Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pitt basketball off to slow start

I've been waiting to write something about Pitt basketball because it's a long season and usually it's just business as usual before the start of the Big East season.  But something strange has happened this season- the Panthers haven't looked particularly good.  Long Beach State is an athletic and experienced team, and they have exposed a few glaring weaknesses for Jamie Dixon's team.  Four starters have done well this season.  Ashton Gibbs through three games is averaging 21.7 ppg and 43.3% from three point land.  That's not too surprising.  Three others who are doing well offensively are a little more surprising, especially Travon Woodall who is averaging 19.7 ppg, 8.0 apg, and 5.3 rpg, while shooting an amazing 62.5% from the field and 57.1% from three.  Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson round out the quartet with Robinson averaging 16.3 ppg and 70% from the floor, and Patterson chipping in with 8.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 1.3 spg.  Sounds promising, but then there are the problems.

1.  The Panthers starting lineup consists of a pair of guards that go 5'11" and 6'2", and two 6'5" forwards, and even those numbers may be generous.  Which leads to...

2.  The lack of development from the big men.  Former assistant Tom Herrion was known as a great big man coach, and his absence is now being felt.  Dante Taylor is underachieving for a third straight year, and Talib Zanna is underachieving for the second year now.  Khem Birch, who has more talent than both, is only three games into his career, but so far he has hardly played.  And this is for a guy that NBA teams have already scouted and project as a first rounder.  Respected NBA draft website currently has Birch as the No. 13 pick in next year's draft, but he can't get on the court at Pitt?  The Panthers better get their big men developed or they can forget about any Final Four appearances in the near future.

3.  Not only are the top players small, they aren't particularly athletic either.  Sure, players like Gibbs, Robinson, Taylor, and Patterson are more athletic than the average young man, but in major college basketball, they are considered mediocre athletes.  I've also noticed that while Cameron Wright has above the rim athleticism, he isn't particularly quick footed.  Positional defense can only get you so far which explains why the Panthers defense thus far hasn't been particularly good.  Woodall, who is a good athlete, was never considered a good defense player either.

4.  The biggest problem of all of course if the defense, or the lack thereof.  In the past two games, Rider and Long Beach State has combined to shoot 56.4% from the field in the last two games. Past Pitt defenses were usually around 40% or less.  Needless to say, the defense has been a disaster.

Bottom line, this team is starting players that would be role players on most elite teams, they are too short, too slow, and can't play defense.  Sounds dire, right?  Then why do I expect them to again win 25 games or more?  Probably because they will.  Sorry, but I'm just not worried about this season.  Dixon is masterful at righting the ship and to be honest he's had teams with plenty of problems before and led them to a top 10 ranking.  I don't know if Pitt will end up in the top ten this year, but I have no doubt that  when the season is over they will once again be successful.

Now, for the future I admit that I am getting a little more worried.  Some of the reasons I expected the Panthers to be a Final Four contender next season was because I was projecting Taylor to be a good center to pair with Steven Adams, Birch to be a star, J.J. Moore to turn into a good player, and some of the younger guards develop.  None of that is on the verge of happening now so until it does I'm going to be more cautious in how I project the future.


  1. I noticed the lack of development in the big men last year and it looks even worst this year. I was expecting the front court to be a strength but it is now the weakness. JJ is a player that scares me. He's said wrong things publicly before and does not have great body language. I hope he doesn't become a cancer in the locker room. The other thing I'm worried about is a lack of leadership from the upperclassmen - excluding Nas. You never heard of bad practices in the past. You always heard about the physicality and effort to get playing time. Today, I read that Dixon was disappointed in the practices leading up to the game. In past years, even the less talented of teams always played hard and practiced hard. This team did not play hard nor, apparently, did they practice hard either. I can't wait for our PG of the future, James Robinson, to get here and grab this team by the horns and lead.

  2. Yeah, I was worrie about leadership coming into this season. Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Gary McGhee were very vocal. Taylor and Gibbs are not.

  3. I saw little in that game last night to lead me to believe they are much more than an NIT team this year. That was a good opponent but I did not see a typical Pitt team (tough on defense, dominating on the glass). Last season's defense took a step back and this year it looks worse. When Pitt has to switch to a zone you know there are problems with their defense. They improved last season so I'll hold out hope that they will again this year. More alarming at this point is the lack of a strong inside offensive presence. Dante Taylor does not look like an offensive threat and Zanna even less. During the little that Birch was in there last night he looked clumsy and slow. None of the big guys appears to be anywhere close to a double-double type of player. Yes it's early and yes there's a long way to go but I'm pretty skeptical at this point. Coach Dixon has his work cut out for him.

  4. Didn't see anything last night that was much different from the mediocre November and December by the 09-10 team. I believe this team has just as much talent and experience as that one, so I think the ship will be righted.
    Given the name on the front of the jersey, no one around here will be willing to give Long Beach credit, but they played a very good game.

  5. Yeah that team from a few years ago had no business winning anywhere near the 25 games they won. That's why I find it hard to be pessimistic with any Pitt team.

