No. 9 Virginia 64, Pitt 50
Pitt - 29 Rebs (9 off), 11 TOs, 39.1 FG pct., 15.4 3-pt pct, 85.7 FT pct.
UVA - 29 Rebs (9 off), 7 TOs, 48 FG pct, 56.3 3-pt pct, 58.3 FT pct.
UVA 28, Pitt 14 Pts in Paint; UVA 20. Pitt 6 Pts off TO
Let’s make this one simple – Virginia is a better team than Pitt. Period.
I don’t think that is going out on a limb but sometimes we get caught up in analysis and refuse to start with the simple and obvious and in this case, the Cavaliers are just a better team than the Panthers.
And then you go from there and add this fact – they not only are a better team, they played better and that’s a recipe for getting blown out on your home court.
Pitt needs to regroup quick as they have Miami and North Carolina on the horizon but here is the thing – if they don’t start playing better they won’t even give themselves a chance to win against anybody that is any good.
The Cavaliers were very good offensively, their execution and their ability to move the ball was impressive and their ability to make shots was a direct reflection of their ability to get open shots.
Actually, Virginia today put on a clinic for young players who don’t seem to understand that jacking a million shots doesn’t make you a good shooter and that taking an open shot gives you a much better chance to make it.
Like I always say to young players – If you want to improve your shooting percentages you can do it without actually becoming a better shooter, you just have to take better shots.
But enough about that – even though Pitt was only down two points at the half, I knew it was going to be a long shot for the Panthers to actually win the game.
And that’s because the Cavaliers dictated the tempo, the pace and the way the game was going to be played the entire first half and Pitt was powerless to change that.
So even though it was only a two-point game, the most important thing that happened in the first half was the game was played the way Virginia wanted to play it.
The thing about the Cavaliers is their execution on offense and their patience on offense can frustrate opponents and I thought at times the Panthers got frustrated and allowed too many good shots at the end of the shot clock.
Virginia’s defense is good but Pitt didn’t run good offense at times in the second half and then they got frustrated and started throwing the ball around.
The one thing that needs to be clear – Virginia does to teams what Pitt used to do to teams and that is to say because the Cavaliers are so deliberate and execute so well and defend so well, it is easy to get frustrated against them.
They just sort of wear you down, maybe not so much physically – although it is tough to have to defend for 28 seconds every possession – but mentally because they are methodical.
So while I understand why people are struggling to handle a loss like this, it also needs to be said that the Cavaliers do this to just about everyone – especially now that they are rolling a bit.
Also, I don’t know if Malcolm Brogdon is an NBA player – he is a 5th-year senior because the NBA hasn’t been sure either – but there aren’t five better players in the country than him.
Again, I’m not talking about NBA potential and prospects, I’m talking about players who right not affect winning and losing college basketball games.
He is an extremely good shooter, he has a lot of shots from a lot of angles and he can finish with both his right hand and left hand. And while he doesn’t have that quick burst -- like that Marial Shayok who blew past the Panthers a few times – Brogdon knows how to use his strength and has a good enough first step to get to the hoop and score.
But the other thing about him is his basketball IQ is off the charts, he makes good passes, doesn’t force anything, doesn’t try to do anything he can’t and he really is good at finding the open man.
The Panthers have a lot of issues right now but they have a few opportunities to get it right in the next week so it isn’t time yet to panic.
There is, however, a bad trend that has developed when the Panthers have played good teams and it s that they have been outplayed in every one of them.
That needs to change or this is going to be yet another year where they play in a three-letter postseason tournament as opposed to the four-letter postseason tournament.
Here are today’s news and notes:
** First, as always, here are the notes from the Pitt SID: The Panthers fell to 220-34 at the Petersen Events Center and Dixon is now 324-116. Pitt also fell to 14-4 against Top 10 teams at the Pete and they are 0-3 this year against Top 25 teams. …Is 1-5 when trailing at the half this season and is now 0-3 this season and 27-48 under Dixon when scoring 59 points or less. …Pitt had the largest student turnout in Petersen Events Center history.
** Like it or not, this game continues a troubling trend that the Panthers are not the program that they once were. Pitt is 7-24 against ranked opponents and 3-12 against Top Ten teams in the past five seasons. Pitt has also lost 22 home games in the past five seasons, which is remarkable when you consider how dominant the Panthers used to be at the Petersen Center.
I know that there was a change in leagues and a couple of recruiting classes that got away and it looked like the program was back on the upswing early in this season. But the reality is these numbers have to rebound before it is safe to say that Jamie Dixon has the program back to where it once was or even heading back in that direction.
I’m not suggesting that Dixon needs to go or any of that stuff that swirls around Twitter or in talk radio land, I’m saying that the program may not quite be out of the wilderness yet and maybe it will take another recruiting class or two to get it back to the point where it wins at home and beats ranked opponents regularly.
I will say this – perhaps the most eye-popping note from today’s postgame notes in my mind is that this is the first sellout of the season for the Panthers at the Petersen Center.
