Reader SlicenDice112 recaps the Pitt-Tennessee basketball game in his latest Fanpost. Write your own Fanpost using the link to the right.
Wow. What a game. Watching this game, it didn’t seem like early December. Each possession was valued. Defense was played for 35 seconds consistently. The Tennessee team we just beat is no slouch. They are very well coached and have played Duke (5 point game with 8 minutes to go) and Memphis (double OT) extremely tough. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the tournament (if they play like this), despite what I’ve read about where the analysts expect them to finish. Obviously there is room for improvement for both the players and the coaches but let’s break this down.
Overall I think Pitt played the best game it’s played all season. This felt like Pitt basketball. We played in control, took care of the basketball, moved the ball nicely on offense, rebounded, took good shots (even when we missed, they were open looks and didn't lead to long run-outs) and had a good rhythm on both sides of the ball. Our defense was very solid. We held a team that averages over 80 points a game, to 56. We made a few careless mistakes on both ends and didn’t hit our free throws, but overall I think we played very well. We only turned the ball over six times, won the rebounding battle overall, had 7 more offensive boards and we took 13 more shots. Our foul shooting was sub-par. If Ashton Gibbs doesn’t get that freak flagrant (agree with the call, obviously we all know it wasn’t intentional) and if we make our foul shots, this is a 10-point win.
I have two previous posts where I mention getting the big men more involved in the offense. They went 14 for 23 (61%) from the field and grabbed 13 offensive boards. In the first few minutes of the game, we got Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson and Khem Birch post up opportunities and they made great decisions (shots or passes) out of them. It helped settle down our offense and establish a rhythm. We got away from it as the game progressed, which I think was a mistake, but it was good to see us make an effort to get the big guys involved on offense without having to generate their own touches. I specifically want to compliment Dante for making some nice moves in the post. He had a nice jump hook and a face up jumper. He played with a lot more conviction and focus on offense. He needs to go up stronger when he is by the rim as he missed one or two layups and got rejected on a dunk. It would be nice to see us go to him more so he gets more comfortable with those moves and starts becoming more of an offensive weapon. One knock on Dante was there was about 8 minutes left in the game and they made a nice pass inside. I thought he could have fouled to force two free throws (he had two fouls) but instead he just gave up an easy basket. Not a big deal, but I think it’s worth noting. Overall, I thought our big men played very well. Zanna played solid, Birch is going to continue to get better and I love his energy on both ends, Taylor is coming into his own and Robinson is Robinson.
People might start pointing out that Ashton’s shooting % is down. I don’t think it’s fair to focus on his shooting percentage only. Yes, he was only 7-21 last night and Cameron Wright was 0-6 (I’ll get to him more in a minute). If you take those two numbers out of our percentage, we shot 20-37. Ashton has to get credit for that. It’s because of him people are getting great looks. Paterson and Moore (have to play with more confidence) are great shooters and eventually they will start looking for their shots more. Teams will take notice and realize they can’t gang up on Gibb’s that much. Bottom line, if Ashton shoots 7-21 I’ll take it if the rest of our team is shooting over 50%, because he is the reason everyone else is getting wide open looks. Teams are making a choice to force anyone to beat them but Ashton and they are slowly realizing we aren’t a one man show.
Which leads me to my next point. I partially blame this game being close on Jamie Dixon. Please help me understand why Cameron Wright started and played 25 minutes. You can only start him for one reason: Defense. If you’re starting him for defense, I can’t believe he is a better defender than Moore or Robinson. I think Robinson at the 3 is an upgrade on defense. But let’s assume Cameron is the best defender in the world. The guy we would stick on a Shelvin Mack type of player if we had to. Even so, you can’t start a guy at the 2 who is that offensively deficient. If John Johnson or J.J. Moore had the same 6 shots that Wright had, we are looking at a 15-point game, and both of those guys can hold their own at the defensive end as well. Cameron looks like he could be a great defender, I am very impressed with his defensive skills, but he shouldn’t be put in a situation where he has to take 6 shots unless they are all layups.
Lastly, I want to mention John Johnson. He is slowly becoming a favorite player of mine. He came out slightly timid to start, but boy did he play well. This dude can create his own shot and flat out stroke. He handled the ball nicely and had a few beautiful passes as well. I think the time that Johnson and others will get while Woodall is out is going to pay off huge when the Calendar flips to 2012. Although Woodall being hurt is unfortunate, I there is a great opportunity for guys to get some quality minutes, gain some confidence and showcase their skills before conference play.
Overall I think this game was a big step in the right direction and gave us a glimpse of what we are capable of this season.