News and Notes - Hawaii 74, Pitt 70

By Paul Zeise 8 years ago

An ugly loss for the Panthers, indeed.....

But lucky for all of you, I spent 11 seasons covering Pitt football, so I am used to trying to dissect a loss like this one (Hawaii 74, Pitt 70) even as the fan base – a tortured bunch no doubt – crumbles, fires everyone, fights each other, calls on the God’s to give them some relief from bad luck etc., etc., etc……and I’ve become pretty good at talking (a majority) of you off the ledge.....

And I did so because I often tried to be the voice of reason back then – even after debacles like Ohio 16, Pitt 10 and Navy 48, Pitt 45 and Bowling Green 27, Pitt 17……you get the picture – and so I will again attempt to be that voice of reason now in this post-Hawaii loss version of news and notes…..

1.) This loss was not as bad or head scratching as most of those football losses and it is certainly not insurmountable. Pitt has to get a lot better, there is no question about that. The defense is awful right now both on the perimeter and at the rim. There is no hiding from that. But this is a very young team in a lot of areas and frankly, I bet if you told Jamie Dixon he would be without Cameron Wright and Durand Johnson – two of the Panthers best and most experienced players - two games into the season he would not have signed up to come out here to play this game as this team without those two just wasn’t ready to win a game like this.

Yeah, I know, it is Hawaii but there is a reason a lot of teams don’t sign up to come all the way out here to play – especially in a little band box gym with fans right on top of the court. Once the adversity hit in the second half – Hawaii made an 11-4 run to take a 71-64 lead – Pitt didn’t know how to respond and the Panthers didn’t have someone to take charge and settle everyone else down. That doesn’t excuse a loss like this but it does suggest that maybe, with some more games under their belt, with Wright back in the mix, with a little better defined roles for some of the young guys, this team will learn from this loss and get better.

Pitt will get better, they have a lot of good young skilled players. They may or may not still be an NCAA Tournament team in the end but for that to happen they need to get much, much better at stopping people. In other words, let’s not fire everyone and declare the season over yet.

Now, if they lose to Chaminade…

2.) That being said – Hawaii deserves a lot of credit. The Rainbow Warriors started the game talking some junk before the national anthem was even sung and made it clear they weren’t afraid of the Panthers from the jump. They played a lot like Philadelphia and Samford (four guards for most of the game and that caused some matchup issues for Pitt). They were brash, they were borderline cocky, but they played a great game and deserved to win. They battled for loose balls, they were undersized but kept rebounds alive by tipping the ball to their teammates and they hit shots. They were 53 percent from the field and while they were only 35 percent (7-of-20) from the 3-point line, they seemed to hit big 3’s when they needed one to go down. I’m not saying they are world beaters, but they played a really good game and their strength – driving to the basket and scoring or kicking it for open jumpers – is the Panthers weakness right now.

3.) We talked to both James Robinson and Chris Jones after the game. Robinson scored 12 points and had six assists, Jones had 19 points and four assists. Both were extremely frustrated with the way the Panthers defended. Robinson said it was baffling because they had great practices leading up to the game. Jones said he didn’t want to talk about his offense – he hit some big-time 3-pointers, because his defense was not good enough. Jamie Dixon would - and did - concur.

4.) Obviously Cam Wright cleans up some of this mess because it will enable Dixon to play Jones more at the three. He simply struggles to match up defensively with smaller, quicker guards. And Artis seems to struggle to guard smaller, quicker forwards so he can move down and play some more at the four. This will help a bunch. Dixon was so frustrated in this game with defense he went man, zone, then back to man, then some zone – he kept changing lineups and tried hard to find someone, anyone, to step forward and make some stops. It just didn’t happen.

5.) Again, I hate the “young player” stuff because it often comes off as excuse making. But this team is clearly not ready and has way too many younger players playing big minutes. I know a lot of teams do and some are in the top five – this isn’t Kentucky and these youngsters aren’t five-star, can’t-miss kind of guys. They have talent but they need work. Jamie Dixon’s plan has always been to let most of his players grow up and get stronger and he has often relied on fourth and even fifth-year players.

This team should be right now senior Cam Wright, junior (who has started for two years) James Robinson, fourth-year junior Durand Johnson, sophomore (who started all last year) Mike Young and junior Joe Uchebo with a bench of sophomores Jamel Artis, Chris Jones and Josh Newkirk (all three played last year) and senior Derrick Randall. That is the team Dixon thought he would have at this point. But he doesn’t – Uchebo had a strong preseason but seems just very limited in terms of his ability to run and jump right now, Wright broke his foot and Durand Johnson is suspended.

That means new guys like Sheldon Jeter, Cam Johnson and now Ryan Luther have all had to play key minutes, Jones has had to move into a starting role and Artis a number of guys are out of position. That’s why I say, this team has a chance to get better and frankly get better in a hurry as they start to fall into defined roles and figure out how to come together as a team.

6.) To that end – Sheldon Jeter and Cam Johnson both have a nice, smooth jumper and can help this team offensively. Both also have a lot of room to improve on defense. Dixon also made it clear it wasn’t just the perimeter defense he was upset with – he thought the Panthers defense in the post was bad, too. That’s a big reason Ryan Luther, despite not playing until this game, saw nine minutes of action, all in the second half and down the stretch. Dixon said he is searching for someone to guard in the post and Luther did as good of a job as anyone. Randall and Uchebo, by the way, combined for only 13 minutes which is very telling.

Jamie Dixon will keep tinkering with the lineup until he finds one that can (a) score enough to win while (b) defending well enough to win. It make take some time but he will find the right mix to be able to have some success.