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January 27, 2017

Where Do We Go From Here

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:23 am

That has to be the question being asked around the Pitt basketball program at the moment. By the players. By coaches. Support staff. The Athletic Direc– Never mind on the last one.

I don’t want to say the Louisville game was rock bottom, because it is amazing how teams when they are in a spiral can find heretofore unknown depths to plum. I am cautiously optimistic, though, that the last game was about as low as can go in terms of score differential.

It’s the little things.

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January 25, 2017

The Stuff of Legends

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 7:05 am

In the future — no I don’t know when, exactly — when Pitt basketball is better. When this year has receded a bit into history. Pitt will have a bad game. They will lose by double digits. It won’t be pretty. A flat out bad loss.

Somewhere, whether on Twitter, a message board, a blog, or some other social media outlet not yet in existence. Someone will go off on a hyperbolic rant on the team, player and coaches. Insisting that that game was the worst ever. That that team just gave up and that no Pitt team has ever quit like that before.

And that person will be wrong. Oh, so wrong. Because last night. On January 24, 2017. At the Pete. Against Louisville. This Pitt team set the standard of quitting by which all other Pitt basketball teams will be judged.

It’s an accomplishment. Something we can tell future generations. We were alive for it. We saw it. Whether on our TV, our computer — though, judging by pictures of the attendance, very few can claim this — or even live.

January 24, 2017

7pm, ESPNU.

Welp, this should be… something.

After Jamel Artis put the team on his back and nearly dragged them to an improbable comeback two weeks ago, you can bet Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has his team zeroed in on making sure Artis is defended at all times. Very likely with some double-teams and trying to trap as much as possible.

In theory, this should open things up for other Pitt players on the court to have opportunities with open looks and open drives to the basket. Whether that translates to points is anyone’s guess.

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January 23, 2017

Fun and Losing Rarely Work

Filed under: Basketball,Fishwrap,Media — Chas @ 9:38 pm

In a way, this 4-game losing streak couldn’t have come at a better time for Pitt. In the midst of the Steelers playoff run. Heck, Pitt probably has another week of being mostly ignored while the venting and recriminations continue.

“Fun.”

That’s the way the Pittsburgh media decided to describe Pitt basketball in the first year under Kevin Stallings.

Here’s Kevin Gorman of the Trib right after the Notre Dame game.

Despite his success, fans had grown tired of Jamie Dixon’s stifling style of coaching. They wanted something more entertaining, something less focused on defense and rebounding.

They got that with Stallings, who loosened the reins. The Panthers have been given the green light to shoot 3s, the freedom to play at a fast tempo and have scored 80 points or more seven times.

I have to jump in here, because once more, scoring points has nothing to do with tempo. Pitt is an offensively efficient team. They score on their possessions, and don’t commit as many turnovers

They may be playing at a faster tempo than last year, but they are in the 200s out of 351 teams nationally in terms of tempo. College basketball itself has attempted to up the overall tempo with a shorter shot clock and allowing more freedom of movement. There is no doubt that Pitt basketball is playing at a faster tempo, but the pace is hardly a tremendous jump.

Last year the average adjusted tempo of Pitt was 66.1 (309th nationally with the average adjT of 69.0 for D-1 teams).  This year, Pitt is up to 68.0 (229th nationally with the average adjT being 69.1).

Sorry, finish this.

Stallings hoped Pitt would have a “mature, motivated response” when Virginia visits Wednesday.

“I don’t think that you have any time to wallow in your boo boos,” Stallings said. “You have to get up and be a man and say, ‘What can I do better?’ And get ready for the next one, because there’s 17 more just like that one that are going to come flying at us — and none of them are going to be easy.”

As Stallings learned in his ACC debut, nothing is going to come easy for Pitt. But the Panthers showed promise that, with progress, they could be fun to follow.

There’s the word. “Fun.”

And Pitt had a great response to the loss by beating Virginia in the next game. Prompting a gem from Paul Zeise. Time for the deep dive.