Think about that – it is February – and this is the first time the building has been sold out this season, which speaks volumes about the slippage in fan support over the past few years.
*** One big difference between the two teams today? The play of their veteran point guards…
James Robinson did not play well today, he didn’t shoot well today, he didn’t create a lot for his teammates and here is the best part about Robinson – he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t play well.
I think sometimes we forget that these guys are all competitors and for the most part, they get it, they know when they just don’t bring their A game and Robinson was off of his today.
He was 0-of-7 from the field and didn’t score and while he had six assists and zero turnovers, there were a few times he struggled to get the ball into the hands of his teammates in good position to score.
Contrast that to London Perrantes, who is a junior, who was 5-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from the 3-point line and he had 14 points and three assists.
That’s a huge problem for Pitt, the Panthers need Robinson to play well and he has for the most part this season but this team cannot survive two road games against ranked opponents if Robinson doesn’t play much, much better.
By the way, he is now second on Pitt’s all-time list in terms of career starts – he is tied Sean Miller – as he has 124. Presumably he will break the record by the end of the season as Pitt’s career leader in starts is Julius Page, who started 128 games.
*** Robinson wasn’t alone, though, Mike Young and Jamel Artis scored points but I didn’t think they were aggressive enough offensively (although Young was double teamed a lot). Also, the rest of the team was a no show offensively but again, some of that was due to Virginia’s defense and the Cavaliers positioning.
That defense they play is designed to take away drives and protect the lane – but the one thing you can get is good looks at 3-pointers if you move the ball well and I didn’t think Pitt executed very well on offense as a whole.
And the other thing is – the Panthers settled for too many mid-range jumpers and that’s a horrible shot against that defense. If you step back a few feet, you can get that extra point which, if you look at it from an analytics perspective – it is better to give yourself the chance at three points over the course of a lot of jumpers.
Once you start settling for mid-range jumpers, Virginia has you where it wants you as you are taking lower percentage shots but they only count for two points each.
*** Pitt got 10 points and six rebounds from their four centers – Sheldon Jeter, Ryan Luther, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Rafaiel Maia – and they combined to play 46 minutes. That’s just not enough production from that spot. Jeter had the huge game against Virginia Tech Sunday, but the Panthers need more from this group in these ACC games or they won’t survive.
I’m not sure what the plan is here, I thought I did after Sunday, but now I am confused by the rotation again. It seemed like Dixon was committing to more offense with Jeter and Luther but then today Luther only played 10 minutes.
This is one of those things that, after a loss, there are lots of areas to pick apart but the reality is this – the center rotation and what Dixon is looking to get from it - is something that needs to get settled for the final eight games.
There just seems to be a lack of an identity with the Panthers and it starts with the fact that it is tough to figure out what Dixon wants this position to be. Pitt isn’t big enough, we know that, but the Panthers need to play to their strengths and like I said, I used to know what their strengths are and they seemed to be playing to them but now, I’m not so sure on either point.
*** This was a tough loss because, with two road games on the horizon, Pitt (17-5, 6-4 in the ACC) went from being in the top three in the ACC and within shouting distance of first place to staring a 6-6 start square in the face and then having to fight just to finish in the top half of the conference.
I’m not saying it is time to start worrying about postseason positioning and the Panthers just need to focus on winning games but they are making their road to the ACC Tournament championship game a little tougher with every game they lose.
Pitt 90, Virginia Tech 71
Jamie Dixon made a big change in the starting lineup and it worked out and it is one that probably should remain in place the rest of the season because I think it gives the Panthers a better chance to get out of the gates fast.
Sheldon Jeter was inserted into starting lineup instead of Rafael Maia and it paid big dividends as Jeter scored 11 of the Panthers first 15 points and he scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
This move is long overdue and makes sense from this standpoint – the Panthers best lineup, no matter how you cut it, includes Jeter and the next guy off the bench at that spot should be Ryan Luther.
And here is why – because they are the best two OFFENSIVE players at that spot.
This team is an offensive team and while the other two centers/posts are a little better defensively, the bottom line is neither is a high-impact defensive player (i.e. rim protector, high level rebounder, lock down post defender) and as a result, no matter which of the four is in there, the Panthers are not going to be a great defensive team.
But in Jeter and Luther, you have two guys who can flat out score. Jeter scores in more ways than Luther, but both give you a matchup advantage against bigger, slower centers.
In other words, starting Jeter allows you to start the game with a mismatch on offense because most teams that want to play a traditional center don’t have one who can guard all the way out to the perimeter. Luther provides the same kind of mismatch, to a little lesser degree.
The thing is – if the other team has a competent big man, who is legit 6-9, 6-10, athletic and physical (Clemson had one, N.C. State had several, Louisville had one) it is going to be a mismatch over Pitt on the defensive end no matter which of the four centers starts.
That’s why starting Jeter makes sense – it evens the score in terms of the mismatch at that position and also it acknowledges that the team is an offensive team that will win with offense and establishes the right mindset for this team to win games.
