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One eyed mike: Most likely Pitt alumnus to be ejected from a game.
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good question. I remember a game a few years back at the Civic Arena, a game between Pitt and Duquesne. Jerry Olsavsky was either reprimanded by an official or tossed out. I cannot remember the details. Olsavsky of course played LB at Pitt. As far as basketball alums go, I'll go with Demetrius Gore. I don't think he'd have a problem yelling at an official. Then again, I haven't seen Gore around for some time.
Matt: After the embarrassing loss to WVU, I expected so much more against USF but was sadly disappointed. Has this team quit on Dixon?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think so. Dixon was on the Big East teleconference today. He mentioned that Tray Woodall was sick for the USF game and had a setback with his hip injury. Didn't sound major. I think he'll play Sunday, but that explains why he was so ineffective against the Bulls. He also mentioned how Nasir Robinson missed some practice time this week becaus he got his knee drained. For Dixon, it's a big deal when guys miss practice time with injuries because he likes to get his players playing a certain way in practice and carry it over into games. With so many injuries this season it has kind of wreaked havoc with the way he likes to do things. I'm not making excuses for him, but I want to give you some insight.
JohnT: The game on Sunday was the low point of the season in my opinion. It was clear that the players quit and they are not responding to JD at this point. How could this happen? A few comments about the current situation. Why not play Gilbert when they are in zone defense. He can do no worse than Zanna or Taylor and it has to be clear to everyone that 6'5" forwards cant get the job done in the Big East. Also, any chance Barry R. returns to a coaching staff in need of big help?
Ray Fittipaldo: Gilbert has played some in recent games, but only when there is foul trouble. I don't think you're seeing a youth movement because Jamie truly feels he can get this team playing at a higher level and he wants to give this group every opportunity to win a bunch of games at the Big East tournament. I know it seems unlikely the way they're playing, but he believes the team can turn it around. If he was playing young guys like Gilbert more it would be a sign to me that he has thrown in the towel this season and is building for the future. So while it may seem like the players are quitting on Dixon, i can tell you Dixon has not quit on them. He's trying to win games.
patt: have the wheels officially fallen off for the season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Three games and the Big East tournament remain. I don't see a turnaround coming, but Dixon is still a believer. We shall see. They got to practice a lot this week, but some guys were out, so I don't know if Dixon got as much out of the off week as he hoped. We'll see Sunday vs. Louisville.
Bob from Sacramento: What's the deal with cam wright it seemed like he was turning a corner around the first wvu game, but now it seems like he's doing nothing again
Ray Fittipaldo: He's not getting much playing time. JJ Moore had the hot hand vs. USF and Dixon rode him. I suspect Dixon will continue to ride Moore because he has been one of the team's more consistent scorers as they go through this offensive slump. Dixon also has been going to John Johnson rather than Wright, who is offensively challenged at this point in his career. When the team is scoring in the 40s and 50s, going to Wright isn't a really good prescription for an ailing offense. Johnson is not a good defender, but at least he brings something to the table from an offensive perspective.
chicago_pitt_fan: not sure if i missed your article on whether this team underachieved or was overrated, but what do you think? i tend to think we were overrated.....and overachieved the past couple of years
Ray Fittipaldo: It's a tough question. I lean toward underachieving because Dixon's team showed an ability to overcome injuries in 2007-08 and 2009-10. Why was it different this season? I think a couple of things: Isaiah Epps was not ready to assume the point guard duties when Tray Woodall got injured, and Ashton Gibbs was forced to play out of position. Also, those other teams had very good post defense and great post offense in 07-08 when DeJuan Blair was here. So I say underachieved only because Dixon maybe overachieved in those other seasons. Make sense. Dixon's great coaching jobs in 07-08 and 09-10 spoiled us to a certain degree and made the expectations all that much higher. Just my opinion. I know some others shared their thoughts on the blog.
Matt: Considering that this season is over barring a Water into wine miracle at the Big East Tournament, should Dixon just focus on playing the young guys (Johnson, Wright and Moore) and tell Gibbs thanks for nothing this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: That won't happen. Gibbs and Robinson have done too much for this program for Dixon to do that. And as I mentioned above, he still believes in this team.
Uncle jerry: Can you either confirm or deny the rumors that pauley zeise was working behind the scenes and was indeed the driving force that got temple into the big east
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, but now he has to try to get the Owls to move to the ACC to join Pitt and Florida State, his other favorite team.
popeye: I'm a little disappointed in gilbert this year, he kind of reminds me of gary mcghee when he was a freshman, big, clumsey, hustler, gets a lot of fouls, i was expecting a little more what do you think
Ray Fittipaldo: I had heard he was a big project from an offensive standpoint so I am not surprised that he hasn't played all that much. Quite frankly, he's played so few minutes I've had a hard time forming an opinion one way or the other.
