November 14, 2017

Big Sky Problems

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:46 am

Oh, boy.

That new team smell wore off real fast.

83-78 in OT. In front of a home crowd just north of 3,000.

The backcourt of Montana — their admitted strength — just destroyed Pitt. All game long. On offense. Forcing turnovers.

And those turnovers. They flashed a graphic showing that Montana had scored 30 points off of turnovers to Pitt’s 6. That’s in no small part because the turnovers by Montana often led to easier baskets. Easy transitions. Steals in the backcourt with no one able to recover. It was painful.

The Panthers (0-2) allowed their opponent to operate offensively with little resistance, as 28 of Montana’s 66 shot attempts were layups and exactly half of its 30 made shots came at the rim. Guard Michael Oguine, who averaged 11.9 points per game last season, embodied that onslaught, finishing with 29 points and making eight of his 15 shots from inside the 3-point arc. The most effective defense against him came not from Pitt, but from the free-throw line, where he went just seven of 12.

“I feel like maybe they weren’t expecting me to drive as much as I was,” Oguine said. “I feel like they were kind of playing off me. I was really able to get them at a stand-still, get them off balance with a couple of dribbles and go to the rim.”

Pitt tried making adjustments defensively, opting to trap or provide help defense when a player penetrated into the lane. As their defense collapsed to close those lanes, however, it provided the Grizzlies with open looks from 3-point range.

The defense has sieve-esque. Montana had no problem penetrating. They could crash the boards without an issue. There was a lack of urgency even in the waning minutes or in overtime from this Pitt squad. Not that they didn’t care, but that they just didn’t seem to have the awareness that another gear was needed.

My biggest concern is that this did not look like a team. There are players. And some good ones at that. But not a team. Yes, it’s loaded with freshmen and new faces. The only returning players were non-starters. One who was injured for half the season, the other a deep reserve. They simply don’t know each other and don’t yet know how to play together.

In a situation like that, the team has to lean heavily on the coach to get them to be a unit. That means constantly communicating from the bench — and it shouldn’t be hard to hear him when the attendance is that low. It calls for, dare I say it, some micromanaging from the bench.

To Stallings, all that comes with the maturation process will have to take a back-seat to the process itself.

“I can’t worry about records or if we’re this or if we’re that,” he said. “My concern is trying to help these guys grow and, at this juncture, helping them maintain some confidence and supporting them so they know their coaches are planted firmly right beside them. We’re going to do the best we can with this thing.”

That, though, isn’t Kevin Stallings’ style. He’s of the coaching philosophy of play and play fast. Let the kids make the mistakes on the court and learn from them. Not call timeouts and disrupt the flow of the game. (Watching last night, I couldn’t help but think Ben Howland would have burned through all the timeouts in the first 6 minutes of the game, and Jamie Dixon might have made it 15.) In practices, or watching game tape. That’s where he’ll try to make the improvements.

That leads to the things Pitt players and coaches talked about after the game.

Montana also outscored Pitt 42-40 in the paint and scored 30 points off 19 turnovers.

“Give some credit to them,” Luther said. “But a lot of that was bad decision-making. I had a couple bad decisions, so it probably started with me. We’ve got to take better care of the ball.”

Stallings lamented poor shot selection, as Pitt shot 44 percent for the game. After building a seven-point lead, the Panthers made just 2 of 9 shots over the final eight minutes in the first half.

“It felt like we were fighting it the whole night,” Stallings said. “We don’t value the right kind of shots.”

Luther’s emphatic dunk gave the Panthers a four-point edge with four minutes to go. Turnovers negated that momentum, though, and Michael Oguine hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Montana.

“We were way too inconsistent,” Luther said. “We had too many stretches when we didn’t play (defense).”

Not even going to talk about the attendance right now. That’s a different problem, that won’t be resolved this season.

Welp, my prediction of .500 b-ball in the non-con needs updating…that ain’t gonna happen.

Going to be a long season. I still support these kids and as a true Pitt fan will find enjoyment watching them grow (I hope) while internally continuing to be incensed that we got ourselves into the mess in the first place.

Going to be a banner year for the negative-inclined…though saying the same thing again and again and again won’t change a thing and will get pretty boring on the Blather.

Many of us will fall to “so there is a chance!” a-la Dumb and Dumber. We all know the score…Stallings sucks and this team is JV right now…but really what else is there to post besides repeating the obvious reality of our situation? Na…I will try to have constructive posts, such as they are.

The positive I suppose is that there is potential in these players. The negative is, not sure Stallings can make blue-collar types become winners like our last two head coaches could. We will see!

Comment by DD 11.14.17 @ 9:00 am

“Stallings sucks” huh? Ok, well, you can take any coach in the country right now and none of them will make THIS team a competitive tourny-type team. Not one. The limitations are due to the inexperience of the team. This is a rebuild. We’re not going to be Kentucky in what is essentially year one of a rebuild. We have no real idea how this team will develop over the next couple seasons. Calm down with that “Stallings sucks” stuff.

Comment by Pitt of Glory 11.14.17 @ 9:54 am

I am too young to remember, but I know throughout the 90s Pitt football was REALLY bad. Was basketball also this atrocious in the pre-Howland/Dixon era?