There have been times in recent weeks that it appeared as if Pitt was sliding back into trying to slug it out with teams and play old-style Big East basketball – and as we saw down at Clemson, the Panthers just aren’t good at that any more.
It is a new team with a lot of skill, it needs to be as offensive-minded as possible.
And starting Jeter accomplishes that….
OK let’s go to news and notes:
*** First, as always, from the Pitt SID: Pitt is 69-35 under Jamie Dixon after a loss and 220-33 at the Petersen Events Center. …Pitt is tied with Kansas for the most home wins since 2002-03 with 220. …Dixon has 324 wins and that is the 4th most in NCAA history through 13 years. …Pitt had 30 assists in this game – most since last year in a win over North Carolina. …Pitt’s bench outscored Virginia Tech’s bench 29-2. …Pitt forced 20 turnovers and had a season-high 33 points off turnovers. …James Robinson had 11 assists and no turnovers in this game. That is the second time this season and third time in his career that he had double-digit assists and no turnovers. …Jeter made his first start of the season and 10th of his career. …Jeter also scored in double figures for the 9th time this season and the 20th time in his career.
*** Pitt was fantastic offensively from the standpoint of they had 30 assists for 36 field goals. They shared the ball and they protected the ball – they forced 20 turnovers and had only 9 turnovers. They outscored Virginia Tech 33-4 in points off turnovers. Obviously Jeter scoring 23 points in his first start – and the fact that he is likely going to be the starter from this point forward – are the big story of the night but I think the Panthers ball movement and getting back to not turning it over were huge as well. Let’s make no mistake, Virginia Tech is not good and I think the Hokies are maybe two more recruiting classes from reloading and having enough talent to compete night in and night out in the ACC, but they have been competitive every night out for the most part and the Panthers buried them.
Dixon said after the game that the Panthers spent the week working on fundamentals, on passing, on ballhandling, on setting screens, on taking charges --- he said their turnover numbers were heading in a bad direction and their shooting was off so he felt like they needed to emphasize these things. And it showed in the game, they were sharper, crisper and the ball moved from player to player.
“Whatever you want to write would probably suffice,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said when he was asked why Pitt was able to have so much success on offense against the Hokies defense. “They shredded us in every way.”
*** Jeter said that he learned of his start before the game at the shoot around. He has been the ‘energy’ guy off the bench so when Brandin Knight approached him he asked him “can you bring energy if you start the game.” Jeter obviously said he could and then Dixon told him he was going to get the start. Now, the thing is this was a move that needed to be made but Dixon was a little cryptic as to when the decision was made to start Jeter. He said that Maia injured his groin Saturday but when he was asked about whether that means Maia will be back in the starting lineup when he is healthy. Dixon said basically it was “wait and see”. And then the natural follow up was “would Jeter have started if Maia was healthy” and the answer was that a “combination of things” led to Jeter getting the start.
Interestingly enough Jeter said he prefers to start, not because he wants to hear his name called or that it means more minutes (he played about the same amount of time in this game as usual) – he prefers it because he hates to warm-up then sit back down and wait until he is put in the game. He said he gets tight and then if he comes in and doesn’t play well he could be right back out and that could mean extended minutes on the bench. He said he likes to stretch out, warm up and then get right into the flow of the game – and considering he scored 11 of the first 15 points – this theory may hold some water…
*** The fact that Jeter might be the starter and Luther is playing well won’t be the end for Maia and/or Nelson-Ododa. This team has been a team of different guys stepping up and different guys emerging to help win games. I would imagine both will continue to get opportunities to play and both have ability and do some things differently than Luther and Jeter. There will be some games where these two will have to provide some defense, some physicality or there will be foul trouble or an injury. Unfortunately Dixon can’t play all 11 at the same time so he has to ride the hot hand from night to night. These are two guys who are veteran and play hard and work extremely hard, so though it looks like right now they are behind the other two --- if we have learned anything from this team it is that they all have a little bit of something to offer.
*** Cam Johnson is another player who is slowly but surely starting to expand on what he is able to contribute. At the start of the year, he was a guy who could hit 3’s and did very little else. That’s still a lot of his game – hitting 3-pointers – but he is starting to defend a little, offer a little bit of rebounding, getting a few deflections here and there. If he can continue to improve on the defensive end – and thus earn the trust of his coaches – he could become a valuable weapon down the stretch because of his ability to shoot it. I think what we are seeing is that Johnson – and freshman guard Damon Wilson – are improving enough that Dixon can put them both on the floor together at times and give Sterling Smith and James Robinson a blow. The player who has fallen a little bit behind at that spot is Chris Jones, but I think that is more injury related than anything else because he had the knee-calf-shoulder-elbow-wrist injury a few weeks ago and missed some practice time.