  6. 2 questions, Chris:
    Why does Dixon seem to have difficulty developing
    supposedly elite talent like Taylor?

    When do the NCAA Tournament problems spill into the regular season?

    God forbid I criticize St. Dixon but like everyone else, he, too, has issues to work on, correct?

  7. That's three questions.

    1. Taylor was highly overrated. The jury is still out on Birch. Blair was one of the twenty best players in Big East history. Adams isn't here yet. So right now he's one for two with two more to be determined.

    2. I don't think they will.

    3. Dixon gets criticism from me from time to time and I don't always agree with the way he does things. But at the end of the day, he's probably considered one of the ten or fifteen best college coaches in the country so it's hard to criticize him too much. He's finished in the top 10 with teams that didn't have top 25 talent. Is he coach, like Ralph Willard was, that does better with less talented players? That's always been a possibility.

  8. Play a real schedule. Look at Duke, Unc, Osu, etc etc. Pitt plays OkSt?...pathetic, absolutely pathetic. This ooc schedule is why they'll win 25 games. But they arent getting placed at Consol now.

    Oh and Dixon is a genius when big guys develop and ots Herrions fault when they dont?...amazing.

  9. I didn't say that it was Herrion's fault. I said Herrion is well known in basketball circles to be an excellent big man coach. Without him, the big men have struggled. It's not the only factor, but it's one of them.

  10. Doke,
    Do you think Pitt has any shot at signing Anthony Bennett late?

  11. Bennett doesn't even act like he's being recruited. It took all of his energy just to get a final ten. So I don't think anybody knows what he's thinking, and it appears he's not even thinking about recruiting at all. But having said that, statistically Pitt has about a 10% chance so until he makes his final list smaller, and Pitt makes the cut, I wouldn't hold my breath.

  12. Chris -

    Do you think Gilbert will see minutes this year, pushing taylor, zanna, & birch all to the 4?

    Do you think JJ Moore will develop?

    Do you think Dixon's system helps or hurts talented players development? Do you think Dixon's methods are geared towards less talented players? That's a mouthful...

  13. Dixon isn't the type to start a true freshman at center unless that true freshman is named Dejuan Blair. But it will be interesting to see if Gilbert can carve out more minutes for himself as the season goes on. I think it's more likely that Taylor, Zanna, and Birch will play better.

    I have no idea if Moore will develop but he was a consensus top 75 player and Dixon has had a good track record with players of that caliber.

    As for your last question, it's all about the team with Dixon. That means a lot of wins with just good, not great, talent. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But Blair obviously was a superstar and Sam Young developed into an excellent player in his last two seasons so Dixon can clearly develop great talent sometimes. Both of those players were top 50 prospects. Like I said before, Taylor is the only elite prospect that has not played well yet. If Birch and Adams excel then clearly the problem is with Taylor, not Dixon.

  14. Don't forget about Chris Taft as far as an elite talent so I think we should say Dixon is 2 for 3. I know Taft wasn't McDonald's player but he was a top 20 player coming in if I recall correctly.

    Taft did decent even with poor work ethic..Big East Freshman of the year.

    I saw things in past three games that scare me, but certainly giving Dixon the benefit of the doubt. Also every year Pitt blows thru the nonconf and regular season and disappoints in March...I'm hoping this is just a reversal this year.

  15. Chriss, Enjoy reading ur writings. It was heart breaking last yr against Butler. The only thing the comforted me was listening to Dick Groat after the game. I really thought this yr we would have a deeper more talented team. I would not mind seeing JJ at the 2, and Gibbs at point and Lamar at 3. JJ defense must be bad, cause everyhting I hear is that he can light it up. We also need some pysical presence down low and whoever is willing to bang, be it a freshman, we need to play them. Howeverm Jamie has earned the respect of myself and I leave it up to him to figure it out.

  16. Basketball is a little-man sport now. You don't win in the NCAA's with big-time centers and mediocre guard-play.

    Until Pitt is pulling in top-5 ranked guards, I will never expect a Final Four or national championship.

  17. If Herrion's expertise was big men, and obviously Brandin Knights would be point guards and likely recruiting, what is Coach Barton's expertise or role on the staff?

  18. Chris, I love Dixon but my biggest problem with him is the short leash he seems to have on younger players. It seems like every year other teams have young guys stepping up and playing well in March, at Pitt these guys have their minutes dwindle. I think Jamie is too much of a perfectionist early on and when young guys don't learn/know the system, he keeps them on the bench and lets them learn in practice instead of making mistakes and learning in early season games. Pitt may win more OOC games at the beginning of the year because of this, but near the end of the season our freshman are still freshman, when they could be playing like seniors. And thus, they aren't helping the team out. Maybe he changes and adapts this, lets the young guys play, lets them make mistakes, learn,and build confidence and maybe they will be a better team because of it. This is fine if you're redshiritng a guy, but if not let him play and get some confidence. I felt like this was a factor that really hampered Moore's development in the past year. He seemed to come in with more confidence than he has right now. It's hard to argue with someone who has had Dixon's success, but this is my one problem with him and why I think some of these guys have failed to develop as of yet. Thoughts?