This isn’t Pitt’s final home game but it is the last one on a weekend. Hence, time to honor the seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. Fifth year seniors who already have their undergrad degrees and have been taking graduate level classes this year. And both who needed this eight-day break to try and get closer to healthy.
ESPNU at 6 pm for the ACC Sunday night game. Carter Blackburn and Dino Gaudio will be the announcing duo.
All games are crucial at this point. As disappointed as the outcome has been in a lot of the games in the second half of the ACC conference play, Pitt is still firmly in the NCAA Tournament. It may be hard to believe when we tend to only look at Pitt, and what they haven’t done. But when you look at the other 31 conferences and start looking at their records. Their wins. Their losses. You realize Pitt is not on the bubble discussion because they are solidly in the Tournament.
At least right now. The Panthers can absolutely play themselves to the bubble if they struggle with this final five-game stretch. The final three of four being on the road.
But at the moment, the focus is entirely on the Seminoles.
Dixon said Hamilton is underappreciated because his teams usually are not flashy.
Instead, they win with great defense and rebounding while playing hard and as a team. He also said a lot of schools likely could learn from Florida State, which won the ACC tournament title in 2012.
That’s because the Seminoles have stuck with Hamilton through some tough years.
As a result, Dixon thinks, Florida State always is competitive and winds up fighting for the postseason.
He also said coaches don’t stick around as long as Hamilton has unless they know what they are doing and are successful. He always has admired the job that Hamilton has done.
Coming into this season, Florida State had the third-best ACC record since the 2005-06 season behind North Carolina and Duke. The Seminoles also had the third-most regular-season wins among conference members in that span.
“I thought … when I was watching some of the game film and they had his record and how long he has been there, I said, ‘Wow, he has been there a long time,’ ” Dixon said.
“Then, I sort of laughed because I remember we played against him my first year and so that means I’ve been around a long time as well.”
It also helps that FSU doesn’t place nearly the emphasis on basketball as they do on football. But really Hamilton has had a solid career. He had the ill-fated sojourn to the NBA as the coach of the Washington Wizards when Michael Jordan plucked him from the Miami Hurricanes, but otherwise has been a solidly successful college coach.
Hamilton’s quick success at Austin Peay led him to Kentucky, where he developed a reputation as the top recruiter in college basketball. From Kentucky, he accepted head coaching positions rebuilding basketball programs at schools better known for football — Oklahoma State, Miami and Florida State. Between stints at Miami and Florida State, Hamilton coached the NBA’s Washington Wizards for a season.
The ACC’s second-longest tenured coach, behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Hamilton has guided Florida State to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Since 2005-06, Florida State is the third-winningest program in the ACC, behind Duke and North Carolina. He led Miami to its first postseason appearances in 31 years and led Oklahoma State to its first consecutive postseason trips in more than three decades.
“I’ve always been excited about taking rebuilding jobs that needed a little fixing up,” said Hamilton, a college coach since 1971-72. “I tell people I’ve been scratching and clawing, clawing and scratching, my entire career.”
For Pitt it has been a lot of work to fix some things over the last week plus.
“For us, it was good, it was needed because we had so many games in a row,” Dixon said. “In the Big East, we had two sort of bye weeks or open days where you don’t play, but in the ACC we only get one and you don’t know when you are going to get them.
“Ours just happened to be in the latter part of the year, but we obviously needed it. We needed to practice. We hadn’t practiced enough given the situation. It is good and it was effective for us in terms of health, too, as some guys needed some time off, and that was important.”
Dixon said Lamar Patterson (thumb) and Talib Zanna (ankle) were able to practice this week but had a few days off after the North Carolina game that helped them get back close to full strength.
He said the only player who wasn’t able to practice was little-used reserve Joseph Uchebo, who got hit in the jaw in the first part of practice Tuesday and is day to day.
Dixon said the practices were a little shorter but intense. He said there was some progress in addressing the defensive and rebounding breakdowns that have hurt the Panthers, who have lost four of their past six games.
And getting the freshmen to be ready to keep going.
One concern for Dixon was the fact that the freshmen hit a “wall” because the college season is so much longer than the high school season.
Pitt relies heavily on four freshmen and will need all four to play at a high level if it is going to continue to improve and have success in the NCAA tournament.
Dixon said he addressed the fatigue factor with his four freshmen — Chris Jones, Jamel Artis, Michael Young and Josh Newkirk — this week. He basically told them that now is the time when they will have to be tough enough to fight through injuries and tired legs.
“We talked to the freshmen, I think they played well and obviously they are getting a lot of minutes because of the injury to Durand [Johnson]. Across the board they have played well,” Dixon said. “At the same time, this is the longest year they had ever been through already at this point. We have talked to them about the fact that this is where we need discipline and commitment going down the stretch.
“They can’t be tired, they can’t be sore; those are things they have to overcome. You can’t let it affect you. They may be there but it can’t diminish your effort or focus.”
To say nothing of the frustration when your shots aren’t falling.
I actually expect a decently paced game. Florida State wants to play strong defense, but they aren’t as stagnant as Miami or Virginia on offense. There will be opportunities for Pitt in transition.