Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Q&A for December 17th

By Chris Dokish

Q: Do the Panthers have a chance with the big center from New Zealand, and do you think we will get a visit?

A: The big center, for the uninitiated, is 6'11" Rob Loe, and he already visited Pitt last weekend. Tom Herrion is the point man on this one and Pitt has a chance, but it may be an uphill battle. He is looking at St. Louis where he sees Rick Majerus as somebody who can get him to the NBA, and where he is friends with a few Aussie players on the team, Colorado, where head coach Jeff Bzdelik has been recruiting him for three years and was also a longtime assistant in the NBA, and Arizona, where his brother goes to school. So obviously it won't be easy.

Q: Chris, you riled some feathers by saying the team doesn't have talent this season. Care to explain why you think that?

A: First of all, I don't know of anybody who had their feathers riled. Nobody emailed me about it and nobody commented on here about it, so I don't know who disagreed. If people are disagreeing in public I would assume that they at least would have the courage and maturity to discuss it with me rather than take shots from afar, but that seems to be the case with a lot of people on the internet. I guess a lot of people talk big when their name doesn't accompany their thoughts. Secondly, I didn't say Pitt didn't have talent. I explicitly said ELITE talent. I even put it in italics so people couldn't misunderstand. Lastly, I already explained and it was there in black and white. Anybody who thinks this team has elite talent is delusional. I know fans automatically assume the best case scenario, but here's the thing. While some of these kids will improve, there is nothing to say, for example, that Travon Woodall will be an excellent point guard, or that Talib Zanna will turn into a low post star. Could they? Of course, but just wanting it to happen doesn't mean it will. The only player in this program right now who I think for sure has a high ceiling is Dante Taylor. The younger guys may get there, too, but then again they may not. Players like Zanna, Woodall, and J.J. Richardson are far from sure things, and the veterans simply don't have a high ceiling. And by high ceiling, I mean All-American potential or the ability to play at the next level. Does anybody really believe that any sophomores, juniors, or seniors on this team are going to be All-Americans or play in the NBA? I can't believe that. There's a fine line between optimism and delusion.

Q: Don't you think you were hard on Jamie Dixon in that Top 50 article?

A: Which part? The part where I wrote that Dixon has done a remarkable job or was it the part where I said he has proven himself to be such a great coach that if he ever had three elite players he could win it all? Sorry to offend anybody who thinks Pitt has gotten elite talent over the years but they haven't. Prior to his season they had mostly good players but great coaching. This season the talent level is lower and the coaching is still great. In the near future, the talent level will be great and the coaching will still be great. I don't see how anybody can find fault with that.

Q: Do you think the youth of Pitt is a major problem?

A: While I wouldn't say that this team is full of grizzled veterans, I don't understand how people think they are unbelievably young either. Jermaine Dixon and Chase Adams are seniors, Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee, and Brad Wanamaker are juniors, and Ashton Gibbs and Woodall are sophomores. When Brown comes back, Taylor will be the only true freshman in the top nine. Dixon, Brown, Wanamaker, and Gibbs aren't exactly neophytes and Adams is a senior who has played in some very big venues in his career. DeJuan Blair was a sophomore last year and he was pretty good. Kemba Walker is a sophomore and is averaging around 15 ppg. Samardo Samuels is a sophomore and he is averaging over 15 ppg, too. Is Woodall going to be Walker next season? Doubtful. Samuels is already better than McGhee, who is a junior. Now you see what I'm saying. Pitt's problem is more because of a lack of talent than anything. The good news is, those veterans were recruited before Herrion and Brandin Knight. The talent level is about to change drastically with what they have coming in and you will see again that talent rises to the top even when it's young.

Q: Are the recruits coming in as good as advertised, and will J.J. Moore be eligible next season?

A: Yes, they are as good as advertised. Moore, Cameron Wright, Isaiah Epps, and John Johnson should team with Taylor to give the program five players who should range from very good to excellent in college. And if they can find one more big man, then look out. As for Moore's eligibility, it will be under 50% until I hear otherwise. It was always considered a long shot, but he is determined to make it. We won't know for awhile, though.

