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Pitt Basketball: Talib Zanna Returns

Talib Zanna had his first good game in nearly a month racking up 11 points in only 15 minutes against South Florida on Wednesday. 'What's the deal with Zanna, anyway?' is a question I've heard a lot in various forms this year.

Well, part of it hasn't exactly been Zanna's fault as his minutes have been cut significantly. But there is a common theme if you look at when he's had his most successful games this season.

I preface this by saying that we obviously shouldn't get too frustrated with Zanna (even though I've broken that rule myself numerous times this year). He's a redshirt freshman and that's extremely evident at times. The thing to keep in mind is that we've seen what Jamie Dixon can do with a player by the time they graduate. Gary McGhee and Brad Wanamaker are pretty good examples. Looking at Zanna in his first true season, he's far from one of the worst freshmen we've seen in recent memory - in fact, he's actually one of the better ones.

That said, his breakout games should be taken with a golf ball-sized grain of salt. Every time Zanna goes all DeJuan Blair on us, we like to point to those games as examples of him being a great freshman.' To refresh your memory, here are his best games of the season:

  • Tonight's game against South Florida (11 points/2 rebounds in 15 minutes)
  • Seton Hall (10 points/4 rebounds in 13 minutes)
  • North Florida (13 points/9 rebounds in 17 minutes)
  • Maryland (14 points/12 rebounds in 23 minutes)
  • Rhode Island (9 points/11 rebounds in 17 minutes)

See a pattern here? Zanna averaged nearly a double double in those games, but didn't exactly put up those numbers against Texas, Villanova, or Notre Dame. The best team in that group, Maryland, is 16-10 and has a good chance of being NIT-bound this season. 

Now, inthe games against quality opponents where Zanna's gotten minutes, he's struggled to make an impact. Averaging about 15 minutes in contests against Texas, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Duquesne, he's only contributed about three points and three rebounds per game.

And his struggles haven't been limited to only games against quality opponents. Zanna has played at least ten minutes in seven other games against American, Maryland Eastern Shore, Robert Morris, Illinois-Chicago, Penn, Rider, and Delaware State. In averaging about 17 minutes in those games, he averaged just under four points in four games.

Another common thread is that many of those games were early in the season and we'd like to think Zanna has improved after nearly a full year of games and going through Pitt's practices. But if he had progressed significantly, we probably would have seen a bit more of him this year.

This isn't to say Zanna isn't a good player and I think he'll be a major contributor by the time he's a junior. But he simply can't be counted on to contribute much the rest of the way this season. If Nasir Robinson gets into foul trouble in the NCAAs, Pitt will have a big void at power forward.