This Week at the Pete: Panthers Receive Shock Treatment, Advance to Sweet 16

Paul SieversAnalyst IMarch 23, 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.

When was the last time you saw a college team take a steely-eyed all-business approach to the NCAA tournament?

That’s right, you’ve probably never seen it. We love the NCAA tournament in large part because we love the raw emotion we see from the college players.

The Big Dance is about guards getting down in their defensive stance after slapping the court so hard they crack the floor boards.

It’s about acrobatic finishes followed by fist-pumps that would make Tiger Woods envious. It’s about young men enjoying the hell out of the game because for most of them, it’s the last time they will play competitively.

It’s also the reason I was very concerned after reading Greg Bishop’s blog for the New York Times. Bishop, who is covering the games in Dayton, noted the differences in the Pitt and Louisville locker room. Bishop talked about the jovial atmosphere in the Louisville locker room, where Edgar Sosa led the team in laughs.

Pitt on the other hand presented a “serious and stoic face” and was “all-business”. The Pitt locker room was very quiet.

Any Panther fan who knows the pulse of this team probably had the same reaction I did. “Oh s*%t, they’re tight. This isn’t good.”

In their first match-up against East Tennessee State, they allowed a far less talented team to hang tough for 39 minutes before finally putting the game away late.

Pitt play was simply abysmal. Many fans and pundits questioned the teams heart but those of us who know better knew that it wasn‘t about heart.

This team was so tight they were paralyzed. Players weren’t cutting on offense or closing passing lanes on defense. It was as if the gravity of the moment was just too much.

Something was very wrong with the psyche of this team. It was more blatant than a Gary McGhee body-check. It was the reason I told everyone I knew to bet against Pitt in the second round.

Fast forward to Sunday, minutes before Pitt tipped off against Oklahoma State. I sat on my couch ready to watch the last game of Pitt’s season when I saw a sight more beautiful than Minka Kelly.

It was the Pitt players gathered in the tunnel. They were gathered in a circle, smiling and laughing as Aston Gibbs and Austin Wallace danced in the middle.

The Panthers I knew and loved were back. They had their Cool Runnings “we better bobsled Jamaican” moment and finally seemed ready to achieve NCAA tournament glory. (Side note, "Cool Runnings" is the greatest PG-rated movie of all time and I will hear no arguments.)


The Week that Was

3/20 - Pitt def. ETSU 72-62

The Good:

Pitt played not to lose this game and they did a great job not losing as they won by 10 points.

They hit their free throws, going 17 of 23 from the foul line compared to ETSU going 12 of 24.

DeJuan Blair gets the game ball because he was ultimately the difference in this game. DeJuan finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds, it could have been 35 and 20. DeJuan did not play one of his finer games, he missed a lot of open looks and dropped a few rebounds.

At the end of the day though, ETSU could not match his physicality. DeJuan was literally and figuratively the biggest reason Pitt escaped the first round.


The Bad:

Never has a 10-point victory felt more like a defeat. With the possible exception of the Providence game, this was the worst game Pitt played all year.

Pitt could not handle East Tennessee’s pressure as they turned the ball over 18 times. I understand that Levance Fields is battling injuries but that does not excuse the miserable decisions he made.

Pitt also did a very poor job on the defensive glass. The Pitt front court, notably Sam Young, did a horrible job boxing out. The Buccaneers had 19 offensive rebounds.

Between the offensive rebounds and turnovers, ETSU was able to attempt 20 more field goals than the Panthers. I have never seen any team out-hustled as badly as Pitt was in this one. Very atypical of the Panthers.


The Ugly:

This game was played Friday afternoon while I was at work. Luckily, I was able to follow the game from my cubicle. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was able to trick anybody into believing I was doing work. I’m going to have to earn some brownie points this week.


3/22 - Pitt def. Oklahoma State 84-76

The Good:

Pitt had a huge size advantage in this match-up and they made sure to take full advantage. Pitt controlled the glass, out-rebounding the Cowboys 39-21. Pitt grabbed the majority of their misses, the Panthers had 18 offensive rebounds compared to Oklahoma State’s 16 defensive rebounds.