Q: Why did the Panthers not take Herb Pope as a transfer or take Lance Stephenson?

A: That's just not Dixon's style. Pope never asked. Of course, he knew the answer would be no. Pitt wanted him for a long time but finally gave up on him and Pope knew it. As for Stephenson, he wanted Pitt to recruit him, and the Panthers investigated the situation before deciding to pass. With them, Pitt would be a 25 win team this season but you always have to ask at what cost. Both seem to be doing great now, but hindsight is 20/20. Both were potential disasters and Dixon didn't think it was worth the risk.

Q: I see that Darnell Dodson is out of the doghouse at Kentucky. Do you still think Pitt was better without him? They could use him this season and last season he could have been the missing piece to get into the Final Four.

A: He's a three so he wouldn't even have started this season. And if he did, then you're sitting Wanamaker, your second leading scorer, and that's a wash. As for last year, he wasn't eligible to play for any college last season, including Pitt, so he couldn't have helped. Plus, and here's the kicker, you wouldn't have J.J. Moore and Lamar Patterson. So tell me this. Would you rather have Dodson for this season and for three total, or Patterson and Moore for four seasons? It's no contest. Moore, himself, is better than Dodson, and Patterson is going to be a solid player, too.

Q: Do you see Ashton Gibbs moving to the point and Dante Taylor moving to power forward?

A; No and no. Gibbs shoots a ton because there is no other choice, and if he is busy running the point, the team may not average 60 points. And Jamie Dixon won't move Taylor to the four until he proves he can play the five. That's just the way it is.

Q: Do you still see the team going 20-11 in the regular season?

A: Well, it's going to be tough. It looks like they will need to go 8-10 in the league. The good news is that, compared to last season, I don't see the league being as tough.

Q: Would going to the Big 10 be good for Pitt?

A: I discussed this with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Bob Smizik the other day. He thinks it will be good for Pitt and I don't. I think the football team could sneak into a National Championship game in the Big East, but you can forget about that in the Big 10. In basketball, Pitt recruits the urban areas in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, and they can kiss that goodbye in the Big 10. Kids from those cities will not want to play for Pitt if they aren't in the Big East and without a local recruiting area, they need those spots desperately. Where are they going to recruit- Iowa?

As for the minor sports, Pitt doesn't even field teams in some of the sports that the Big 10 plays in, and in the ones they do, they usually don't even have a dedicated field to play on.

For the university outside of on the field performance, it would be great, however, and if the alternative is for Syracuse or Rutgers to bolt the Big East, then that changes thing and Pitt needs to be proactive and try to bolt instead. I was all for staying with the Big East and not going to the ACC a few years back, but they can't afford another raid. There are no more good candidates to join. Bottom line, I hope they just take somebody like Missouri and that Pitt stays status quo.


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Wednesday, December 09, 2009


The offensive woes of Pittsburgh continued Tuesday night as Indiana Knocks off Pitt in Jimmy V Classic, 74-64, last night in Madison Square Garden. The Panthers shot just 31% from the field and time and time again failed to finish opportunities as IU's Tom Crean Picks Up 200th Career Victory (Indianapolis Star). It was his 10th win at Indiana following 190 as coach of Marquette previously.

Pitt trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half, before rallying down the stretch, including a nine-point spurt in 19 seconds as Freshman Dante Taylor's put-back got the Panthers to within 70-64 with 58 seconds to play. Indiana was able to hold on to hand Pitt only its fourth loss in its past 15 games at Madison Square Garden.

"We got what we really deserved," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said afterwards in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We didn't play well. Indiana did."

Indiana shot 44% against Pitt, but found it easy inside as they scored 40 points in the paint and 25 from the foul line. The Hoosiers had to make just four perimeter shots (one three) to score 74 points and beat Pitt. Not a typical performance on the defensive end of the court by a Dixon coached team.

Senior Jermaine Dixon played 13 minutes for Pittsburgh in his first action of the season recovering from a broken foot. Dixon was noticeably a step behind as he works his way back into game shape.

Sophomore Ashton Gibbs had a career high 25 points and junior Brad Wanamaker added 18 for Pitt. The Panthers return home Saturday to host Kent and they know where they need to improve.