Matt: In your opinion, would it have been better if Gibbs had not returned? It seems that he has not been the same player all season and, personally, I am tired of the Woodall/point guard excuse for his lack of leadership, heart and example to his teammates.
Ray Fittipaldo: I was concerned from the beginning of the season that Gibbs would try to impress NBA scouts with his ball handling and driving ability because he was told those things were holding him back from getting drafted. And my fears were realized. He has passed up a lot of open shots in an attempt to get to the basket. And he is almost never successful driving the ball to the hoop. So yes, I had concerns, but I maintain this team would be in a worse situation without him. Even though he has disappointed this season he is still the top scorer. True, others might have stepped up, but saying a bench player could have stepped up and averaged 15 a game like he is is saying a bit much in my opinion.
JohnT: I agree with you and also feel that JD hasn't quit on this team but it is very clear that whatever he is doing isnt working. Also, JJ Moore is playing at least as good as LP or NR and creates much more excitement when he is in the game. He deserves more minutes and what about the coaching staff for next year, any changes coming?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm writing about JJ Moore in tomorrow's paper. Asked Dixon about him today. They've been trying to get him to make his first basket be a layup rather than a jump shot. It's been a big point of emphasis. I think you saw the light go on for JJ vs. USF. He drove to the hoop and got to the foul line for some easy points. Then he had some swagger to his game and had those four or five dunks in transition that sparked the team. I think he is getting into a comfort zone. I asked Dixon about next season as far as getting Moore and Patterson on the court at the same time, and he said he has anticipated that both can play shooting guard. They have played together this year, but mostly with Patterson at power forward. Pitt will need a shooting guard with Gibbs graduating this year, so maybe Moore or Patterson is an option if you don't want to go with John Johnson.
Matt: Any news on the recruiting front? In other words, any hope for next year at the power forward position?
Ray Fittipaldo: They are looking at power forwards, but as I have said before they are hard to come by at this time of the year. Most of the good ones were snatched up in the fall signing period. Maybe Dixon can pull a rabbit out of his hat and get another Ontario Lett or Antonio Graves, Those two guys were signed very late -- late summer, I think -- and both had big impacts. We shall see.
JohnT: I couldn't agree more with what Matt just said. It is clear that Gibbs has blocked out anything JD says to him!
CW BOB: why didn't jamie bring barry rohrssen back
Ray Fittipaldo: I never asked Jamie about that specifically, but if I had to guess it was because the team already has a recruiter in the NYC/NJ area with Brandin Knight, and he wanted to maintain his ties to the New England Prep school scene. Pat Skerry and Tom Herrion had good connections up there. Bill Barton does too.
CW BOB: Zanna usually loses the tip off, if he can start winning that i think this team could win more games
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, that's the ticket.
CW jory: how healthy is woodall
Ray Fittipaldo: He still has pain in the hip/groin area. He takes a shot before every game. I see him wincing at times on the court. Jamie said the hip was giving him some problems in the USF game. He's not 100 percent healthy, let's put it that way.
chicago_pitt_fan: what should realistic expectations be going into next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'd say middle of the pack in the Big East. Anywhere from 6th to 12th would be a good guess. I think Steve Adams will help solidify things in the middle. Dixon likes to play inside-out and having a consistent lowpost presence will make the team a lot better. On the other hand, I don't think this team gets much better defensively on the perimeter. Woodall is average as a defender. John Johnson is below average. Patterson is average at best as a defender. I don't think it will be as bad as this year, but I wouldn't make any bets about a Big East championship either.
upj89: Any evolving news on the recruiting front? If you had to guess, would you speculate they'd add a recruit or 2? Also, very nice to see JJ having success & to see his much needed energy, here's to hoping that he keeps it up with tons of offseason shooting practice and a lot of one on one to push him on his handle.
Ray Fittipaldo: Nothing to report on the recruiting front. Things will heat up in April for the spring signing period. I think they'd like to fill Birch's scholarship, but I don't know if there are any plans of adding beyond that.
JeremyHolmes: Has Ashton Gibbs quit? If you look at his language it certainly appears that way.
