Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wisconsin has shown just how close Pitt came in 2009

Watching the Final Four this weekend I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the Wisconsin team of this year and Pitt's 2009 team that came within a hair of the Final Four.

Wisconsin was led by Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky who averaged 18.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. Pitt had Player of the Year runner-up DeJuan Blair who averaged 15.7 ppg and 12.3 rpg. I think it's safe to say they are equal. The next best player for the Badgers was Sam Dekker, who averaged 13.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg. The Panthers counter with their own star small forward in Sam Young, who averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg. While Dekker got a lot of publicity during the tournament it's apparent that Young was a better player.

In the big games near the end of the tournament, the duos are also equal. Kaminsky went for 29 points and 6 rebounds in the Elite 8 game, followed by 20 points and 11 rebounds against Kentucky in the Final Four game, and 21 points and 12 rebounds in the final. Dekker had 27 points and 5 rebounds in the Elite 8 game, 16 points and 3 rebounds in the Final Four game, and 12 points and 8 rebounds in the championship game.  Blair went for 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Elite 8 loss to Villanova. He was also 9-9 from the field. Sam Young went off for 28 points and 7 rebounds in the Elite 8 loss. Again, both duos did not disappoint.

Pitt's third best player on the '09 team was Levance Fields while Wisconsin started two point guards on the year. Traevon Jackson was the designated starter at the beginning of the season, and was the starter last season, but a foot injury cost him half the year this season. Anybody that has seen Jackson play saw that he's amazingly slow and not athletic, even on a team that's pretty slow and not athletic. On the season he averaged 8.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, and 0.9 spg, while shooting 43.2% from the field and 28.2% from three. His 85.1% FT shooting is really his only strength. His replacement at starter, Bronson Koenig, averaged 8.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, and a minuscule 0.2 spg.  He shot just 41.4% from the floor, but he did make 40.5% of his three point shots and 81.2% free throws.

Fields in '09 averaged 10.7 ppg, a fantastic 7.5 apg, and 0.8 spg, while shooting 39.8% from the floor, 34.1% from three, and 71.2% from the free throw line. Again, this seems mostly even.

In tournament action Koening had 6 points and 3 assists in the Elite 8, 12 points and 2 assists in the Final Four, and 10 points and 4 assists in the final. Fields, in the Elite 8, he had 10 points and 6 assists. Once again, very comparable.

So, we've established that Pitt's two best players in '09 were at least as good as Wisconsin's two best players (at both center and small forward), as well as at point guard. That leaves shooting guard and power forward.

At shooting guard, neither team could consider it a strength. The Badgers started Josh Gasser, who averaged 6.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 44.3% from the floor, 38.9% from three, and 82.7% from the line. Pitt trotted out Jermaine Dixon who averaged 8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg, 44% from the floor, 29.4% from three, and 65.7% from the line. Again, they're roughly the same, though Gasser is clearly the better shooter.

Both were also pretty unproductive when it mattered. Gasser had 10 points in the Elite 8 game, but he had 3 points in the Final Four, and no points in the final. In fact, he attempted just one shot in 36 minutes in the final. He did, however, at least have 6 rebounds. In the '09 Elite 8 game Dixon played just 20 minutes and had just 5 points on 1-6 shooting.

At power forward, Wisconsin had a big advantage. Nigel Hayes averaged 12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 49.7% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 74.4% from the line. For Pitt, Tyrell Biggs averaged 6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 49.5% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 62.5% from the line.

In the Elite 8 game, Hayes had 8 points and 3 rebounds, in the Final Four he had 12 points and 5 rebounds, and in the championship game he had 13 points and 1 rebound. Biggs, in the '09 Elite game, had no points in 15 minutes.

As often seems the case with Pitt basketball it was a case of bad timing and bad luck. The '09 team finally had two bonafide stars at their best at the same time, as well as a good veteran point guard. But after that they had nothing. Dixon and Biggs were mediocre starters at best, and the reserves was filled with the likes of Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Ashton Gibbs, none of whom were ready to contribute. All three eventually were starters on a future No. 1 seed team but they weren't ready to add much of anything in 2009. Look at Duke last night. Not all of their stars were doing well and they get saved by a freshman guard that just happened to be a McDonald's All-American. The blue blood programs can do that whereas most programs, like Pitt and Wisconsin, don't have a little used McDonald's All-American to come out of nowhere to bail them out.

