rico: whats the latest on the woodall injury
Ray Fittipaldo: Woodall went to the doctor on Tuesday, but Jamie Dixon did not have the details from that appointment when he spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon. His status has been questionable for the past week or so. They usually see how he feels at the morning shootaround and they make a decision shortly before game time.
Sam Clancy: Hey Ray. Love the CHAT: I read Khem Birch watched Florida play UAB Tuesday. I know that there have been various reasons reported why Birch left. However, the games I watched I couldn't help but notice Birch set constant screens but never touched the ball. He never was thrown the ball with the intent he could create points. I would leave too with the combination of touches & playing time. Jamie's offense is too guard oriented. Your thoughts???
Ray Fittipaldo: It's been a guard-oriented offense for a few years now because the post players, most notably the centers, have not been very good offensive players. After DeJuan Blair left, Gary McGhee started for two years. Now we have Dante Taylor and Birch before he left last month. All three were below average offensive players. I liked Birch's athleticism, but he didn't show the ability to score in the low post when he caught the ball on the blocks. I remember when Blair was the Big East player of the year and before him Aaron Gray and Chirs Taft and were dominating low post presences. I think it has more to do with talent that anything system-related to be honest with you.
djpat61: Do you anticipate any changes in the starting lineup tonight?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon was asked that question Tuesday and he said he did not anticipate any changes. He mentioned how he was pretty limited in what he could do. Not sure if he was dodging the question or not, but he did mention on more than one occasion on Tuesday with reporters and on his radio show that John Johnson was the only player to penetrate and get into the lane against Cincinnati. He has said that is a team weakness, so if Johnson does not start tonight, I think we could see more of him than Cameron Wright. At least that's my take on what Jamie had to say this week.
rico: with what Jaime said regarding Malcolm Gilberts status/progress is he still eligible for a redshirt?
Ray Fittipaldo: I asked about this Tuesday. He said if GIlbert can contribute he will play. BUt the longer it goes that he;'s not playing the more it looks like Dixon will apply for a medical redshirt. Gilbert has appeared in only a few games, and DIxon has been on record stating Gilbert has lower back issues. The NCAA is pretty lax when it comes to giving medical redshirts so if they want one for Gilbert he's likely to get it.
djpat61: Has Jamie talked at all about getting out and running more on offense to help solve some of the offensive woes?
Ray Fittipaldo: That has never been his m.o. And I would not expect to see that with Ashton GIbbs running the point. If they were having those kinds of scoring issues with Woodall at full strength then I would say it's a possibility because Woodall is good in the open court. Gibbs is not. He can get the ball up the court and get the offense into a play, but he's not going past anyone and creating either in the half-court offense or in transition. John Johnson adds a littler of that dimension when he is in the game, but he's not a true point guard. You could see a lot of points in transition tonight, though, by default because DePaul is a pressing teams and gives up press break baskets quite a bit.
bubs: Ray -- certainly a coach like Jamie Dixon, with his excellent track record of success is entitled to a team with an off year, but this squad seems to be headed for disaster if they don't get it together quick. What's going on with the Panthers and what can they do to right the ship (and fast).
Ray Fittipaldo: First and foremost, the defense has been lacking all season. The Panthers currently rank 12th in scoring defense and 15 in FG percentage defense in the Big East (16 teams). That is way way below PItt standards. The Panthers under Dixon are usually in the top five in both of those categories.
Next, there is virtually no inside scoring presence other than Nasir Robinson, and he is a 6-5 power forward who gets garbage points and is effective against the zone. He is not scoring a lot when Pitt throws the ball to him on the blocks. Therefore, Pitt cannot play inside-out, and opposing teams know this. As a result, the Panthers are getting blanketed on the perimeter and the guarded shots they are taking are not falling right now.
There are more problems with this team, but those are the two biggest issues as I see it.
chicago_pitt_fan: so what really happened this year? you alluded to a lack of senior leadership at one point....but what else?
Ray Fittipaldo: I mentioned a lack of senior leadership with Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson did not show up for a postgame news conference after the loss to Wagner. I thought that showed a lack of leadership. I don't think there is a lack of effort with the team, so in that regard I don't think there is a void in leadership.
I just wrote about two big issues in the above question. It seems like when DIxon plugs one hole and gets something fixed, another issue comes up. OIt's like he doesn't have enough fingers to plug all of the holes.
But let's face it, if this team gets hot again from the outside it isd quite capable of winning a few in a row just as it has shown it's capable of losing a few in a row when the shooting is not there.
chicago_pitt_fan: point blank, is this a tourney team?
