Monday, January 13, 2014


Here we are, smack dab in the middle of another College Basketball season.  Your University of Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team is in the midst of another stellar season under the helm of head coach Jamie Dixon, and oh by the way are not only now a part of the ACC, but are also 3-0 and sit at the top of the conference. 

Due to some unforeseen computer and technology issues, I have been a little behind in my duties as the Pitt writer for Steel Nation Magazine, specifically in providing content for the the website blog.  Let me just start off by apologizing and what better way to apologize than to try to summarize what has happened so far, and promise to have at least one blog posting per week for the remainder of the season if not multiple postings. 

So without further ado, the Pitt Basketball season November 8th 2013 – January 11th 2014.

Pitt currently stands at a record of 15 wins against just 1 loss, and is 3-0 in the ACC.  The Panthers started the season about as dominant as any team can, winning their first 10 games by an average of 21 points per game.  In the first 10 games of the season the only real test of the Panthers was during their inaugural game as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge against perennial doormat Penn State.  The Nittany Lions surprised a lot of people including me and the Panthers in how they were able to score and defend with relative ease against the bigger more athletic and talented Panthers.  Ultimately Pitt came out on top 78-69, in what has been the only single digit Pitt victory of the season. 

Over the first 10 games of the season the Panthers displayed an uncanny ability to score and score often. Averaging 82.6 points per game which is more in line with the type of basketball that will be played in the ACC, Pitt was able to score from anywhere and everywhere on the floor, including from the free throw line.  Just when most fans, and by most I mean me, thought that Pitt was becoming the offensive juggernaut I always hoped they could be they ran into either a defensive buzzsaw in the Cincinnati Bearcats, or a very rare offensive slump that lasted exactly the length of one full game.  It appears in my humble opinion that it was a combination of both as the Panther dropped their first and only contest of the season at their home away from home, Madison Square Garden to Cincinnati 44-43.  I heard a lot of criticism for Pitt after this game, as well as a lot of praise for Cincy, but what I did not hear was praise for Pitt. Sure scoring only 43 points in a game is or at least can be concerning, but despite only scoring 43 points, and not scoring a field goal for over 20 minutes of game action, that is right over 20 minutes without a field goal, that is more than half the game, the Panthers still lost by only 1 point on a last second tip in by Cincinnati. How many teams in the country could go that long without making a shot and still win if not for a questionable over the back non-call?  I say none.  There is no other team in the country that could keep a game that close and have a legit shot to win with 0 made field goals in 20+ minutes.  Not Kansas, Not Michigan State, not Kentucky, not current #1 Arizona, no one.  Worst part of the loss was not the loss in and of itself, but it was the fact that Lamar Patterson could have potentially iced the game by making 2 free throws with just under 13 seconds remaining, but missed both.  In the past Lamar Patterson has had a tendency to play very well in stretches, but seemingly disappear for stretches as well.  Usually the stretches in which he did not play well were caused by a trigger, could those missed free throws be the trigger this season? 

As the loss lingered I was concerned about how Patterson would respond.  As a redshirt senior, and easily the most versatile and talented Panther, it was obvious to me that Pitt will only go as far as Patterson can take them.  There is talent all over the floor for Pitt in athleticism, shooting ability and skill, but Patterson can do anything that needs done on the floor.  So how did Patterson respond to those missed free throws?  He upped his game considerably that’s how, after the Cincinnati loss Patterson was averaging 15.9 points per game on the season, since that loss Patterson has averaged 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1 steal per game in the 5 games since.  The scoring is especially impressive considering that the level of competition has improved by leaps and bounds as the last three games have come against ACC competition.  Patterson has been every bit the player that I and many other fans have felt that he could or should be over the past three seasons, and has established himself as a very real early contender for ACC player of the year. 
In addition to Patterson several other players have also stepped up their play throughout the season and have the Panthers primed to not only crack a coveted, but meaningless spot in the top 25 rankings.  Cameron Wright is showing that he is an overall player and not just the defensive stopper that he was long considered to be. Wright is patiently aggressive and active on offense, always moving without the ball and attacking the rim in transition. Along with Patterson and Talib Zanna, Cameron Wright is one of only three Panthers averaging double digit points on the season. 

