Paul Zeise's Pitt basketball chat transcript: 12.3.13


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Paul Zeise: Welcome to today's Pitt basketball chat. Of course tonight is Pitt-Penn State and I think it will be a little bit closer than the ones we saw from 2000-05 which were won by Pitt by an average of 28.5 points. I'm not saying this will be a one possession game or whatever, but it won't shock me if Pitt's lead is only about 10 for most of the game and then the Panthers may pull away a little bit late. But PSU has good guards that score so it could be an entertaining game. 

OK welcome let's get started......

Drewski: Do you see it possible this team can be undefeated going into Syracuse Mid January?

Paul Zeise: Yes I do think that is possible but I do think they have some tough games before that. Cincinnati hasn't played a great schedule but the Bearcats are undefeated and they have a win over NC State which is probably better than any of Pitt's wins. And Pitt has to play at NC State before then, too. But I think Pitt have a good chance to win pretty much all of the games they play before then - that Maryland game, even though it is at the Pete - could be very tough as well.

Bob Phillips: The ACC was suppose to be the "best basketball conference" ever created this year yet only 2 Top 25 teams. Do you think this will change as conference play starts or do you think it really is a weaker conference then experts orginaly thought?

Paul Zeise: No, I think it is weaker than people thought but it isn't weaker than I thought - or even Jamie Dixon thought to be honest. At ACC media day all of the old ACC guard was singing the praises of the conference, talking about how great it was. Jamie and Boeheim were the two coaches who said things like "wait a minute, the Big East was very, very strong in recent years." Jamie also pointed out the number of teams who were in some stage of rebuilding and he is right - look at the number of teams who have coaches in their first or second or third year in that league - it means there was a ton of turnover and I'd be willing to bet it isn't because guys are leaving.This league has a chance to be good but it needs to get all of those lower level teams to get better. The thing about the Big East wasn't the top of the conference - it was the middle and bottom as DePaul was about the only easy night you had. So in short the ACC needs to do what Jamie Dixon said at ACC media day "stop talking about how great we are and go prove it...." So far the league hasn't proven anything other than it has three more teams than it did last year.

Cory: You thin Pitt will go to a zone a bunch to defend PSU's guards? Are they more drive oriented or perimeter shot?

Paul Zeise: Those two guys - Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill can shoot it from the perimeter some, though Frazier is more of a drive and dish it guy. They both drive well and get to the basket and free throw line. It will be interesting to see how Jamie defends them because they have had a hard time guarding guys off the dribble. But he didn't like the way they played that zone the other day against Duquesne and even complained about it in the postgame so we will see how he mixes things in. The thing about guarding penetration is because of the new rules, you can't touch anyone - that makes it much tougher and it is why Pitt's defense is still very good, but not quite lock it down good any more. I think he will mix the zone and man and see what is working against those two.

Drewski: What's the biggest area of concern for this team so far? Is it the possibility the shooting cools down or their ability to defend a good post player?

Paul Zeise: I think the latter is the biggest concern - a team with a good post game could give this team some issues because even though the Panthers have worked hard to defend in the post and compensate for their relative lack of size - we've seen some guys give them fits. But the thing is - the "on the block" post guy is not the one who is going to give them the most problem - it is the guys like Ovie Soko, the ones who can step out a little and then drive or hit little jumpers. Those guys are the ones who, so far, have given the Panthers fits. The thing about the shooting is this - it isn't like years past where one or two guys were relied on to shoot - this year they have six or seven so it is less likely that they will all have off nights at the same time. Someone will be hitting shots --though they did go 0-for-11 the one game, so I suppose it is possible. Just not probable.

Clay G.: Does Pitt have any chance of being taken seriously in the Top 25 before conference play begins? Texas Tech, Stanford, Penn St. and Cincy are all decent, but we haven't had any real tests yet. Beating Cincy on a neutral court might do us some good.

Paul Zeise: That is the problem with Pitt's nonconference schedule, which is awful. It is hard to get a feel for just how good they really are and they always seem to be 10-0 or 12-0 or whatever so national media types take a more "wait and see" approach with them. But I do think if they win a few more games - as other teams lose games - they will eventually make it in and I agree, if they beat Cincy on national television at MSG that should be enough to get them into the rankings. The ACC being as weak as it has been so far hasn't helped the perception of teams like Pitt to be honest.

Cory: Any word on the juco transfer Uchebo? You think he will play this year?

Paul Zeise: We have gotten the same answer about him for the past two months "He is making progress, he is working out some, he is improving, he is able to some light drills, he still has a ways to go..." This was told to us again the other day (Sunday) so I would guess that he may get back to play this season but as it drags on there may be a point where they just decide to continue to rehab him and keep him out for the year.

