Poll Question: What will Pitt's record be over the final four games of the regular season? 4-0 (14%) 3-1 (86%) 2-2
(0%) 1-3 (0%) 0-4 (0%)
Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to the Pitt basketball chat. Post your questions and we'll get under way.
chicago_pitt_fan: so who is the real pitt team? the one who won seven of eight or the dis-spirited team who lost the last two?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's the million dollar question. When Pitt won seven of eight it, the Panthers for the most part were not blowing teams out. They were finding ways to win close games. DePaul was the only game that was out of hand. The others, even against a bad team like Seton Hall, were close deep into the second half. For whatever reason, the Panthers got away from doing the little things that added up in all of those wins. They have stopped rebounding. The defense has been subpar and the offense against Notre Dame was atrocious. This team has to get back to Jamie Dixon's formula of rebounding, defending and running efficient offense. If they do there they can be a tough out in the NCAA tournament. But if they keep playing the way they did vs. Marquette and Notre Dame I'm not sure they'll even make it into the big dance.
Robbie: How did Dixon expect to out-rebound Notre Dame's Knight/Cooley by playing JJ Moore at the 4? I will continue to say Taylor/Adams need to be on the floor at the same time to control the boards in a matchup like that. It worked for ND, but Dixon for whatever reason believes Moore can guard one of those guys inside?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon has said he has no plans to play Adams and Taylor together, but the way Talib Zanna is slumping I'm not going to rule anything out. The coaches have five days between games this week and I'm sure they are searching for ways for the team to be more effective. Zanna's slump is very troubling. He helped the team early on, but he has been dragging it down of late. Even if the coaches bench him for a while, he's still going to garner a fair amount of minutes. As far as Moore at the four goes, Dixon knows this is not a good rebounding lineup, but Moore does provide some outside shooting ability. He hasn't been shooting it well from the outside, but in comparison to Zanna anything is looking better to the coaches right about now.
Scott: Why is Cam Wright in the game when PITT is down and need scoring? I am a huge Wright fan and have definitley seen improvement, but he is known for his defense and his energy with an improvement jumpshot. I realize Durand Johnson was out but I'd rather have Zeigler or James Robinson in there with Woodall to provide some more scoring while losing or need points
Ray Fittipaldo: I agree with you to a point. I wasn't so much wondering why he was in the game, but it did cross my mind why he was taking so many shots. He took six shots in that game. Lamar Patterson took five, and he played about 10 more minutes. Pitt needed Patterson to shoot more in that game and Wright and Robinson and Moore to shoot less in my opinion. Of all the players on the roster, Patterson has to be more assertive and stop deferring to teammates. He and Woodall are the two best offensive players on the team and they have to play like it for Pitt to win.
Scott: After Tray Woodall, who is the leader or next option on this team? Lamar has played well in the Big East, Talib has slumped, JJ Moore is inconsistent, and Steven Adams is an improving freshmen. Does PITT need leaders to step or continue to rely on different guys every night in the 10 man rotation?
Ray Fittipaldo: I suppose it has to be Lamar, a fourth-year junior, but as I mentioned in the previous answer, he has to take charge more often. I know he picked up two first-half fouls in the Notre Dame game, but he had plenty of opportunities to shoot Pitt back into that game. He just hesitated in pulling the trigger for some reason. He is an unselfish player, but Dixon has commented many times this season about getting some of his players to be more selfish. I think he is talking about Patterson when he says that. Adams is developing well, but he is a freshman and does not have a personality to lead at this point in his career.
Deano: Any word on why Durand Johnson didn't play against ND?
Ray Fittipaldo: I tweeted before the game that he was sent home with the stomach flu. I assume he'll be ready for St. John's with such a long break between games. I'll find out today at practice in a few hours.
Scott: Now does PITT have to go 4-0 in their last 4 games because of the 2 debacles in last 2 games?
Ray Fittipaldo: No, 2-2 will probably get the Panthers safely into the NCAA field. That would mean a 10-8 Big East record with really good victories against Syracuse and Georgetown and nice wins against Villanova and Cincinnati. Still, going 3-1 would leave no doubt. It's possible to go 3-1 or even 4-0 against St. John's, South Florida, Villanova and DePaul, but the Panthers could easily lose three out of four if they play the way they did in the past two games. I'm not even sure 42 points is good enough to beat South Florida and the Bulls are really bad this season.
Robbie: Talib Zanna has been in a "slump" since the beginning of conference play. At what point do we say that it's not a slump, he's just not as good as we originally thought this season.
Ray Fittipaldo: Fair point, Robbie. But what are the options? Do you play Moore and sacrifice rebounding for some better offense? Do you play Taylor at power forward even though he's never played there extensively in four years? Those seem like panic moves to me, and I don't see Jamie Dixon panicking after two losses. My guess is he'll try to rebuild this team's confidence by getting back to his formula of rebounding and defending. Zanna is the best option in that scenario. That being said, I would expect Zanna to continue to play starter's minutes if he continues to struggle. Zanna will play as much as he deserves to play.
