Early in the game against Syracuse, Doris Burke of ESPN praised the Pittsburgh Panthers (20-5, 8-4) for how active they were on the offensive end of the floor against the 2-3 zone of the Orangemen. I believe that Burke brings a lot to the game with her sideline reporting and her color commentary. Her comment was spot-on, but Pitt fans have seen the team begin most games active on the offensive end.
Unfortunately, those same fans know that the activity dwindles over the course of the game, and becomes non-existent by the end. I recently wrote an article about how the Panthers were struggling to effectively use screens in two of their three most recent loses (Duke & Virginia).
Pitt doesn’t have elite talent, an issue I will tackle in a later article, so they rely on precise execution with a splash of creativity on offense. Occasionally, they get bailed out by senior forward Lamar Patterson, but that well has mostly dried up at this point.
Syracuse didn’t defend above the 3-point line on Wednesday because the Panthers aren’t a team that can consistently hurt anyone from the outside. Furthermore, sinking back in the zone prevented Pitt from delivering easy passes into the high-post, which they abused quite a bit in their first meeting.
The Panthers adjusted: rather than position someone in the high-post, Pitt elected to flash someone into the high-post. Who better to take on that responsibility than freshman forward Jamel Artis.
Against the 2-3 zone, he flashed into the high-post from the weak-side elbow area, as the ball rotated from the opposite wing to the top of the circle. Patterson passed the ball to Artis between the two defenders at the top of the zone, and Artis caught the ball and wisely faced the basket.
The ball rotation stretched the defense, and the movement by Artis into the high-post forced the defense to collapse. With sophomore point guard James Robinson and junior guard Cameron Wright on each wing, the corners of the zone played farther up. The Orangemen were forced to decide between conceding a 16-foot jumper, or challenge Artis and risk him passing to senior forward Talib Zanna in the short corner for a dunk/layup.
He also could have kicked the ball out to Robinson or Wright for a 3-point attempt – probably not a good idea for Wright. The point: there were a lot of possibilities that resulted from good spacing, ball movement, and player activity. But what happened to that at the end of the game?
Pitt didn’t make a field goal from the 6:17 mark until the 1:56 mark in the second half. Granted, they increased their lead from 48 – 45 to 54 – 48 over that span. Still, they launched four bricks from beyond the arc over that stretch, and only attempted one two-point field goal – Artis was fouled after an offensive board and made both FTs.
That’s not very good offense for a team that came into the game averaging 4.79 triples per game on 13.83 attempts per game. Even the two Patterson 3-pointers earlier in the half were a result of nothing happening in the half court.
The Panthers didn’t make a field goal in the last seven minutes of the game against Virginia either, sans the 6th triple of the year by Wright. Late in games, the one-guy-dribbling-four-guys-
Patterson is the one guy dribbling, and honestly, that’s the guy you want with the ball late in games. Although, Patterson is at his best when the defense breaks down and he finds guys in scoring position with his incredible court vision. However, defenses don’t generally break down when one guy pounds the ball while no one else moves.
Burke was right; Pitt was very active against the 2-3 zone of Syracuse to start the game. If you’re a fan of the Panthers, I am sure you would much rather see them active throughout the game, or the very least, at the end. For now, we only get flashes of the potential this Pitt team has on the offensive side of the ball. If they want to be taken seriously, they’ll have to do more than that.