Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to the Pitt basketball chat. Post your questions and we'll get started.
Robbie: I see a lot of speculation, especially on social media, about Pitt's lineups and what people think they should be. What do you think is Pitt's best lineup on the court? Starting 5?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a difficult question to answer because there are so many combinations that Dixon can use. I think his starting lineup is his most balanced lineup, meaning it has a nice balance of offensive and defensive players. His best offensive lineup is probably when Trey Zeigler comes in for James Robinson. I also like when JJ Moore replaces Zanna when Zanna is ineffective because Moore is a matchup problems for other teams and can provide some nice scoring off the bench. Dixon also has been very complimentary of his defense lately, which adds another dimension. So, I don't mean to sidestep your question, but this team is so different from Dixon's other ones because of the depth and the number of combinations he can use.
Scott: How big was that win in Cincy? It was huge for me. Pitt showed a lot of resolve and huge to see Woodall be the guy late in game. If they can go 1-1 over the next 2 and finish the season 4-0, PITT will be definitley be peaking at the right time with a lot of parity and no favorite to win it at all. Big win and huge step forward?
Ray Fittipaldo: I wrote about this a little in my game story in Sunday's P-G. The Panthers did a couple of important things in that game. As you mentioned, Woodall stepped forward when they needed him, but they also erased a lead and did it on the road. That same Cincinnati team beat Villanova by 20 a few days later on the same court. The Bearcats are a good team, maybe not an elite Big East team, but definitely in that second tier. I also thought the emergence of Steven Adams in that game will cause opponents to think twice about how they defend the Panthers. It was almost as if Mick Cronin had to be convinced that Adams could beat him one-on-one. Adams proved he could. Now the rest of the teams are going to have to think about doubling him, which will mean more open shots for the guards on the perimeter. Don't underestimate how important that Adams performance was.
Robbie: Everyone forgets the last time we played Marquette Woodall got hurt and didn't play. Thus, Robinson played 36 mins which is way above his average. How big of a difference will this make in Saturday's game?
Ray Fittipaldo: Having Woodall for an entire game will be big for Pitt. It's obvious he is this team's most important player. He's a fifth-year senior, the team captain and the leading scorer. That said, it will be a challenge to win at Marquette. The Panthers have not matched up well with the Golden Eagles over the years and have not fared all that well at the Bradley Center. They'll need Woodall and everyone else to play well in order to come away with a victory.
Scott: Will playing 10 deep hurt PITT in March Madness? Obviously Tray Woodall or Lamar Patterson is there go to guy but will not having a big time scorer, the same one every night hurt them or scorer by committee be an advantage come March?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good question, Scott. A 10-man rotation does not necessarily mean the minutes will be distributed evenly. So while Dixon said he is convinced a 10-man rotation is what's best for this team, you could see him play some of those reserves fewer minutes in closer games. You saw that at Cincinnati. Durand Johnson only played five minutes. Dante Taylor only played 11 minutes. That was the case because Lamar Patterson and Steven Adams were playing so well. Plus, it was a close game. The starters are going to see the bulk of the playing time in close games unless there is foul trouble.
Robbie: Staying on topic with the Marquette game, are the keys once again rebounding and defense? Marquette out-rebounded us in the last meeting. Zanna was also 1-for-9 from the field and Pitt shot 50% from the free throw line ...
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, rebounding will be important, but Pitt found a way to beat Cincinnati when the Bearcats won the battle of the boards (33-30). The Panthers did it with defense and efficient offense. The thing that got overlooked in that Cincinnati game was the effectiveness of Pitt's zone defense. Marquette is among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the conference, so maybe more of that zone will serve the Panthers well in this game, too.
Scott: How important is it that Steven Adams is peaking and getting better at the end of conference play heading to BE tournament and March Madness. Showed lots of improvement and getting better each game which is nice for a freshmen in this conference
Ray Fittipaldo: It's very important. As I mentioned to an earlier inquiry, the developments of Adams is going to mean more open space for his teammates. Opposing teams are not going to want him getting easy baskets underneath. So Adams could see a lot of double teams. Fortunately for Pitt, Adams is a good passer and he can find open teammates if that happens.
Scott: Highest seed PITT could get in the tournament? In your opinion or best case scenario, if they won out or went 5-1 and did some damage in the Big East tournament?
Ray Fittipaldo: Win out and I think a No. 3 seed is in play. Go 5-1 and I think a No. 4 seed is possible. Most brackets I see Pitt is the lowest No. 5 seed on the S curve, so they'd have to jump some teams to make big moves up. But they have plenty of opportunities to improve their RPI, starting with Marquette Saturday afternoon.
Mike: Why is it that Pitt can't seem to consistently make free throws? I love Coach Dixon, but this seems to be a recurring theme every year.
