By Chris Dokish
The NCAA tournament is on the horizon, and if the Pitt basketball team wants to be successful, they will have to beat some of the other elite programs in the nation. That's why it's important to see how the Panthers did against tough competition.
The Panthers played nine games against teams with an RPI in the top 30- UConn (2), West Virginia (2), Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Florida State, and Villanova. In that group, there is an even more elite group, with UConn, Louisville, and Villanova all having an RPI in the top 10.
The following analysis is how well the Panthers top seven players have done both in the nine tough games, as well as the four games against elite competition.
Levance Fields- While the senior point guard has a reputation of a big game player with ice water in his veins, the facts say that sometimes looks can be deceiving.
In the nine tough games, Fields has made only 35 of his 97 FG attempts (36.1%), 10 of 38 three point attempts (26.3%), and 20 of 29 free throws (69.0%). In the four games against elite competition, Fields' shooting is even more atrocious. In those games, he is shooting 26.5% from the field, 23.8% from three, and 66.7% from the free throw line.
Even more amazing is that Fields, nearly legendary as a dependable ball handler, has had an incredible 3.1 TO/game in the nine tough games and an even more amazing 3.8 TO/game against the elite four teams. To put that in perspective, only six players in the Big East had more than 3.0 TO/game this season and the league leader had 3.3 TO/game. The leader for Pitt, Sam Young, averaged 2.4 TO/game. In the other 22 games, Fields averaged 1.4 TO/game.
Of course this is not to suggest that Fields will flop in the tournament. He has proven that he can have big games when it counts, as evidenced by the fact that in the last two games of the season, he accumulated a staggering 22 assists against Marquette and UConn, and last season beat Duke at the buzzer. But the truth is, Fields is not a great athlete and throughout his career he has sometimes had trouble handling the ball against very athletic teams. The massive amount of trouble Fields has had against top competition certainly has to be a concern if the Panthers get deep into the tournament and face elite teams.
DeJuan Blair- Another surprising fact is that Blair, often considered to be a "big game player", had had trouble in most of Pitt's big games this season.
From the field, Blair shot 56.0% from the field in the nine tough games and 52.8% against the big four. In his other 21 games this season, Blair shot 61.0%. In addition, Blair averaged 13.8 ppg and 11.3 rpg against the top nine, and 11.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg in the four toughest games. In his other 21 games, Blair averaged 16.4 ppg and 12.9 rpg. Just seven times this season Blair did not score in double figures and four of those times were in the top nine games. In another he scored just ten. So that means in only four of the nine toughest games did Blair score effectively. In the four toughest games, Blair deservedly got a lot of publicity for his 22 point, 23 rebound effort against UConn. But in the other three toughest games, he had 9 points and 10 rebounds at Louisville, 7 points and 8 rebounds at Villanova, and 8 points and 8 rebounds in the season finale against UConn.
Sam Young- By this time you are thinking that obviously a player will produce less against top competition. Which brings me to Sam Young. In the nine toughest games, Young has made 51.1% of his shots, which is a hair higher than he was on the season. In the four toughest games, he made 46.5% of his shots, still a good number against such tough competition. From three, Young made 35.9% of his shots which is exactly the number had had on the season. Against the top four teams, Young was even better making 37.5% of his shots. The most impressive number, however, may be at the line where Young, who made 71.6% of his shots on the year, made 77.3% against the top nine and an incredible 81.8% in the four toughest games.
The better shooting helped him score even more in big games than he did the rest of the season. In the top nine games, Young averaged 20.8 ppg, and against the four elite teams, Young averaged 21.0 ppg. In the nine games, Young scored 20 or more points in six, and 18 in another. The only two bad games he had, against Louisville and Villanova, the Panthers lost.
Jermaine Dixon- The surprise of the season did not miss a beat in the biggest games, with averages nearly identical to the rest of the season. Against the top nine, Dixon is shooting 45.1% from the field which is only slightly lower than he shot in the rest of the games. From three, Dixon shot a very respectable 35.3% in those games. Against the top four, Dixon's numbers dropped to 41.9% from the field and 30.8% from three, but as he's the fourth option and the competition is tough, his numbers are not horrible.
Showing his consistency, Dixon averaged 9.8 ppg against the top nine and 10.0 ppg in the four toughest games. In his other 22 games this season, Dixon averaged 8.9 ppg, so he actually produced more in big games. Dixon also showed he steps up his defense in the big game as he averaged 1.9 spg against the top nine and 2.8 spg against the top four (thanks mostly to getting 6 steals at Louisville). Against the rest of the schedule, he averaged 1.3 spg in 22 games.
Tyrell Biggs, Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown- All three have pretty poor numbers in the biggest games of the year, but in their defense, they are not going to try to do too much in a big game, and will instead let the top players do the work.
Against the top nine, Biggs made 42.4% of his shots, including 30.8% from three. At the line he made 6 of 10 for 60%. He averaged 4.3 ppg and 5.0 rpg. In the four games against the elite, Biggs made only 4 shots in the four games, out of 14 attempts, for a 28.6%. He averaged just 3.3 ppg and 4.8 rpg.
Wanamaker made 41.5% from the field in the nine toughest games, as well as 31.3% from three and 55.6% from the line. He averaged 3.7 ppg and 2.9 rpg, but showing a problem he had had all year, he also had 1.9 TO/game, a very high number for the amount of minutes he played. In the four games against the elite competition, Wanamaker's numbers actually got better in most categories thanks mostly to good games at Villanova and at UConn. Wanamaker made 44% of his FGs and 5 of 7 free throws for a 71.4%. He also averaged 7.3 ppg.
Brown was a disappointment in the big games, as he has been for most of the season. In the nine toughest games, Brown made just 35.4% of his shots, including 2-11 from three, a 18.2%. From the line, he only went twice, making one. He averaged just 3.0 ppg and 2.4 rpg in those nine. Against the four elite teams, Brown was even more ineffective making just 2 of 11 FGs for 18.2%. He averaged just 1.5 ppg and 3.0 rpg. Brown scored 6 points against Villanova, but was held scoreless against Louisville and in both games against UConn.