Paul Zeise's Pitt basketball chat transcript: 2.25.14

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Paul Zeise: Welcome to Pitt chat. Let's begin......

Chris: Jamie Dixon gets a lot of the blame for how this season has gone. I look at what has happened, Adams left at least a year earlier than expected, JJ Moore transferred and Durand Johnson had a freak accident. He is playing 3 true freshmen and it really could be a lot worse. Should Dixon be getting as much blame as he is?

Paul Zeise: No....and yes. No because your points are correct - this is a team that was hit with a lot of attrition due to graduation, Adams leaving and several guys transferring. So really in some ways this team has overachieved to get to where it is. So big picture it is ahead of where most thought it would be. Small picture though - there have been some games where I didn't think he had his best day. This team isn't great at playing halfcourt and playing slow yet he continues to try to do this and they have as a result got really stagnant on offense. He needs to let them get back to transition game and a more free flowing offense because that is when they have played their best basketball

Jason: I think Joe Starkey summed up James Robinson's play best calling him low risk/low reward. For a team that struggles so mightily to put the ball in the basket, do we need Robinson to become more offensive-minded? It seems like we are playing 4 on 5 out there since he doesnt ever look to score.

Paul Zeise: I agree that he needs to be more assertive offensively but not just looking to score - he needs to attack the basket more and look to penetrate and dish. They are doing way too much standing around and watching each other and not enough attacking. That is a big problem - watch their offense and see how many seconds they let tick off while they dribble outside the 3-point line. They need to move the ball around more and look to attack quicker in these shot clocks.

Matt from LA: What disturbes me most about the team this year and really in the last few years is that they do not seem to be getting any better. If anything, they seem to be regressing. Is this coaching? Lack of talent?

Paul Zeise: I don't think regressing is completely accurate. I don't think they have been as talented the last couple of years as they were in the Blair years obviously but this is a very good freshman class and I think that if they continue to progress they will be really good when they are juniors. This team right now is what it is though - it is Lamar Patterson on offense, four freshmen, an undersized center who seems to be struggling to make layups and a couple of hustle/heart/grit kids in Wright and Robinson. I mean, let's be honest, that's what it is and yet they are likely headed to the NCAA Tournament. Jamie's coaching is fine and the program is fine. Think about the doomsday it was last year when all those guys transferred and Adams left early - now I hear people excited about next year already because of the incoming guys and returning guys.

chicago_pitt_fan: was johnson's loss that huge? i know he was very important....but pitt was crushing bad teams earlier in the year. they beat every team by more than 10. i agree, pitt played faster and got in to the open court more too. but what else do you attribute the significant drop off in play to?

Paul Zeise: Here is why Johnson is missed so much - he is another legit offensive player. Another guy who can score. Another guy who is a threat. Another guy who forces defenses to worry about him. As it is, without him, down the stretch in these games, there is nobody other than Patterson that makes any defense worry or nervous. Teams can play man to man and just have their best defender guard Patterson and it is hard for Panthers to score. With Johnson on floor, teams at least had to respect his 3-pointer and that helped spread some things out. He also was a "swagger" guy and an energy guy - he came in off the bench and gave the Panthers instant energy and that is something they don't necessarily have now coming off the bench. He just brought a lot - not too mention experience - that this team is missing.

Flummoxed in Seatle: Hi PZ! I foresee the tourney committee making an expample out of Pitt and putting them in the Tuesday play in game as a 12-seed. Thoughts?

Paul Zeise: I can't see that - not a 12 seed. Maybe a 10 or 11 but if they win out then I can't see a team that is 12-6 and 24-7 and in a major conference dropping that far. I just can't to be honest.

Matt from LA: I know that sports is more mental than actual physical talent, but how do you go from almost beating the Orange twice, Virginia, North Carolina, Cincy even Duke until the final ten minutes to losing to FSU and almost to VA Tech and Miami? Where is the coaching? Where is the senior leadership?

Paul Zeise: I think those teams are probably a lot closer to Pitt talent wise than you think - Florida State, I mean, did you watch the game? Who were the best players on the floor? Probably three of the five best players on the floor played for Florida State - the White kid and the two guards. So that wasn't nearly as bad of a loss as people are making it out to be as FSU is a little better than we think and they are a borderline NCAA team.

Pitt 86 in VT: Do you see the conference switch helping out in the seeding room in Indy? They haven't been favored in recent years

Paul Zeise: No not at all - I think it will hurt them because they won't have that huge RPI boost they got from being in the Big East any more. The ACC is weak and there aren't a lot of really good opportunities for the Panthers to get quality wins. Pitt will get hurt in Indy because of their nonconference schedule -- they need to do a better job of scheduling tougher games or they will be underseeded in their minds every year. The Big East gave them a bump because they played a lot of top 25 teams. That's not the case now.