For years, one of the chief complaints about Pitt under Jamie Dixon was that its style of basketball was not fun, not exciting and far too micromanaged. Fans wanted more offense and a faster tempo, which would give the Panthers a better chance to advance deep into the NCAA tournament and attract the top players in the country.

I find this amusing, because, yes there were complaints about Dixon and style of play. But most of that came after the team was not winning the way it was in the first half of his time at Pitt. The exception being the writer of this column. I like Zeise, but he has long been one of the biggest critics of Dixon’s style of play more than anything else. Specifically, the very things he cites in his opening graf. It’s a bit disingenuous to make it seem like the complaints were coming from others — and not him.

If all of that is true, this should be the greatest era of Pitt basketball because Kevin Stallings already has delivered on that front.

Oh, boy….

If you want to tell me Stallings wasn’t an inspired hire, isn’t a better coach than Dixon or you didn’t like the way Dixon was pushed out the door, I don’t know that I agree, but I might listen to some of that. But nobody can deny that Pitt is now really fun to watch, and that, given the personalities of this senior class, Stallings is a much better fit than Dixon was.

A much easier graf to try and push when Pitt was 12-3 and 1-1 in the ACC. Now, with a 4-game losing streak that included a blowout home loss to Miami. A team that practically refused to take a game that NC State wanted to give away — because Pitt no longer does the one thing Dixon pushed: rebounds… Feels like a tougher sell. Stallings may “fit” this team’s personalities more, but is that going to get more wins and/or accomplish more?

Dixon spent the past two years struggling with these players, trying to make them value defense more than they do and trying to get them to buy into his structured offense. That plan worked well with many of his previous teams, but not this group. These players are a bit free-spirited and offensive-minded, and it was a constant butting of heads between players and coach. By the end of each of the past two seasons, it didn’t seem like anyone was really having any fun. Stallings came in and recognized the players’ personality immediately and has given them a green light — and they have, in turn, responded with a 12-3 record, in good position for an NCAA tournament bid.

And followed that up with 4 straight losses. Life comes at you fast.

Stallings told his team at the start he’d give them the freedom to play offense the way they liked as long as they work with him and buy in on some other areas, and it appears as if that’s exactly what happened. This group will never be great defensively, but it at least now has some periods where it looks lucid on that side of the court. Stallings mixes his defenses up enough to keep other teams off-balance at times.

I will give Stallings plenty of credit for getting creative and inventive with the shifting defenses. And when the team actually tries at that end, it doesn’t look bad. But to even think that this team has bought into or worked on the defensive side is ridiculous.

And as, I have been drafting this one for a couple days, Kevin Stallings obliged me with his media session today.

“Right now, my assessment is the only thing it feels like they’ve bought into 100 percent is freedom on offense,” Stallings said Monday. “Well, anybody could buy into that. That’s not a hard thing to buy into. That’s just human nature. Of course I would like to have freedom on offense. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we have to play defensively. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we need to communicate, the way we need to support each other, the way we have to fight when adversity hits. I haven’t been able to get them to do a number of other things yet the way they have to be done with what we have, with the makeup of our team in this league. That part has been a little frustrating.”

Different “f-” word from Coach Stallings.

By the way, this is why the local media, especially guys doing a lot more radio, are happy to have Kevin Stallings as the coach. He’s very candid. Very open about things.

If you are in the media, Jamie Dixon was as vanilla as they came. Even in recent years when he had relaxed more with the media, he still hewed to certain talking points. Rarely ever being negative about the players or what was happening. At times, getting defensive.

Stallings hasn’t done any more or less media than Dixon did. He has just been a much more *ahem* fun interview subject.

Pitt has two players — Mike Young and Jamel Artis — who can combine for 45 to 50 points on any given night, meaning the Panthers have a chance to win on pretty much any given night. Both occasionally take shots that give even Stallings indigestion, but he understands he has to live with some bad shots because Young and Artis are capable of hitting them. Those two are surrounded by four others — Ryan Luther, Sheldon Jeter, Cam Johnson and Chris Jones — who can hit shots and, more importantly, also have a green light to shoot when they’re open. That makes them really tough to guard.

