Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pitt Hoops comes through for us

Whew...It was not a very aesthetically pleasing weekend for Pittsburgh sports, was it? The Pens get absolutely crushed by a very mediocre Toronto squad in front of thousands of freakin' invading Maple Leaf fans at the Igloo, the Steelers get run over by the Titans, and, even in a moment of victory, the Pitt B-ball squad picks up a W over Florida State in one of the most hideous displays of basketball the world has ever witnessed. If James Naismith had seen this coming when he invented the game, he probably would have gone back to the drawing board.

Neither team could shoot the ball to save their life, and I was quite terrified that I would be subjected to the chants of "A-C-C" from giddy ESPN analysts who love anything that can promote the glory of Duke and UNC and its even better if they can tear down the ACC's biggest competitor at the same time. I know this FSU squad is not highly regarded in the ACC, but I'll tell you this: that is a good ball club. They may not be ready to challenge Duke and UNC for ACC supremacy, but that's a tourney-bound team in my book, as they are extremely athletic, have a legit star scoring threat in Toney Roberts, and a spectacular D orchestrated by their coach Leonard Hamilton.

To the Panthers' credit, they responded well to their first extreme adversity of the season. Just as I hoped, Sam I Am Young took control of this one when Pitt needed him most with 21 points and 7 boards. Also coming up big for Pitt was Jermaine Dixon who posted a surprising 11 points after a dreadful start that saw him looking a bit too eager to shoot (and miss I might add), and Dixon was also excellent defending the perimeter, though I'm not sure he is "one of the best perimeter defenders in the country" as the announcers for the game claimed. I thought Jamie Dixon did a nice job on a night when the shots just were not falling at all for our Panthers. Let's hope this was an abberation and not the beginning of a trend. Dixon used a lot of subbing and put out some surprising crunch time lineups (Brad Wanamaker played more minutes than Gil Brown!) that somehow gelled enough to get a W on the road against a tough matchup.
The Mayor (DeJuan Blair NOT Sean Casey for those of you not in the know) had a bit of a tough night, as the athleticism of the FSU defenders seemed to fluster him quite a bit. Not that I'm the least bit worried about Blair, but it will be interesting to see how he matches up against similar defenders and game plans in the future now that the Noles achieved some success in stopping him, at least offensively. He was still a force on the block, though as he hauled in 12 boards including a startling 5 on offense.

The Panthers bench continues to worry me, though. I originally thought this had the potential to be one of the deepest teams that Pitt has ever had, but I am growing more skeptical with each passing day. Gary McGhee has made next to no progress this season, quelling any hope of getting him serious minutes next to Blair in what would be a terrifying combo, Brad Wanamaker may be solid fundamentally and can eat up minutes but has next to nothing offensively, Ashton Gibbs has looked terrible when really challenged at the point and his shot has been pretty awful when playing the 2, Tra Woodall has mysteriously disappeared, Nas Robinson is barely playing, probably because he's too similar to Gil Brown to get many minutes (though that doesn't explain why he didn't play more than 2 minutes tonight when Gil was in foul trouble), and Gil himself continues to be a freak of nature on the court, but his scoring touch hasn't evolved like I'd hoped.

The biggest glimmer of hope for a late-season bloomer among the lesser bench guys right now is probably Robinson, but that's only because he hasn't played enough to really get a good feel for him. He was pretty highly touted coming in this season as a recruit, so the skills certainly are there. I am hoping the biggest reason for his lack of minutes is because there are only so many minutes available in this lineup for a 2/3/4 ultra-athletic swing guy available, and that Gil Brown was gobbling them all up. Obviously, I'm not as sure now. I think Jamie Dixon would be wise to try to find more minutes for Robinson, as he is at least a threat to create and make plays offensively, unlike Wanamaker and McGhee, neither of whom look even remotely capable of being difference makers in Big East play. I think it's highly unlikely this actually happens, as Jamie seems to want to spend this season having Nas sit and learn and be molded into a Pitt man, and only be used very, very, very sparingly. Robinson played 81 minutes in the first 5 games of the season, but in the 7 since then, he's seen just 35 minutes total. Clearly, something is a bit off here, but its hard to say exactly what that is.

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