Robbie: Zanna poured in 16 points in Pitt's first meeting against Cinci so maybe it's a good matchup for him. Do you see this as a potential big-game for him?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not sure about that. He did score 16 the first time, so maybe he'll have some good vibes heading into the game, but I worry about his psyche. He does not look confident around the hoop. Some of those missed layups were so far off it was alarming. He just has to go up strong and make his free throws if he is fouled. I think his struggles at the line are seeping into his low post game because it does not look like he wants to get fouled. Would be nice to see him break out vs. the Bearcats, but I wouldn't count on it.
Scott: I know Jamie Dixon is committed to the 10 man rotation but it seems like he cannot make up his mind between Cam Wright and Durand Johnson during recent games?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, Jamie is committed to the 10-man rotation. I don't think it's so much Wright vs. Johnson as much as it's been hard for Dixon to play Johnson a lot because Lamar Patterson has been playing so well in front of him at small forward. Sometimes, it's Zeigler vs. Wright for minutes. That's what it was a couple of weeks ago when Wright was having a hard time getting on the court. But ever since not playing Wright in the Providence game, Dixon has been committed to playing him. He believes the team is better with Wright getting minutes because he makes them a better defensive team. And as I wrote about on Wednesday, this team is all about defense and rebounding right now.
Squire: Ray, any chance with Zana's struggles that Dixon plays Patterson more at the 4 & get Johnson more time?
Ray Fittipaldo: I suppose it's an option, but why would Dixon want to screw with Patterson now when he's playing so well at small forward. I see what you're getting at. Dixon needs better production from his power forward spot, but I think it might be up to Zann and JJ Moore to work that out. What has been lost amid Zanna's struggles is Moore's inability to push him and earn more playing time. Moore has done some good things here and there, but it doesn't seem like Dixon is willing to give him more minutes and that's surprising because there has been ample opportunity during Zanna's slump.
Scott: Any chance of Trey Zeigler replacing James Robinson in the starting lineup and Woodall moving back to traditional PG with emergence of Zeigler?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not at this point. I know Zeigler is getting some of the minutes Robinson had been playing earlier in the Big East schedule, but Robinson is very solid. He does not turn the ball over and does a decent job getting the Panthers into their offensive sets. Plus, I think he's probably still ahead of Zeigler as a defender, although not by as much as he was earlier in the year. Zeigler has improved a bunch as a defender. I think it's more likely that Zeigler simply will spend more time coming off the bench when Robinson is not having a good game. Zeigler still struggles with turnovers, too, which I believe is one of the reasons he didn't earn a starting job over Robinson to begin with.
Robbie: Adams is getting better every game. I'd love to hear what he has to say after games, but why is the team really trying to limit his contact with the media?
Ray Fittipaldo: Adams was requested after the Seton Hall game and did not do media. I'm not sure why he is being shielded from the media. He is an engaging personality. I have been told he is not a fan of doing it, but it would serve him well in the future. They have something called open locker rooms in the NBA and players have to deal with questions from reporters before and after games. I agree with you, but suppose there is a part of me that understands he is still getting used to things in a new country.
Scott: If Pitt can go 2-1 in their next 3 games they have 4 wins or games they will be favored, depending on how they do in the Big East tournament what is the highest seed you see PITT getting in March Madness?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, I'm looking forward to these next three games because Cincinnati and Marquette already won at Pitt this season and Notre Dame has had Pitt's number in recent years. So while you're wondering about the NCAA seed I am aware of the very real possibility that Pitt can be 7-7 after this stretch. But if the Panthers win two of three in this stretch I'd say they could earn as high as a No. 4 or 5 seed if they take care of business vs. the final four teams on their schedule. If they go 1-2 in this stretch they're probably looking at a No. 6 or 7 seed, also provided they win those final four regular-season games.
Robbie: What's the key for Pitt to beating Cinci? They have to make at least one 3FG which they couldn't do last time, and maybe out-rebound them as well? Cinci is coming off a loss so maybe they aren't as confident as before.
Ray Fittipaldo: Cincinnati lost last night at Providence, 54-50. The Bearcats shot 37 percent. They had been playing well, so that game might be an aberration. For me, it's all about defending and rebounding. In the first game, Cincinnati won the battle of the boards by five and the Bearcats dominated the glass in the second half. Plus, Pitt could not defend Sean Kilpatrick or Cashmere Wright. So they have to do a better job in both areas. Yes, a better offensive showing, especially from the 3-point line, is desired, but Pitt has shown it can win ugly without a good offense.
Jonathan: Ray, looking ahead in the future, we lose Dante Taylor this year and have not a ton of depth at the 4 and 5. Next year we really only have Adams and Zanna. Do you know if they are trying to go after a JUCO center or is there a chance we can see a smaller lineup next year with the possibility of Moore playing the 4?
Ray Fittipaldo: Hard to see Jamie wanting to play with a smaller lineup because he has made a living beating people up with bigger lineups over the years. So for that reason I think they'll look at the JUCO ranks or try to line up a late signee. You might have situation next season where Zanna will have to play a lot of minutes as the power forward and backup center, though. That would mean more playing time for JJ Moore, which might not be a bad thing. More than anything, though, I think they're hoping new recruit Mike Young is good enough to play some minutes as a backup center or power forward. He is 6-8, but I have no idea if he'll be ready to contribute.
Squire: I know it's hard at this point, but, do you get a feel from being around the team that Adams will be back? I think it's obvious, even with his recent play, he needs more time but he could be a top 20 pick.
Ray Fittipaldo: He has said he does not want to leave after this season. At this point, I'll take him at his word, but I know he will look at it and Pitt will help him evaluate his options after the season. But to answer your question, he does not appear to be in a hurry to leave.
