Thursday, January 9, 2014

season preview: Pittsburgh

Media prediction: 6th of 15

Last season:

Record: 24-9 (12-6); Big East 4th seed
Postseason: NCAA 8 seed; lost in first round
KenPom: 11th of 347

Returning scoring: 48.8%
Returning rebounding: 46.3%
Returning assists: 51.8%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: James Robinson (So.)
SG: Cameron Wright (rJr.)
SF: Lamar Patterson (5Sr.)
PF: Michael Young (Fr.)
PF: Talib Zanna (5Sr.)


F Durand Johnson (rSo.)
F Jamel Artis (Fr.)
G Josh Newkirk (Fr.)
F Derrick Randall (Jr.)
F Chris Jones (rFr.)

Coach: Jamie Dixon (11th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Clemson, Maryland, NC State, Syracuse
Once: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

One of the ACC's newest additions should instantly become one of its top teams.  Jamie Dixon has only failed to take Pitt to the NCAAs once, and that year the Panthers earned a trophy for their case in the CBI.  So they'll be a major challenge every year.

The star of this year's team is small forward Lamar Patterson, blossoming in his senior year.  Patterson averaged exactly 10 points a game last year and was one of Pitt's primary scorers, but he's on a new level this year; not only does he lead the team in scoring at over 17 points a game, but he leads the team in assists, too.  Patterson is shooting almost .600 from two and well over .400 from three.  On defense, he gets quite a few steals, and doesn't foul.  Among the best all-around players in the league.

Patterson gets good help in the scoring department from shooting guard Cameron Wright and power forward Talib Zanna.  Both are efficient shooters, and Zanna is a top rebounder while Wright has a steal percentage of nearly 5%, good for 18th in the country.  Point guard James Robinson, a former UVA recruit, plays more in the background when it comes to scoring but has an outstanding A/T ratio of over 5.1/1.  Rounding out the starting lineup is freshman forward Michael Young, playing for now the role of glue guy and doing it very well.

Off the bench, sixth man Durand Johnson is primarily a scorer, and one of the team's best free-throw shooters on a team full of good ones.  Pitt's bench is mainly forwards; Johnson and Chris Jones play the three, with Johnson occasionally asked to guard the four.  Jamel Artis and Derrick Randall are fours.  Pittsburgh lacks a true center and its only real guard off the bench is back PG Josh Newkirk, who is a big step down from Robinson.

The slightly skewed lineup hasn't mattered much.  This is one of the most efficient offenses in the country, averaging 1.18 points a possession.  They have the 300th-fastest tempo but are 88th in points per game.  They've been just as good on defense, and nearly every one of their games has been an easy win, including the first two of the ACC season.  (The one exception: a 44-43 loss to Cincinnati with the absurdly slow tempo of 48 possessions.)  No doubt that Pitt is among the strongest contenders for the ACC title this year, and - though the nonconference schedule was pretty light on resume-building - should earn a high seed in the tournament.


Apparently our own team didn't like losing to Tennessee in the fashion that it did.  Tony Bennett restructured the offense some, the players refocused on defense, and the result was a win in a place the Hoos hadn't won in a decade followed by going to town on Wake Forest.

No particular offensive style - or player - dominated UVA's scoring; there were threes, dunks, drives, a few midrange jumpers, and I consider this a good sign.  Getting the whole team involved is so key that it's cliche, but at the same time, if you can win without having to rely on a barrage of threes or a particular weakness in the opposing defense, it's a more sustainable path to success.

This is UVA, so we'll always find something to complain about; in this case, it's Mike Tobey's 3-for-11 shooting night.  Myself I was happy about a second-half bucket out of him which was so ugly it was beautiful.  Ugly baskets are what people want to see out of Tobey, and he missed, had it blocked, nearly lost it out of bounds, fought three Deacons for the rebounds, and finally finished.  Big men are always behind in their development because so often they didn't get to be that size til their junior or even senior year of high school, so they're not used to it; Tobey is still in that phase, having added those 40 pounds in the offseason.  That he's still figuring out his strength is no surprise.

Besides maybe a nice Teven Jones feed to Darion Atkins, or Joe Harris's half-ending three-pointer, how many other plays stand out from the game?  Not that many - and like I said, I think that's a good thing.  A good team should be brutally efficient, and that game was a meat grinder.  We'll see if the team can keep it up; at their best, they're better than most of this ACC.

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