"I'm not concerned about the offense," freshman Dante Taylor, who scored 12 points in the loss said to the Post-Gazette following the game. "I'm more concerned about the defense. We're letting teams score too easily. We're not taking pride in defense. We need to put our foot down, stand up and play defense."


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Monday, December 07, 2009

The talent level needed

By Chris Dokish

I've been try to convey to Pitt fans recently how Pitt's talent is not comparable to the truly elite programs, and by that I mean the programs that could bring in the talent that keeps them in the national championship race for most years. I know very optimistic Pitt fans like to think the talent level is high and they point out top 100 prospects as proof. The truth is, however, that top 100 prospects are far from rare and a lot of teams lesser than Pitt have them. What the truly talented teams have are top 50 prospects. That's where you separate the men from the boys, and that's where you can see Pitt's lack of elite overall talent. That doesn't mean that Pitt still doesn't do a great job or have good players over the years. In fact, Jamie Dixon and his staffs over the years have done a remarkable job getting everything out of the talent they do get. They have beaten the likes of UConn and Duke over the years, two programs with much more individual talent, and have won a ton of games and dominated the Big East, especially in the conference tournament. But the program, as it recruits now, is still a notch below the elite programs.

And I'm no even talking about this season, in which less than stellar recruiting has put the team in a bad spot for the first time in many years. But that was bound to happen eventually when a program such as Pitt needs a high level of their prospects to live up to their potential to have a winning team, and do not have the high number of elite recruits to cover for any misses. In other words, a DeJuan Blair can cover for taking five projects on the front court, as Pitt has done. Without a player of Blair's ability, those projects are exposed. In the programs that recruit at a higher level, if a player of Blair's ability leaves early, they usually have at least one, if not more, elite prospects to take his place. The truth is, it's remarkable that without the elite recruiting that the Panthers have gone this long without it happening already, but that's what happened when Blair left early. Blair proved to be a double edged sword. His individual excellence helped Pitt be the most successful they've ever been, but it also led him to leave early, thus exposing the program's recent recruiting misses as well as the huge gap between what Blair and Young was, and what was left after they were gone. Yes, the current Pitt team is too young to be highly successful this season, but lack of talent is an even bigger problem. it's highly unlikely that anybody on the current team will ever come close to being Blair or Young. But that doesn't mean some, like Taylor, Ashton Gibbs, and Lamar Patterson can't still be good players and help the next group try to reclaim Pitt's previous standards.

Let's look at the talent needed to both get to the Final Four and to win the national championship over the last seven seasons. The average number of top 50 recruits on the roster for an average Final Four team is FOUR. The average number of top 50 prospects on the roster for the winner of the national championship is an incredible 5.6!! To put that in perspective, in the entire seven year span Pitt has had only TWO such players, DeJuan Blair and Dante Taylor, and never more than one at a time. Sam Young was ranked in the 50s, so for the sake of argument let's say that Pitt had one and a half last season. The result was that Pitt came closer then they ever have to reaching the Final Four, losing to Villanova on a last second shot. Incidentally, Villanova had three top 50 prospects, including Scottie Reynolds, who just happened to be the player who made that last second shot. Pitt was the best they ever were, especially with one of the top Big East players ever in Blair, and the Panthers were still one elite player short. The gap between Blair and Young, and the rest of the team was huge. One more player of their ability would almost assuredly get them to the Final Four, and maybe beyond. That's the good news in all of this. And that's that Dixon nearly went to the Final Four with just two elite talents and not much else. This should tell any reasonable person that if Dixon can ever get three elite talents, he is a great enough of a coach to not only go to the Final Four, but maybe beyond. But that's only if the recruiting gets better, which just may be happening

The best case scenario for the near future is that Taylor lives up to his potential, and Isaiah Epps, J.J. Moore, and John Johnson live up to their potentials. Of the latter three, Moore and Johnson have a chance to be consensus top 50 prospects, and I've been told that Epps has NBA potential. That could be enough elite talent in a few years to get Pitt back to Final Four potential. But even if they don't all reach their potential, they should still get back to winning a lot of games and getting into the Sweet 16 with this group.