Scott: Is this inconsistency a signs of things to come or can we can expect PITT to play PITT basketball and PITT defense and turn it around? That loss to ND is unacceptable and things have to change. They need to finish games
Ray Fittipaldo: This team showed signs of being a very good defensive team during the stretch when they won seven of eight. GO back and look at some of the opposing shooting percentages. The players are capable of buying into that defense-first concept. I actually think the bad offense got the players discouraged and led to Notre Dame shooting such a high percentage in the second half Monday night. In the first half, the Irish only shot something like 24 percent. I know some of that was their own undoing, but the Panthers were playing pretty well defensively for long stretches of the first half. Defense fuels this team. It leads to transition offense, which they need because the half-court offense has been pretty mediocre all year.
Mark: What's your opinion on the 10 man rotation? Do you think it's not allowing players like Woodall and Patterson to get into a flow on offense?
Ray Fittipaldo: Jamie Dixon has said it's what works for this team. He has about 300 more victories than I do, so I'll take his word for it. I will say that Patterson probably should have played more than 26 minutes vs. Notre Dame. Again, I know he had two fouls in the first half, but without Durand Johnson in that game, Dixon did not have many offensive options off the bench. Marquette is running an 11-man rotation and it's working for the Golden Eagles. They share first place with Syracuse and Georgetown. Teams play to their strengths and Dixon believes his depth is one of his biggest assets, so he's going to use it until he sees otherwise.
Scott: Does Steven Adams now jump ship suddenly with their recent play? I am a diehard PITT fan and have been but these last two games especially losing to ND at home up 16 is not good. IF this is a sign of things to come could he change his mind? I think he would stay for at least another year but he has got to be thinking about if the money is there and he could be a first round pick
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know what is going to happen as far as the NBA and Adams is concerned. But I can tell you Dixon and Adams share a close relationship stemming from his recruitment and Dixon's relationships with the Adams family. And I can tell you Adams showed no inclination about going to the NBA early when I spoke to him about it in the fall. I wish I could tell you more about how he feels now, but he's not doing much in terms of interviews.
Robbie: We can tip-toe around it, but Dixon did indeed get out-coached against ND. Dixon needed to change something, but he did what he always does and that's just stick to the original game-plan. Do you think Dixon's unwillingness to make in-game changes is a knock against him?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon has tried a number of things in recent weeks that are out of his comfort zone. He is playing more zone defense and he hates to do that because it takes away from his team's ability to rebound. He is playing the unconventional 10-man rotation when he had always played seven or eight. If you're talking about ways to get Notre Dame out of the burn offense it was simple. The Panthers had to get rebounds and not allow second possessions. Once Notre Dame got a lead in that game it was over because they were dominating the boards. The Panthers had to take more advantage of Notre Dame's slow start by being up by more than three at halftime of that game. I'm not defending Dixon, but he can't get out there and grab a rebound or hit a jump shot. It's up the players to execute and they failed miserably in their execution Monday night.
chicago_pitt_fan: why do you think pitt has lost their "edge" in playing in nyc? seems like we haven't beat the johnnies there in awhile and have certainly struggled in the be tourney more so than the early tenure of dixon
Ray Fittipaldo: Because Pitt was really, really good all those years they were competing for Big East tournament championships. Look at the records from those years and Pitt always had great regular seasons in addition to those deep tourney runs at MSG, except for 2008 when they lost Mike Cook for the season and Levance Fields for seven weeks. That team was 10-8 and won four games in four days at the Big East tourney to claim the second Big East tournament trophy for the school. These things tend to go in cycles. What has Notre Dame dominated Pitt in recent years? Why has Pitt dominated Syracuse? It's about matchups and coaches knowing how to exploit teams they are familiar with.
Scott: I am not questioning their defense, that is usually there most of the time, they need to score more, agreed. But to blow a 16 point lead at home for any quality team is unacceptable right? 2 good teams playing each other, PITT needed to bury ND at that point granted very early in the game but that cannot happen when you are a good team. I realize all teams have a bad game but...
Ray Fittipaldo: Agreed. Pitt had an opportunity to bury Notre Dame in the first 15 minutes of that game and failed to deliver the knockout blow. It's was anyone's game at halftime and that had to be a terrible feeling for the Panthers because they knew they had just blown a big lead. Maybe all it says is Notre Dame is better than Pitt. Before the season started, I am sure a lot of fans would have signed up for 10-8 and a return to the NCAA tournament. I, for one, thought that would be a good record back in October. I think we all got a little overexcited when they won seven of eight. The expectations rose, but maybe they weren't an elite Big East team all along. Maybe they beat the teams they were supposed to beat and rose up for a couple of big-time performances vs. Syracuse (a team they always beat) and Geotrgetown (another team they always seem to beat.).