Wright will need to continue to aggressive on the offensive side of the ball with the recent news that Pitt’s uber-sixth man Durand Johnson A.K.A. Mr. Confidence, is out for the season with a torn ACL.  In true Durand Johnson form, even after tearing his ACL he still hit two free throws before exiting the game.  His ability to score from anywhere, especially beyond the arc will be missed as he is expected to be out anywhere from 9 – 12 months in recovery.  The injury to Johnson could prove to be a benefit to a player that I thought would have seen the floor more already by this point in the season, Chris Jones.  Jones is an explosive wing player roughly the same size and Durand Johnson, but not quite the same in terms of shooting ability.  If Jones takes advantage of the opportunity that is given to him he could help Pitt in many ways, specifically as a “zone-buster” Pitt always has one, and when you play Syracuse every season, you need one.  Just remember you heard it here first, bold prediction Chris Jones will score in double figures against the vaunted Syracuse zone defense.

This was by no means an in-depth game by game summary, but with how the Panthers have played up to this point in the season, I anticipate there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss their performance well into March.






Here we are, smack dab in the middle of another College Basketball season.  Your University of Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team is in the midst of another stellar season under the helm of head coach Jamie Dixon, and oh by the way are not only now a part of the ACC, but are also 3-0 and sit at the top of the conference. 

Due to some unforeseen computer and technology issues, I have been a little behind in my duties as the Pitt writer for Steel Nation Magazine, specifically in providing content for the the website blog.  Let me just start off by apologizing and what better way to apologize than to try to summarize what has happened so far, and promise to have at least one blog posting per week for the remainder of the season if not multiple postings. 

So without further ado, the Pitt Basketball season November 8th 2013 – January 11th 2014.

Pitt currently stands at a record of 15 wins against just 1 loss, and is 3-0 in the ACC.  The Panthers started the season about as dominant as any team can, winning their first 10 games by an average of 21 points per game.  In the first 10 games of the season the only real test of the Panthers was during their inaugural game as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge against perennial doormat Penn State.  The Nittany Lions surprised a lot of people including me and the Panthers in how they were able to score and defend with relative ease against the bigger more athletic and talented Panthers.  Ultimately Pitt came out on top 78-69, in what has been the only single digit Pitt victory of the season. 

Over the first 10 games of the season the Panthers displayed an uncanny ability to score and score often. Averaging 82.6 points per game which is more in line with the type of basketball that will be played in the ACC, Pitt was able to score from anywhere and everywhere on the floor, including from the free throw line.  Just when most fans, and by most I mean me, thought that Pitt was becoming the offensive juggernaut I always hoped they could be they ran into either a defensive buzzsaw in the Cincinnati Bearcats, or a very rare offensive slump that lasted exactly the length of one full game.  It appears in my humble opinion that it was a combination of both as the Panther dropped their first and only contest of the season at their home away from home, Madison Square Garden to Cincinnati 44-43.  I heard a lot of criticism for Pitt after this game, as well as a lot of praise for Cincy, but what I did not hear was praise for Pitt. Sure scoring only 43 points in a game is or at least can be concerning, but despite only scoring 43 points, and not scoring a field goal for over 20 minutes of game action, that is right over 20 minutes without a field goal, that is more than half the game, the Panthers still lost by only 1 point on a last second tip in by Cincinnati. How many teams in the country could go that long without making a shot and still win if not for a questionable over the back non-call?  I say none.  There is no other team in the country that could keep a game that close and have a legit shot to win with 0 made field goals in 20+ minutes.  Not Kansas, Not Michigan State, not Kentucky, not current #1 Arizona, no one.  Worst part of the loss was not the loss in and of itself, but it was the fact that Lamar Patterson could have potentially iced the game by making 2 free throws with just under 13 seconds remaining, but missed both.  In the past Lamar Patterson has had a tendency to play very well in stretches, but seemingly disappear for stretches as well.  Usually the stretches in which he did not play well were
after this game, as well as a lot of praise for Cincy, but what I did not hear was praise for Pitt. Sure scoring only 43 points in a game is or at least can be concerning, but despite only scoring 43 points, and not scoring a field goal for over 20 minutes of game action, that is right over 20 minutes without a field goal, that is more than half the game, the Panthers still lost by only 1 point on a last second tip in by Cincinnati. How many teams in the country could go that long without making a shot and still win if not for a questionable over the back non-call?  I say none.  There is no other team in the country that could keep a game that close and have a legit shot to win with 0 made field goals in 20+ minutes.  Not Kansas, Not Michigan State, not Kentucky, not current #1 Arizona, no one.  Worst part of the loss was not the loss in and of itself, but it was the fact that Lamar Patterson could have potentially iced the game by making 2 free throws with just under 13 seconds remaining, but missed both.  In the past Lamar Patterson has had a tendency to play very well in stretches, but seemingly disappear for stretches as well.  Usually the stretches in which he did not play well were caused by a trigger, could those missed free throws be the trigger this season? 