Drewski: Any updates on Mostella? It looks to me like he will be coming next year if at all. I am fine with that because I think throwing another 2 guard into the rotation could disrupt some chemistry they have developed - it would also take away mins from either Wright, Robinson, Newkirk, Johnson

Paul Zeise: Mostella is another one, though they can't talk about him because he is recruitable player still. But he has some academic stuff to clean up in order to get himself eligible and they are shooting for January but last I was told it was still probably like a 50-50 proposition that he gets done the things he needs to get done. If he doesn't, it may turn out to be better as you pointed out because then he would come in next year and have entire summer and offseason to get into the rotation and develop some chemistry with the guys and fit into a role. This team has enough guards, so maybe an extra semester working on academics and all that stuff before he comes to college wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Mostella.

LA Matt: How far away is Pitt from being a legitimate top ten team?

Paul Zeise: I would say this - the Panthers need to keep winning games and hope that some of the ACC teams get their act together so that they can have good, quality wins once conference play begins. If they can do that, then they will climb up the rankings though I will say I'm not sure this is a top ten team. I have to see more from it, to be honest. I do think this is an NCAA Tournament team, I do think it is a top 25 team but I have to see more, especially from the way it defends and how it handles real athletic guards, before I can come to any conclusions about how good it is. It MAY be a top ten team but I'm not sure I am seeing that yet.

LA Matt: Whatever became of that quick, freshman guard who was originally scheduled to go to Missouri? Acadmic issues? If so, will we ever see him in a Pitt uniform?

Paul Zeise: I think you mean Mostella, who was supposed to go to Oklahoma State, not Missouri. As I just said above - he is working on his academics and there is a shot he could enroll in January, though right now that is uncertain.

Cory: How much weight has Patterson lost since last year?

Paul Zeise: They said about 10 to 15 pounds but he also turned some of his bad weight into good weight, meaning he toned up and got fit and added some muscle. You can tell, too, he looks good, looks quicker, looks more explosive, more athletic - it is amazing how that works: Get in shape, it helps your game!

Drewski: Does Penn St have basketball fans? Or do they all root for UNC or Duke come winter?

Paul Zeise: No they do have some fans, they are not as passionate as their football fans but I do believe they will bring some to the game tonight and I know in the past when they have had some success, they have come out of the woodwork. There are a ton of alumni of that school and so if they ever did get good and stayed good they would have a big fan base. And believe this - if they win tonight, there will be plenty of Penn Staters talking about it forever....

WVU Alumni: Any analysis on the type of play that Syracuse and Pitt will bring to the ACC in their first year? The way I see it, the Big East was a tough conference in which you needed a good 4 or 5 player, and the ACC to me is more of the 2 or 3 player type conference...would you agree? And if so, will that change Pitt's future recruiting?

Paul Zeise: I think you can already see a little change in the way Pitt has recruited and the kinds of players the Panthers are bringing in. Those stepaway fours "stretch fours" and bigger, more athletic 2s and 3s are what you need in the ACC. It is a little different game, but basketball is basketball and I'd say the rules changes (or to be more accurate, rules interpretation changes) have more of an impact of how the game is going to be played than the conference change. But Syracuse and Pitt -- and to a lesser degree because of their style Notre Dame - will bring some toughness to the ACC. That Big East style, that physical play, used to have teams from other conferences whining and while I think the refs are calling it differently and that will clean some of the physical stuff up, I don't see it all going away.

Lou: I looked at the top 25 poll today and can't figure out why Pitt is not in the mix. 7-0, not bad schedule and some of the teams ranked could not beat Pitt on their best day!!

Paul Zeise: Pitt started off not in the top 25. And they have beaten nobody. And worse, they have played almost nobody - Stanford is OK, may be an NCAA team, the rest of that schedule is junk. As a result, they aren't getting much credit for being 7-0. Funny thing is, if they played, Michigan State or Kansas and lost by 2 or 3 or whatever and were 6-1, they probably would be ranked since losing a close game to a top team would be more impressive than beating any teams they have beaten. Give it time - they keep winning they will be ranked.

LA Matt: I understand Dixon's and Pitt's rationale (revenue needed from Pitt home games)behind the weak non-conference schedule, but how do other teams (e.g., Michigan State and UConn) have such more challenging early season schedules?