*** The Panthers were pushed around by Clemson in that ugly loss last week and they have been pushed around by a lot of teams that have bigger, more athletic and stronger guys in the post. Jeter said that Dixon challenged the Panthers at practice to become more physical and had a few tough practices to, um, send a message. I can tell you this – I have never witnessed one of these kinds of practices but this has been a common practice by Dixon during his time. He basically has intense, physical, competitive practices with a lot of mental toughness drills, a lot of physicality and blocking out – and some of them have become legendary in terms of guys fist fighting and all out brawls breaking out. That is why the Panthers were the big bullies on the block in the Big East for so long – and it is what Jamie would like to see a little more of. Jeter laughed and said that the games are easy in terms of being physical considering they are trying to guard each other and stop each other from scoring in drills where no fouls are being called. Some would argue with the new foul rules it isn’t smart to have these kinds of practices – but Dixon believes in it from time to time when he thinks his team isn’t rebounding enough or is getting pushed around. I’d love to witness one of these practices because I’m sure it would be a lot of fun to watch these guys knock each other around and try to score through contact with no whistle.
*** Pitt (17-4, 6-3 in ACC) needs some “signature wins” or wins over ranked teams or whatever you want to call them. Guess what? Five of the Panthers next seven games are against ranked opponents, starting next Saturday against No. 11 Virginia. Pitt needs to win a couple of these games and I think they can, starting with the Cavaliers, who haven’t been very good on the road. Yeah, I know, I know they just crushed Louisville at Louisville, but they also lost at Virginia Tech. Pitt could also have an opportunity to play the top-ranked team depending on what happens the next two weeks with North Carolina. And Louisville is still ranked and a brand name team and Miami would be a huge road win for the Panthers. In short, anybody that tells you they know this team is or isn’t an NCAA Tournament team is lying to you and to themselves. Tell them to stop. Seven games from now, we will know, right now, we do not.
Clemson 73, Pitt 60
This was yet another ugly outing for the Panthers and one that Mike Young showed up for but most of his teammates did not. Young scored 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds but no other Pitt player scored in double figures and that’s not a good formula for this team.
I know what the spin is after every loss -- defense and rebounding, rinse and repeat -- but spare me that because this game was lost in the first half when Clemson made a run and Pitt couldn’t match it because the Panthers couldn’t score.
Ryan Luther had another nice effort – he played 19 minutes, he scored 8 points and while all eight were in the first half, he definitely gave the team a boost when he got into the game.
His ability to hit some jump shots makes him really good for that stretch 4 position but he still plays a lot of minutes under the basket.
And here is what has becoming increasingly clear – this team is starting to have the same issues that last year’s team had and that is they struggle against teams who have big, athletic post players. Clemson had two guys – Sidy Djitte and Landry Nnoko – that really made it difficult for the Panthers to defend in the post and also tough to score in the post.
This was similar to the N.C. State game, the Louisville game, the Purdue game --- and if Florida State wasn’t one of the lowest basketball IQ teams I’ve seen in a while, the Panthers would have lost that game as well.
I am not sure if there is a good answer here but the post position has been by committee and based on who is playing the best and right now Luther and Sheldon Jeter have played better than Rafael Maia and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa.
But until they figure out how to handle teams with big athletic frontcourt players, they might continue to stumble and that’s unfortunate because this season started with so much promise.
There are three trends, though, that are not good ones:
1) This is the third game in a row the Panthers fell behind by double digits at the half.
2) This is the third game in a row the Panthers were outrebounded.
3) This is the third game in a row the Panthers failed to shoot 40 percent from the floor.
And as I said – the only reason the Panthers went 1-2 in that stretch and not 0-3 is that Florida State played an incredibly awful second half and decided to start throwing the ball all over the court at the worst possible time.
Here are the News and Notes:
*** First, as always, here is what the Pitt SID has to say: The Panthers are now 1-4 when trailing at the half. …Pitt shot under 40 percent for the game for the fourth time this season … Pitt is 0-4 in those contests. …Mike Young made his 90th consecutive start, the seventh-longest streak in program history … Young became the 44th player at Pitt to top the 1,000 career point mark. …He reached that milestone with a lay-in- at the 2:55 mark in the opening half of play. …He scored in double figures for the 19th time this season and 50th time in his career. …Jamel Artis made his 54th consecutive start. …Finished with only nine points to snap a string of 23 double figures scoring games against ACC opponents. …Robinson recorded an assist for the 82nd consecutive game, the third-longest streak at Pitt. … Ryan Luther scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting, 2-of-2 from three-point range, in the opening half of play.
*** Here are some pretty cool Clemson notes – This was the Tigers 4th win over a top-25 team (Panthers No. 23 in Coaches poll) – the most in a season since 1996-97 when the Tigers led by Rick Barnes, won five games against top-25 teams. ..But get this -- this is the first time in school history the Tigers have won four games over top-25 teams in the same month and also, this is the first time in school history the Tigers have won four games in both football and men’s basketball over ranked opponents. …And finally, here is the last one I thought was interesting. Coming into the game the Tigers had made a school record 29 consecutive free throws. They stretched that record to 36 because they began the game 7-of-7. But then Sidy Djitte missed one early in the second half to break the streak and they missed eight more the rest of the way. Clemson finished 18-of-26 from the free throw line.