Matt from LA: Considering that this team is definitely not a Final Four team and will probably lose in the first round (AGAIN), do you think that it really matters, other than another meaningless banner in The Pete, for them to make the NCAA's? Does is benefit the University financially, help in recruiting, sell tickets, etc...?

Paul Zeise: Yes, it does. They get money, Dixon gets a bonus, they can sell teams on the fact that they are close to being a national power -- there is no way making the NCAA Tournament is anything but a huge boost to the program.

Flummoxed in Seatle: How easy/difficult is it to change their offense right? Is it simply having JD tell his players to run a more uptempo game instead of this lackluster half-court offense?

Paul Zeise: I don't think they have to change anything -- they need to get back to really looking for transition opportunities, play a little faster and more aggressively when there are openings and letting his guys have a little more freedom to take shots when they are open. I'll give you a great example from one of the last few games - I think it was the Syracuse game here. Michael Young had an opportunity for a transition basket as he caught the ball at the elbow with a defender on his back shoulder. It was a "one dribble dunk" situation. But he stopped and waited for the rest of the team to come to him and then they ran through one of those awful possessions where they got an awful shot that had no chance as the shot clock ran down. Now is that good offense? And what was wrong with Young taking that dunk there? That's what I am talking about - this team was doing that early in the ACC year. They are not now or it seems like they aren't looking to any more.

Matt from LA: In your mind, does Dixom prefer the monotonous and largely unsuccessful half court, burn the shot clock down to 10 seconds offense or the more uptempo, run the floor game? Of is it just a matter of him coaching to the team's stregnths and abilities?

Paul Zeise: He believes in running good offense which, for the most part is what the Panthers do. He believes in making sure that they get good shots, which they do a pretty good job of doing. But he also likes to make sure they run clock, control the possessions, keep possessions low and so he isn't a huge fan of uptempo offense. He likes to have guys share the ball, spread the floor and play offense. It is just his style and I get it - I just don't think this team this year is built to play that way and they are having a hard time scoring late in shot clocks.

Matt from LA: If Johnson doesn't blow out his knee, would we have beaten the Orange, Virginia and maybe even Duke or NC and be ranked top ten now?

Paul Zeise: I don't know what would have happened. I think Pitt would have won at least a few of those close games for the reasons I outlined as to what he brings to the table. How many, who knows, but they would have a few more wins. I don't think they are top ten but we wouldn't have people talking about the bubble.

sousesider: Paul, do you think Artis should be on the floor a lot more considering the play lately from the four spot..

Paul Zeise: I think they should play both Young and Artis together more than they do. I think that we have seen they both can score and can stretch defenses and I am not sure Zanna is really playing well enough to merit all the time he gets. But Artis is an X-factor only if he is allowed to play the way he is capable and use his offensive ability and ability to create shots and points within the flow of things. Again, this isn't an offense where everyone has a green light and he is the kind of guy who is very good offensively and maybe should have one.

Matt from LA: Crystal ball time: Who do you see as the starting five next year, assuming their are no transfers?

Paul Zeise: I think it will be Robinson, Wright, Jeter, Artis and Young. Just a guess - a lot can happen and who knows - maybe it will be Robinson, Newkirk, Wright, Artis and Young. Should be interesting to see how the frontcourt sort of works itself out and whether Young is OK moving to the five.

Jason: What percentage chance would you say this team has of making the NCAA Tournament with the following number of wins: 21, 22, 23, or 24? I dont think 23 is an absolute lock, do you?

Paul Zeise: 23 or more is a lock. 22 is about 75 percent. Less than that and they are in big, big trouble.

Ryan: Any update on the Mostella kid, seems Pitt has started looking at oter players for his spot?

Paul Zeise: Still hoping he can get it together. I would not hold my breath. I'll be surprised if he is ever in a Pitt uniform but stranger things have happened.

chicago_pitt_fan: prediction for the week? pitt rights the ship and notches two victories? wins at bc, loses at nd since we have struggled in the past with them?

Paul Zeise: I think Pitt wins against BC then wins ugly against ND. The wild card game is NC State - Pitt already beat them but remember the Wolfpack has played well of late and they got off to a great start against Pitt last time.

Matt from LA: I like the kid's defense, but we can't do better than Wright at the two guard? Once again, we suffer from a non-existent offense from our guards!

Paul Zeise: Well if you have Artis and Jeter on the floor you should have some offense. Maybe Newkirk plays and Wright plays the 3, though I don't see that. Wright is a good player for this team, he gives them hustle plays, heart and he does pitch in some on offense as well.

Paul Zeise: OK, thanks so much for participating today. Great questions. We will do this again next Tuesday and for your sake as fans, hopefully, discussing three Pitt wins and the fact that the Panthers are back in the "lock" category.

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