Paul Zeise: I don't buy all of the stuff that Dixon is selling in terms of the schedule. I do buy that teams won't come to the Pete - it really doesn't do much for a bigger name team to go to the Petersen Center, though I see games like Florida at UConn and wonder if we are being sold some BS on that front as well.Pitt has had some bad luck in the tournaments in terms of the teams they have been given to play haven't been as good as they thought or were promised. And some of the teams they were supposed to play either back out or like last year when the Big East left them out of the challenge. So it isn't as easy as just - go find better games to play but I do think that Pitt could play a better schedule and still have the 18 home games. I think some of it is BS, I'm not naive, but like I said, I do think in some cases Pitt has been a victim of bad luck (like this year -Texas Tech and Stanford are down and CIncy wasn't the first choice to play at MSG)

Drewski: How has Jamie adapted to the ACC style so far? The biggest upgrade so far outside of player improvement like Wright and Patterson, is the stretch 4s with Young and Artis... Thoughts?

Paul Zeise: Yes, like I said - those stretch 4s are different than what Jamie has usually liked but the bigger issue than the conference change is the rules interpretation changes - Pitt is going to have to win some games with offense, especially if the whistle is being blown like it was Saturday against Duquesne (that was primarily an ACC crew, by the way).

Bob Phillips: Are you surprised with the success that Steven Adams is having in the NBA? I thought he looked lost at times last year.

Paul Zeise: Not at all -- he is an athletic 7-footer. Believe me, they teach you how to play if you are an athletic 7-footer. I think the year at Pitt really helped him because he learned how to play defense, got stronger, worked on his game enough that once he got into an NBA camp he was ready to take off. Plus he is on the absolute right team - he is only being asked to be a complementary player these days and so there isn't much pressure on. He is coming along slowly and learning. He is going to be a guy who makes a paycheck for a long, long time and at some point will become a very good NBA center

Tomas: PSU's backcourt may be the best we've seen so far ..i'd have to go back and look at their schedule but, Pitt may be the best D they've played against. Can we neutralize their guards in this one and force the other guys to beat us ?

Paul Zeise: Well like I said before - that is the matchup to watch and it all depends on how the Panthers defend those two. I don't know that they can play straight man and stay in front of those two - not from what I have seen. It is going to be a great test because I agree, this is the best combination of guards that they will have faced. Maybe they could play some zone or do some things to help but the Panthers can't let these two go off and combine for 40 or something (they average 38)

h2p: I know alot of guys are playing really well so far for this Pitt team..but who is one guy that has really surprised you so far with how well he has played?

Paul Zeise: Cameron Wright, no doubt. I knew he was a scrappy player, a hustle guy, a "glue guy" if you will -- he is turning into a go-to guy. He is so much better than I thought he would be - I know Patterson has scored more, but to be honest there is at least three games I can think of - Duquesne being the latest - where he took over and carried the team at the most critical moments (the 15-1 run was a lot of him just going to work). He has been very good and consistent, too. So I'd say he has surprised me more than anyone.

Tomas: I think we can wear them down with our D and depth. They aren't too deep .. 3 starters ave over 33 minutes. Not too scared about non-guard starters and bench.

Paul Zeise: Yes, that is the difference probably, between the two programs right now - Pitt has depth and Penn State is still building depth. If those two guards, one or both, get into any kind of foul trouble, it will be a big problem for the Lions.

LA Matt: For all of the criticism that Dixon has received over his style of play and his refusal to adjust, you have to admit that he must be "mellowing" over the years with his recent use of a zone deense and the more uptempo offense this year?

Paul Zeise: No, I don't think he is mellowing -- I think he understands that if refs are going to call the game differently, the Panthers are going to have to alter - even ever so slightly - what they do. I also think, as much as he will not admit it, he understands that the ACC is a little different than the Big East was. He is a great coach, he really is and he is just responding to the way games are going to be called in the future -- people want to see offense, that's just a reality.

Joe: How do you see the rotation for the team once they enter conference play, and what would that mean to players like Chris Jones?

Paul Zeise: Great question - I think there is still time for a guy like Jones to come up with a mysterious injury and be redshirted. I think it is like you can appear in the first 1/3rd of the games, which would be like the first 10 games, and still get a redshirt and that has happened in the past. I think we saw a little bit of a preview - when things were tight against Duquesne - it was the starting five, Durand Johnson and Artis. I think Derrick Randall will be used some. But it will be interesting to see how far beyond those eight it goes - Josh Newkirk will get some run but in tight games, not sure how much. But I think the rotation will be eight, maybe nine at the most.

Tomas: Other than Duke, Çuse and maybe UNC, which ACC teams have really good post games or post players?

Paul Zeise: Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest and Miami all have good post players and post games. The league has a lot of good 3s and 4s. Not as many good 5s but a few teams have 6-11 guys clogging up the middle. So Pitt will be challenged in that area enough in ACC play.

LA Matt: Realistically, any potential NBA talent on this Pitt roster or is it another example of Dixon doing more with less?

