Paul Zeise's Pitt basketball chat transcript: 12.17.13

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Paul Zeise: Welcome to today's Pitt chat - let's get started. Pitt plays at MSG tonight, a big game but I don't know how good Cincinnati really is. We will find out

Larry: What are your thoughts on the Cincinnati matchup?

Paul Zeise: It is gonna be a lot like the last few games - the Bearcats are a little more physical and will matchup a little better with Pitt than some of the teams they have played but at the end of the day they have one guy who does most of their scoring. I think Pitt wins and probably by double digits. Cincinnati just got buried by Xavier so this game isn't helping the Panthers strength of schedule perception, that's for sure.

Brian: Do 25 teams deserve to be ranked in front of Pitt?

Paul Zeise: That is a great question and one I don't have an answer for -- how do we know how good anybody is at this point? I mean, very few teams have quality wins, some have quality losses but nothing I have seen from Pitt's opponents suggest to me that they have beaten anybody. I mean - who is the best team they played? Stanford? Penn State? I'm just not sure where they are right now. I think they are a top 25 team but I want to see them play some teams that can match them a physically.

Matt: Have the new interpretation of the rules made playing defense impossible? It seems so different from last year

Paul Zeise: Not impossible, but different. It is a little more difficult for guards to manhandle opposing guards. So you have to move your feet and work on getting into position where you can stay in front of your guy. Also, you need to get into position early on because you aren't getting the charge call any more. So you can still stop guys, you just need to play a little better and more fundamental defense and not get lazy

Johnny: Jamie taking tons of heat nationally finally for his schedule. Him and Thad Matta both. To be honest, I agree. With this new ACC money they can't possibly need these games.

Paul Zeise: The ACC money is an interesting point - they went from about $3 million in revenue from the Big East (or even $4 or $5 million depending on how you do the math) to $17 million, so perhaps all of those home games are no longer quite as necessary. But it isn't going to change - the key is get to the NCAA Tournament and the nonconference schedule is designed to get Pitt 12 wins - that means all they need to do is go 9-9 in the ACC - they get to 21 and they get to the tournament every year regardless of where they are at. That's the bottom line - the schedule is always RPI friendly and always going to be heavy on teams that are good on paper, not so much on the court.

Johnny: Against PSU when the game got tight the lineup was Zanna/Patterson/Wright/Newkirk/Robinson. Really solid ball handling from 1-4(except Wright who can't dribble) and athletic. Why does Jamie refuse to incorporate a press to mix it up every once in a while?

Paul Zeise: Jamie doesn't believe you need to press, he also doesn't like the fact that when you press you leave yourself vulnerable to giving up layups He is a "lock it down and guard the hole" defensive guy which means, you build a wall and you don't let teams score and when they do you take it personally. I do think Pitt could press, especially this year, but again, it is just not something Jamie believes in unless you are in desperation mode. It is philosophical.

Mailman: Is there a timetable for when we might see Uchebo in live action, since he's now medically cleared to play?

Paul Zeise: Nope. Could be tonight, could be a month from now. This is one of these situations where it is 100 percent on the player now - he can play, he has been physically cleared to play, but he needs to get to the point where he trusts his knee, believes he is healthy and can play fast without worrying about it or thinking about it. Will be interesting to see how he comes along and when he finally gets out there.

h2p: How much will the non conference schedule hurt Pitt come NCAA seeding time?

Paul Zeise: Not much, if at all, that is the genius of the way it is built -- Pitt plays very few (I think Howard is the only one) "RPI killers" and instead plays a lot of teams that are OK in the RPI and by playing three neutral site games and winning them against major conference teams, they get a big boost from that as well. The schedule is done with the RPI in mind and Jamie will tell you that it is. He knows how to work the RPI in his favor and is very good at it and he knows the boost he will get from playing 18 ACC games will mean at the end of the day - on paper, the numbers will be very good for his schedule. So why change a formula that has worked so well?

h2p: If you were making a starting five of Panthers from the beginning of 2000s til now..who would be on it?

Paul Zeise: A starting five? Well I'd have FIelds and Knight as my guards, Young and Blair as my forwards and I guess Aaron Gray would be my center.

Matt: I think it's a joke that a UK team that has 3 losses already is still ranked, let alone in the Top 20! I don't care who you lose to. If you are 8-3 and there are countless other teams undefeated or have 1 loss, you have no business being there.

Paul Zeise: I agree to a point - but when you lose to three ranked teams, all on neutral or road courts and two to top ten teams - and do so in three close games, it tells me you belong in the top 25. It tells me if you were playing three average teams you would be 11-0 or whatever and not 8-3. Also - look at North Carolina, with two losses -- are you telling me they shouldn't be ranked?

