First off, what a huge win for Pitt Monday night. The Jerome Dyson injury aside, it is tough to go into Hartford, take Hasheem Thabeet completely out of his game, and walk away with a win.
At the center of the win was DeJuan Blair, whose monster game propelled Pitt to the win.
Blair is a great player down low—a beastly presence on the block who isn’t scared to take it up against anyone. As usual, Blair owned the paint on both ends against UConn, muscling his way the second 20-20 game of his career.
All that said, however, I just can’t see a team led by DeJuan Blair hoisting the Siemens Trophy at season’s end.
From where I sit, Blair just doesn’t have the focus other elite players have. He takes possessions off regularly, jogs down the court far too much, and gets away with too many pushes-in-the-back around the basket. And as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, the guy can’t keep his mouth shut.
Blair’s most glaring weakness against UConn, however, was his pick and roll defense, which was nothing short of shameful. While Blair had other lapses, three stick out the most from Monday night’s game.
Midway through the first half—right after Blair set what appeared to be a cheap shot pick on Kemba Walker, which sent the diminutive point guard to the floor, Thabeet set a high pick for Walker, and Blair’s defense was so bad it was comical.
He didn’t hedge, he didn’t make an effort to get back to Thabeet—he did nothing. Walker made an easy pass to Thabeet, who then threw dropped the hammer on a monster dunk, igniting the crowd.
Fast forward to the second half, with Pitt barely hanging on to a lead in what is essentially the most important game of the year to this point of the season. On back-to-back possessions, Blair allowed Jeff Adrien easy dunks off of basic high pick and roll plays. Worse yet, after the second dunk, Blair even pointed the finger at his teammates for not helping—instead of giving the “My bad” for not hustling back to his man.
Blair’s lack of a “sense of urgency,” as every broadcaster loves to say, is what strikes me the most. It’s like the kid doesn’t understand the importance of key possessions.
Moments after his defensive miscues, with his team clinging to a one-point lead, Blair decided to take a fadeaway from 12 feet—and he didn’t even hit the rim.
Not surprisingly, UConn eventually took control and went up by as much as five. But it wasn’t meant to be for the Huskies, as Pitt—namely Levance Fields—had an answer for everything down the stretch.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting DeJuan Blair is not worthy of the praise given to him. He is.
But come tournament time, when Pitt eventually faces a team with a big man who plays away from the hoop and sets high screens—in a game reffed by non-Big East officials—I just don’t see Blair rallying his teammates, hustling back on defense, keeping his mouth shut, and avoiding the same problems that seem to plague him every game.
And I certainly can’t see him doing it for six straight games.