Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pittsburgh 81 Robert Morris 71

Different names, same results.  The Panthers improved to 5-1 in another good, but not scintillating victory, but this time there were some different young players that contributed.  Leading the way was sophomore Talib Zanna with 10 points and 15 rebounds.  Former Pitt assistant Tom Herrion told me not long ago that Zanna was the most talented big guy the Panthers had (though of course he had not coached Khem Birch) and while the 6'9" Zanna hasn't consistently shown that talent yet, he showed what he could do tonight.

Another youngster, Khem Birch, is reaching stardom even faster.  With Dante Taylor out, the freshman started his second game in a row and responded with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks in a season high 29 minutes.  In his two starts, Birch is averaging 11.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, and 4.5 bpg.  Wow.

Three more youngsters- J.J. Moore, Cameron Wright, and John Johnson also chipped in impressively.  Moore had 8 points and two threes.  He's averaged 9.7 ppg in his last three.  Wright, who frankly has not impressed me much, had 13 points and 2 steals in just 19 minutes.  Johnson added 6 points on two threes in 12 minutes.

Of the three veterans Ashton Gibbs had a game high 21 points but once again did not shoot well. Travon Woodall had 12 points and 10 assists but also shot poorly.  Combined the two shot 32% from the field and 25% from three.  Nasir Robinson was virtually nonexistent with 3 points in 27 minutes.  He attempted only one shot all night and missed three of four field goals.

It's no secret that the high end talent on this team is with the underclassmen.  The possible greatness for this program could come with the likes of Birch, Moore, Zanna, and soon Steven Adams and James Robinson.  Could this be the game that there is a changing of the guard?  Don't get me wrong.  Gibbs will shoot well again and Robinson will never stop fighting for points.  But seeing Birch and Moore playing so well for the past few games, and Zanna playing great tonight, are very good signs for the future.


  1. I like the line up now the way it is, with Lamar and Dante coming of the bench. I hope Jamie does not take away minutes from Birch, who has to be out there. Jamie spoke on the post game show about Birch still learning the defense system, but as much as I respect Jamie, I think you let talent play. He does not need to learn how to block shots or rebound. He has such a quick jump off the floor. I'm not sure how you play everyone. Wright did well tonight, but he can't take away minutes from JJ. Either way, Pitt is looking alot more the way i thought they would look.

  2. I agree, jonny c. It's not like Dante has been playing mistake free, and Khem has better intangibles. With steady playing time he will quickly surpass him. The only bad part of that is Dante and Zanna will likely be on the floor at the same time. Other than tonite, Zanna has also looked clueless

  3. So what happens when your new players are better than your upper classmen? I think you have to play everyone, but play the talent when you have to win games. It's going to be tough to get all of those guys enough minutes. Birch & Zanna looked great, the height advantage definitely helped.

  4. You're all preaching to the choir. Before the season started, on the site I wrote for previously, I wrote what I want the starting lineup to be this season and I had Birch and Moore as starters. I know that coaches love experience, but when your inexperienced guy is so much better than your experienced guy than you have to play the talent.

  5. The team appeared to lose its focus late. Up by 20 late in the game, some lapses allowed RM to cut into the lead. This should have been a 15 point or more margin of victory. Birch needs to stay in the lineup. I was down on him after his play against Long Beach. He looks completely different and much more fluid in the center role. I think he has a nice stroke from the free throw line too. They are still getting beat on pick and rolls and they need to improve against the press. Maybe the intensity picks up when Big East play starts. Should be an interesting game on Wednesday.