As the loss lingered I was concerned about how Patterson would respond.  As a redshirt senior, and easily the most versatile and talented Panther, it was obvious to me that Pitt will only go as far as Patterson can take them.  There is talent all over the floor for Pitt in athleticism, shooting ability and skill, but Patterson can do anything that needs done on the floor.  So how did Patterson respond to those missed free throws?  He upped his game considerably that’s how, after the Cincinnati loss Patterson was averaging 15.9 points per game on the season, since that loss Patterson has averaged 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1 steal per game in the 5 games since.  The scoring is especially impressive considering that the level of competition has improved by leaps and bounds as the last three games have come against ACC competition.  Patterson has been every bit the player that I and many other fans have felt that he could or should be over the past three seasons, and has established himself as a very real early contender for ACC player of the year. 

In addition to Patterson several other players have also stepped up their play throughout the season and have the Panthers prim
not only crack a coveted, but meaningless spot in the top 25 rankings.  Cameron Wright is showing that he is an overall player and not just the defensive stopper that he was long considered to be. Wright is patiently aggressive and active on offense, always moving without the ball and attacking the rim in transition. Along with Patterson and Talib Zanna, Cameron Wright is one of only three Panthers averaging double digit points on the season. 

Wright will need to continue to aggressive on the offensive side of the ball with the recent news that Pitt’s uber-sixth man Durand Johnson A.K.A. Mr. Confidence, is out for the season with a torn ACL.  In true Durand Johnson form, even after tearing his ACL he still hit two free throws before exiting the game.  His ability to score from anywhere, especially beyond the arc will be missed as he is expected to be out anywhere from 9 – 12 months in recovery.  The injury to Johnson could prove to be a benefit to a player that I thought would have seen the floor more already by this point in the season, Chris Jones.  Jones is an explosive wing player roughly the same size and Durand Johnson, but not quite the same in terms of shooting ability.  If Jones takes advantage of the opportunity
that is given to him he could help Pitt in many ways, specifically as a “zone-buster” Pitt always has one, and when you play Syracuse every season, you need one.  Just remember you heard it here first, bold prediction Chris Jones will score in double figures against the vaunted Syracuse zone defense.

This was by no means an in-depth game by game summary, but with how the Panthers have played up to this point in the season, I anticipate there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss their performance well into March.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I nnial conference and National doormat Penn St.
I The Pitt Panthers are now officially a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and will take part in the ACC-Big 10 challenge where they will take on pere

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pitt vs Florida State... Welcome to the ACC


After months and months of waiting and what seems like an almost immeasurable amount of anticipation…….. I have finally returned to blogging about Pitt Sports for Steel Nation Magazine.  I know how you all must feel, missing me and my interesting and entertaining insights into Pitt sports, it has been a long six months of waiting and yes I am finally back.  Oh and there was one other thing that was eagerly anticipated for a long time, and that was the start of Pitt’s inaugural season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in a prime time showdown against the crème de la crème of ACC football, the Seminoles of Florida State.  
From the start of the game it was clear that the Panthers came to play, and would not be intimidated by the hype and proven excellence of Florida State.  On the Panthers first offensive possession they proceeded to march down the field on a nine play 4:10 80 yard drive that resulted in a four yard touchdown pass from Quarterback Tom Savage to Manasseh Garner, that gave the Panthers an early 7 – 0 lead.  The drive was especially impressive as it was largely on the shoulders of two seniors who the Panthers will be counting on to carry them throughout the season, Wide Receiver Devin Street and the aforementioned Savage.  Savage was 3-4 for 51 yards on the opening drive, which included two completions to Street for 47 yards.  Freshman Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd showed why he was lauded as a playmaker with an exciting and productive run of 18 yards to put the Panthers into Florida State territory.