Brian: Louisville has lower sos and rpi than pitt and has a loss. Would think pitt has built up enough respect over 10 years, but apparently not.

Paul Zeise: Louisville is the defending national champions and started in the top five on just about every list and their loss was to North Carolina - did you want them to drop 20 spots due to that? I am not saying they have beaten anyone - but given where they started it isn't a shock they are still ranked. And again - the SOS component is one of the most useless and overrated numbers in college basketball, especially now. All that means is the crap teams that I played are better than the crap teams (in the RPI) you played. Jim Calhoun used to say that any team outside the top 125 in RPI should be given an RPI of 126. This would make the SOS component far more accurate because if you are a good team from a real conference - whether you play team 150 or team 300 on your home court, it should be a win and a relatively easy win. So you shouldn't get that much more credit for beating 150 than 300. So again, the SOS number of the RPI is a farce in many ways

Pittster: The freshmen seem to be contributing a lot, do you think this is the best class Jamie has had?

Paul Zeise: I really like this class. I'd have to study the classes of the past to see where it ranks, I would say that this is going to turn out to be one of his strongest classes no doubt. I love Mike Young and Josh Newkirk, two young kids who play like they are much more mature. Both have a lot of upside -- Newkirk is really becoming a steady option at the point and handles the ball and pressure well. Young is athletic, he is aggressive rebounder and has a lot of skill. Jones and Artis are a little behind but Artis has shown some really freakish things and he is very good at getting to the open spot and putting himself in position to score. This class is going to be one of those classes where, they are going to play so much that four years from now when they are seniors people will be saying "how are they still on that roster?" because it will seem like they have played for 10 years.

Fred: What do you think about Pitt's schedule this year?

Paul Zeise: Again - it is the same schedule it almost always has been with a few exceptions when they have stepped up and played some better teams. Jamie finds teams who aren't going to kill the Panthers RPI, plays in a couple of the tournaments to get some neutral court games and then goes 12-1 or something and gets everything he needs - revenue, wins, solid RPI number - out of the nonconference. It is the formula he has used to get to NCAA Tournament 11 out of 12 years or whatever

Pittman: Do you think Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna will be able to continue to score like they are once the ACC starts?

Paul Zeise: I think both will be fine - they both work hard, both are veterans and Zanna seems to be a little better at finishing around the basket than he has been. I expect their numbers to tail off a little just because the competition is better but not significant drops. They are good players

Matt: Cincy just lost to New Mexico and Xavier..they have Kilpatrick though who I remember not so fondly from the Big East

Paul Zeise: Yep, they have one guy who scores a lot, they will be feisty and physical and they will play really hard. But they aren't very good and so as a result I expect Pitt to wear them down and win by double digits.

Pittigo: When will Pitt get its first loss?

Paul Zeise: They could get to Syracuse undefeated but I have a sneaking suspicion they will get their first loss at NC State or at Georgia Tech, in other words one of their two conference road games. It is tough to win on the road in major conferences. If they win both of those games and get to Syracuse undefeated we could be talking about a very special season.

Ryan: Andy Katz reported on Pitts SOS this week saying it was weak for a few reasons: 1: OSU backed out of NY tourney 2. Nova and Gtown would not schedule home and homes. Thoughts on if Pitt will start to schedule tougher Out of Conference games next year?

Paul Zeise: Ohio State did not back out of the Legends Tournament. They were moved by the organizer to a different tournament. But beyond that - I think the schedule will continue to be what it is - a ton of home games, a few neutral site games and maybe a road game. The key will be this - Jamie is banking on getting a better opponent than Penn State in that ACC/Big Ten challenge annually and he is hoping to get a home-and-home scheduled opposite that game. So in short - I think it will be a little better and frankly since they play in the ACC it doesn't have to get that much better than it is. Next year, they will have a road game in ACC/Big Ten challenge, and he will look to start a home-and-home with someone to go opposite that every year.

Mark: Pitt seems to have alot of quick perimeter players the next few years. Any thoughts on some size for recruiting?

Paul Zeise: Um - they just signed a class of Luther (about 6-7 or 6-8 or whatever), Jeter (about 6-7) and Shaq (6-11) and Uchebo is 6-foot-10 -- they are bringing in some size and they have size that isn't playing yet. I don't think size is an issue with this group and with what is coming in.

Chris: Paul-assuming Uchebo ever returns, what realistic role would he have with the team (in terms of minutes), considering all the time he has missed?

Paul Zeise: I think the goal with him this year is to get him back playing, running, moving around and back into the flow of the game and then next year, perhaps he steps in as the starter when Zanna graduates. That is the ideal scenario, in other words if all goes well and he is what they think he can be, he starts at center next year even ahead of Randall. So I think the plan is to get him back in the mix this year and whatever he contributes is gravy. I could see a scenario where he gets his minutes increased every week once he starts playing but again, he isn't on the court yet so this is all speculation.