The Panthers offense was much more fluid against the Cowboys. Levance Fields had 9 assists, in part because Pitt was making their open shots for the first time since the last game of the regular season.

Pitt shot 11-of-28 from three point range. The long range barrage was led by freshman guard Aston Gibbs who was 3 of 4 from distance. He is 5 of 6 from beyond the arc since the tournament began.

Pitt did a very good job controlling the tempo of this game. Oklahoma State knew that their best chance was to make it an up and down affair.

Aside from a brief stretch in the second half, the Panthers were able to control the Cowboy transition game and make the Cowboys play at a pace too slow for their comfort.

Sam Young was the ring leader today. He finished the game with 32 points and the game ball. His performance set a school record for points in an NCAA tournament game. After playing very passively against ETSU, Sam was assertive in this game.

Knowing that the Cowboys did not have the personnel to match-up with him. Sam attempted 20 field goals. Credit the Panthers for consistently exploiting favorable match-ups.


The Bad:

Pitt really needs to work on breaking the press. Levance Fields is a great decision maker in the half-court and in transition but he makes some awful passes against the press.

There are ways to beat the press, throwing cross-court passes without a whole lot of velocity isn’t one of them. Until Pitt finds an answer they can expect to see every opponent they face press.


The Ugly:

Other than the near heart attack all fans had when Byron Eaton and DeJuan Blair appeared to be injured there wasn’t too much ugliness from what might have been the most entertaining Pitt game of the year.


A Look Ahead

Pitt will play their Sweet 16 game on Thursday night against Xavier in Boston. Xavier has two major assets, height and depth. The Musketeers do not have a starter shorter than 6’5” and go nine deep comfortably.

Much like Oklahoma State, who shot 12-of-28 from three-point land against the Panthers, Xavier can hit the three ball. They have shot 40 percent from deep on the season. Jermaine Dixon, Sam Young and Gilbert Brown will have their hands full on the perimeter.

Xavier is a very good defensive team. They rank eighth nationally in defending two-point field goals and 15th nationally in defensive rebounding.

The good news for Pitt is that Xavier is not built to thrive in chaos. The way other teams that have given Pitt problems are.

Xavier plays at a pace similar to Pitt and they don’t do a very good job forcing turnovers. Look for Pitt to get out in transition a bit more then they have to this point in the tournament.

While Xavier is a good rebounding team, they haven’t seen anything like DeJuan Blair yet. I think Pitt will be mentally, and emotionally, ready for this game. I’m picking Pitt in a close one.

If Pitt is able to defeat Xavier, they will face the winner of Duke/Villanova for a berth in the final four. Although Villanova beat Pitt earlier this year, I think they would be the lesser of two evils for Pitt.

Duke would be able to give the Panthers fits with their pressure defense. While ‘Nova plays good on-ball defense, they don’t play it as well as Duke. Pitt also does a very good job making sure teams don’t beat them twice in the same year. If Pitt wins against Xavier, they should be rooting for the Wildcats to defeat Duke.


Race for the Coupons

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

Sam Young - 11

DeJuan Blair - 10

Levance Fields - 5

Jermaine Dixon - 3

Brad Wanamaker - 3

Tyrell Biggs - 1

Aston Gibbs - 1


Quote of the Week

“Pitt is looking strong, I think Blair is a man.”

- President Barack Obama


Shameless Plug of the Week

I have nothing to plug this week, I’m too busy watching games to plug.



    Report: Knicks 'Have the Hots' for Young

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Report: Knicks 'Have the Hots' for Young

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report

    Kansas Fires AD Sheahon Zenger

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Kansas Fires AD Sheahon Zenger

    Staff Report

    Calipari Supports Legalizing Sports Gambling in Kentucky

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Calipari Supports Legalizing Sports Gambling in Kentucky

    A Sea Of Blue
    via A Sea Of Blue

    Report: Jontay Porter Likely to Return to Mizzou

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Report: Jontay Porter Likely to Return to Mizzou

    SEC Country
    via SEC Country