Ray Fittipaldo: If you look at the teams that have dominated the Big East in recent years -- Pitt, Syracuse and Connecticut -- none of those teams traditionally shoot free throws very well. So while missed free throws have hurt the Panthers in a few games -- and made a few more interesting -- there are many other things that go into building a winning program. Things like defense, offense, rebounding, assist-to-turnover ratio. These are all the things Jamie Dixon talks about. Now that's not to say he undervalues free throws. He doesn't. It's just that he stresses other areas in terms of building his team.
Scott: PITT has historically been very solid on defense and known for the man to man defense over the last 10 plus years. Can we count on seeing more zone or does it depend on opposition and game situations?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon said they played a lot of zone in the second half against Cincinnati. I don't know the exact breakdown of zone vs. man-to-man after halftime, but it was quite effective after Cincinnati got the halftime lead vs. strictly man-to-man. I think we might see more of it, but teams can shoot Dixon out of a zone pretty quick. Cincinnati did not do it, so Dixon stuck with it. The other thing is, Dixon hates the effect zones have on rebounding. Pitt can't seem to rebound well out of the zone, so that also could prompt him to go back to man.
breeze: So much is being made of Adams staying or leaving. Don't you think that if we get to the sweet 16 & he is projected in the top half of round 1 that Dixon has to advise him to take the cash? Given the coaches relationship with the family & what I am confident is intimate knowledge of his family situation in NZ (which I suspect is below a standard of living any of us could comprehend).
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Dixon will sit down with him at the end of the season and he'll discuss the situation with Adams and his family. There is a predraft process in which underclassmen can be evaluated. I am sure Adams will go through that even if he is determined to return. It only makes sense to get feedback from the NBA people. You say he should go if he's in the top half of the first round. Right now, he's not projected that high. I've seen him in the 20s. If that's the case, he could come back, work on his game and potentially make even more money.
Robbie: Best possible case scenario: Pitt finishes 6-0 (which probably means the regular season title) and then wins the Big East Tournament. This surely has to make Pitt a No. 1 seed right?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's aiming high, Robbie. But I suppose if that happens, a No. 1 seed is in play depending on what the other teams at the top are doing. Certainly a No. 2 seed in that scenario.
Scott: Worst matchup for PITT in the Big East? If there is one team PITT doesn't want to play or worst matchup for them in BE tourney, who do you have?
Ray Fittipaldo: Louisville. Pitt has lost five of six to the Cardinals.
-al-: A few games ago, both Adams and Taylor saw about five minutes of court time togehter and it seemed to look like a good combo. What your thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: I believe that was done out of necessity because Talib Zanna was in foul trouble. I wouldn't wast my time dreaming up the possibilities with that lineup. Dixon has said he doesn't like it all that much, which is why we haven't seen much of it.
Drew: Predictions for Saturday's game? How about Monday vs. ND?
Ray Fittipaldo: Won't make predictions until game days on the blog, but I think going 1-1 would be a good deal for the Panthers against Marquette and Notre Dame. As I stated earlier, the Bradley Center is a tough place to play and Notre Dame has had Pitt's number in recent years. Is everyone ready for the "burn" offense Monday night? I think we might see it.
Robbie: At the beginning of the season I asked what you think should be Pitt's goal, and your answer was just to get back into the NCAA Tournament. Well unless there's an epic collapse, Pitt is a lock. So now what is the goal? Joe Lunardi has us at a 5 seed, so maybe Sweet 16?
Ray Fittipaldo: That would mean finally winning a game as the lower seed in the NCAA tournament, so that would be progress, right? Who knows? No one is expecting much from Pitt this year, so maybe this is the year they make a deep run. That's the beauty of the NCAA tournament -- expect the unexpected.
Drew: Any potential recruits at Center to back up Adams next year? Or should we expect Zanna to log a ton of minutes as starting PF and back-up C? I know Ines Kanter's brothers name was recently thrown out there.
Ray Fittipaldo: Most of the good prospects are gone, so I wouldn't expect an impact player. I am sure if there is a quality player out there to fill the void Dixon will try to sign him because there will be ample opportunity for playing time. However, I am not certain how many quality centers are left at this time.
Jason: Best guess on Steven Adams staying around for another year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm 70-30 on him coming back right now, but that can change in the next six weeks. You think Adams or some of his family members noticed what happened to Nerlens Noel? You never know what will change someone's mind.
Scott: If the 4 number one seeds were Indiana, Miami, Duke, and Michigan who is the one team besides Michigan PITT could beat or matchup well with in your opinion? I know Michigan has improved but with the emergence I think PITT could beat them or hang with them again for a majority of a ball game, obviously we know anything can happen in March.
Ray Fittipaldo: Of Miami, Duke and Indiana, I think Pitt probably matches up best with Duke. Miami and Indiana have really good guards that could pose some problems for the Panthers.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again next week at the same time.
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