Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pitt and the Pendulum

Some observations tonight from the XL Center, after watching Pittsburgh out-tough UConn to a 67-57 victory.

***The Panthers are hardly the most talented team in the league, but they get the most out of their players with hard-nosed, gritty defensive play. How else do you win three straight Big East road games against, two of them against ranked opponents (Syracuse and now UConn).

How do they do it?

"Good players is probably the first thing," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "The second thing is probably good players, and the next thing is probably good players."

Oh, and good coaching. Dixon is easily the early frontrunner for Big East Coach of the Year, and it's not even close.

***UConn doesn't exactly have an imaginative offense. Particularly over the last 10 minutes of the second half, the Huskies were far too reliant on letting Jerome Dyson or Kemba Walker drive to the hoop. And while Dyson made some big shots and scored 10 of his 14 points over the final 10 minutes of play, not enough other players were involved.

"If you had Jerome Dyson … you'd send him to the rim, too," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "He's pretty effective doing that. But that's late in the shot clock, when we haven't got anything out of our offense."

Stanley Robinson had 13 points by halftime but scored just six the rest of the way – none over the final 13 ½ minutes. He admitted afterwards that "at times" he gets frustrated not sniffing the ball enough.

"Sometimes," said Robinson, "I get in a rhythm and score easily, but … yeah, I think I do want more touches."

The 6-foot-9 jumping jack also grabbed just two rebounds on the night.

"That's almost bewildering to me," said Calhoun, "and the way he was playing, he wasn't going to get more than two rebounds … Stanley Robinson, soup to nuts, may be the most gifted kid on the court. He didn't look like the most gifted kid in the last 10 minutes, and that's a great time to be the most gifted guy."

Calhoun continued: "He's a great kid, but he's got to be a great player. And right now, he's a great talent who knows how to play basketball and knows how to score the ball, but he's got to do more than that. His man (Brad Wanamaker) scored 19 … if he holds him down to 12, maybe we win the game."

***Pitt is tough. Always has been, seemingly always will.

"That's what the Big East is about, out-toughing the other team," said Wanamaker. "In the second half, I think we did that."

After being out-rebounded by four in the first half, the Panthers easily won the battle of the boards over the final 20 minutes, 26-13. Pitt finished with 19 offensive rebounds – 12 of them in the latter half – as it spoiled some strong UConn defensive stances with second-chance points.

"We're not playing with a sense of toughness," said Calhoun. "At times, we stopped them stone, cold dead … and then we'd give them a second chance."

***Ater Majok made a "where-did-that-come-from?" low-post backdown hoop with three minutes left (to go with a two-handed putback dunk earlier in the half) and had four points and two blocks ini 10 minutes.

***Expect Pitt to move up several slots in next week's Top 25. They certainly will on my ballot.

"We haven't lowered our demands or expectations," Dixon said. "Nothing's changed for us. Other people may look at us differently, but any team that commits to playing together can be as good as they want to be."

The Huskies? Right now, they're perilously close to falling out of my Top 25. A loss at Michigan on Sunday and they definitely will.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, do we even have an offense? obviously this one doesnt work. Kemba walker continues to kill this team. We have way too many projects and not enough players that can make it happen. Our offense at times looks worse than a mid majors

January 13, 2010 at 11:18 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

agreed. offense has no identity. bigger problem- we lack a go-to shooter. dyson showed signs that he could be that player last year. not sure what's going on. this team needs to find some chemistry.

January 14, 2010 at 10:25 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To many athletes, more interested in monster jams and flashy drives then executing fundamentally sound basketball play. Impossible to predict if we will make any tournament this year as there has been and will continue to be no consistency with this group. Poor shooting, inconsistent offense and defensive execution combined with the limited use and development of our young players will result in many more frustrating evenings. With Michigan on the road, a much improved St Johns team at home, then Texas followed by road games against Providence, Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova, Rutgers and Notre Dame, even if we win a third of those games, were still looking at a season with double digit losses. Add the fact that we haven't won a Big East Tournament game in how many years??? What will be the statement to both Tournament Committees that we belong, just don't see it this year or for that matter anytime in the foreseeable future. Hope I'm wrong!

January 14, 2010 at 12:47 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Dyson has been effective as a go-to guy. He carried the team in the second half against Seton Hall, and he made some big shots against Pitt. It's just that he can't be the only guy. Stanley Robinson has to step up, too, and it's twofold: UConn has to come up with a more imaginative halfcourt set that isn't all about Dyson (and Kemba Walker) driving to the hole, and Robinson has to be more active and demanding of the ball.

As to the rest of the schedule, the only two games that are virtually sure wins are vs. DePaul and at Rutgers. I don't see how they lose at home to St. John's, either, and I'm betting on home wins against Marquette and Cincinnati. But other than Rutgers, there's not another road game that can be viewed as a clear-cut win -- including at Providence (where they always struggle) and at USF.

I predicted an 11-7 finish in the Big East. Right now, 9-9 or 10-8 seems more feasible, but it's hardly out of the realm that UConn will continue to improve.

January 14, 2010 at 2:27 PM 

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