Paul Zeise's Pitt basketball chat transcript: 1.21.14

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Paul Zeise: Welcome to the chat - let's get started

Jazzy Jeff: What was the biggest reason Pitt lost to Syracuse in your mind?

Matt: I think that Coach Dixon is doing a tremendous job with this team. They appear tenacious and have a toughness about them. Do they lack the inside depth to carry them to an elite 8 or final four?

Paul Zeise: Losing Durand Johnson has left the bench to basically be three freshmen and Randall, who is a very limited role as a back-up center. So that to me is the bigger issue - you don't have a lot of experience off the bench and you also probably don't have a second legit 3-point threat beyond Patterson. Other guys can hit them, but Johnson forced defenses to guard him at the line.

Paul Zeise: OK, now I figured out how to post the questions and answers in this new format we have. Let's get rolling here....

Travis: Did Tyler Ennis outplay James Robinson?

Paul Zeise: Yes, I think he did, he was the most clutch player on the floor and made some big, big time plays when his team needed it. I mean, we can talk about the two drives at the end --- but what about draining two free throws in the final minute and also he hit that huge 3 earlier in the game. He played a really nice game - and Boeheim is nuts if he doesn't encourage that kid to become more aggressive offensively and look to score more.

Robert: When(if ever) will Durand Johnson return?

Paul Zeise: They say it is a 9-12 month injury. So I'd say a realistic time table for him would be the start of ACC play next year.

Seth: Are token minutes for Josh Newkirk really going to put this team in a position to be good throughout a season? Starters will be gassed.

Paul Zeise: I hear what you are saying but here is the thing - when you have three freshmen as your primary backups it is going to be a mixed bag. Some days they will have it some days they will not have it. And in this case, Newkirk had that "deer in headlights" look for the first time and Dixon has been very good at protecting his freshmen from this kind of nightmare game. He did the same thing with Jones at Georgia Tech - he only played four minutes. Newkirk will play plenty but when he has these "freshmen moments" like he did Saturday, Jamie has to think of the team and try to win the game at hand.

Arnie from TC: Mike Young and Jamel Artist are declining right now. Is that due to being a Freshman? Or are they getting worse? One thing is clear, they aren't progressing and improving right now.

Paul Zeise: I'd say two things - the competition is getting much better and they are freshmen and as I just said there is a roller coaster often with freshmen. Heck look at Kentucky - that guy has the best freshmen in the country and they are all over the map in terms of what you are going to get from them. But you can't discount that they aren't playing Cal Poly and Albany any more. Even the worst ACC teams have some good players so they need to re-adjust to the intensity and level of conference play.

Soufofoakland: Is KJ McDaniels a matchup nightmare?

Paul Zeise: Nightmare? I don't know about that - but he is certainly athletic as heck and he is a guy who can score in a number of ways. And his shotblocking is amazing in some ways. The thing is - he is by far their best player and best offensive player and so it is a little less of a tough matchup because you can help on him and do some things to rotate his way that you wouldn't necessarily be able to do if there were a couple of other scary guys out there. But to your point, I'm not sure Pitt has one player who can guard him alone.

Tanker: Does the NCAA selection committee need to devalue pitt now that durand is gone?? Paul Zeise: No - they will have an entire body of work - pretty much an entire conference season and conference tournament - to judge how good Pitt is without Johnson. The only time an injury like that would come into play is if a team lost a key player really late in the season. Then it become a factor but not in this case. Pitt will have what, 15 or 16 games to show what kind of team they are.

Scalpers: Are there any non conference games in the works next year?

Paul Zeise: They are in Maui Classic, I think they have another neutral site thing at MSG, they are going play in ACC-Big Ten challenge and that game will likely be on the road. So Jamie is working on trying to get a major conference team to play a home and home with the first game at the Pete next year. I know they reached out to Villanova and Georgetown but who knows what is going to happen..

Kevin: Any truth to the rumor Dixon only agreed to the Maui Invitational if they guaranteed the first game would be v. Chaminade?

Paul Zeise: No. I have asked about this and the answer I get every time is "ridiculous" so there's that

Al: Are there any other options out there for Pitt at Center next year? It seems like with Zanna gone, it will be Randall(probably not suited to start), Uchebo(may never get healthy), and Doorson(still extremely raw). Is Pitt willing to just roll the dice with those three going into next season?

Paul Zeise: Great question - we may see Mike Young pull the Dante Taylor and move over if need be - but the hope is Uchebo is ready by then. Young has actually played some at the five but I think it would be a huge mistake if he was forced to play there big minutes. This is obviously an issue but there is a lot of time to find an answer.

Mr Hands on Hips: In the last game, Pitt had their top 4 play 35M+. Is that sustainable? Zanna has shown his ability to break down during a season.

Paul Zeise: I think it is - there are some teams that have gotten to the Final Four with basically five guys. It would be nice to have a few players take some minutes away but if they don't these guys are in shape they should be fine.

Guest: What's the matchup with clemson looking like tonight? Any favorable matchups?

Paul Zeise: I think Clemson is a lot like Pitt in the early days - relying heavily on defense and a work in progress on offense - with one exception - they actually do have a go-to guy. I think he is a tough matchup for anyone but not impossible. I think Patterson is going to present problems for Clemson and I expect him to have another big night.

Steve Pitt 2002: The last 2 games, Lamar Patterson has been shutdown in the 1st 1/2 by G Tech and SU. What adjustments have you noticed were made a 1/2 time, and how can Dixon be better prepared to start the game?

Paul Zeise: He made shots? I mean, against Syracuse he missed some shots early but he had some good looks. The Georgia Tech game was just a disaster and not because of anything Georgia Tech did - I think Patterson had like five or six turnovers at halftime in that game. Against the Orange, if you recall he hit the three 3s -- all of them were from way down town so it isn't like there was some great adjustments to get him good looks. He just didn't play well in the first half against GT and he didn't shoot well in the first half against Syracuse.

Al: I thought Pitt played well against Syracuse, but I also feel like now they have only played 2 truly "big" games and lost them both. With the ACC being pretty weak this year, how many "statement wins" are really left to get? (I'm thinking Syracuse and Duke and that's it). If Pitt goes, say 25-6 but without a single win over a top-25 or 30 RPI team, would they still get a decent seed in March?

Paul Zeise: I disagree - winning at Maryland, beating Virginia, beating FSU, winning at Clemson, beating Duke -- there are some more opportunities than you think to win a few signature kind of games. But you are right, if they don't win a few of those games, they could be a lower seed than they hoped even if they finished third in the league or something. I think seeding is the least of Pitt's worries at this point - just keep winning games and get to the tournament.

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