Paul Zeise: Great question. I think the young forwards obviously have a chance to be NBA players, I'm not certain about anyone else to be honest. I think Patterson is a bit of a tweener but if he can show that range he may have a shot. It is hard to tell with some of the younger guys - I do think that there are a lot of guys on this team who will make money playing basketball. I just don't know how many of them will be in the NBA and as of now, I'm not sure any of the older guys will. But I do see a lot of them at least getting to play in Europe if they choose and that means they are very good players - who maybe are just an inch too small, a step too slow, etc. to be in the NBA.

Cory: I heard Pitt was going to be at the Maui Invitational next year? Should alleviate some ooc concerns if so. That has to be a pretty good gig for a beat writer?

Paul Zeise: Yes, it will be a nice trip but again - it is usually a great field but you don't know who will be there. I think the rule for all those tournaments is you can only go once every four years. So go back through the last three years and cross off all the teams that have played there - and I think there can only be one (maybe it has been changed to two but I think one, though I will check into it) team per conference in any given field. So again, it all depends on who is eligible to go and who can be there as to whether or not it is going to be a great field or another situation where Pitt goes to a great tourney and the competition is a little less than they had hoped.

Brandon: Are they doing anything to improve the free throw shooting year over year? - very impressive so far

Paul Zeise: Jamie said it as simple as possible "recruit better shooters...." He said this year's team is one of his best shooting team and that has shown up big time at the free throw line.

Cory: Any added pressure for the players in a game like this, or Duquesne? It's a no-win for Pitt basically. If they win it's because they're supposed to win. If they lose its a bad loss and everyone has to hear about it til the next game.

Paul Zeise: No, I don't buy that. It would be a bad loss but it really isn't any different than any of the teams they play - they are supposed to win almost all of these nonconference games. And like I wrote today - most of the guys on the team have very little reference point for the history of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. It is just another game to them.

Tomas: I've liked what I've seen so far but the opposition has been so weak (even the Legends field was weaker than I expected although I'll give some credit to Pitt and it's play as well) that I'm not sure whether we should be ranked. I just don't know. Do you think this team is Top 25 .. Top 20 ?

Paul Zeise: I think, like I said, it is a Top 25 team. Now how high in the Top 25 -- I'm not sure yet. I do think this is an NCAA team, but is it a "first weekend go home" team, a Sweet 16 team? I need to see more against better competition before I give my opinion about how far this team can go or how good it is.

WVU Alumni: Are you a fan of the destination thanksgiving tournaments so to speak? I know the Panthers played at the Barclay's center leading up to thanksgiving, but a lot of their talent comes from NY. Should a tournament much further away from home benefit the Pathers in future years in your opinion?

Paul Zeise: Yeah, I think it is a nice preseason (or early season if you will) reward - get the kids out of dodge, get some better competition on neutral courts and go play teams you normally wouldn't play against. I think Pitt wants to play in NYC every year at least once but they are headed to Maui next year and signed up for some other ones - I think one of those like in Bermuda or Bahamas or Puerto Rico in a few years - and I think that is a good mix for them over the years - play as much in NYC as possible but also go out and experience some other things.

h2p: prediction tonight?

Paul Zeise: I like Pitt to win, something like 80-69 -- a tighter game than they have been but Pitt is in control for most of the second half. That seems to be about where both teams are.

LA Matt: What is ben Howland up to these days?

Paul Zeise: Taking it easy, collecting checks from UCLA and waiting until the end of this season when he will be the hottest free agent coach on the market. I think if he wants to work again, which he says he does, he will have his choice of a lot of jobs next year.

chicago_pitt_fan: i have been baffled for years now about the weak non conference schedule. so to your point earlier, if teams refuse to play at the pete, why couldn't pitt schedule a home and home or play a a big game at the consol?

Paul Zeise: First off - I am not sold 100 percent that teams won't come to the Pete. I am not saying that is easy to get teams to come, but they have had some home and homes in the past. I think it is finding the right opponent. Home and homes are tougher to do in hoops and Jamie will tell you revenue from a home game against Howard is better than revenue from a neutral site game against a big-time opponent. They want to play at home. They are trying to work out some home and homes with teams, it will be interesting to see who they are. One thing that could help is Pitt is perceived to be at top of ACC each year and thus they get a top Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten challenge as opposed to Penn State.

Well we had a lot of fun and for our first time, we covered a ton of ground and had a lot of great participation. Let's do this again next Tuesday at noon and every Tuesday after that until the season is over and next week tell all your friends about it so we can make this a great opportunity for dialogue about Pitt basketball. The Panthers will have two games between now and our next chat - Penn State and Loyola - to discuss. Have a great week and thanks again for participating.

Have a great week.


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