Things looked very bright for the Pitt Panthers and their fans because of that efficient and productive drive to start their ACC season, but then something happened that almost everyone knew would happen, Florida State took the field on offense.  From that moment on all the momentum and excitement that the Pitt offense had generated with their start faded, or more accurately was beaten into submission by a redshirt freshman quarterback.  Jameis Winston took the field in his first start for the Seminoles and proceeded to have one of the greatest games in the storied history of Florida State football.  Winston went 17-18 for 240 yards and three touchdowns, which many Pitt fans would agree sounds like a pretty good day for a quarterback like Tino Sunseri, but Winston had these numbers in the first half.  If you did not already know, the game was pretty much over after Florida State’s third offensive possession. Winston completed his first 11 passes including two  to junior tight end, and Jack Nicklaus grandson, Nick O’Leary.  The only incompletion of the opening 30 minutes for Winston was a disputed play on the sidelines on a pass to Wide Receiver Kenny Shaw who argued that he did indeed get his foot down inbounds.  Shaw lost his case, and Winston lost his perfect game on an error.  

Winston finished the game 25 of 27 for 356 yards with four touchdowns passing, and one rushing touchdown against a Pitt defense that returned eight starters on a defense that had high expectations coming into the season after finishing 2012 in the Top 20 Nationally in total defense.  Apparently Winston did not believe the hype.  Pitt’s defense seemed unsure how to stop, or even contain Winston and the Florida State offense.  From the Seminoles opening possession it was clear that the Panthers defense was obviously concerned with the speed of the Florida State receivers, and gave them plenty of room to operate and maneuver in the open field.  The Seminole receivers were given so much room to operate that it seemed as though they were catching passes from “Famous Jameis” without a Panther defender within five yards of them, having this much freedom to roam and be unobstructed obviously helped in the accuracy of Winston’s passes.

Obviously Florida State, and Jameis Winston, are really good, but is this game merely a primer for what the Panthers are in store for this season or was this an anomaly based on the talent and precision of the Seminoles?  Only time will tell as the season progresses because how often will a freshman quarterback have a record setting day? One thing is for sure as the Panthers continue in year one of ACC play, the defense needs to compete more.  The ACC is chalk full of teams with speed not seen in the Big East, the defense cannot give playmakers room to make plays in space. The defense has to do a better job of tackling and getting pressure on the Quarterback.  

Some Random Notes on the game :

-        Tom Savage became the first player in history to throw a touchdown pass for and against the Panthers, unless you count the number of pick sixes Tino threw over his career.

-        Jameis Winston 1 of 8 players to complete at least 25 passes and have a completion percentage above 85% ON a BCS team playing AGAINST a BCS team in the last 10 years. If you up that threshold to 90% completion percentage, it's just Winston and Texas great, Colt McCoy.

-        Jameis Winston became the only QB over the last 10 seasons with 3 Pass TD and a Rush TD in the 1st half of his 1st career game. The original note had Joe Dailey in 2004, but he also played in 2003

-        Jameis Winston passed for more than 350 yards with 4 scores while also picking up a TD on the ground. His 96.3 Total QBR was by far the best by any QB to debut against a BCS-AQ over the last 10 seasons, ahead of guys like top-10 picks Jake Locker and Andrew Luck


Thursday, March 14, 2013

So it begins. BET - 2012-2013

The end of the Big East as we know it will officially come to an end as of March 16, 2013.  The conference that has become synonymous with basketball excellence over it's 30 years of existence officially ends once the 2013 Big East Tournament championship game is over.  The Big East set the tone for what all of the other major conferences have become over the past three decades.  Football may have changed the current landscape of conference alignment, but basketball helped to shape it, and no conference had a bigger impact than the Big East. 

Along with the National recognition and respect that comes from winning the Big East tournament championship every season comes the expectation of a potential deep run in the NCAA tournament.  Two of the last three Big East Tournament champions made Final Four appearances in the same season, Connecticut - 2010, Louisville - 2012 and for Connecticut their run ended with a National Championship.  Pitt and the other seven teams remaining in this year's tournament have high hopes of following a similar path through the Big East and the NCAA tournament's, but the difference this year is also the historical significance of being the final champion in the storied history of the conference.  Unlike the regular season in which the title can be shared, in the BET there can be only one champion, and that champion will forever be remembered.  What will it take for Pitt to win three games in three days ?  You are about to find out.