*** You want to know one major reason the Panthers fell behind by 14 at halftime? Well, mostly because the guards couldn’t put the ball in the basket in the first half. It was amazing to look at the halftime box score and see that James Robinson, Sterling Smith, Cam Johnson, Chris Jones and Damon Wilson combined to score a grand total of 1 point on 0-of-7 shooting. I don’t know that I have ever seen an entire half of basketball at any level where every guard that played combined to score only one point. Some of it was bad luck (i.e. missed shots) but that group of five needs to take more than seven shots collectively in a given half and they also had a couple of turnovers and just didn’t really get into a rhythm. As it is they only combined to score 12 in the second half and while that is not overwhelming, it was certainly an improvement.
*** This loss was tough because it was a chance for the Panthers to notch a really good road win and take a step forward in the ACC standings. Pitt had a chance to be alone in third place but now they dropped into a tie for fifth. But the math is still favorable for the Panthers to get to that all important “10-conference win” level they need to provided they take care of business at home. They have five wins now – they have two against Virginia Tech (certainly not an easy win or a pushover, but if you are an NCAA Tournament team you get both of these), one at Georgia Tech, one at home versus Wake Forest and then a game at Syracuse, who they have beaten three times in a row. Those five games give the Panthers a chance to get to 10 wins and then if they can knock off one of the other five teams they play (Louisville, Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and Miami) it puts them at 11 and gives them a huge quality win. So the path is still there but the margin for error (thanks to a weak nonconference schedule) is getting a little bit slimmer. And think about this too - if the Panthers win ONLY the five games I mentioned as possible wins, looking at their resume I am not sure that 10-8 will be good enough - even though they would finish 5-4 in ACC road games. There just aren’t enough good wins on Pitt’s resume unless the Panthers, as I said, find a way to beat one of the ranked teams left on the schedule.
I’m a day late with my weekly notebook but that’s because I was travelling yesterday…
So let’s dive right in.
I think it is pretty clear that there isn’t a super team in college basketball this year. Oklahoma has the best resume but I’m not sure they are a lock to get to the Final Four.
And that can be said about just about every team.
My sense is that if every team played their absolute “A” game, North Carolina would win the National title but raise your hands if you have seen the Tar Heels play their A game for an entire 40 minutes – much less six games in a row.
And to that end, note to headline writers, people posting scores on Twitter, talking heads doing highlights --- the word “upset” is being used and abused, please stop!!!!
When a really good team is at home beats another really good team that happens to be ranked higher at the time, it is not an upset. It just isn’t.
Case in point – West Virginia is a top 15 team and when the Mountaineers beat Kansas in Morgantown at the Coliseum, that’s not an upset. Iowa State at home beating Oklahoma or Kansas for that matter, that’s not an upset.
Even Providence – a top 10 team – winning at Villanova, that’s not an upset and anybody beating Duke these days, that’s not an upset, either.
Please stop with this nonsense.
These teams are so close to evenly matched that honestly, very, very few conference games, especially when the winning team is at home, are truly upsets.
If Boston College wins at North Carolina, for instance, OK, maybe we can use the word upset, but good lord if Duke beats North Carolina, I don’t care what the Blue Devils record is right now – this is not an upset.
OK, here is my Top Ten for the week:
1. Oklahoma – This team, like I said, still has the best wins and their two losses are on the road at Kansas and at Iowa State. There isn’t a better resume out there but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best team.
2. North Carolina – The Tar Heels are on a roll and like I said, probably have the best collection of players and combination of size, experience, talent, athleticism – etc. If they ever get interested in playing defense and with great effort for an entire 40 minutes, they will be a really tough out.
3. Iowa State – You beat Kansas and Oklahoma in a week, you are pretty good – even if both were on your home court. The Cyclones are settling in to life after The Mayor.
4. Iowa – Wait, two of the four best teams are in Iowa? Well, yeah, the Hawkeyes are really good too as season sweeps of Michigan State and Purdue have shown.
5. Xavier – They have a huge game tonight - at Providence – and this team averages 79 points a game. The Big East is really strong at the top.
6. Texas A&M – Who knew after the Aggies lost to Syracuse in Atlantis that they – not Kentucky – would emerge as the best team in the SEC.
7. Providence – I know this sounds strange for a team ranked in the Top Ten – but they are a non-power 5 team that nobody wants to see in March.
8. Villanova – The Wildcats win a lot of games, that’s for sure, but they no longer have the “Big East record” winning streak intact.
9. Maryland – The Terps get a chance to make a statement Thursday as they play host to the Hawkeyes.
10. Miami – I thought at the start of the season the Hurricanes were the best team in the ACC not named North Carolina and I think they are starting to hit their stride.
