'Pete' Points - Pitt Frontcourt Players On the Move Against Penn State

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

It's the little things that the Pittsburgh Panthers (8-0) frontcourt players did Tuesday night that allowed the Panthers to prevail over the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-3).

This is the first edition of 'Pete' Points.  In these articles, I am going to breakdown an offensive and/or defensive set or two that I enjoyed while watching the most recent Pittsburgh Panthers game.  Today, I want to talk about how impressed I was by the activity of the frontcourt players in the Panthers' 78 - 69 win over the Penn State Nittany Lions on Tuesday night.

With apologies to senior forward Lamar Patterson and probably freshman point guard Josh Newkirk, Pitt doesn't possess a guy who can take their man off the dribble and get to the basket at will.  The Panthers struggled in this area against PSU.  They weren't particularly sharp on the offensive end, especially in the first half.  Pitt was, however, able to generate offense because of how active their frontcourt players were.

X's and O's:

- At the 15:26 mark in the first half, sophomore forward Durand Johnson badly missed a two-point jumper from the right elbow that didn't hit the rim. Heading into the game, Johnson was shooting exactly 0% on his two-point jumpers this season, so it wasn't an ideal look for him. However, he got the open look due to some creativity by the Panthers on offense.

Johnson was initially positioned on the right block while freshman forward Michael Young was positioned in the right high-post area. As sophomore point guard James Robinson brought the ball up to the left wing, Young went towards the right block to set a down-screen for Johnson who was making his way towards the right elbow.

The Penn State big got caught going with Young for a second too long, while the guard assigned to Johnson got picked around the mid-post area by Young. While Johnson missed the attempt badly, inverting where the players normally begin their offensive sets was "successful" largely because of the Pitt frontcourt player's ability to time their off-ball screens. In this particular instance, it was Young.

- In the first half, PSU doubled Patterson coming out of every high screen-and-roll with senior forward Talib Zanna. Patterson was unable to find Zanna when he slipped screens in obvious over-play situations. He also wasn't able to find him in side pick-and-rolls in which Zanna would roll to the short-corner.

In the second half, Patterson again was doubled coming out of the screen-and-roll, however, he found Zanna for a dunk and a foul. This was mostly a successful play because Penn State sophomore forward Brandon Taylor didn't show on the screen, and no one went with Zanna who had slipped to the right block. Still, in the first half Patterson wasn't looking for Zanna in those situations, but they connected twice in the second half for easy baskets - Zanna was fouled on both.

Observations:

- I liked how the Panthers ran some pick-roll-and-replace between the guard dribbling and both frontcourt players in the first half. The initial screener was able to get deep position around the basket after setting the first screen, as the other frontcourt player moved to the high-post area to set a new ball-screen. The ball moved to the wing and into the post rather easily from there.

- PSU senior guard Tim Frazier was relentless attacking the basket. I didn't think Pitt did a great job defending him in pick-and-roll situations. The Panthers really needed to go under the screens to encourage him to shoot more triples - Frazier entered the game shooting just 28% on three-pointers.  The Pitt frontcourt players should have just sunk into the paint, to prevent Frazier from turning the corner on the big who tried hedging.

I've only been able to watch a handful of the Panthers games this season. Breaking down a handful of offensive sets doesn't require extensive knowledge of any team. With that said, watching more games will help identify trends, which usually enhances the breakdowns as well as the observations - something I hope to accomplish in the future.

- Stats courtesy of Hoops-Math.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz

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