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.