Pitt 84, St. Joe's (Indiana) 43: News and Notes

By Paul Zeise 6 days ago

Pitt won 84-43 over St. Joe’s Indiana.

Notable Stats from the game:

• Mike Young led the Panthers with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He was dominant as you might imagine but it wasn’t exactly like St. Joe’s frontcourt was loaded with future NBAers…..or even NBDLers for that matter…..

• Sheldon Jeter also had ten points and ten rebounds and Cameron Johnson, who has a really nice shot, had 10 points as well.

• Pitt didn’t shoot it great, they were 6-of-23 from the 3-point line but that probably has as much to do with tired legs as anything else.

• All you need to know about how much physically better Pitt was than St. Joe’s come from these numbers: Pitt outrebounded St. Joe’s 56-35, had 18 offensive rebounds, outscored the Pumas 40-8 in the paint and 26-2 in second-chance points.

Obviously there isn’t much to learn from this game as St. Joe’s is a Division II team and not a very good one at that and the Panthers – who slept walked through the first half – dominated them without really even breaking a sweat.

However, we’ve now seen this team for three halves of regular season basketball and an exhibition game and I do think there are some things that you can see with this group.

For one, the depth is indeed better than it was and I think Jamie Dixon has many different options to make it work and match up with teams. I also think Sterling Smith is going to be a nice addition as is Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. It is still too early to tell what Rafael Maia will bring because he has been out of shape due to all the injuries but he looks like he is getting closer as he was a little quicker and lighter on his feet tonight than he had been.

It is, like Jamie Dixon said, a work in progress but I think it is a much better group and there is more to work with than last season at this time so that’s a good start.

Here are some of my other thoughts:

** The starting lineup tonight is the same as it has been: Mike Young, Jamel Artis, James Robinson, Sterling Smith and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. The next two in the game were Chris Jones and Sheldon Jeter. It is pretty clear that Jamie Dixon wasn’t lying when he said he will mix and match the post players and use many combinations as there were stretches when neither “center” (Rafael Maia or Nelson-Ododa) was on the court. It will be interesting to see how that rotation works out as the Panthers move into the more varsity part of their schedule. But early on Dixon will have the luxury of experimenting with different combos as they will be bigger than most of the early opponents they play regardless of who is on the court.

** Pitt is playing around with a little bit of 1-2-2 pressure and some other full-court stuff where the goal is to slow the other teams down. This is one of those “the new shot clock will change the game” type things as some coaches believe there will be more zone presses so teams have to use 8 or 9 seconds to get up the court. I have to believe it won’t take long for coaches to see this isn’t going to make a big difference as teams can handle the ball well enough to get it up the court and get into their offense. I’m sure Dixon likes his length and they do have athletes so if they decide to start trapping and whatnot out of this defense it could become a real weapon. But as far slowing the other team down and making them hurry into their offense with five less seconds on the clock now – I’ve watched a ton of games already this past weekend and see a lot of teams tinkering with it and have yet to see it yield shot-clock violations.

** Damon Wilson made his debut tonight and played XX minutes and scored XX points . Wilson had been sidelined with a hamstring injury but he is healthy again. Wilson played the point mostly when he was in the game and that’s likely where he will settle in – as the point guard behind James Robinson (and heir apparent). I like Wilson, I think he is one of the best freshmen Pitt has had in a long time. He has length, size, athleticism and a pretty high basketball IQ.

** The thing about Wilson developing is it enables the Panthers to put a very athletic and long lineup on the court with Wilson at the point and Chris Jones, Sterling Smith or Cam Johnson at shooting guard. This gives them a lot of flexibility in matching up and also forcing matchups and also, if Dixon decides to press someone they have the players to make it very effective. The depth is easy to see of this team but also, as Dixon has said, the interchangeable parts and versatility mean they will be tough to match up with.