Ray Fittipaldo: I have as hard time envisioning them as a tournament team as they are currently constituted, but I might change my mind if Woodall comes back and plays well. And that had better be soon because after next week the schedule gets really tough.
JJVT: Do you think the part of the problem Pitt is experiencing has to do with the fact that Dixon recuits players that are not true centers and forces them to play the position? Taylor and Birch were not centers but true f rowards who were/are asked to play out of position. I think if you played them at their true position and had a true center things would be very different. Your thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: How many true centers are out there to be recruited? Look around college basketball, there just are not that many true 7-foot centers whoa re accomplished low post players. Pitt was luck to have a few for about a six-year stretch there. You don't think Taylor or Birch displayed four-man skills, do you? Birch told CBS Sports he wanted to play more four, but admitted he wasn't ready to do that yet? I can't blame Dixon for playing him at center when that's where he was best-suited to help the team now. You can't compromise the present because an elite recruit wants to learn on the job.
rico: which improvement is most important at this stage defense or shooting.
Ray Fittipaldo: I wrote a story earlier this week that PItt won 31 games with one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country in Dixon's first season in 2003-04. Defense has always been this program's calling card under Dixon. I think that's the way to turn it around because as we have seen the shooting can come and go. Defense can be a constant if the players buy in and improve.
jeffk: Has Jamie had anything further to say about Birch
Ray Fittipaldo: Not really. He was asked about it quite a bit when it was going down. He made it pretty clear to us with his remarks that he was moving on and that the team was moving on from it. Not much more to be said from him regarding Birch I don't think. He's gone and Dixon is moving on trying to coach this team.
djpat61: I know we have Adams and Robinson committed for next year, any others we're close to landing in that class?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not that I've heard of. Until Birch left, there weren't going to be any other scholarships available. Obviously, that has changed now.
Yonco: In practice, does Taylor show the ability to get his shots off against a decent defender like Glibert without getting blocked all the time, which is what seems to happen in games against even mid-tier competition?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon closes his practices to the public. We show up after practice to conduct interviews. All I know is what I see in games. And yes, you are right, Taylor has his shot blocked rather easily by just about any opposing post player.
djpat61: Does Pitt have any plans down the road to play in one of the holiday tournaments in Hawaii or elsewhere?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't have the future schedules handy, but I think Pitt is in the preseason N.I.T. next season and the MAUI Invitational in 2014 or '15. DIxon has them booked for about four years down the road. I'll try to get a hold of the future schedules and post the next chat.
jeffk: How talented do you really belive this team is compared to others and you is the leader.....
Ray Fittipaldo: Gibbs is as legit shooting guard. He preseason Big East preseason POY. Woodall would be an average to above average point guard if he was playing. Not Levance FIelds or Brandon Knight, but better than serviceable.
Nasir Robinson is a very valuable power forward. Not your typical power forward, but very good in the way Pitt uses him.
Lamar Patterson right now is an average small forward in this league.
Dante Taylor is a below average center.
Overall, I would say it's a little less talented than some other teams. But not so much that it explains the losses to Wagner, Cincy and ND, three unranked teams.
pitt fan in ohio: is it just me or does this team really lack a typical pitt identity? we've had teams that could score in the past and teams that could defend but it always seems that the team plays to it's strength. this team either doesn't do that or maybe doesn't have a strength (scoring or defense).
Ray Fittipaldo: I think that's a good observation. Dixon won in the early years because he stressed defense in light of not having enough talented offensive players. He has since recruited players who are more talented offensively. I think the trade-off is those guys are not always good defensive players. (Ashton Gibbs for one example). I think this might be the one year when Pitt got caught in between. In other words, I think Dixon thought these guys would produce more offense and be a little better defensively.
Ray Fittipaldo: Just got an update from Pitt. Woodall "not likely" to play. Nothing official, but there's your update.
Bill-Zogran: Ray, hard to understand the reason for the drop in shooting percentage from Gibbs. The reason we have heard is he is getting tired from running the point for too many minutes. This doesnt explain the lack of 1st half points though.
Ray Fittipaldo: Gibbs was shooting about 43 percent before Woodall got hurt. He shot 49 percent last season, so it was down to begin with. He is shooting around 27 or 28 percent since Woodall has been out. It's not just being tired, which is part of it. It''s him being defended better. It's him having to worry about getting other guys shots. It's everything. He's not a point guard, but he's being asked to be one because of Woodall's injury.
frank: Isiah Epps was supposed to be a one and done point guard with blazing speed and a pass first mentality. What happened to him running point on a team that desperately needs a quality pg?