Ray Fittipaldo: People are making those judgments, but I think a lot of what you see is frustration. He obviously was a very good player in a system when he was surrounded by other good players. When other good players are not around his game suffered. He was a good fit for Jamie's system, but in some ways the coaches failed him by not putting the same types of players around him as a senior. Again, I don't want to make excuses for anyone, but I always leave it to someone else to say whether a player quit. That's quite a statement to make of an athlete who works as hard as these guys do at their craft.
onions: Could this be the end of the pitt glory years, i mean look at ucla they haven't been the same since they made 3 straight final fours, should jamie just resign now?
Ray Fittipaldo: Pitt had a good run, but the Panthers are going to be in a new league by 2013-14. There will be a transition there whether people want to admit it or not. I just hope people enjoyed what Jamie did for nine years. I'm not saying Pitt can't back to that level, but he was the most successful coach (in the regular season) in the toughest conference for almost a decade. Appreciate it for what it was -- a great feat.
KelliTaylor: I took aways some positives from the USF game. I obviously liked what i saw from Moore but I thought John Johnson had a great game and I saw more aggressiveness out of Epps than I saw all year. Your thoughts.
Ray Fittipaldo: Moore was the biggest bright spot. I thought the only reason Epps played was because Woodall had two early fouls. I don't think he played at that well to be honest. Johnson has been good for most of the season in his role. I think he'll have an opportunity for a lot of playing time next season, but he has to improve a ton on defense for that to happen.
Eric: Ray your an outstanding writer, best writer on staff, what every their paying you they should double it, make that triple. has it been frustrating for you covering the team this year, it must be depressing being around those guys
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks, Eric. The check's in the mail. In some ways it's harder to cover a losing team but in other ways it makes for better stories. There were some good stories to come out of the Birch departure. His prep school coach gave good insights into his situation. Talked to Talib Zanna about International players having a hard time getting used to Pitt's system and culture. That was another eye opening story for me.
JohnT: Ray your comment about the coaches failing Gibbs might be right on target!
Yonco: Do you agree that it doesn't really make sense for the Zoo to count down the shot clock when the Panthers are on offense? Seems to me that really helps the defense to know exactly when we'll shoot. I like what they do in Cameron by counting down the wrong numbers when the opposing team is on offense. Often forces a badly timed shot...
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think it helps either way. Would you rather have the team be unaware of the clock? I've seen that happen too often.
Yonco: Have you noticed a problem on this team with telegraphing their passes? I've never seen a team at this level stare down where they're going to pass it and then get a turnover. Seems that this team is a lot more careless with the ball than any team I can remember in the Howland/ Dixon resurgence era...
Ray Fittipaldo: Good call, Yonco. I think Woodall has a tendency to throw lazy passes. Whether they're telegraphed or not, I don't know. But yes, this is the most careless team with the ball that I have ever covered at Pitt and this is my ninth year on the beat. This is not the most careless team I have ever covered, though. I covered Duquesne from 1999-2002. Now that was bad basketball.
Kurt: How does next year's recruiting class look, can we get back on top with the class? Are we in trouble for the next couple of years?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's going to be highly ranked because Steve Adams is a top 10 player and James Robinson is a top 50 player. Adams will start right away and should do well. I don't see Robinson playing mre than 10 minutes a game as Woodall's backup, but he'll learn on the job and be ready as a sophomore. But back on top? I don't know about that. As I have said, this team has some big issues with defending, and I just don't see it getting much better next season.
Matt: Why is the defense so bad?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it starts with the post players. Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna are smallish and not all that strong. But the perimeter has been problematic all season as well. Gibbs is well below average. I am hoping John Johnson gets better and that this was just him learning as a freshman. I've seen him called for more hand-checking that any other player I can remember in recent years. He doesn't stay in front of his man and he's more athletic than Gibbs. I don't get it. He should be better than he is right now. I think it's just personnel related. These guys are better offensive players than guys like Julius Page and some others from the past, but they're not good defensive players. Maybe they have to get back to that.
Yonco: I watch the ACC pretty closely. I really think there is more similarity between it and the Big East than most people realize. Games tend to be pretty physical and grinding below the Duke-UNC level. Any idea if Pitt is planning for the future in a way that suggests that they either agree or disagree with my assessment?
Ray Fittipaldo: Whenever I have asked about the transition to the ACC Dixon always says he is concentrating on winning games at present and that means preparing for Big East foes. I suppose I will get a more honest assessment from him once we know exactly when Pitt will make the move. I watch some ACC as well, and it strikes me that players are a little more athletic on the whole in that league, but the post play is not as physical as the Big East.
Ray Fittipaldo: OK, thanks for all the questions this week. We'll do it again next Thursday at the same time.
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