Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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Stop making excuses for Pitt’s basketball team and the postseason failures and for Jamie Dixon.
For one, the guy’s record speaks for itself – he has done a wonderful job with Pitt’s program and he has transformed it from something that was really bad to something that is really good.
He is an exceptional coach.
But here is the thing – every single time his team loses in the postseason there are two groups of people – those who go overboard saying he is a bad coach and needs to be fired so Pitt can hire Sean Miller or someone more dynamic or whatever – and then there is the group who automatically goes on the defensive and comes up with all kinds of rationalizations and reasons for why Pitt has been very good in the regular season and extremely mediocre in the postseason.
Here is the bottom line as to why there always seems to be a ceiling on what this team can achieve in the Dixon era:
1.) Jamie’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness and that is – he is an attention to details control freak. That’s great because he manages games possession by possession and he shortens games and he keeps games close with the way he does things – but at the end of the day most games in the NCAA tournament are won by PLAYERS MAKING PLAYS. Period. And Jamie doesn’t let his guys play enough. This thing where Pitt stands around for 27 seconds before starting a possession is ridiculous – especially this year as this is a team that has some athletic talent and speed and could go up and down the floor and some of the best basketball we’ve seen from this group is when they just go out and play. Just make plays. This is a team that actually can create when it is allowed to --- but again, it is hard to create when you are being controlled possession by possession. If Pitt is going to improve Jamie needs to tweak his approach and not be so afraid to let his team play a little bit and even (gasp) slap on a press here and there to get a game moving faster as opposed to always slowing it down.
2.) Jamie’s love of defense is also wonderful. It is a big reason Pitt is so good every year – they defend. But here is reality – when every decision that is made on a player’s playing time revolves around his ability to defend, it limits your skill on the floor. We joked yesterday that Jamie wouldn’t have looked twice at a guy like J.J Reddick or better yet – the Southerland kid from Syracuse – because I can’t name one offensive player Pitt has had in the past ten years . And I mean a guy who can just flat out stroke it and create his own shot and score in bunches. Yeah, there have been a few guys like Gibbs and Ramon who can shoot it but neither created much at all for himself and needed help to get shots off. Now, Pitt has a few players in recent years who COULD have been that player, but again to get on the floor Jamie wants guys who can defend and will defend at all times. It is why JJ Moore has gone from an extremely skilled, fun-to-watch, high flying wing player that can hit 3s and dunk on your head to a guy who spent three years in the weight room and now plays power forward and stands around doing nothing most games. JJ Moore was that Southerland kind of player, but his offensive game got ruined by Jamie’s system and insistence that he become a defensive player. I’ve said it before I’ll say it again – you need to score to win in the postseason. You don’t need to score every game, but invariably there will be games where the other team’s best guy may go off for 20 and hit 6 3’s and you need to be able to match that.
3.) That being said – Jamie has not brought top tier talent to Pitt. That’s why this run has been so amazing – a lot of it has been smoke and mirrors. And the one year he did have two legitimate NBA guys, he finally got to the Elite Eight and should have got to the Final Four. But separate emotion from things and take a look at the list of guys who have played here at Pitt in the past ten years – tell me what superstars or even stars they have had. What they have had is a lot of really good, hard-nosed kids who work and play hard and bought into a defensive and physical style of game and are unselfish on offense and share the ball. The formula produces grind it out wins and at the end of the year there are usually enough for this team to get to the NCAA Tournament. But again, it is hard to win that way when you get to the tournament because everyone is good and games are officiated a little tighter and because it is one-and-done basketball, everyone is matching your intensity – which is the one edge Pitt usually enjoys. Talent wins games, period. Yes, great coaching overcomes talent sometimes but even great coaches need some talent to win. Jamie has squeezed every ounce out of the talent he has had – for the most part – but he needs to continue to get better players than he has gotten.
That’s really what it comes down to in my book --- forget about all the stats and all the stuff about “offensive efficiency” and “poor free throw shooting” – at the end of the day, Pitt’s biggest issue when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and postseason has been a lack of talent and/or Jamie’s stranglehold on the talent that is on the team.
Until he gets some better players and then let’s them play – even if it means he gives up a few more points than he is comfortable with – this team is going to be destined for short tournament runs as long as he is the coach.
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