beside Patterson to score, plain and simple. And that begins in practice.

Comment by Carmen 02.07.14 @ 12:15 pm

let me throw my hat in the ring of people who would like to see Z sit tomorrow. However, I would be very surprised if our beloved coach agrees

Comment by wbb 02.07.14 @ 12:20 pm

Carmen, I don’t think they solved squat, the difference was we played a hot Duke team then Zanna got hurt.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.07.14 @ 12:25 pm

what you guys didn’t like the Limburger Cheese convo on the other thread ?

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 12:38 pm

wbb, I’m sure you are right about the coach. Seems to be his modus operandi. During the non-com he had the opportunity to give the young guys and Randall more pt but was afraid to give up his teddy bear.

emel, I don’t think Uchebo is eligible for a redshirt.

Comment by gc 02.07.14 @ 12:40 pm

Patterson is also responsible for the scoring drought of others in that his brilliant passing was why guys were getting open looks. Plus the pressure on the other guys goes up when he is not scoring.

He really is our star.

Comment by gc 02.07.14 @ 12:43 pm

yep yep gc. I thought he might not be eligible.

JD likes his hollow wins maybe too much not to rest Z.

Someone mentioned, rest Z in the first half and then if you absolutely have to play him in the 2nd you do. Losing to VT a home would be a really really bad loss.

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 12:44 pm

@ gc

I’d like to see more than just a single screen to try to get Lamar open or a route to the hoop.

How about some double or if need be triple screens.

Lamar is also great a finding guys on the pick(screen) and roll. With several players setting screens (picks), he would several other options in passing to players rolling off the pick as well.

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 12:52 pm

^great at ^

Comment by Emel 02.07.14 @ 12:53 pm

Unless Zman gets healthy the transition game is history and our halfcourt offense will get slower and slower without the threat of offensive rebounding. Patterson might be the lightbulb but Zanna is the switch and one won’t work well without the other.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.07.14 @ 2:29 pm

The bench players got more minutes at the beginning of the season while the starters got less minutes. shows avg minute charts and lots of other stats. Starters need minutes too at the beginning of the season. You need your best 5 to get used to playing together. One thing I just noticed about playing time is that James Robinson’s minutes have gone down 3.5 minutes per game since December.

You can’t just rest Zanna from the get go. But I’m sure if Pitt gets a big lead he won’t play much.

Comment by Wardapalooza 02.07.14 @ 3:18 pm

I love the optimism here, or is it over confidence? Big lead- we haven’t smelled one since the one we blew at Maryland.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.07.14 @ 4:08 pm

As I watched last night, I started thinking: they look so out of synch on offense. I wonder how much work they do on shooting and just offense in general in practice. Then on the fan today I hear Cam Wright say something to the effect of, “We’re always focused on defense. We work on defense in practice much more than offense.”

You know what? If shows! Defense is important, yes. But if this team doesn’t start scoring, it will be one and done in March. Jamie needs to get out of his comfort zone and focus on some motherf@#$ing offense, and quick.

Comment by Carmen 02.08.14 @ 1:19 pm

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