Of course when Pitt's lack of Final Four talent comes up, somebody will always bring up George Mason. But that's simply citing the exception as the rule. In the seven year span Georgia Tech also would be considered a Cinderella team, though not as much as George Mason. But even including those two, that means there have been two Cinderella teams out of 28 teams total. That means less than 10% of Final Four teams are Cinderella teams. In other words, Pitt has a better chance of getting three top 50 players and having them perform great. I did not include Marquette as a CInderella team, despite having just one top 50 prospect because they also had Dwayne Wade, one of the best basketball players ever and a future NBA Hall of Famer. The chances of having such a player is even less than 10% and is not even worth discussing because it's such a long shot.

Here is the list of top 50 prospects on the last 28 Final Four teams. The list is taken from rscihoops.com, which takes various top 100 lists and combines them into one. I chose this list because it is the most fair and likely the most accurate.

* Winner


*North Carolina 10 (Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson, Tyler Hansborough, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor,)

Michigan State 7 (Delvon Roe, Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, Raymar Morgan, Tom Herzog, Marquise Gray)

UConn 5 (Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien)

Villanova 3 (Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes)


North Carolina 8 (Tyson Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Alex Stephenson, Deon Thompson, Tyler Hansborough, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor)

*Kansas 7 (Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun)

Memphis 3 (Derrick Rose, Willie Kemp, Chris Douglas-Roberts,)

UCLA 2 (Kevin Love, James Keefe)


Ohio State 5 (Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley, David Lighty, Ivan Harris)

*Florida 3 (Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Chris Richard)

UCLA 3 (James Keefe, Ryan Wright, Aaron Afflalo)

Georgetown 2 (Vernon Macklin, DaJuan Summers)


LSU 4 (Tasmin Mitchell, Magnum Rolle, Glen Davis, Taurean Minor)

UCLA 3 (Jordan Farmar, Aaron Afflalo, Ryan Wright)

*Florida 3 (Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Chris Richard)

George Mason 0


*North Carolina 7 (Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott)

Michigan State 4 (Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson) 3 others ranked in 50s

Illinois 3 (Richard McBride, Dee Brown, Deron Williams)

Louisville 3 (Juan Diego Palacios, Brian Johnson, Brandon Jenkins)


Duke 8 (Luol Deng, Sheldon Williams, J.J. Redick, Shavlick Randolph, Sean Dockery, Michael Thompson, Daniel Ewing, Chris Duhon)

*UConn 6 (Charlie Villanueva, Marcus Williams, Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, Ben Gordon, Taliek Brown)

Oklahoma State 2 (Ivan McFarlin, Terrance Crawford)

Georgia Tech 1 (Jarrett Jack) 9 losses


Texas 4 (Brad Buckman, T.J. Ford, Brian Boddicker, Brandon Mouton)

*Syracuse 3 (Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Billy Edelin)

Kansas 3 (Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien, Nick Collison)

Marquette 2 (Travis Diener, Robert Jackson)

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Thursday, December 03, 2009


Pittsburgh found themselves down 33-20 at the half and 40-24 early in the second half, but Jamie Dixon changed defenses, scrapping his trademark man-to-man for a 2-3 zone and Pitt Rallies Past Duquense to Win Epic City Game (Tribune-Review), as Mellon Arena Says Goodbye to Basketball (Tribune-Review), 67-58 in double overtime.

Ashton Gibbs shook off a poor shooting night with two three-pointers in the second overtime and finished with a team high 15 points. Gibbs was just 3-12 fromnt he field and his first field goal of the game did not come until 2:06 was left in regulation when his three tied the score at 53, which was how regulation ended.

Brad Wanamaker added 14 points and 10 rebounds while Nasir Robinson (11 points and 9 rebounds) and Gary McGhee (11 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks) also reached double figures for the Panthers who continue to be without the serives of senior Jermaine Dixon (foot injury) and Gilbert Brown (academic suspension). With the win Pittsburgh is now 6-1 on the season.

Bill Clark had a game-high 23 points for Duquesne, but star forward Damian Saunders was limited to six points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes before fouling out late in regulation as a Chance for 'Big' Win Slips from Duquesne's Grasp (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).


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