And once more, Pitt can score with anyone. But they have yet to show they can defend anyone.

I understand why there have been some awful crowds this year. I understand why there is a backlash among a certain segment of fans who are still loyal to Dixon and why some people have taken a wait and see approach. Now that people have seen this team play, I suspect we will start to see bigger crowds again and a better atmosphere at Petersen Events Center. If we don’t, I’m not sure what people want because Stallings has delivered a fun brand of offensive basketball and has the right players to pull it off.

Wins. Wins help a lot more than a “fun” style.

I don’t think there is any backlash by fans loyal to Jamie Dixon with regards to attendance. It has a lot more to do with diminished expectations. Pitt is like just about any other program. People show up when the team wins. When they are struggling, it is much easier to skip the game.

Pitt has struggled in the last couple years compared to what the program had been doing. No surprise, that that was when the attendance started dropping and grumbling about style of play,

Wednesday night was the first time this season that Petersen Events Center felt like the good old days, with a large and rowdy crowd watching Pitt score 88 points against the best defensive team in the country, Virginia. But the arena still wasn’t full and the box office was still trying to sell tickets to it right up until tip-off.

“The good old days?” Like last year?

Make no mistake, Virginia had no answer for Pitt’s offense. The Panthers spread the Cavaliers out and scored in so many ways that their vaunted pack-line defense was rendered useless. Dixon never beat Virginia, and one reason was he tried to beat the Cavaliers at their own game, grinding out possessions. That approach is a recipe for disaster.

But Dixon sure could beat Syracuse.

And those Virginia teams were arguably better teams. I don’t really know where to begin. If all it took to beat Virginia was to space the court better, I think more teams would have better success. Pitt had an ungodly good shooting night from outside against Virginia. 13-21 on 3s. That had a lot more to do with scoring and being able to open up the court than the actual strategy. Hitting the damn shots makes any strategy look smart.

Pitt will do what it did last night to a lot of teams, not just because they have a lot of guys who can shoot but because they are all allowed to shoot. That freedom breeds confidence. Stallings said as much after the game last night when he was asked about Jeter taking two 3s to open the overtime: “He could miss 18 in a row and I’d tell him to keep shooting them because I know he can make them.”

Or, that could have been the high point. I have and still maintain that Pitt can beat anyone and lose to anyone in the ACC this year. Not because of the “freedom” and “fun” of the offense. But because their effort for 40 minutes on both ends of the ball has been inconsistent as hell.

I don’t know where this team is headed, how good they can become or where they will finish in the ACC. Only time will tell us the answers to those questions.

Way to hedge after declaring “Pitt will do what it did to [Virginia] to a lot of teams.”

What I do know is that the Panthers play an exciting brand of basketball and are a really fun team to watch right now. That’s something I’m not sure I’d ever say given the style they had played for almost two decades.

Yes, that dark and dismal time period for Pitt men’s basketball — that was previously referred to as “the good old days.” Why, oh, why did people show up to the Pete at all?

Oh, yeah. The winning.

I have heard and read local media when talking about Pitt basketball, speak glowingly — at least up until the last 2 weeks — about the style of play. About “fun.” As if that will be the panacea for all that ails.

*Pitt’s recruiting has been weak: fun style of play and freedom to shoot will bring the kids.

*Attendance dropping: fun and free flowing offense.

*Players unhappy: fun and open system.

Bull. It’s about the wins. Everything else is window dressing. 10 of the top 40 teams in KenPom have adjT in the top 100. 13 teams have adjT in bottom 100. Aesthetics only matter when you aren’t winning.

I guess that’s why this emphasis on “fun” bugs me. It just seems like a cover being offered for a team that isn’t that good. And honestly, it probably hurts Stallings in the long-run more than it helps him with the fans when that is the focus.

Instead of trying to talk about the issues with recruiting. The real deficiencies on the team, you get a sideshow talk about the way the team plays. Even if it is the media talking about it, it gets imputed to Stallings.