Matt: Is Dixon's obsession with his half-court offense (pass the ball around the perimeter until there are 15 seconds left on the shot clock) restricting this team nad their athletic abilities?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not sure how much athletic ability this roster has in comparison to others in the Big East. I watch this team play offense and I see players incapable of getting by defenders. I think that's why there is so much passing around the perimeter. The guards cannot penetrate to create offense, so they are forced to set screens and pass to get open shots. Just my two cents, but I watch other teams and they have multiple players who can create offense and get by defenders. Marquette had about four guys who could do it. It's quite an effective way to play offense if you have it. Pitt does not.
Robbie: With the 10-man rotation I just feel like we should be seeing a lot more mixing and matching. Dixon will play a small lineup like Woodall-Wright-Zeigler-Moore-Taylor but not a big one like Woodall-Moore-Patterson-Taylor-Adams. Do you feel like sometimes Dixon's rotations are simply written in stone?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't. In fact, sometimes I look on the floor and see a combination that is unfamiliar and I wonder where the offense is going to come from. At one point against Notre Dame, if I am not mistaken, Dixon had a lineup of Robinson, Wright and Zeigler on the floor at the same time. I think it was the first half when Patterson was in foul trouble. If anything with the 10-man rotation, I think Dixon has to find a way to keep either Woodall or Patterson on the floor at all times because there just isn't much to hang your hat on when it comes to offense with the other players on this team.
J: People consider Dixon one of best coaches in America, but what has he done here, except make them a tourney team each year, which didn't happen last year and is in question this year?? No final fours, no championships, isn't that how we judge coaches??
Ray Fittipaldo: Sure it is and Dixon is the first to admit that his teams have come up short in the NCAA tournament. But remember it took Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun a while before they won their first national title or get to a Final Four. Boeheim was hired in 1976 and did not get to his first Final Four until 1986. Dixon was hired in 2003. Eventually, he does have to have more success in the NCAA tournament, but would you rather have a consistent program such as Pitt or, say, have a coach like Kelvin Sampson, who got to a Final Four but then got in trouble with the NCAA and was fired. And by getting into trouble, the basketball program at Oklahoma has been up-and-down since then. I think most people would choose consistency, but maybe I am wrong.
J: BTW Ray, Dixon loves the ten man rotation, that is not out of his comfort zone he said so himself in several interviews, do your research.
Ray Fittipaldo: He never had a 10-man rotation before in his tenure. Of course, he's going to say it's not out of his comfort zone. He's never done it. What do you expect him to say? Dixon has said he is doing the 10-man rotation out of necessity rather than luxury. If that's not out of his comfort zone then I think we need to redefine it.
Matt: Bottom line: Dixon is a good coach who mkaes the best out of limited talent. Unfortunately, he is not a great coach. To be so, he needs to recruit better, more athletic players. Why can't he do this?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon and his staff have been in on some talented players. Omar Calhoun comes to mind, but he decided to go to Connecticut. That has stuck with me. With all the troubles Connecticut was going through last season Calhoun still chose the Huskies even though they couldn't play in the NCAA tournament and there was turmoil galore up there. So I think a lot of it has to do with other programs and the success they have in the NCAA tournament and how they get players to the NBA. Pitt has done well in this regard, but not well enough when compared to Connecticut or Syracuse or Duke or North Carolina. I do think a Final Four or a national championship would go a long way in changing the perception of Pitt.
Mark: Thank you for making my original point. Either Woodall and Patterson need to be on the floor at all times. No reason why one or both of them shouldn't be averaging at least 32 to 35 minutes a game. I think Zeigler's a guy that needs more minutes also. He played his best when his minutes were up.
Ray Fittipaldo: You are correct about Zeigler. He is a guy who needs minutes to be effective. He is probably one player who is hurt by the 10-man rotation.
Robbie: We all question coaching after losses, but at the end of the day Dixon has won more games than any Big East coach in his tenure: "Over the last 12 years, Pitt has been the Big East Conference's leader in overall winning percentage (315-93, .772), league winning percentage (137-62, .688), Big East Championships (six), Big East Tournament wins (20) and NCAA Tournament appearances (10)."
Ray Fittipaldo: I see you read your games notes, Robbie. It is true, though.
Matt in Ann Arbor: I went to the Marquette game and the best thing about the game were the Brats!! Why did Lamar Patterson pass up so many shots, both against Marquette and Notre Dame?
Ray Fittipaldo: Great question. He is the one guy on this team who needs to be more assertive.
chicago_pitt_fan: who is the most important player down the stretch? the one you could say, as he goes, pitt goes? there are a lot of choices tehre....
Ray Fittipaldo: It's Woodall or Patterson, but I'll go with Patterson. I just think this team can take another step and in order to do that, Patterson has to become a bigger part of the offense every game. He cannot afford to score two points and defer to teammates the way he did vs. Notre Dame. He does not do this team any good by doing that.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again next week.
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