*** Indiana has seemingly but the “Tom Crean watch” on hold as the Hoosiers as they have won 12 games in a row. But I’d say be careful here with this team – they are clearly a product of favorable scheduling and the unbalanced schedule in these big conferences. Consider this: They are in the Big Ten, we are nearly halfway through the conference season and they have yet to play Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue or Maryland. And of those four, they only play Iowa twice. That means we won’t know a lot about the Hoosiers until their last seven games as they play those four teams I just mentioned five times down the stretch. Indiana is a classic example of a team that has a lot of wins but hasn’t beaten anybody. Think about this – the Hoosiers are in a power league and have zero wins over RPI Top 25 teams and their one Top 50 win is over Notre Dame. So while people have to be feeling better about Crean’s future in Bloomington that could change in a hurry.
*** Kentucky plays at Kansas Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse. That’s tremendous – for one thing, there are not nearly enough of these nonconference games between top teams that take place on one campus on the other. And I got bad news – there are going to be less as college hoops goes the way of football and starts playing more of these games at neutral sites. That’s a shame, I know this is a business and revenue streams are important - but at some level isn’t still about students at these institutions getting to watch their classmates play against big-time teams without having to leave campus? There aren’t many things that irritate me when it comes to college athletics, but students should not have to buy a bus ticket and get a hotel to watch their team play a regular season game at a neutral court. Teams should play home and homes and there should be more of them. This is a great opportunity for students at Kansas to roll out of bed, have a kegger or whatever and then roll over to the field house to see two of the best teams in the country go at it. It is part of the college experience and while, again, I understand it is a business and revenue streams are important, there has to be SOME differences between the colleges and the professional leagues. It can’t always be all about the money.
*** The SMU story has been interesting. Now that Temple beat them and thus we don’t have to see a bunch of crocodile tears for “this undefeated team not in the Tournament” let’s get right to the point: These players will be fine. A couple may go pro, a couple will finish their degree and the rest will be back next year. They all have their scholarships and free educations intact and they still get to play 31 games in a lot of nice arenas, some on TV in front of lots of good crowds. So please, spare me all the tears about the poor little Mustangs who are getting a raw deal. Is it fair that they are being punished for the sins of the coaches/administrators etc.? No, probably not. But the bottom line is there needs to be rules and punishments. I don’t like taking away scholarships because the NCAA is about opportunity and taking away opportunities doesn’t make sense. I do like suspending and firing coaches and administrators who engage in bad behavior and think that should be explored more. I mean, seriously – you want to stop cheating, here is how: “We have a new rule, if you are a coach or an athletic director and a program under your watch gets put on probation, you lose your job and can’t work for two years….” I bet that would clean it up. But short of that, I don’t think a postseason ban is cruel and unusual punishment.
*** The RPI isn’t a be-all end-all, perfect measure but it is a good guideline of who is doing what and now that we are into conference play, it is becoming a little more accurate. Early in the year there aren’t enough games for it to be very meaningful –but as the sample size grows, it becomes a much better tool. With that being said – it is a good indicator of where teams stand with respect to the NCAA Tournament and each week I’ll look at a conference through the eyes of the RPI.
First up is the ACC, which currently has seven teams in the Top 40 of the RPI. And that’s generally considered to be a safe area for Power 5 teams and so if the NCAA Tournament started today – THEORETICALLY SPEAKING ONLY – the ACC would likely get North Carolina (3), Virginia (13), Miami (14), Louisville (16), Duke (26), Pitt (30) and Notre Dame (33) into the NCAA Tournament. I’d say that is actually probably fair and accurate, to be honest, as the next group of teams have a lot of work to do to get there – Florida State (48), Syracuse (52), Georgia Tech (67), Wake Forest (70) and Clemson (93).
To be honest, looking at that next group - it won’t shock me if this is a 7-bid league and that’s where it ends because I don’t like any of that group’s chances to win enough to get themselves into the conversation. Clemson and Syracuse would appear to have a good start to a resume that if they won a lot of games down the stretch they could get there, but again I just don’t see that happening.
Getting to seven bids is a good start for the ACC but the league was hoping this was the year they got to eight or nine but looking at the numbers, I just don’t see it happening.
Pitt 74, Florida State 72
It wasn’t a thing of beauty but it was a road win and any road win in the ACC is a big one because they don’t come that easy or that often.
And that’s really the bottom line – Pitt needed to come to Tallahassee and get a win and that’s exactly what the Panthers did.
How that was achieved is not relevant – though I will break it down in this post – but that it was achieved is relevant.
Don’t get me wrong – Florida State is not a good team and as someone who has watched them a lot this year, I can add that the Seminoles aren’t a particularly smart team, either.
They just throw the ball away too much, take too many bad shots, get lost too often (see 5-second call down 3 with 27 seconds left) and their big guys are tall but don’t really use their height to their advantage enough. And yeah, I know, I know, “they are young“ which is an excuse and has nothing to do with not taking bad shots and throwing the ball all over the gym when you have a lead.
In short, Florida State was as much responsible for the Panthers coming back and winning as the Panthers were and Pitt isn’t likely to get this much help to come from behind and beat many other teams on the schedule, especially on the road.