Stallings has very shallow support from the general fanbase. Perceiving him as just a guy who plays “fun” but not to win will get him no where.

I wasn’t wild about Stallings hire. I accept it, and want him to do well, simply because I root for Pitt. Being constantly negative and seemingly hoping for his failure because it wasn’t the ideal choice is a miserable way to be.

I’ve said from before Stallings was even hired, that things (especially next year) will get worse before they have a chance to get better. We’ve seen how poorly abruptly shifting coaches every year or two can be for football.

As much as things can change quickly for a program with the right hire and a couple good recruits, it can get just as even worse much faster when there is constant churn with the coach and recruiting.

Forget the fun, just find the wins.

January 18, 2017

Rebounds Kill Pitt

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 7:24 am

Rarely does a box score show as simply how Pitt lost as the one from Pitt-NC State. Pitt shot better than NC State. From inside the arc, outside and the free throw line. Pitt had a slight edge in turnovers, but it was essentially even. Pitt even blocked more shots.

It was all offensive rebounds and the extra shots they produced. NC State got 18 offensive rebounds to a paltry 6 from Pitt. Their young Turk, Omer Yurtseven had more offensive rebounds (8) than the entire Pitt team. Those offensive rebounds became the extra possessions. The extra shots the Wolfpack needed.

So Pitt could have the slight edge in free throws and threes made, but thanks to 14 — 14!!! — more shot attempts, NC State won on volume.

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January 17, 2017

7pm, ESPNU

I’ve had to do some work overnight for the past two nights. As such, sleep has been completely disrupted. I spent 10 minutes staring blankly at my computer before realizing I hadn’t turned it on.

So, I’ll keep this brief and possibly coherent.

Both Pitt and NC State are 1-4 in ACC play.

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January 14, 2017

Open Thread: Miami-Pitt, Must Win

Filed under: Basketball,Open Thread — Chas @ 10:35 am

12 pm, RSN (ROOT, various FOX, etc.) and ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN.

Miami is somewhere in the mushy-middle of the ACC with Pitt (yes, I still think of Pitt as a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, but consider that middle of the pack in the ACC likely encompasses roughly 6-13). As such, this is a game Pitt can win.

Should win? Arguably.

Must win? Absolutely.

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January 12, 2017

Plenty of Artis, Not Much Else

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:54 pm

[Editor note: drafted this in the morning after. Thought I might still be a bit too annoyed and maybe unfair on the read through. Sat on it for the day and evening to see if I mellowed a bit. Nope.]

This performance after what happened in Syracuse was not dispiriting. It was the kind that pisses me off.

After spending the first 15 games establishing a pattern of racing out to big leads and then holding on in the second half, Pitt has changed its approach the last two games. They get buried and then spend the second half trying to dig out of that hole. Hasn’t worked yet, but I’m sure they will get there eventually.

No one has epitomized that more then Mike Young. All through the non-con and first couple games of conference play, Young was a first half force. Scoring big in the first half to pace the team and open things up for everyone else. He would drop off in the second half, as Pitt’s leads diminished. But, that could be chalked up to doing so much in the first half, and being a bit worn down.

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January 11, 2017

7pm

RSN (Root, NESN, YES, various FoxSports) or ACC Network Extra/ESPN3

Broke losing streak to Virginia. Broke winning streak versus Syracuse. Have an 8-game losing streak to Louisville. Let’s see if things continue.

Since there is a lull in scandals at Louisville, the focus for this game is really on handling the press. Specifically, how will Pitt handle it with Jamel Artis as point-forward?

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January 9, 2017

Predictable Inconsistency Continues

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:43 am

In hindsight, the only real shock from the Syracuse game on Saturday was how overwhelming that barrage was in the first half. That Pitt would go out and not shoot as well. That their defensive effort was lacking (to say the least). That they would be disjointed and appear to come unglued.

