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Pitt Wednesday News and Notes

By Paul Zeise about 23 hours ago

CORAL GABLES, FLA. –

No. 12 Miami 65, Pitt 63

Pitt: FG 43.5 pct, 3FG 23.1 pct, FT 100 pct, Rebs 35 (12 O), TOs 9

Miami: FG 45.1 pct, 3FG 30 pct, FT 72.2 pct, Rebs 29 (9 O), TOs 9

This was as disappointing of a loss as I can remember for the Panthers and mostly because they had a real opportunity to steal a road win against a ranked opponent and didn’t get it done.

Miami was really ripe for the upset here, the Hurricanes didn’t play well for long stretches of the game and slept walked through the first half – yet somehow they found a way to win.

That could come back to haunt the Panthers come March because this was the kind of win they needed to put their NCAA Tournament chances in a very good place.

Now, they still have to scramble because they are 0-4 against ranked opponents and because if you strip away your emotion and your attachment to this team and are honest about it, their resume is still a bit underwhelming.

Think about this – the Notre Dame win is definitely a plus and looks better each week but what is the Panthers second best win? Davidson at Madison Square Garden? At Florida State? Maybe Virginia Tech?

There just isn’t a lot to get excited about when trying to make an argument that this is an NCAA Tournament team because while I still think it can get there, it has to start to make a better case for itself.

Pitt is now 17-6 (6-5 in the ACC) and has seven games remaining – at North Carolina, at Syracuse, at Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech and then home to Wake Forest, Louisville and Duke.

Obviously winning two of four on the road and two of three at home is a minimum, I think, for this team to even think about being an NCAA Tournament team given the nonconference schedule it played.

That would leave them at 21-9 (10-6) and though there have been teams from power conferences with 20+ wins and a winning conference record left out of the field, the Panthers RPI would likely be high enough that they would get in and be like a 10-seed or 11-seed.

But I don’t think that is a guarantee – I actually think the Panthers need to go 5-2 down the stretch to make sure they are a no-brainer and a lock.

Again, the good news is they have plenty of opportunities left -- because they are in a good conference – to notch some big wins but the reality is they are slowly but surely running out of time.

One other thing – people ask me all the time about what their chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament is and I say two things “they need to win games” (duh, captain obvious) and the other is “it depends on what everyone else is doing.”

Right now, the biggest thing in Pitt’s favor is that the bubble is full of a bunch of teams that aren’t very good and aren’t winning enough. And that’s a huge part of the Panthers chances, to be honest, as they will be compared to a lot of other teams who aren’t doing a lot, either

It is a long three or four weeks until the ACC Tournament so a lot can and will happen but Pitt missed an opportunity last night and now must get ready for another one Sunday at North Carolina.

Here are some News and Notes:

*** The most interesting development from the game was the Panthers zone defense – they went 3-2 which is different than their normal zone, a 2-3. And it worked. It really did cause some issues for the Hurricanes, especially in the first half. Miami spent the first 10-12 minutes settling for bad 3s and struggling to attack it and that was a big reason the Panthers built a first-half lead. It was actually a brilliant move on Jamie Dixon’s part from the standpoint of he caught the Hurricanes by surprise. The problem is this – when you pull out all the stops and unveil something new, you need to win the game. Now, every other team has that zone on film and won’t be caught off guard. Still it is good to get a third defense installed and the Panthers showed they can play it well because it could help solve some of their defensive issues if they become the “changing defenses” team for the rest of the year. We also saw a little bit of full-court pressure and a trap or two. Again, everybody has seen this on film now and so it is likely to be a little less effective in the future but it is at least something that the Panthers can look to during those games when they seem to be out of answers defensively.

**** Here is the other thing the 3-2 does for Pitt – it enables Dixon to play his best offensive combinations without getting killed defensively. Damon Wilson is long and athletic but not a great defender yet – this zone was perfect for him. The same can be said for Jamel Artis, Cam Johnson and Sheldon Jeter – and that has been a bit of Dixon’s frustration. He has a lot of guys who are good at scoring but not so good (and not so committed to becoming good if you listen to what Dixon says in his news conferences) on the defensive end in man-to-man. It has been an issue for the Panthers all season – how does Dixon get his best offensive team on the floor for long stretches without giving up buckets at the other end. He may have found a solution because at one point he had Artis, Wilson and Johnson out there together and the Panthers were still able to get stops. I know the company line that is constantly given to us is “we have to hang our hat on man-to-man defense” and that’s fine to say and whatnot but that’s just not realistic. I don’t know of any rules in basketball above say 5th grade league that says you HAVE to play man-to-man defense. Jim Boeheim and company have won a few games over the years and they haven’t played man since 1996. That doesn’t mean abandon the man-to-man defense but it does mean when it isn’t working don’t act like zone is a four-letter word and a gimmick.