** I know it is fashionable to beat up Dixon over the way he schedules and who the Panthers play in the nonconference and there is plenty of evidence to suggest he could have done much better this year as the schedule is not very good or interesting for that matter. But this game, you have to give him a pass – it was clear the Panthers coming off a long trip were sluggish and he had the foresight to see that and make sure they could get their legs back against a team they had no danger of losing to. And the other part is this – because it is a non-Division I team they played, the game doesn’t count in the RPI one way or the other so on the off chance they lost it wouldn’t hurt their RPI. Again, I think Pitt’s schedule should be better than it is but I really have no issue with this game, well other than they could have played a PSAC team and kept the money from the guarantee in the state……

** One other thing from Friday -- I’ll be interested to see how Gonzaga progresses early in the season. I think the Bulldogs will be a very good team by the end of the year but it is clear there could be some growing pains with a brand new backcourt and the awkwardness of trying to fit three big men on the court at the same time. The one thing we saw against Pitt was it is hard to play that way – they had a hard time matching up with smaller, quicker forwards on defense and offensively there wasn’t as much space for any of them to operate. I actually thought they played better with only two of them on the court because there was more ball movement and also because they could match up with Pitt’s small forwards better. It won’t shock me if the Bulldogs lose a game or two in the preseason until Mark Few figures out his rotation.

** Finally, here is a quick gamer for you:

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knew his players would be fatigued and jet lagged after they returned from Okinawa, Japan so he scheduled a team that wouldn’t require much heavy lifting to beat in their first game back home.

That is a good thing, too, because the Panthers were sloppy, at times uninspired and a little bit sluggish, especially in the first half, Tuesday in their home opener against St. Joseph’s of Indiana, a Division II team who had gotten blown out in its first two games.

And as planned, the Panthers didn’t need to be at their best, or anywhere close, to win the game as they used a strong second half to pull away and pummel the Pumas, 84-43, at the Petersen Events Center.

Mike Young had a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) as did Sheldon Jeter (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Cam Johnson scored 10 points as well.

The Panthers jet lag, tired legs, was probably best illustrated by their struggles shooting the ball as they made only 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

But their overwhelming advantage in both size and athleticism more than made up for their inability to hit shots as they outrebounded the Pumas 56-35, outscored them 40-8 in the paint and had 26 second-chance points to St. Joe’s 2.

Pitt also got some good news as freshman guard Damon Wilson, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, made his debut and scored seven points.

** Pitt’s next game is Friday at the Petersen Center against Detroit (1-0), which won its opener over Central State (Ohio).

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Pitt 80, Gannon 50 - Some Notes From Exhibition

By Paul Zeise 2 weeks ago

Here is a quick look at the scrimmage tonight between Pitt and Gannon….

Gannon is a solid Division II team that I think will get better as the season goes on but the Golden Knights have a lot of new players so it will take some time for them to play at a high level.

I say that because the final score was 80-50 and most people will say “who cares it was an exhibition” – remember last year they struggled in both of their exhibitions.

So this was a positive step against a reasonably good Division II team. Pitt is more athletic, bigger and deeper than it was last year, there is no question, but the real question is will that translate into more wins? 

Dixon sent a message with his starting lineup tonight – Nelson-Ododa, Young, Smith, Robinson and Jones as noticeably absent from it was Jamel Artis.

And after the game, Dixon explained that he started the five guys who have been the best defensively and rebounding the basketball – two areas he has been saying Artis has been deficient this preseason.

Relax, I’d assume Artis will start next week against Gonzaga, but it is pretty clear Dixon believes he has enough depth and enough good players that he is comfortable with a lot of lineups.

Artis played well as he had 13 points and four rebounds and as expected James Robinson had a strong game as he had 13 points and was 3-of-3 from the 3-point line.

It is probably easier just to go through the lineup and mention my observations….

Damon Wilson sat out with a hamstring.

Rozelle Nix is going to be redshirted this year as Dixon said he fell behind in his conditioning due to some injuries.

The two walk-ons, Mike Lecak and Ryan Seelye, got in and delighted the crowd as both scored.

Chris Jones, Cameron Johnson and Smith will battle for minutes and it should be fun to watch to be honest as all of them bring something different to the court. Smith is a pretty good defender, Cam Johnson and Young can really shoot it.

Jonathan Milligan is a fun player to watch, he is a good scorer and he is athletic and has good moves to the basket.

Ryan Luther is clearly bigger and stronger and he will battle with Sheldon Jeter for minutes. Luther can shoot it and because of his added strength can set up in the post defensively and make it tough to move him. Jeter is one of the best all-around scorers on the team.

Mike Young had a tough night shooting it (0-for-6) but part of that was Gannon seemed hell bent on playing Hack-a-Shaq against him and he was 9-for-12 from the free throw line.

That leaves the two graduate transfer centers – Rafael Maia, who is still out of shape as he was injured so much in the offseason, and Nelson-Ododa, who I think is pretty good on the defensive end and can really help this team on that end of the court.