Scott: What is the name or scheme of PITT's offense? I know it is a lot of cycling and replacing at the top of the paint before they get into it. Is it just fist or any special name or strategy behind. I know Jamie Dixon has been running the same thing for most of his time here at PITT
Ray Fittipaldo: It's a motion offense. There are no complaints about it when the Panthers are playing well and scoring lots of points, but there has been plenty of debate when the shots aren't falling with as much frequency. From someone who has covered the team for 10 years, I'd say it has more to do with offensive talent than any major schematic issues. Also, Pitt depends on offensive rebounding a lot in this offense and the post players have not done a very good job of scoring points off their rebounds this season. Dixon has mentioned this as something that troubles him about the offense.
Tom: Are Zanna & Adams outside shots legitimate? What do you see during practice? Does Jamie want those shots?
Ray Fittipaldo: Zanna was knocking down that mid-range jumper with regularity in the non-conference schedule. It hasn't been falling as much in Big East play. But I think the coaches are OK with Zanna taking an outside shot as long as it's not contested and within the flow of the offense. Adams has not taken many outside shots. I think he took one or two vs. Syracuse because of the 2-3 zone. He doesn't have a bad stroke, but I think Dixon is much comfortable with him shooting layups than jumpers.
Andrew: If Pitt beats Cincy on Saturday, how far do they move up in the rankings?
Ray Fittipaldo: Depends on which teams lose over the weekend, of course, but I could see a move from No. 23 to 19 or 20, maybe higher if some other teams lose. More important would be the RPI jump. Beating a good team on the road would be a big boost for the RPI.
Scott: When will the FT shooting problem be solved? It is getting old and has been there problem for years now. Does Jamie Dixon need to spend more time on it in practice or is that just the way his teams play? Big games are and have been decided by FT shooting. As s fan besides Woodall and JJ and maybe Robinson I am not comfortable with anyone shooting to win or tie a game. Lamar Patterson has been awful and Steven Adams is slowly improving. Is it being addressed?
Ray Fittipaldo: It is being addressed every day in practice. Players are running before free throw attempts in practice to simulate game conditions. They are running for missing free throws in practice. Dixon has said over and over again that most of his players shoot well in practice, but for whatever reason there is not a carryover into games. The head-scratching aspect is how so many guards are shooting a poor percentage. Cam Wright is about 50 percent and Trey Zeigler is around 55 percent. That's way too low for guards. Most big guys have problems with free throws. I'm not sure why the guards are having such a tough time.
Nester: Looking at the PF situation now, how much did the Birch situation hurt the team this year & years to come? Don't forget Pitt lost the kid at Texas now once Birch came a year early.
Ray Fittipaldo: Good point. Jaylen Bond was the player DIxon had to cut loose when Birch decided to reclassify and come to Pitt a year early. I haven't checked the stats recently, but I don't think Bond is having a great year for the Longhorns. I could be wrong. I know Birch is struggling with UNLV. I think he had six points last night and has scored in double figures once in the past five or six games. BUt your point is well-taken. Jamie had a plan in place and that plan was disrupted twice by Birch -- first when he decided to reclassify and again when he decided to transfer two months into his first college season.
Tom: Who is Adams competing against for freshman of the year? Who's your top newcomer of the year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Good question. Adams was the preseason Big East player of the year, but I am quite sure other freshmen have put up better stats, so I don't think Adams is in line for the postseason award. Off the top of my head I am drawing a blank on who those players are, though. Jerami Grant is playing a lot for Syracuse now. Maybe some readers can help me out with a few other freshmen who are playing well.
Scott: Speaking of Khem Birch and Jaylen Bond, how good and what would a lineup and a rotation look like if these guys all stayed with Adams too? I realize it is not realistic and guys transfer for more playing time but with Birch and Adams in the same front court, sky the limit?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, one or the other would have come. So if Birch was here, I think he'd be starting and Zanna would be his backup even though Birch is inconsistent. It would have been a really good defensive lineup from a shot-blocking perspective. If Birch did not come and Bond did, I'd say Zanna is still the starter and Bond his backup. But I write that never having seen Bond play.
Robbie: JaKarr Sampson, St. John's, 14.5 PPG is probably the leading candidate
Ray Fittipaldo: There you go.
Scott: If I wanted to find footage or the full game of the PITT game vs. Duke 5 years where would be the best place to look? I was at that game and would love a copy and hard to find clips or anything even on youtube Any advice?
Ray Fittipaldo: ESPN might have it because they broadcast it. I am sure Pitt has it too somewhere in their vaults. The coaches tape every game for scouting purposes. There are two places to start.
Scott: Can you talk of Lamar Patterson's improvement over the course of the season to date? I kmow it is a deep team with plenty of scoring options and he doesnt have to look for his shot every night but he has come a long way as a leader on this team
Ray Fittipaldo: He's been very good lately. Had a double-double vs. Seton Hall. I think the special thing about Patterson is his ability to score and pass and rebound. He's one of those guys who is going to get a triple-double some day because he is so adept at each. He's 6 feet 5 and he grabbed 10 rebounds in that Seton Hall game. I think he came close to getting a triple-double in that win over Oklahoma State last year. I would not be surprised at all if he got one this season.
Squire: Pitt has always seemed to be star player away from making a final four. All the years youcovered the team do you remember a name of a guy who Pitt almost got who turned out to be a star? For instance, I heard they were close on Michael Beasley the year he signed.
Ray Fittipaldo: Not off the top of my head. Plus, I don;t know what you mean as a star player. Montrezl Harrell was close to signing with Pitt this summer, but he went to Louisville instead. And he's playing great for the Cardinals. Sometimes, it's not the star player who puts you over the top, it's the guy who fits in your system and would have made your team better. Harrell would have been a nice fit on this Pitt team.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again same time next week.
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