This Week at the Pete: Not the Same Old Panthers

Paul SieversAnalyst IFebruary 8, 2009

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


When the Pitt basketball program is discussed, it is always the same clichés. “Hard-nosed” and “defensive-minded” are two adjectives that are often used. While we are not doubting that Pitt is still willing to push people around, this is not just a defensive-minded team. And this week’s games were proof.

With wins over Robert Morris and DePaul this week to go along with their win over Notre Dame last week, Pitt has now scored more than 90 points in three straight games.

The Panthers have topped 90 points in five games this season, not once needing the help of overtime. To put this in perspective, Pitt has only topped the 90-point mark five times in regulation during Jamie Dixon‘s five previous seasons as head coach.

Make no mistake about it, Pitt has weapons all over the court. The Panthers are 39th nationally in FG percentage, 22nd in taking care of the rock, and second in offensive rebounding. When added together you get the most efficient offense in America.

Pitt fans no longer have to ask themselves, “How are we going to get enough points tonight?”


The Week That Was

Feb. 2—def. Robert Morris 92-72

The Good:

What can be said about the offense that hasn’t already been said about the TWATP boys playing beer pong? You can’t stop them; you can only hope they slow themselves down.

Pitt shot above its season average from the field, from three-point range, and from the charity stripe. The Panthers had 31 field goals off of 22 assists while only turning the ball over 11 times. Pitt also dominated the boards once again.

More encouraging than all of this was Pitt getting to the foul line 33 times. Pitt has had a tendency to settle for jump shots a little too much this year. Against the Colonials, the Panthers took the ball to the hoop and actively sought out contact.

With four players in double figures, it's hard to give a game ball. But when the team plays this well on the offensive end, credit has to go to the point guard.

Levance Fields had the team’s only double-double with 12 points and 13 assists. Nothing makes us happier than good passing, so it is our pleasure to give Levance the game ball.


The Bad:

While Robert Morris is the best team in its conference, it isn’t exactly a Big East offense. There was no excuse for the shooting percentages Robert Morris put up in this one (57 percent FG, 59 percent beyond the arc).

Dixon was less than happy about the defensive effort. It is troubling to see Pitt taking nights off on the defensive end.


The Ugly:

This recap. The game was not shown in the New York area so the TWATP boys had to do this one blind.

Since we can’t offer any opinions about what we saw in this one, now seems like an opportune time to discuss the new trend of players tucking their warm-up shirts into their shorts on the layup lines.

How is this a good look? We are by no means old-school guys; we understand the baggy shorts and the headbands. But we don’t understand this one.


Feb. 2—def. DePaul 92-69

The Good:

Fields and DeJuan Blair. Levance contributed 13 points and 16 assists, a second straight double-double. This would have been good enough for the game ball if DeJuan didn’t score a career-high 32 points to go along with 14 boards.

As a whole, the Panthers shot very well once again, highlighted by 11-for-22 three-point shooting. The team had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and had 26 of its 38 field goals come off of assists. The team was also +18 on the glass and held DePaul to 3-for-18 three-point shooting.

Pitt also had two players get trillions in this one. While this is not a highlight for Nasir Robinson, walk-on Tim Frye will undoubtedly be happy with his minute of non-production.


The Bad:

Any member of Pitt’s frontcourt not named Blair. Tyrell Biggs had his second straight game only scoring two points and appears to be struggling with his shot. The Panthers need Biggs to get his confidence back because he will be a major weapon against UConn.

If he is hitting his jumpers, then Jeff Adrian has to play the perimeter and cannot cheat on Blair defensively. Biggs could potentially open up the whole offense against the Huskies and any other team with a dominant power forward.

Sam Young has been slumping and this might have been his worst performance yet. Sam had six turnovers, one less excusable than the next. Even worse, he looks disinterested.

He might not be as important to the team as Blair, but if Pitt is going to make any kind of run in the postseason, Sam will have to play well. Gilbert Brown is also struggling and Gary McGhee is just useless.

While 13 turnovers isn’t a tremendous amount, they were all really bad turnovers. On multiple occasions the Blue Demons had several easy fast breaks after picking off a lazy perimeter pass.

This is Basketball 101, there is no excuse for not being able to move the ball along the arc. Dixon’s staff will need to shore this up before the Panthers face some of the better defenses in the conference.


The Ugly:

DePaul’s program. It’s bad when a school in the heart of Chicago has to play its basketball in the suburbs. It’s even worse when the program can’t draw 10,000 fans to see a top-five team.

All of this and we haven’t even touched on the coaches' inability to keep Chicago’s best players at home. There is no excuse for DePaul basketball to be as down as it is.


A Look Ahead

Feb. 9—vs. West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

After beating West Virginia by 12 points last month in Morgantown, the rivals will face off again in Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Mountaineers have lost three of their last five games and will enter the game with a 2-3 conference road record. The Panthers are undefeated at the Pete so far this season and have not won by fewer than 13 points.

Pitt’s recent three-point shooting surge will be challenged by WVU, who leads the country in three-point defense, holding its opponents to 26.4 percent shooting from distance. The offensive rebounding is also something to keep an eye on in this one as Pitt and WVU rank second and 11th, respectively, in that category.

WVU is very solid at the guard positions and at small forward. Truck Bryant, Alex Ruoff, and Da’Sean Butler will all provide very interesting matchups for Fields, Jermaine Dixon, and Young. The Butler-Young matchup is particularly interesting. Butler is playing better basketball lately, but WVU always seems to bring out the best in Young.

The reason we think Pitt will win is WVU’s inability to match up with Blair down low. Add to that Pitt’s dominance in the first matchup along with the game being played in Pittsburgh and it is very hard to pick against the Panthers.


Feb. 14—vs. Cincinnati, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN

On Saturday, Pitt will host a Bearcat team that always plays the Panthers tough. Pitt faced the Bearcats three times last season. In Cincinnati, the Bearcats won going away. In Pittsburgh, the Panthers pulled out a tough one followed by another hard-fought Pitt victory in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Much like the Panthers, the Bearcats do a very good job on the offensive glass as they rank seventh in offensive rebounding. Unlike the Panthers, they do not do a very good job taking care of the ball, ranking 210th in turnovers.

The Bearcats are led by junior guard Deonta Vaughn and freshman big man Yancey Gates. Neither player will provide a mismatch for the Panthers as they will be guarded by Dixon and Blair, respectively.

Pitt should be able to contain Vaughn and Gates and make one of the other Bearcats beat them. We don’t think anyone else on Cincy is capable of stepping up on the road and doing that. Pitt should win this game as well.


Race for the Coupons

Here is where we stand so far in the game ball standings:

Sam Young—7

DeJuan Blair—7

Jermaine Dixon—3

Levance Fields—3

Brad Wanamaker—2

Tyrell Biggs—1


Quote of the Week

“I don’t watch football for the brutality, I have Big East basketball for that.”

—Paul Sievers during the Super Bowl


Shameless Plug of the Week

In the spirit of Valentine's Day we are encouraging all women over the age of 18 to submit a 45-word essay (Blair’s jersey number) as to why you should be our Valentine. The winners will in fact be our Valentines, and as many winners as necessary will be chosen. The essays can be submitted in our comments section below.


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