This Week at the Pete: Pitt Panthers' Fall From the Pinnacle

Paul SieversAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2009

"This Week at the Pete" is a weekly column that takes a look at all things Pitt basketball. Your comments are more than welcome, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Yesterday was not a good day for us here at TWATP. The morning started with the Geordies getting thumped on the road. The day ended with our beloved Pitt Panthers losing for the first time all year. In between was a screwed up order from Taco Bell.

Usually a bad Taco Bell experience is enough to ruin our day, but the realization that we are no longer writing the world’s most important college basketball article led to crying, then drinking, then more crying. Looks like we’ll just have to soldier on. Lets get to the recap.

The Week That Was

1/14 - def. South Florida 75-62

The Good:

The three point shooting. No, that isn’t sarcasm, Pitt actually hit their threes, 10 of 18 on the night. It wasn’t just one guy; no Panther shot less than 50 percent from beyond the arc against the Bulls. Pitt does not rely on the three ball but this is certainly a nice weapon. It also validates our opinion that Pitt is a capable three point shooting team. The USF game was the first time all season they proved us right.

Levance Fields played his best game of the year. He scored 11 points on four of eight shooting along with 13 assists to only one turnover. More importantly the swagger was back, the little general was in complete control. He gets the game ball.

Also, OMG! You’re not going to believe this. DeJuan Blair had a good rebounding game. DeJuan had 18 boards, nine on each end of the floor.

The Bad:

The Panther’s were clearly looking past the Bulls, luckily they got away with it. They played this game with a J.D. Drewesque enthusiasm. The Panthers “trademark hard-nose defense” took a night off. The Bulls shot almost fifty percent from floor.

Sam Young’s shooting struggles continued. He scored a healthy 14 points but it was on four of 14 shooting. Sam needs to step up his game if Pitt is going to get a bye through the first two days of the Big East tournament.

The Ugly:

The game started 20 minutes late because snow wreaked havoc on Pittsburgh. Snow is ok, hills are ok, the two together, not ok unless skiing is involved. Hearing about snow in Pittsburgh made us glad to be in New York for that game.

1/17 - lost @ Louisville 69-63

The Good:

Pitt was able to land the first punch, getting off to a 20-7 lead. The 10 for 26 three point shooting is deceiving as the Panthers missed a bunch of desperation threes in the closing minutes of the game. They were 7 of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half. It was the only reason they had the lead.

Jermaine Dixon, who couldn’t buy a bucket through the first half of the year, exploded for a career high 19 points including three for four from distance. His full offensive arsenal was on display. We know he can beat opponents off the bounce, if he has his jumper going he’s almost as tough to stop as Sam Young. Jermaine gets the game ball.

Tyrell Biggs made some bad decisions against the press but, my god, did he handle himself down in the blocks. DeJuan Blair was in foul trouble much of this game so Biggs was on his own and every one of his eight boards were gained on pure guile. Great effort.

Coach Dixon probably feels as if they should have won this game. It was just one of those nights when the bounces seemed to go the way of the Cardinals. Credit Louisville because they were the better team Saturday night but this game might end differently if its played at Madison Square Garden, much less at the Pete.

The Bad:

The 20 turnovers are not a tremendous concern, that’s going to happen against Louisville. The 14 assists in comparison to the 20 turnovers is a concern. Pitt made some bad decisions not just against the press, but in the half court as well. The length and speed of Louisville frustrated the Panthers. For all of the progress Tyrell Biggs and Brad Wannamaker have made this year, they both had the “deer in headlights” look for much of the game.

Pitt was out-rebounded for the first time this season. It wasn’t due to lack of effort, this had more to due with Blair, Biggs and Young all being in foul trouble.

The biggest concern was Pitt being outscored 15-5 in the last 5:12. The Panthers couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch. If this was a freak occurrence, that’s one thing. If this was Pitt running out of gas, then we have a problem.

Pitt has prided itself on being a second half team and wearing opponents down with their depth. If the last 5:12 Saturday night was Louisville beating Pitt at their own game then it might be time to re-evaluate the team’s aspirations.

The Ugly:

ESPN did not show the first four minutes of the game to the national audience who instead got the not-very-climatic finish of the Illinois/Michigan State game. I don’t mind ESPN not cutting away from the prior game but lets look at what was showing on the other networks.

ESPN 2 - East-West Shrine Game

ESPN Classic - An ACC championship game from at least 20 years ago

ESPN News - NFL Preview

Really? We can’t cut into the coverage of one of these games to show the start of Pitt-Louisivlle, a game ESPN had been pimping all week? How many people were watching that ESPN classic game? 20?

A Look Ahead

1/19 vs. Syracuse, 7pm on ESPN

Having Louisville right before Syracuse works out nicely for the Panthers. Louisville and Syracuse both like to speed up the tempo so Pitt will be prepared for another frantic 94-foot game. Pitt will need the front court to step up, especially on the offensive glass. The Orange had an incredible 41 fast break points against Notre Dame on Saturday.

This means that the guards will have get back in transition after any shot attempt to stop Jonny Flynn and company, leaving Young, Biggs, and Blair to go three against five on the offensive glass.

Normally those aren’t good odds, but the Panther big men have shown their ability on the glass and should be up for the challenge.

Pitt should have an advantage from an emotional standpoint. Pitt is coming off of a loss, ‘Cuse is coming off of a win, the game is at the Pete. Expect Pitt to win a close one.

1/25 - @ West Virginia 4pm

The rivalry renews in Morgantown next weekend where Pitt will face a West Virginia team that is built a lot like themselves. While neither team will shoot lights out too often, both teams are phenomenal on the glass. Both teams also play great defense.

West Virginia has a lot of young, long athletes that could give the Panthers fits. I just think that Pitt is a little more polished and has more guys that can beat you. We think the Panthers are going to escape with a win.

Quote of the Week

“The things I liked about Round Two and the week that went with it: Larry Fitzgerald settling the "Who's the best receiver in football" argument once and for all”

                                                       - Bill Simmons of 

Shameless Plug of the Week

If you are on Long Island next weekend come join the TWATP gang at Merengue Night at Buckley’s in Valley Stream. The festivities kick off at 9 pm. Come on down so you can see first hand how well (by “well” me mean poorly) the TWATP boys dance. As always, Hail to Pitt!