Ray Fittipaldo: Judging from what I have seen in games he does not appear to be a better option than Gibbs at point guard. He gets in games, jacks up a bad shot and Dixon takes him out. And it's not like he is this dazzling ball handler who can break the press. He struggles against pressure, too. It's probably a bit overlooked, but Epps' inability to develop is hurting this program as much as Taylor not developing into a quality center.
alovarious: If the Panthers don't improve, do you think that they are in danger of losing next year's blue-chip recruits?
Ray Fittipaldo: Steve Adams and James Robinson signed binding letters of intent in November. From everything I know they are both excited about coming to Pitt this summer. Adams was just in Pittsburgh for his official visit. According to his tweets, he loved it.
chicago_pitt_fan: I agree with you on a lot of point, but as much as i liked and miss gary, he was never a back to the basket threat ...
Ray Fittipaldo: Agreed. He is pretty much the same as Taylor. I was speaking of the six-year spoan with Taft, Gray and Blair.
Yonco: Was there anything Jamie could have done to push Birch to stay in prep school another year? The kid has to know that he really hurt the program by displacing Jaylen Bond and now leaving, which is why I object to Joe Starkey's intimations in today's column in the Trib...
Ray Fittipaldo: Did not read Starkey today...all I know if Jamie was between a rock and a hard place when Birch decided to reclassify. Jamie did not want him a year early, but would it look if Dixon let him go? He could not do that. He was a McDonald's All-Amerfican and you generally don't say no to those types of players. You make room for them, which is what Dixon had to do with Jaylen Bond. It was a really tough spot for Dixon. I remember being there and interviewing him about Birch reclassifying. He was extremely uncomfortable talking about it. He knew it was a bad deal, but what could he do about it?
Jamie: It seems as though our opponents are able to successfully pressure the ball both full court and in the half court defense while Pitt's defenders rarely, if ever press in the full court and sag in the half court. This enables our opponents to run their offense virtually unimpeded while we cannot get our offense moving until late in the shot clock if at all. What do you think the reason for this worsening problem is besides the fact that "Pitt doesn't like to press"?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think a lot of it is Pitt lacks a point guard or anyone else for that matter who is a capable penetrator. That would hlpe open up some outside shooting lanes if DIxon had a player who could do that. John Johnson is his best at doing that, so maybe we'll see more of him coming up.
jayhawk: Is there a anyway Birch comes back to Pitt?
Ray Fittipaldo: For a while there it seemed like it was a possibility, but I don't think that has any chance of happening now.
frank: I see you said that "As much of a defensive presence Gilbert is, he is not a polished offenisve player. I think Dixon realizes he needs to have the threat of a scorer at center in the game". Gary McGhee was nowhere near an offensive threat but the Panther thrived with him at center.
Ray Fittipaldo: Looking back, you could say they thrived in spite of him. There are all sorts of reasons for Pitt's success the past two years, not the least of which was Brad Wanamaker, Gil Brown and McGhee were all accomplished defenders. And Wanamaker could break down a defense and get teammates open shots. I know Pitt won without getting much from McGhee, but there are a lot of things he did well such as defend and rebound.
Yonco: Ashton clearly seems to be thrown off by having to bring the ball up the court. He's always lifting his arm and acting like he was grabbed and pouting. Might it not work better to bring in someone like Epps, who should at least be able to dribble with his head up?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't see Epps as a better option and apparently the coaches don't either.
djpat61: Does the light bulb ever come on for Taylor and he become an effective player for us or is he a lost cause at this point?
Ray Fittipaldo: Looking more like the latter, but I guess there's always hope.
Yonco: We keep hearing how hard Gibbs worked on his floor game this summer. Who was monitoring him? I see regression if anything.
Ray Fittipaldo: He's not a point guard., never was. He's a shooting guard who is being asked to play out of position due to injury. It's as simple as that. Point guards are born, not made. Gibbs was a born shooter and the sooner he realizes that (after Woodall returns) the better off Pitt will be.
chicago_pitt_fan: is adams going to be the answer to the low post problems?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's one of the top-rated post players in the world. I have never seen him play in person, but I've seen him on video. He is very athletic. He's not Aaron Gray. In the few clips I have seen he reminds me of Tom Chambers, who wasn't a center. But he's that athletic and smooth. We'll see.
Joe: I think that Zanna could be an answer if he begins to play with more consistency. He will make a great play or two then make a couple of awful mistakes. What are your thoughts on him and how will he fit in next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's fine as a role player. I don't ever see him being a "go-to" guy.