*** I think that “we need to play man” stuff and the constant party line of “we need to be great defensively and rebounding” is part of a larger problem with this team. It is something we’ve discussed on the air and also I’ve written about and it is that this team is still trying to decide its identity. Is it a defensive-minded team? Is it a tough, physical team? Is it a great offensive team? Like, I’m not sure and the fact that the players all say they need to be something some of them don’t truly want to be is a problem. I’m not saying you have to be able to define every team in one or two easy words but think of this Pitt team, what it does well and then tell me what its identity is and what it can hang its hat on when things aren’t going so well. If you ask me it should be in making buckets and pushing the tempo at every opportunity but that doesn’t seem to be what this team is trying to be. You can’t win consistently if you don’t know who you are. And when I constantly hear “we have to be great in our man-to-man defense” and “we didn’t defend well enough” after one of the best defensive games this team has played in a long time, I’m not sure this team really knows who it is. Again, I’m not saying that this team should turn into Loyola of the early 1990s, but it needs to commit to a style of play that it can be effective and build on it each game.

*** Just think about it this way – Pitt is 17-0 when scoring 70 or more points and 0-6 when they fail to score 65 points. This isn’t a defensive team right now, it is a team that wins when it scores buckets. And that should be the mentality – it is nice to want to grind it out and try to win the old fashioned Pitt way but that’s not realistic with this group. So continue to work to get better on defense but understand that this team needs to score and that may mean push the ball in transition at every opportunity. But that also means guys have to understand that when shots aren’t falling – get to the basket and try to get to the foul line to score. One of the great fallacies of defensive-minded coaches is that “if your team has an off night shooting, you need to be able to get stops to win.” I agree to a point – but how about this one “if your team has an off night shooting, you can still score if you attack the basket and draw fouls and pass the ball on the interior for dunks and layups.” Too often Pitt in recent weeks has settled in a just jacked shots even when they aren’t falling. That, not always poor defense, has been their problem. They need to find ways to score when they are off and last night they were off.

*** The last play was probably a little bit of a microcosm of what drives Dixon crazy with this bunch – here you force Miami to settle for a 3-pointer and they miss it but you can’t get the rebound. And not just one rebound, two rebounds as the 3-pointer missed, Davon Reed tipped the ball back to the basket and that shot missed and then Angel Rodriguez, who is generously listed at 5-feet-11, tipped it in. That’s frustrating for Dixon who said that play showed the problem with playing zone – it is hard to rebound out of. Dixon has forgotten more about hoops than I will ever know but I have to respectfully disagree on this one --- yes, it can be tough at times to rebound out of a zone but that had nothing to do with why the Panthers failed to get this rebound not once, but twice. If you watch the replay of this last sequence Pitt had players in position to grab the rebound and neither boxed out their man or even fought to get inside position. This wasn’t about scheme, this was about effort. I won’t name the two guys who missed their block outs to protect the innocent but you can find the play online a bunch of different places and see for yourself. The zone wasn’t the problem on the final play, that isn’t why Pitt couldn’t get a rebound. James Robinson said it best when he said “it is a 50/50 ball and we have to come up with it.” But I’d take it one step further and say this – it wasn’t a 50/50 ball if Pitt’s two players just made a simple fundamental block out. I’m 45 years old, have a bad back and all kinds of other health issues and haven’t played hoops competitively for at least ten years but the reality is – if I have position, I can still block out properly and grab a rebound against just about anyone, especially a guy who is smaller than me.

*** Jamel Artis was a no-show offensively last night and that hurt Pitt because the Panthers need him to score. They need him to produce offense. Yes, this team has a number of guys who can score at times but Artis is their best offensive player. And there aren’t enough other guys to compensate for him scoring only five points in a road game against a good team. Pitt needs him to score and what was a little bit troubling about last night is he settled for too many jumpers. Anybody can have an off night so the fact that he was 2-of-10 is just a part of that – until you see he was 1-of-6 from the 3-point line. That means he wasn’t attacking the hoop as he had only four field goal attempts that weren’t 3s. Artis is a good scorer and some games when his shot isn’t falling, he has abandoned it and attacked the rim and still put up good offensive numbers. And the other thing is, he is such a good free throw shooter that when he drives, he draws contact and can score from the free throw line as well. But last night he was 0-of-0 from the free throw line, which is a kind way of saying he had ZERO free throw attempts. That’s why I don’t look at his 1-of-6 from the 3-point line as troubling – guys have off nights shooting. The troubling part of his game is that he only took four shots from inside the 3-point line and not one that I can remember was a drive and as a result he didn’t score at all from the free throw line. If Pitt is going to get to where it wants to go, Artis needs to be a big part of it offensively and that means on nights when his shot isn’t falling, find other ways to score.

*** Ryan Luther had another excellent game and frankly he is becoming one of the Panthers most reliable players. And the reason is because he plays hard and he has worked on becoming a better post defender and post player on offense. He goes to the offensive glass as well as anyone on the team, he has a knack for getting his hands on loose balls and rebounds and he can pull bigger centers out away from the hoop and drive them. It is clear that he and Jeter need to play the bulk of the minutes in the post at this point because they are the best options Dixon has. Jeter was in foul trouble last night which is why his minutes were down but Luther – who had 12 points and 7 rebounds – clearly picked up the slack and continued to make a case for why he deserves to play 20+ minutes every night.


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Pitt Loses to Virginia: News and Notes

By Paul Zeise 4 days ago

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.


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Pitt Beats Virginia Tech: News and Notes

By Paul Zeise 1 week ago

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.


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Clemson Beats Pitt: News and Notes

By Paul Zeise 2 weeks ago

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.


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College Basketball News and Notes

By Paul Zeise 2 weeks ago

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.

Deep breath….

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.


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