The Big East has long been known as a conference full of defensive juggernauts.  Teams that are physical, active and tough. Pitt has long been considered one of the best defensive teams in the country, and this season has not disappointed.  Holding opponents to an average of 58 points per game in Big East play, and also leading the conference in rebounding margin by out rebounding opponents by 6.9 per game.  Those stats are all well and good, but they are useless in the next three days.  Pitt's first opponent is Syracuse, who they essentially own, but the Syracuse team they will play in the Big East Tournament opener is a different team than the one they beat relatively easily in early February.  With the return of leading three point shooter James Sutherland Syracuse presents problems that did not exist in the first match up.  Beat Syracuse and Pitt has to face either Georgetown or Cincinnati, Georgetown is a very different team than the team that Pitt dominated in early January, and Cincinnati is the team that warrants the most comparisons to Pitt.  Pitt beats Syracuse and either Georgetown or Cincinnati then they are in the championship game, and the four teams on that side of the bracket Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame and Villanova combined to hand Pitt four of their six conference losses.  Payback may be on the minds of the Panthers, but their mind should be on playing a different style of defense.  Pitt has traditionally played a switching man to man defense with constant help.  Occasionally they have played a zone defense when they have been unable to contain penetration, but their bread and butter is man to man.  In order for the Panthers to survive and advance the next three days they will need to sacrifice the help defense they utilize.  The key to beating Pitt this season has been to drive and kick to open shooters, those shooters have either gotten relatively easy looks from beyond the arc, or been able to get easy baskets at the rim.  Pitt needs to make this final Big East tournament their final stand, and needs to win the individual battles on the defensive end of the floor.  Force dynamic scorers like Russ Smith from Louisville, Vander Blue from Marquette and Jerian Grant from Notre Dame to beat Pitt on their own. Let them get their shots because they will, but don't let someone else beat you.  If each player goes to war with the man he is assigned to guard, and treats each possession as the final possession then the help becomes less and less necessary. If the Panthers allow role players to contribute in ways outside of their traditional roles then the defensive excellence they played with throughout the season become irrelevant.

Finding ways to score needs to be at the forefront of the Panthers game plan in New York.  Too often the throughout the season the Panthers offense became stagnant and deliberate.  Having a deliberate offense is not always a bad thing, but when the offense lacks a flow and a rhythm then being deliberate becomes hard to watch, and even harder to play.  Shots start to become forced and it is like playing in quicksand, the more you struggle to get free of the issues you are having the more you sink deeper and deeper.  How do the Panthers address this and ensure this is not a problem over the next 72 hours ?  Push the pace on every opportunity, do not allow defenses to get set, the ball needs to be over the timeline in under five seconds regardless of how the Panthers have obtained possession. Rebounds, inbounds, turnovers doesn't matter, get the ball over half court and look for opportunities to put their opponents on their heels.  Avoid traps on the sideline and keep the ball moving, the more defenses see that Pitt is not taking the same deliberate approach to getting their offense set, the more likely they are to try to change their defense reactively as opposed to proactively.  To use a boxing term, Pitt needs to come out punching early and often.  Another way to throw off the rhytyhmn of a good defense is to take shots when they present themselves.  Limiting possessions and finding the best shot possible is a good way to win a game, but it can also be a good way to play the game simply to not lose.  In the Big East Tournament teams have to play to win and not simply to just not lose.  Lamar Patterson over the course of the season may have passed up more open shots than any other player in the country, if Patterson, Trey Woodall and JJ Moore play shoot first second and third then ask questions fourth then that will create the opportunities inside and on the perimeter that they normally seek out as their first option. 