But again, that’s not relevant, the relevant thing is that the Panthers got a road win – and did so shorthanded as Sheldon Jeter sat out of the game with a concussion – and now they are on to Clemson.
Here are the News and Notes:
*** First, as always, here are the postgame notes from the Pitt SID: The Panthers move to 68-35 under Jamie Dixon following a loss. …Pitt trailed at the half for the fourth time this season and this is the first time they came from behind to win. … The Panthers are now 1-3 when trailing at the half. …Pitt overcame a 10-point halftime deficit, the largest halftime deficit overcome since Jan. 17, 2012 vs. Oakland (-14) and the largest in conference play since joining the ACC. …The 10-point halftime deficit overcome to win is tied for the 11th largest in program history. …The Panthers won for the second time this season when allowing the opposition to shot over 50 percent from the field. …Pitt is 3-23 under Jamie Dixon when the opposition shoots 50 percent or better from the field. …Mike Young has started 89 consecutive games. …Jamel Artis has now scored in double figures in 23 straight games against ACC opponents. …James Robinson started his 107th consecutive game, the third-longest streak in Pitt history … his 121 career starts are the most among active ACC players. …Sterling Smith had his ninth game with three or more three-point field goals.
**** Let’s dissect some of those numbers…..
It is astounding to me that prior to this year, Pitt had only won one game under Jamie Dixon when the opponent shot 50 percent or better from the floor. They’ve now done it twice this year and my senses are this won’t be the last time.
Dixon was pretty funny after the game because he came to the podium and said he was going to talk about how he thought his team played good defensively – then he looked at the numbers and realized they didn’t. It is another example of how this team is different – the opponent shot 50 percent from the floor (53.7 percent) and outrebounded the Panthers and yet the Panthers won. And while it would be easy to say a key was the 16 offensive rebounds Pitt grabbed – they grabbed less in the second half then they did in the first and Florida State had more second chance points (12-11) then the Panthers.
The other number that was pretty telling – Pitt had never won an ACC game it trailed by 10 points or more at the half today. Again, that isn’t easy to do and it doesn’t happen if you don’t get lots of help from the opponent and make no mistake – the Seminoles were in a giving mood today and had a large hand in making sure the Panthers came from behind and won.
*** So what are the relevant numbers and the reason the Panthers won?
I’d look at a couple of things – beyond shooting 33 percent from the field in the first half and 46.4 percent from the field in the second….
First, the Seminoles took advantage of 7 Pitt turnovers and all those missed shots in the first half to build a 8-0 edge in fast-break points at the half. The Seminoles pushed the ball up the court and they looked to transition every time they had the opportunity to and as a result they built a 10-point lead through fast-break points.
In the second half, the Panthers only turned the ball over three times and obviously made more shots – and the fast-break points were 2-2. In other words, the Panthers trailed in fast-break points 8-0 at the half and only trailed 10-2 at the end of the game.
That was huge because the Panthers didn’t give up easy baskets and didn’t help Florida State score.
And then there was Florida State, which turned the ball over 16 times officially, but let’s face it, it felt more like 36 – especially down the stretch when the Seminoles had a chance to either build on their lead or take a lead and threw the ball all over the court and kept giving Pitt chances.
These two areas – fast break points and turnover differential were huge and the third number was a big one as well: Pitt was called for only 6 fouls in the second half while the Seminoles were called for 15 and the result was the Panthers outscored the Seminoles 10-1 from the free throw line (and that’s despite missing five of them down the stretch).
I am not going to get into a discussion about officials, I’d have to go through every call but Dixon did say that they made a concentrated effort to get to the rim more and force the Seminoles to foul. There were two key charges that went Pitt’s way that I thought were tough calls but for the most part, Florida State had a lot of silly fouls and that goes with the theme of a team that doesn’t know how to win games.
** One of the most bizarre sequences I have ever witnessed took place in the final minute of this game.
Jamel Artis hits the 3-pointer with 33 seconds left to give the Panthers a 70-67 lead and the Seminoles inbound the ball then call a timeout. They had one timeout left.
So let’s review – you just called a time out, presumably you told your team you have one left then you drew up a play.
Dwayne Bacon attempts to inbound the ball RIGHT IN FRONT OF FLORIDA STATE’S BENCH. For whatever reason, the play doesn’t unfold the way it was drawn up so he calls a timeout, correct? Well, no, actually he lets the official count to five seconds and they turn the ball over on a 5-second call.
This was ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS and there was no excuse, reason or whatever for this to happen. Either call a timeout or throw the ball up for grabs and hope your guy comes down with it – but to let this happen was silly. That’s what I said about this Florida State team – I watch too many of these games and see far too many things like this happen to believe it was just a coincidence that the Seminoles melted down and lost this game.
After that play, though, Pitt gets the ball and inbounds it to Mike Young, who is promptly fouled and he makes two free throws – so the Panthers lead is now 72-67 with 23 seconds left, meaning, unless the Panthers do something equally as silly, well, the game is over.