But Pitt and Wisconsin both proved what a program that isn't one of the blue blood programs have to do. Kaminsky was a middling Power 5 recruit, but he developed into a star. That doesn't happen often so you can never count on that. Dekker was a top 20 prospect, and from Wisconsin. Blair was also an elite local recruit and it shows just how important it is to have elite prospects locally. Both Bo Ryan and Jamie Dixon get a rare local gem to stay home and both turn into powers when those players reach their peak.

At the end of the day, Wisconsin proved what Pitt has known for awhile, and that's that without a roster full of elite talent, that only the blue blood programs can do, everything has to be perfect to have any chance at all, and even then the elite talent will win in the end.

20 comments:

  1. Chris, great to see you writing again. Hope you keep covering Pitt FB & BB for a few more years.

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  2. Jerry "The Mole"April 7, 2015 at 9:47 PM

    Chris, I usually get your comparisons but I feel that this one is off. 1st, Blair doesn't compare to Frank "The Tank". Maybe in numbers but not in game. 2nd, we're comparing a team that lost in the Great 8 to a team that lost on the Championship, that's giving the 08-09 team way too much credit and it's actually a slap in the face to a Wisconsin team that totally Lived up to their #1 Regional seeding and as the supposed worst #1 team in the tournament, they proved everyone wrong and upended Kentucky's historical run. The 08-09 team lost to Villanova in the Great 8, (Nova lost to UNC the next round). We also lost to WVU other 1st round of the Big East Tournament, Wisconsin won the Big 10 this year. 2 of Wisconsin's losses were to the National Champions, Duke. I feel you're comparing apples to oranges.

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    1. I don't mean to speak for Chris (he does just fine on his own), but I don't think he was trying to compare players so much as situations. I think what he was trying to say is that the 2009 was a solid role player (ie Nigel Hayes) away from being a Final Four or championship game team. They had two stars much like Wisconsin and a solid veteran point guard like Wisconsin. They just didn't have that next guy in either Biggs or Dixon that could step up.

      When you don't have a roster full of McDonald's All-Americans, the margin for error is very small and things need to line up just right. The 2009 team was such a team. I think that was Chris' main point.

      In that same vein, I still believe the 2011 team was a Final Four team if Gilbert just makes the 2nd foul shot.

      Obviously not the Dixon era, but the 1988 team was probably also a Final Four team if not for Barry Effin Goheen. Smith could have neutralized Manning.

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    2. Remember it like it was yesterday. Jim Calhoun, whose team became the national champion in 2011, stated after Pitt lost that he felt that Pitt was the best team they had played all year. The Big East was stacked that year. Calhoun's team beat Butler, who had earlier beaten Pitt, in the final.

      Gil Brown makes his FT or Nas doesn't foul. Take your pick.

      In 2009 if Jermaine Dixon doesn't dribble into a trap at half court and then commit a foul on the turnover.

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    3. without question, the 2011 team had the best chance to win it all .. being their last 2 losses were in the last second to the two finalists. On the other hand, no way was the 09 Pitt team going to beat UNC that year.

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  3. I agree that at the end of the day, overall elite talent wins out.

    There are some similarities between the two teams except for one important ingredient - the bench boss. One coach overachieves and the other coach has disappointed.

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    1. Presumably, you mean disappointed in the tourney. If you match the coaches results overall, they are not that different .. Ryan has been at it a lot longer but has an overall wisconsin wp and conference wp of .741 and .717 respectively ... so, at wisky he averages 25.5 wins a year total and 12.2 conference wins. Comparatively JD's results are .734 and .644, with 25.5 total wins per year and 11.1 conference wins. not dramatically different in my mind. Bo does have a better tourney record including 2 final fours (our 0) and 4 Sweet 16s (our 2). As Chris and others said .. it is about luck and timing .. and a group of guys coming together. A stop on Reynolds and a FT by Brown and we could have 2 final fours in our pocket as well. would you feel differently about JD if those happened ?

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    2. Of course I mean the tourney. Why does a person always have to quality that we are talking about March when it comes to Dixon - shouldn't March be the most important piece to judge him? For me personally, I only care about what he has done in March. He has lost to lower seeds more times than I want to remember and when he had a very good team in 2009, his end-game strategy on the Reynolds coast-to-coast score left a lot to be desired. Yes he is a good coach. I just take issue with people who want to say he is elite. The elite guys like Pitino, Izzo, etc get their teams to do more than what their talent suggests - yes they get great players but there are seasons like this one where Pitino lost really talented guys during the season and his team had no reason being in the elite 8. Izzo will tell you himself that his team that just got to the Final 4 cant compare in talent to previous Izzo squads - but coaches like these two find a way

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    3. I don't think even Dixon's biggest supporters would say that he should be mentioned with Izzo and the like. He's considered to be around 20-25 as a head coach. Elite coaches are more like top 10.

