If you live by the three, you die by the three. Thankfully, the Pittsburgh Panthers (9-0) realized there wasn't a need to launch from beyond the arc on Friday night. Pitt enjoyed a 24-point margin in the paint (PITT: 54, LMU: 30). Those 54 points came in a variety of ways: transition baskets, put-backs, the frontcourt players doing work, and some beautiful weak-side cutting by the athletic wing players of the Panthers.
X's and O's:
- At the 10:04 mark in the second half, sophomore forward Durand Johnson received a nice pass while cutting to the rim from junior guard Cameron Wright for an easy dunk. While Pitt had guys cutting to the rim throughout the game, that particular play stood out because of who was involved.
Wright, used a screen by senior forward Talib Zanna to attack the middle of the LMU defense. Johnson cut to the basket from the left wing, took the pass from Wright, and made a nice acrobatic layup that gave the Panthers a 20-point lead. I love seeing Wright or Johnson cutting to the rim for passes like that because they are arguably the two most athletic players.
- The Lions attempted a full-court press and trapping scheme early in the second half. For the most part, Pitt had little trouble dealing with it. The ball wisely found it's way to sophomore point guard James Robinson, or senior forward Lamar Patterson.
At the 16:07 mark in the second half, Wright helped break the press by coming back to the ball around half court to relieve the pressure being applied to Robinson and Patterson. After he brought the ball across half court, he passed to Robinson and then cut to the basket.
He curled around a nice screen set by Zanna on the left block, came back out to the left elbow, received a pass from Robinson, and proceeded to hit a nice 15-footer. I love how Wright helped break the full-court press, and then cut to the basket as he realized the Lions defense was still trying to recover.
- The man-to-man defense of the Panthers was sharp for a majority of the night. At the 15:25 mark in the second half, LMU junior guard Chase Flint traveled while trying to attack from the left wing. The Lions were unsuccessful with their side pick-and-roll attempt as well as their high screen-and-roll attempt from just above the right elbow.
Robinson broke up both attempts with his stellar on-ball defense, never allowing him to find the screener. When the ball came to Flint late in the shot clock, Robinson faked as if he was going to do a hard close-out, which caused Flint to take a stutter step and commit the traveling violation. An outstanding individual effort, but the entire Pitt team took away a lot of passing lanes, which never allowed for the ball to get inside.
- In the first half, the Panthers went to a 2-3 zone twice by my count (couldn't stream until the 10:00 mark); LMU got baskets at the rim both times. At the 8:09 mark in the first half, Lions freshman forward Gabe Levin took a pass from sophomore forward Ben Dickinson who had positioned himself in the middle of the zone in the high-post.
Zanna came to challenge Dickinson, which allowed Levin to come baseline from the right short-corner and get an easy layup. Levin was again the recipient of an easy two points when PItt tried the 2-3 zone with a little under two minutes left in the first half.
This time, LMU senior guard Anthony Ireland was able to penetrate from the top of the circle which forced the defense to collapse, and he found Levin going baseline again from the right short-corner for a dunk. The zone is designed to keep players from driving to the rim, however, the Panthers allowed Ireland to penetrate through the top of the zone. I am not saying that Pitt shouldn't try different defensive schemes in these non-conference games, however, you'd like to see some indication that it might be successful later on.
Overall, a fantastic night for the Panthers, minus the 3-point shooting. The cutting by the athletic wings, and how quickly they got in transition was impressive the whole night. I can't remember a Pitt team quite like this, although, I have only been watching for the last 13 years. Given that the Panthers are moving to the up-and-down style of the ACC, I think they'll be well prepared come January.