Then Dixon and the bench, who had been warned to stay in the box and stay off the court, got a technical foul. Now, I didn’t see exactly what happened other than it looked like Dixon wasn’t in the box when the technical foul was called. Either way – the Panthers got lucky because Devon Bookert missed the free throw – because had he made it, they’d have been down only four and then when Xavier Rathan-Mayes hit his 3-pointer it would have been 72-71, not 72-70.
And that’s significant because even after Sterling Smith’s two free throws, the Seminoles would have had the ball with six seconds to play and a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer.
I asked Jamie about this technical foul and he said that nobody from Pitt said anything and that if you watch the film of the game and watch what happened it is clear that the Panthers were innocent. He said he wasn’t given an explanation as to why it was called and he wasn’t happy about it.
So there’s that, another technical foul we will probably never get a straight answer from anyone about.
*** The Panthers played without Sheldon Jeter (concussion) and Dixon said he is in the “concussion protocol program” and then remarked Pitt is “tops in the country and the originators” in concussion research. He said Jeter feels fine, felt much better today – he apparently got hit in practice – and he expects him to be back up and on the court soon, likely by the Clemson game.
In his absence, Ryan Luther stepped up to the plate big time and once again showed he probably deserves more time than he is getting. He was by far the best of the three centers that played today and he made some huge plays down the stretch to help the Panthers win the game. Obviously, the big one was the sequence of offensive rebound and kick out to Artis for the big 3-pointer at the end of the game.
Clearly when Jeter is back he will eat up the bulk of the minutes at center again but Luther has been productive when he has got opportunities and this is something he should be able to build on.
*** About that fiery halftime speech that Dixon and his players talked about --- I’ll say this, it must have been as advertised. Jamie Dixon said in his 13 seasons he had never gone after a team as hard or been as verbal with a team as he was with this group at halftime. Jamel Artis said it was clear Dixon was “very pi… [ticked] off” but the key was it wasn’t just all negative and challenging manhood stuff. Artis said “He is not always going to be happy with what we do, but he also believes in us and he was telling us we were going to get back in the game.” Dixon said that he did go after the Panthers but he also told them “we are going to win this game” and he said the reason he thought that was because they didn’t play an awful first half, they just didn’t protect the ball or make shots. I don’t know if Knute Rockne speeches really work, but in this case maybe it was what the doctor ordered. Again, the Panthers did play better in the second half but they don’t come back and win this game without some help from the Seminoles.
** I know Mike Young missed some free throws down the stretch but I can’t help but think he was a little bit fatigued because he played 37 minutes. And Artis played 37 minutes. And Robinson played 36 minutes. Sterling Smith played 29 minutes but nobody else played more than Luther’s 15. Clearly Dixon wanted his best players on the floor for as long as possible but this team is usually better when Young, Artis and Robinson are closer to 30-minutes than these games when they have to play 35+. Obviously not having Jeter hurt a lot because he eats some minutes but this trio is the core of the team and Dixon said he wanted them on the floor as long as possible. He talked about stealing some minutes in the first half by going zone but made it pretty clear if they need to be out on the court, they will be no matter how many minutes they have played in a given game.
** Here are some quotes from the two coaches:
Jamie Dixon: “If you look at the shooting, the execution and a great win for us and it really game down to those plays at the end. Obviously we weren't happy with our first half but they had to a lot to do with it. The response was terrific. We needed a win like this, this kind of win just being down and coming back we’ve done that a couple times this year but we needed a result and we did and it was great and it was great to do with without Sheldon because we had other guys running, we obviously made the big play at the end and i thought Alonzo (Nelson‐Ododa) and Rafeal (Maia) did a great job for us too. We had some foul trouble but we battled through it, had a lot of adversity and I can’t say enough about our guys so. I think this one is going to be, it’s a great win on the road but it’s going to mean a lot to us going forward.”
Leonard Hamilton: “Obviously, anytime you go out you defend the team where they shoot 39%, you shoot 53% you think that you put yourself in a better position to win games. I thought that this afternoon they did a much better job playing within their system, which allowed them to have less turnovers. I thought that we were very anxious at times and we had 16 turnovers, eight of them unforced turnovers, turnovers that we created ourselves. Anytime you play against a nationally ranked team of this quality, caliber, they’re going to force you into a couple turnovers. Eight of our turnovers were turnovers that were self‐inflicted. Playing against a good basketball team who executes better, who executes very very well, one of the teams that averaged 19 assists a game, which is unbelievable. They only had 12 against us tonight, so I thought we did a pretty good job defending. But you hold a team to 39% field goal percentage you give up 15 offensive rebounds it allows them to go to the free‐throw line 24 times and their lies a close loss.”
** Next up is a tough game at Clemson (12-7, 5-2), who have been a tough team to beat at home. The Tigers have notched wins over Louisville, Duke and Miami in their last three home games. It should be noted, though, that the Tigers aren’t playing at their on-campus home arena Littlejohn Coliseum because it is being renovated. Instead they are playing their home games this season in Greenville, S.C., at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.