Ray Fittipaldo: Jamie does have a quick hook with him. Sometimes justifiably so. Moore continues to make some careless mistakes. I think he's also capable of being able to penetrate and helping this team in that regard, but he does not seem to have the handle yet to accomplish that. Maybe that will come in time.
Small Pete: Do you see similarities between Nasir Robinson's game and Jaron Brown's when he was here? If so, why doesn't Robinson play small forward like Brown did, so we can get a bigger post player in at power forward, which could have been Birch when he was here.
djpat61: Any way we can get JJ Moore some additional minutes? He seems to bring some energy and athleticism when he's on the floor but Jamie also seems to have a quick hook with him?
Ray Fittipaldo: Sorry, forgot to post Moore question. Just did now...
Ray Fittipaldo: Jaron had as better handle and was a better outside shooter. I would make the comparison to Chevy Troutman before Brown. Not that Nasir is a Chevy Troutman. He's similar, but Chevy was a better defender and a little better as a scorer and rebounder.
jeffk: With the two new guys coming in next year JD is going to have to allow these guys to play and learn as you go not his typical past experience
Ray Fittipaldo: Robinson will learn behind Woodall, but should play a lot. I think Adams surpasses Taylor without much problem fairly early in the season, Taylor will still have a role. If Adams is as advertised maybe it's only 15 minutes a game. Jamie has played freshmen before. He did it with Chris Taft and DeJuan Blair. Taft supplanted a senior in the middle of a season.
jeffk: Dante T may to be a D1 BE player..... Against Cinc if he doesnt get fouled at end he doesnt score.... doesnt score almost impossible to believe
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, I know. Hard to believe. I wrote about Taylor earlier in the week. Basically, what I said is they won't be an elite team unless he turns it on. They might not even be average.
steve: At the beginning of the season, Birch was playing behind Robinson (at the 4, where he apparently wanted to play) and Zanna was playing behind Taylor. Why did Dixon switch them?
Ray Fittipaldo: Because it was better for the team if Birch played center and Zanna power forward. Dixon came out and stated after he made the move that this was the case. He thought the team fit better from an offensive standpoint if Zanna played Pf and if Robinson and Birch could play together at some points in the game.
Friar Tuck: Long chat today. Thanks. Anything special to look forward to tonight?
Ray Fittipaldo: A win would be special for Pitt. I expect Pitt score some points by beating the press. If that's special then there you go.
chicago_pitt_fan: totally agreed on epps....are we missing any assistant coach in particular who may have left that helps in developing pitt players....typically they always take big leaps between years as they mature
Ray Fittipaldo: Pitt's had so many assistants leave over the years and it hasn't made a difference. Why now? And shouldn't Brandin Knight be perfect for someone like Epps to learn under?
djpat61: Any prediction for tonight's game?
Ray Fittipaldo: Pitt by 10 though I'm not all that confident in the team. More like I know DePaul isn't that good.
Yonco: Hope we had enough participants to keep the chat viable, Ray. This is great!
Ray Fittipaldo: Absolutely. If you guys are here I'm glad to do it every week.
Bill-Zogran: Ray, I really dont understand the difference in the 1 and 2 spots in this offense. since there is no one capable of slashing and with all the ball movement doesn't both guard spots have equal create responsibilities?
Ray Fittipaldo: That could change if Woodall comes back soon. But you're right, this team needs some penetration in order to get guys better looks on the outside.
Yonco: Johnson seems to be a gutsy kid, more than willing to have the ball in the clutch. Are we getting even more out of him than Jamie necessarily expected?
Ray Fittipaldo: I know they liked him from the moment they got a verbal commitment from him. They thought he was underrated by the recruiting services. As I wrote in a few earlier posts, I think we will see more of him in coming games because of his ability to penetrate.
Small Pete: Ray, I saw you at the Pete at the Cinci game. You walked to your seat right before the game started. Do you get access to Dixon's pre game speech and strategy talk to his players?
Ray Fittipaldo: No. I was watching the Steelers game in the press room. Although before that I was courtside several times trying to interview Steve Adams. Pitt had several athletic department employees "guarding" him from being interviewed. If only they could have guarded Cincinnati as well...In all seriousness, it would have been a minor NCAA violation if he was interview while on campus. I guess they were doing their jobs.
Ray Fittipaldo: Sorry I couldn't get to all the questions this week. Thanks for participating. We'll do another one next Thursday, back to the 1 p.m. start time.
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