Well, all of that we saw a little over a month ago. Right after a big road win over Maryland. Pitt followed it up with a complete falling apart against Duquesne. Producing their worst offensive output of the season and a defense that barely tried. Something we could kind of sort of paper over with Jamel Artis’ suspension (at least as far as the scoring goes).

Guess what? After the big win over Virginia, Pitt repeated history and had their second worst offensive output of the season.

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January 7, 2017

12 pm, ACC Network Syndication (bastards) or ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN.

In the Cleveland area, you would think that ACC games would be shown fairly regularly when its ACC Network Syndication. What, with Raycom actually owning two channels (CBS affiliate and a UHF channel). It is true at least in football season, but basketball is a bit more spotty. Today it is nothing but infomercials, which leaves me with streaming the game. Streaming is much better, but still not as good as broadcast.

Today is Pitt’s second true road game. Pitt is 3-2 away from the Pete when you include neutral site games. Not really much of a sample size.

Syracuse is 9-6 overall, and 9-2 at home. They just came off a surprising blowout win over Miami. Worth noting that Syracuse is 0-4 this season against teams that they used to call conference mates in the Big East. No, wait, technically 1-4 with the win over Miami, but no one really counts them as Big East basketball.

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January 5, 2017

Pitt Regroups to Pull Home Upset

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 8:43 am

Both in terms of the gut punch loss on Saturday and giving up a three to send last night’s game to overtime.

Credit to the team and Coach Kevin Stallings. I think most Pitt fans had about given up when London Perrantes was not fouled, and allowed to shoot in rhythm to drill the transition three to send the game to overtime.

Hell, given the way Pitt closes out then end of halves and games, there was a feeling of dread building when Pitt was inbounding the ball and a chance to ice the game if they scored before that.

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January 4, 2017

9pm

ACCNetwork Extra/WatchESPN or Regional Sports Networks (ROOT, NESN, YES, Sportstime Ohio, etc.)

This is sort of what it must have felt like for fans of other Big East teams when Pitt was at its defensive apex in the early 2000s. A team that grinds everything to a stop. That forces opposing teams to play a different way.  Low scoring affairs that piss you off because it seems the defense got away with muggings while the announcers just heaped praise upon the fundamentally sound defense. A brutally efficient team that sucks the life out of the game.

“They try to grind you into their game,” Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said. “A lot of times, when you play them — and I say this because we’ve scrimmaged them, we’ve played them when he was at Washington State — if they get you in their grinder, you’ve got problems. You have to work to keep playing your game the way you play it and not succumb to the style they want.”

I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about this one.

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December 31, 2016

2pm, ACC Network affiliates or ACCNetwork Extra/WatchESPN

I will be much happier when the real ACC Network goes on the air (provided it doesn’t end up in a stalemate with carriers like the Pac-12 Network). The Big East had plenty of faults, but at least they didn’t lean on Raycom to distribute the non-ESPN games. It was easier and more consistent always being able to find Big East basketball games on all the RSNs.

Of course, by then streaming should be even better, clearer and more reliable than they are now (and streaming has markedly improved from last year to this year).

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December 28, 2016

7pm. ACC Digital Network Extra/WatchESPN.

Useless information department. This is the ninth time that Pitt basketball coincided with a Pitt bowl game.

January 2, 1956
Sugar Bowl (Georgia Tech) — Loss
Yale — Win

December 29, 1956
Gator Bowl (Georgia Tech) — Win
UConn — Loss

December 30, 1977
Gator Bowl (Clemson) — Win
Fordham — Win

December 27, 2003
Continental Tire Bowl (UVA) — Loss
New Hampshire — Win

December 31, 2008
Sun Bowl (Oregon St.) — Loss
Rutgers — Loss

January 8, 2011
BBVA Compass Bowl (Kentucky) — Win
Marquette — Win

January 5, 2013
BBVA Compass Bowl (Ole Miss) — Loss
Rutgers — Loss

December 26, 2013
Little Caesar’s Bowl (Bowling Green) — Win
Stanford — Win

Pitt football 4-4 (pending today)

Pitt basketball 6-2

Again, really useless information.

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