It wasn't all that long ago that redshirt freshman forward Talib Zanna was looking like he was going to be one of the breakout players in the Big East Conference this season. Zanna averaged nearly a double-double in the first four games of the season, including a 14-point, 12-rebound performance that helped the Panthers beat Maryland Nov. 18 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
It has been exactly one month since Zanna had that dominating performance, but it seems like a lifetime ago.
Zanna, a 6-foot-9 power forward, had 38 points and 37 rebounds in the first four games, but has just 25 points and 24 rebounds in the past seven.
So what's amiss?
"I really don't know," Zanna said the other day. "I just have to keep playing my game. That's what coach is saying, try to be more focused."
Zanna said he has not lost his confidence, but his production clearly has dipped. He has not scored more than six points since that double-double against the Terrapins and has scored three points or fewer in five of the past seven games.
Game: Maryland-Eastern Shore (2-7) vs. No. 8 Pitt (10-1), 7 p.m., Petersen Events Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Has not played since an 83-76 loss to Tennessee a week ago. ... Junior G Ashton Gibbs (17.2 ppg) is shooting 45.6 percent from 3-point range. ... Senior G Brad Wanamaker (13.5 ppg) has seven or more assists in seven of the first 11 games. ... The Panthers are shooting 65.6 percent from the free-throw line.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: Coming off a 90-56 loss at Evansville. ... Led by Hillary Haley (12.9 ppg) and Dishawn Bradshaw (12.3 ppg). ... Has scored 58 points or fewer in four of nine games. ... Shooting 31.5 percent from 3-point range.
Of note: Pitt is 18-0 vs. schools that compete in the MEAC.
Zanna's slump began when Nasir Robinson returned to the lineup. Robinson, who missed the first three games while rehabilitating a fractured bone in his foot, was the starter at power forward for 34 games last season.
Robinson has played well, averaging 7.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, giving coach Jamie Dixon more options with his lineup. Even though Zanna's minutes have not decreased significantly since Robinson came back to the rotation, Zanna might feel more pressure to perform when he is on the floor.
Dixon did not acknowledge any psychological aspects to Zanna's slump, but one of his teammates did make that connection. Travon Woodall, a reserve who understands how difficult it is to earn playing time, has watched Zanna struggle in recent games.
"I know it's pretty tough because Nas is playing great off the bench," Woodall said. "I'm not sure the minutes, how much they're playing, but I know Nas has been playing well. I don't know if Talib feels like he has to outplay him when he's out there, but he just has to play his game like he was before he got in a slump."
Zanna's game is running the floor and crashing the offensive glass. He is not a polished player in the half-court offense.
"I told him to play his game," Woodall said.
"What got you into the starting lineup is your ability to offensive rebound and your hustle plays, you being fast in transition. That's what got you your starting position, so don't shy away from it because you missed some jump shots, you missed a couple of rebounds, coach Dixon yells at you a couple of times. Just go out there and play your game. You can't let anything dictate your game or your mood."
Dixon is not one who believed Zanna was destined for a rookie-of-the-year-type of season. He did not believe it was realistic for Zanna to play as well as he did early in the season. He said those games were the exception rather than the norm for a player still learning how to play the game. Zanna, a native of Nigeria, has been playing organized basketball in the United States for only the past four years.
Dixon wants rebounding and defense from Zanna first and foremost. His scoring from game to game will depend upon his ability to score in transition and the unpredictable nature of capitalizing from offensive rebounds.
Dixon does not seem overly concerned about Zanna's recent struggles.
"He had two games where he scored some points," Dixon said. "That doesn't mean that's who he is. Obviously, Nas was out [early in the season]. Now Nas is playing and playing well. [Zanna] will have games where he'll have [scoring] numbers and he'll have games where he won't. He's a freshman and will continue to improve. He just has to continue to improve defensively. I think he's doing a good job for a freshman. I think we've gotten very good production from that spot."
NOTE -- New Pitt football coach Michael Haywood will meet and greet fans from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. today in the main lobby of Petersen Events Center
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.