Brandin: How good is the ACC as compared to the Big East? It seems like the ACC has been losing a lot of games.

Paul Zeise: The ACC is nowhere close to where the Big East was the last few years. It could get there, but it has a ways to go. The old Big East had 11 teams make the tourney one year, had three number one seeds one year and was without question the best conference in the land. I'm not sure you can say this about the ACC.

h2p: What is the biggest question mark surrounding the Panthers heading into ACC play? Ability to stop a quick guard? Interior defense?

Paul Zeise: I think their defense, as strange as it sounds, could be the biggest question. I think the Panthers have the ability to be a good defensive team but I have seen enough leakage in pretty much every game that I will be interested in seeing what they do against a really good offensive team that has a good inside-outside combination. But the flip side is this - this team is much better than other Pitt teams offensively so it is more equipped to win a game that gets into the 70s or 80s than teams in the past. I like this team, I think it is pretty balanced and I think it can get scoring from all five spots, which makes it tough to defend.

Bob: How well do you see Ryan Luther fitting into the program in the couple of years?

Paul Zeise: He is a good player so he should be fine and do well. I think the biggest question will be what position he plays - is he a three or is he a four? He plays probably more like a three than a four but with his size and the fact that Jamie seems to have begun to see the value in those stretch fours, maybe he does that and becomes a tough matchup for bigger, slower power forwards. He is skilled and that is a very good start.

Sean: Proof of weak pre-ACC schedule is in the stands-season ticket holder for 12 years and I couldn't bring myself to drive down and watch them battle the mighty Penguins! Plus look at the Oakland Zoo seats for some of those games - looks bad on TV

Paul Zeise: I have said this before - the schedule serves its purpose for Pitt. It brings revenue, it gets them a lot of wins and because Jamie is very smart about it, the RPI number is pretty solid. But I don't think fans are excited about it and frankly, the Panthers are almost irrelevant on the local sports scene for the first two months of the season. But again, the goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament and few teams are better than Pitt at doing that.

Matt: Has the boat sailed on Mostella being eligible to play this year?

Paul Zeise: Not quite, I think the ruling is supposed to come down today or tomorrow or something - so we will find out here shortly I would think. I will say, reading the writing on the wall, it doesn't sound like coaches expect to have him until June. But we will see what happens.

Drewski: Bracketology has Pitt as a 7 seed. Is this poor SOS to this point? How can Lunardi justify that when teams like Ville' and Gonzaga have played worse schedules but don't seem to get the same punishment?

Paul Zeise: Again, the SOS number at this point is meaningless. Pitt has played nobody close to as good as North Carolina (who Louisville played) and more importantly - WHO CARES AT THIS POINT? If Pitt is 7-seed now - if they win a bunch of ACC games, they will be a top four seed which is all that matters. It is December and people are worried about Bracketology? Really?

Patrick Chambers: I'm starting to think we might not be a good team.

Paul Zeise: You are a good team, deal with it.

Bob: From a schedule perspective, who has anyone played? AZ has played Duke (NIT tourney) and Mich. After that it's not much either. Look at Kentucky's opening schedule. It's not anything anyone else does differently. Who might be open to a home and home for a few years to beef it up?

Paul Zeise: Kentucky played Baylor, at North Caroline and Mich State. North Carolina has played Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville and will play Texas. Teams do play good games. Everybody pretty much plays 9 or 10 crap games at home - the other three or four games, to me, defines the schedule.

JM: How do you see Young and Artis used in the years to come? Will they split minutes at the 4, or will JD try different combos to get them on the floor at the same time?

Paul Zeise: I think they are flexible and will be used in different ways over the next four years. They will be able to play together if Jamie wants to go to a little quicker lineup without giving up much size. They could play the 3 and 4 if he wanted to go bigger or 4 and 5 if he wants to go quicker. I think for the most part this year they will split time at the 4 but as both get better and more experienced they will be used in different ways.

Matt: Is there any truth to the thought that their tourney shortcomings have affected their seeding just as much as their schedule?

Paul Zeise: No. It may affect where they were ranked in the preseason but even that I don't buy. Pitt lost a lot of players from last year and that is why they weren't ranked. Had Steven Adams came back I bet they would have been ranked and nobody would be talking about this stuff as once you are ranked and you keep winning you keep moving up in the rankings and so Pitt would be like No. 10 or something right now

Paul Zeise: Ok, thanks as always for participating - we will do it again next Tuesday. Pitt-Cincy tonight at 7 pm on ESPN. And also you can follow the Panthers on the Pitt basketball blog as we have it up and running.

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