A tweak to the offensive execution and game plan needs to be in order as well.  The Panthers offense could easily be described as a probing offense.  Looking to find the right or opportunity spot to make their move, this probing can at times stall the offense and cause the hesitation in shooting from their three primary scorers (my words) Woodall, Moore and Patterson.  Attack the basket and specifically the rim.  Every player that goes into the lane and has a look at the basket needs to go strong and hard at the basket and try to not only dunk it, but take the rim off a la Jerome Lane.  Pitt has the size to challenge shot blockers like Gorgui Deng of Louisville, and the physicality to go at bruisers like Jack Cooley of Notre Dame.  The benefit of attacking the rim against teams like Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame is that these teams do not expect Pitt to try this.  Talib Zanna and JJ Moore have my vote for players that need to try to dunk it every time they touch the ball.  Zanna has struggled to finish at the rim for a majority of the season even when he was leading the team in scoring throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule.  Is there a better way to build confidence as a player beyond dunking it over a shot blocker? Maybe dunking through a shot blocker like Deng would be better, but what is the worst case scenario? The shot gets blocked, if you are shooting under 30% from inside five feet then I would take those odds.  Shot blockers do not like to get dunked on, so if the first attempt is successful then that makes the next head fake even more effective.  JJ Moore can literally jump out of the building, yet his offensive contribution has become almost exclusively perimeter based aside from the occasional offensive rebound opportunities.  Because he has become a very effective and efficient three point shooter who rarely looks to drive to the rim, now is the perfect opportunity to do it.  Wide open look from the corner with a defender running out. throw a good pump fake and go hard to the basket.  The line between a charge and a block is so blurred that it cannot hurt to try to jump over a defender while trying to throw it through another.  Also because Moore has become such a good shooter, when running off screens he has a tendency to drift to the three point arc, what if he went hard toward the rim? I am pretty sure that Woodall, Robinson or Patterson could throw him a perfectly placed alley-oop that would make his defender think twice about going over a screen as opposed to under it. 

In order for Pitt to win the final Big East Conference Tournament ever their key will be to shed their predictability and play to their strengths.  At this time of year those strengths are the things that every player and coach on the team knows you can do, but the opponent doesn't.  They expect you to go right, then go left. They expect you to double team a post presence, don't do it.  They expect help to come with penetration, don't help.  Pitt has the depth, size, talent and athleticism to play with and beat any team in the county.  There is not a single team of the seven remaining opponents in the Big East that Pitt cannot outright dominate for 40 minutes.  Pitt has two point guards, three shooting guards, two small forwards and three interior players that when they all play as a cohesive unit with the same goals and focus, rival anyone in the country. 

The path to establishing themselves as Big East Champions, and as one of the greatest teams in Pitt history begins today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pitt vs Notre Dame 2-18-13

There are a lot of things that can be counted on to happen in mid to late February.  The temperature will feel a little colder as winter comes to a close. Pitchers and catchers start to report for spring training which signals that both spring, and baseball are right around the corner, and Pitt will play Notre Dame in basketball.  That last fact is not necessarily  to be expected as the Big East schedule can vary, and I am sure it will vary even more once (if) Notre Dame joins Pitt and Syracuse in the ACC, but what can be expected is for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey to sport his signature look of a mock turtleneck with a sport coat.  It is more likely that Manti Te'o would end up having a real girlfriend than it would be to see Brey without his look.  To be honest I am not sure why an adult male would intentionally try to dress like an extra from True Blood, but hey that's me.  

Prior to tip off the biggest question and or storyline of the game is would have the edge on the glass? Both Pitt and Notre Dame are possession based teams, meaning that they try to not win the battle of the boards, but also dominate them in an effort to reduce the number of offensive possessions their opponent has.  Both teams are also very opportunistic in the fact that they place a high value on limiting turnovers and assisting on made baskets.  To say that Notre Dame is effective at making three point baskets is kind of like saying that water is wet.  Notre Dame plays a style very similar to the Duke Blue Devils in that all players on the floor have the green light to shoot a three pointer whenever they feel they have one.  With Brey spending several years on the coaching staff at Duke it makes sense that he would have adopted aspects of Coach K's offense that he felt would make his team successful.  

With both teams coming off their worst loss of the season the opening eight minutes of the game were especially critical for both teams to establish a rhythm and flow to their offense as well as get a feel for what the other team was doing defensively.  In this game it seemed as though Pitt came out with more of a sense of urgency as Notre Dame did not score their first field goal of the game until 10:41 remaining in the first half.   The remainder of the half did not get much easier for the Irish as Pitt's defense was stifling throughout the half with their ball pressure and active hands in the passing lanes forcing the Irish into eight turnovers and 20% shooting.  Despite all of that the Irish were able to climb  back into the game and make it 22-19 at the half.  