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  4. I too am glad to read you again. Very incisive writing and you have a keen eye .Don't always agree, but that is, in part, what makes it fun to follow you. Please continue until at least both Pitt BB and football teams are ranked in top 10. That should keep you around for a while. Keep up great work.

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  5. I guess it's true -- you create your own breaks. Dixon likes to be really meticulous in his decision making. Looks like it cost him a title in 2009. Below is from cnnsi's Luke Winn's Power Rankings dated 01.08.09:

    1. Pittsburgh Panthers (14-0)
    These Power Rankings begin with an exclusive What-If Scenario: In the course of reporting the James Harden feature that's in this week's SI, I stumbled across a Pitt story: Arizona State assistant Scott Pera -- the former Artesia High coach whom Harden followed to Tempe -- told me he had discussions with Pitt's Jamie Dixon about job opportunities in the spring of 2006. The Sun Devils made the first move on Pera in late May, and he left Artesia to become their director of basketball operations. The first day Pera was starting work at ASU, Dixon called him to say, "I'm ready to move now [and offer you a job]." Pera, who grew up in Hershey, Pa., might have accepted that offer had it come much earlier. He said that he wasn't sure if Harden, an L.A. kid, would have been willing to make the same cross-country jump. "You should ask James that," Pera said. "I'd be interested to hear what he says." So I asked Harden. And he said, "Yeah, I would have gone [to Pitt]. That's a great program, coach Dixon is a great coach, and that would have been a good opportunity for me, too. I didn't want to stay in L.A." Pitt fans, could you imagine having a starting lineup of Levance Fields, Harden, Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Tyrell Biggs? Your current team ain't half bad -- it's our new No. 1, after all -- but that squad might be a national-title lock.
    Next three: 1/11 vs. St. John's, 1/14 vs. South Florida, 1/17 at Louisville

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  6. Ummmmm his sister tragically and unexpectedly died on 4/6/06... you might want to give him a pass on being "meticulous" or otherwise distracted on this one!! Just sayin'

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    1. There's nothing stating that being meticulous is a bad thing and "screw Jamie for being that way in his hiring process." And for the record, the hire happened a full year later. Just sayin'

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    2. EDIT: I had my years confused and hire didn't happen a year later. Coach definitely had a lot happening that spring of 2006. My bad.

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    3. Well you implied him being meticulous cost him a title in 2009. And for the record, Pera was hired at ASU in June 2006 NOT a full year later. It sounds like the deal with ASU was done in May and he waited until the school year was over to leave Artesia. All I'm saying is Jamie kind of had a lot on his plate in April/May of 2006. It's hard to blame him for missing the window to get back in touch with Pera for a director of basketball operations job. The article makes it sound like Jamie just couldn't be bothered to get back in touch with Pera in a timely manner. That's not really fair under the circumstances.

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  7. What Pitt needs to do with all these juniors is somehow pull a Butler and go on a crazy two-year run. Sounds easy, but maybe with some other additions at least two consecutive Elite 8s are in our future.

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  8. Pitt certainly has talented underclassmen, but they are missing a (1) defensive presence underneath, (2) a penetrating guard who can score or pass off, and/or (3) a player who can take charge at crunch time.

    I thought they may have had (3) in Artis but he just seemed to disappear the final two wees, and since they don't have (1) their guards need to defend a lot better than they have been doing in recent years.

    The good news is that defense is usually one the of last things mastered so the soon-to-be juniors should still be improving in this area. There has also been hints that Artis, Young, Jones or Jeter can take over a game on the offensive end .. the problem is that none of them seem to be able to create their own opportunities. Hopefully Wilson can help here.

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  9. Nova also shot perfect or almost perfect at the stripe to counter Pitt's talent advantage.

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  10. Too bad Herb Pope didn't have his head on straight or else he would have been a Panther and joined Young and Blair on the front line. For all his negative publicity, Herb could ball pretty well. That 2008-09 season is becoming a distant memory, just as it was the Steelers and Penguins' last titles. It's not even in the rear-view mirror anymore. Time for these current Panthers to start creating positive memories.

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