So that’s where the Panthers are at – I think this team is clearly better than last year’s team, but again, it is just a matter of “how much better”?

Next Friday I suppose we will start to get that answer……….

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Thoughts from Blue-Gold Scrimmage

By Paul Zeise 4 weeks ago

It was just a scrimmage – the Blue versus the Gold – and while the players went at it pretty good, it clearly wasn’t as intense as a game or even an exhibition game for that matter.

But still, it was our first chance to see these guys – particularly the six new guys – on the court together and so here is a brief summary of some of my observations…..

First, the new guys:

Not surprisingly, Damon Wilson, the heralded incoming freshman guard, has lots of upside and I think is going to be a pretty good player over the next few years. He is athletic, has a good understanding of the game and he is a versatile guard who will fill up the stat sheet – he had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists. I think he will push for time and may be a guy whose time increases as the season goes on and he settles in to the college game.

Another incoming guard, Sterling Smith, didn’t have as good of a day as Wilson but he did show some athleticism and I think he is actually one of the better defenders among the backcourt players. And Dixon said it wasn’t his best day but he has been their best, or at least most consistent, player through the first 15 practices or so.

The three new big men are each what I would call “works in progress” right now.

If Pitt had to play a game right now, the center who is probably closest to being able to help looks like Richmond transfer Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. He moves well, he rebounded well, he is probably the best of the three defensively as well.

Rafael Maia has had a lot of injuries and he is clearly not in game shape yet so it was hard to get a good feel for what he will be able to do. He does have some nice post moves, but he was a little slow because he just doesn’t look like he is in shape yet. Again, it isn’t a surprise given how much time he has missed with various injuries and I look forward to watching him play when he is all the way back and in shape.

Rozelle Nix is big and moves well for a big guy, but like Maia, he is still working to get into game shape. However, he is indeed a big body and works and plays really hard so I think he can help, especially as a guy to lean against the bigger and stronger centers in the ACC.

The most interesting player to me Sunday was Jonathan Milligan as he led the Blue team with 16 points and showed the kind of scorers mentality that landed him a scholarship in the first place. He is on the small side for a guard but he can get to the basket and isn’t afraid to let it fly. His ability to score might get him some minutes this year but as Jamie Dixon said, he will need to become equally as committed to guard if he wants to truly get into the rotation.

As for the returning players:

Chris Jones sat out with a minor ankle injury.

James Robinson looks like he is getting really close to being in game shape again. I thought he played really well for a guy who missed like 15 weeks after foot surgery. He will do what he does and he will run the team. I think his most important job this year – beyond running the team - will be mentoring Wilson.

Cameron Johnson gained some weight and looks stronger. It looks like he is going to be used as a shooter from the wing. He didn’t shoot it well but he was at least looking for his shot which tells me he is gaining confidence in the offense and what he is being asked to do.

Mike Young, Artis and Sheldon Jeter all showed the things you are looking for from those three, though Artis was a little less noticeable at times than the other three. But those three are going to be really good players, I don’t think there is any doubt about it as nothing I saw Sunday would make me think otherwise.

The other power forward is Ryan Luther, who, like Cameron Johnson has clearly gotten stronger and added some good weight. He did some really good things in the post defending the bigger guys and holding his ground and of course, he can shoot it and score. He will play that “stretch 4” role well but he will be battling Young and Jeter for the minutes at that spot.

The three walk-ons, Zach Smith, Mike Lecak and Ryan Seelye all played as well and of the three, not surprisingly, Lecak is the one who looks closest to where, in a pinch, he could give the Panthers some quality minutes.

So that’s a quick summary of the Panthers – at least as much as you can possibly deduce from watching two 16 minutes halves of a blue gold scrimmage.

I see the depth that Dixon is talking about, I see the improvement in the returning players as well but until Maia and Nix get into game shape, it is hard to tell how much the center spot has improved.

And let’s face it, that – how well the three centers play – probably will tell the tale of where this team will go this year.

Next up is the “secret” scrimmage with Georgetown.

As I had written before, this is one of those things where Jamie was looking to get ready for Gonzaga - a pretty good team - and didn’t feel like an exhibition against a D-II or D-III would get them the best look possible. This scrimmage will take place at the Petersen Center and of course, because it is like the Fight Club, nobody can see it or talk about it.

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