Notre Dame was able to hang in there and chip away at what was at one point a 16 point Pitt lead by controlling the rebounding battle, especvially keeping Pitt off of the offensive boards.  Pitt was only able to manage to get one offensive rebound in the first half, only shooting 36% from the field themselves, allowed the Irish to creep back into the game.  
The second half was absolutely nothing like the first half as the Irish offense was both effective and efficient throughout the second half.  Despite starting the game going 1-18 for the field Notre Dame ended up shooting a better percentage than the Panthers for the game, 18-47 for 38% compared to 16-46 34%.  Basically after being down 19-3 after a Mike Brey technical, the Irish finished the game on a 48-23 run to win the game rather easily 51-42. 

The ultimate downfall for the Panthers was not the poor shooting, but more the lack of urgency in the final 8 minutes of the game.  Despite losing the lead the game was a back and forth game for approximately four minutes in the second half, then it seemed as though Notre Dame went to their effective yet hated (by me) burn offense to slow the pace of the game and value each and every possession. I am not sure what it is with that offense, but it seemed to lull the Panthers to sleep defense, and removed any kind of energy from the Panthers. You could see it in their offensive sets and their body language, kind of a dulled frustration.  At one point Notre Dame ran the exact same play on four consecutive offense possessions, and scored each time.  The active hands, aggressive double teams and spirited man to man defense played in the first half while building a 16 point lead was replaced with standing around waiting for the Irish to make the first move.  This same lethargic style seemed to infect the Panthers offense as well, as they seemed to be making an attempt at showing the same patience and detailed execution on offense as their competition.  They were to say the least unsuccessful. 

For the second time in 14 Big East games the Panthers were without a made three point basket, going 0-8 form beyond the arc. This may or may not have been impacted by their arguably best three point shooter, Durand Johnson, missing the game due to a stomach virus. The Panthers were in this match-up a one dimensional team, and they were not effective in that one dimension. The Panthers poor shooting from inside the arc, and inability to get offensive rebounds made the Irish defense more confident with each possession. It was almost as though Notre Dame knew that Pitt was not going to be able to make shots from inside the arc, and also knew that they were not going to shoot from beyond it, so they were able to limit the offensive options for the Panthers.  Notre Dame winning the way they did can be attributed entirely to rebounding, simple yet basic positional rebounding.  They were in the right spots to get rebounds on both ends of the floor.  They used the most fundamental aspect of rebounding to their advantage and boxed out, every time a shot went up, they found a Panther and kept him away from the ball. Simple, yet effective.  Mike Brey definitely has the Panthers number, making this the fifth straight game he has defeated Jamie Dixon and the Panthers. 

I am not ready to say that I am 100% worried about Pitt at this point, but I will say that I am concerned about the last two games.  Marquette was a buzzsaw that tore through the Panthers doing things that they have proven that they cannot do consistently throughout the season, they were very effective at them against Pitt. I believe that it is time to take the shackles off the Panthers offense.  Being an efficient team that passes well, and limits their turnovers does not necessarily make you a good offensive team, especially when you have multiple games when you cannot shoot, and cannot find your way to the basket.  The offensive game plan needs a tweak before the start of post season play, the motion offense that Pitt has run throughout Jamie Dixon's tenure seems to have a limited amount of motion too often.  Players standing still on the perimeter, dribbling to spots with the full intention of passing to set up a play. That is not a free flowing offense, that is not how games are won.  Players play well at Pitt because of the system, and I am not ready to scrap it entirely, but there needs to be room for the players to play.  Execution will not be perfect every game, nor will it be perfect on every possession, and when the chips are down and the Panthers need a basket there has to be a solution, there has to be a fail safe. Let's call it an easy button, five straight possessions without a basket despite the sets being run as they were intended, time to press the easy button.  Teams shift defensive strategies throughout the course of games based on what they feel will work, including Pitt, but the offensive strategies stay the same for the Panthers.  This team has the players and the potential to do great things, and go deep into March, but unless the obvious offensive limitations are addressed and remedied, March may be a short month for the Panthers.