Comment by classicsofpitt 11.14.17 @ 9:56 am

A good read as usual. I was surprised by how much Pitt looked like a team vs. Navy but, and you’re 100% right, this game was the polar opposite. Very sloppy and very apparent they haven’t been playing together very long.

I agree attendance is an issue for another day. Based on the last 18 months I’m hardly surprised, however. We have a coach who was an unpopular hire who remarkably became even more unpopular during the season. Last season’s team, no fault to Stallings, was very unlikable and this team has zero expectations. There is no buzz. Good or bad. It’s just indifference. It’s a bit of a shame because this team does have some kids that have potential and will be fun to watch develop.

As much as attendance is a reflection of Pitt’s current standing, it’s also and indictment of Stallings. Fairly, or unfairly, it’s highly unlikely he survives at Pitt no matter what happens. Pitt fans just don’t have an interest in rooting for him or his team.

It’s amazing the damage Scott Barnes inflicted in such a short term. Truly astounding.

I’ve been operating under the impression that Stallings would probably get two years (this year and next) to fix this but I can certainly see how, and why, Pitt may wish to expedite that exit strategy.

It’s why I lobbied so hard after the season to fire him. Kicking the Stallings predictament down the road was only delaying the inevitable.

Having said that, I’ll be watching and supporting the team all season.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 11.14.17 @ 11:32 am

I think the “playing less like a team than against Navy” has a lot to do with Navy playing zone versus Montana playing a feisty man-to-man. It really made them panic and play less team-oriented offense.

The most interesting part of the game to me was when Curtis Aiken said about Oguine, very early in the game, “He’s the most talented player on the floor tonight.”

Experience and growth. That’s what to watch for this year.

Comment by KeyboardKev 11.14.17 @ 12:09 pm

Kev – good point with the man to man vs. zone.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 11.14.17 @ 12:32 pm

That Montana team would have beaten Navy. Those kids didn’t come 2500 miles to loose. Best thing about the season is that no Pitt coaches have been indicted by the fbi.

Comment by alcofan 11.14.17 @ 12:39 pm

It will be a long year. I didn’t like Stallings hire and he has not helped himself at all with his inability or disinterest in efforts to connect with fans. In fairness to him, the last two years of Pitt’s team soured everyone and it needed blown up. How low have we gone when we are merely competitive with the likes of Navy and Montana? My goodness TT, you even used the R word in describing us (I may have to quit being a fan if we become Rutgers…). I hope this team finds a few players that can connect with fans and stay together to build. There are a few pieces/players that look like they will be fun to watch and grow. That’s where we’re at. If someone is looking for wins and top competition you might as well go somewhere else this year.

Comment by AnotherClancyrebound 11.14.17 @ 1:20 pm

alcofan, I beg to differ. I think the worst thing is that our coaching staff wasn’t indicted

Comment by wbb 11.14.17 @ 1:23 pm

I knew from the end of last season that this would be the ultimate rebuilding year, but losing to Montana is tough to swallow. We are what we are at this point so I ask you…please keep supporting the program. By not showing up to games, taking back donations, ect. things will only get worse.

Let’s give these young kids a chance. It’s not their fault that Dixon left, it’s not their fault that Stallings was hired, and it’s not their fault that they are basically all starting their time at Pitt at the same time.

Comment by AJ 11.14.17 @ 2:01 pm

Yea it’s the fault on Barnes and the idiots that followed his advice. Why should I put my money up to pay for the mistakes of our overpriced administrative incompetents. Barnes is now free to run Oregon State into a deeper ditch.

Comment by Steve 11.14.17 @ 3:03 pm

Unfortunately the only way for things to get better may b for things to get so bad it forces the incompetent administrative staff to make big time changes. Otherwise we may b stuck with Stallings for years.

Comment by Steve 11.14.17 @ 3:06 pm

AJ – exactly. Not supporting the team will have the opposite intended affect. Pitt won’t spend money for athletics if they don’t see value in the return. Pitt will just invest less in football and basketball and more in the Olympic sports.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 11.14.17 @ 3:09 pm

Hopefully at some point Pitt will put up or shut up. This whole “sports is the front porch” thing, firstly, is BS. Sorts CAN be a front porch…but there are many great schools that are awesome and have little sport-based front porches. Pitt supposedly admires such schools. But of course, I would not be on the Blather if I did not personally like to see sports as a front porch for Pitt.

Anyway back to my point. Pitt, if you really feel that way, then you have to put your $$ where your mouth is…it is worse to say sports = front porch is your policy…and then do little about it. If you don’t mean it don’t say it.

Comment by DD 11.14.17 @ 8:45 pm

Pitts athletic front porch looks like some of the porches on Boulevard of the Allies and Bates St.

Comment by alcofan 11.14.17 @ 9:31 pm

Cyanide Steve and Barnes his evil twin are both gone, but the damage is done. Lyke’s work is cut out for her.

Comment by Jackagain 11.14.17 @ 10:47 pm

I feel like the ACC is a conference where you can get a way without being good necessarily in football or basketball and get away with it. This is something that concerns me.

Comment by classicsofpitt 11.15.17 @ 8:08 am

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