Saturday, March 19, 2011

Postseason thoughts

by Chris Dokish

Pitt did show up to play. That was not always the case in past tournament losses. But they played a team that was their equal and the result of the game showed just how equal the two teams are. Don't be fooled by which conference each team is in or in the seeds. Butler returned most of the team that went to the championship game last year. In fact, if Gordon Hayward did not leave early for the NBA they were considered by many to project as a top five preseason team.

But the truth is, Jamie Dixon is going to get a lot of criticism for losing this game. If it were just for this game, he probably shouldn't. Butler is an excellent team, Pitt played well, and either team could have won. Losses like this happen to the best of programs. But it's hard to keep making excuses for Dixon when it happens year after year. Eventually you just have to get past a certain point, especially in a season when you are a No. 1 seed.

Butler is a perfect example of a team that makes no excuses, and just goes out and wins when their season is on the line. That's not to suggest that Dixon will make excuses. He's too classy for that. But you have to feel for such a great guy and at the end of the game you could visibly see the pain in his face. It's almost as if he was thinking that he may be cursed.

Nobody knows what the future will hold for Dixon and the program. Could Dixon think he can't come back from this and eventually take another job? He's not the type to run from a challenge so you can forget that. As for the program, there will be a lot of young talent on the roster next year, and the future seems bright, but just like Dixon's future, time will tell how the program as a whole responds. I know many fans assume that Dixon will eventually break though to the promised land but that's far from certain. Many programs were great for ten or fifteen years, then the window closed for whatever reason and they fell back to the pack. Others did move on to become even bigger powers.

To get to the latter, more talent is definitely needed. Khem Birch, Steve Adams, Talib Zanna, and J.J. Moore are a good start but even more is needed. The dilemma is how to convince high level talent that Pitt is a National Championship caliber program when it's past and present is trying to convince them otherwise.

Other notes: I was often hard on Gilbert Brown, and he did miss the free throw that could have iced the game, but he was by far the best player Pitt had on this night. I still feel like he never lived up to his potential at Pitt, but his 24 points showed that he came to play in the game.

Nobody should complain that the refs called the foul on Nasir Robinson with less than a second to go. They also called a foul on Butler with just over a second to go, so they showed they were willing to do. That makes it all the more crazy why Robinson would be anywhere near Howard.


At 10:16 PM, Blogger Mac said...

Chris, I am a Jaime supporter and think he does a tremendous job with an overall lack of talent (compared to who he typically plays).

However, after this game today, my support is waning heavily. That was one of the most poorly managed last minutes of a game I have ever seen. With one timeout and your team obviously not getting any action on offense, why do you not use your last timeout with 10-15 seconds left and set something new up??? That makes no sense. Actually, I really have no idea why they ran the clock down so much on that possession anyway.

Also, Butler has the ball with 7.2 seconds and calls timeout. Then Jaime uses his final timeout. Butler comes out, executes, and gets a LAYUP. This is after Jaime has set up his defense out of the timeout. How often has that happened for Pitt??? It was a wide open layup. I've read on another board that Stevens can be seen saying "we got them" to his assistant coach on the bench before that play (don't know if that's true).

Also, how do you leave Gilbert on the line to be smack talked to by Mack? Why was the whole team over at the bench discussing strategy for when Gilbert made both shots? (And a coach should definitely be getting in his player's head that he will make both).

Also, how do not pull the guys off the line after the first make? You don't think Gilbert gets a confidence boost after making the huge first shot when he sees the coach pull the guys off (basically saying "I know you'll make it"). Makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What are the chances of a tip in there?

Dixon choked big time this game and I really don't know what to think going forward. I feel bad for Gilbert Brown most of all, who was about to rewrite his Pitt legacy for good by having an awesome game.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Tony77019 said...

You have written a politically correct analysis. But Pitt could have won this game. The over-riding theme of many comments already posted on other boards is Dixon blew the game. This team faded down the stretch. And how many times has Pitt led by a point with less than a minute and lost?

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I don't disagree with any of that. No coach is perfect. He made mistakes. All coaches make mistakes. The truth is, if Dixon ever made it to the Final Four, the outcry wouldn't be as much. But he hasn't and therefore, in my opinion, you can't make any more excuses for him. I admit it. He HAS to find a way to get past this because right now he is on the hot seat. Not to get fired, of course, but I think it's obvious that the honeymoon is over for a lot of fans.

At 12:32 AM, Blogger Protes said...

Someone e-mailed me and said we are becoming the Chicago Cubs of the NCAA's. That about sums it up, doesn't it?

Feel horrible for our kids. Jamie has to take some blame, too, no doubt. But the bottom line is we can't continue to expect Final Fours without having the talent on the squad to merit it.

This team - like past Pitt teams was greater than the sum of its parts. Only one legit scorer and no true post threat.

It's all about talent. Talent, talent, talent!!!

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Kai said...

Big supporter of Pitt and Dixon. Even still, Dixon mismanaged the game at the end. And its not the first time. He is great at teaching, maximizing his talent, but his in-game management skills aren't top tier. I mostly think he believes in rolling the ball out there and relying on his basic system. Works most of the time, but tourney time necessitates savvy decision making.

One other item about this year's team that not many people are mentioning: Pitt missed Zanna in the final game and down the stretch. I believe they probably would have won at least one more out of those last games they lost, which I think matters. Basketball is a game of momentum and streaks over a game, a season or number of years. They ended poorly and that carried over.

Moreover, not only did Zanna's size and uncanny rebounding ability leave, so too did the flow of the rotation and his energy and quickness which wasn't in the frontcourt to deal with Howard yesterday.

In the end, that win was blown by Pitt. But as you say, Dokish, without consistently attracting premier talent, Pitt will always have a tough time winning against top teams in a one-and-done tournament.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Jim Lakely said...

Did Pitt build The Pete on an Indian burial ground or something? What do our alma mater's athletic programs have to do to give us poor, suffering fans just one season of big-time success?

Last night was simply unbearable — even though I actually expected us to lose. Or, more accurately, I didn't 100 percent allow myself to think we'd win. Not when Butler's Mack is dropping in 3s from the fifth row balcony all night. Not when Butler's Howard is flopping on even slight contact and getting every call by the refs. (That "elbow to the chin" of Howard in the first half missed by at least half a foot. If the refs look at a replay to check time left, why not check it to see if the elbow even hit the guy? I'd have given Howard a technical for the flop.)

I knew we lost when we had a one-point lead and the ball ... and Gibbs stood there dribbling until there was 10 seconds left on the shot clock. We are not an offense that finds a shot in 10 seconds, especially when our best offensive player is handling the ball! Give it to Wannamaker to dribble down the clock, then run a screen for Gibbs to get open!! (Sheesh.) And I knew, I just knew, that Brown was not going to make that second free throw. But I thought we'd go to overtime. Why the hell didn't Jamie pull his players off the blocks for that second free throw. We might get a tip-in to win the game? Please. Not from that position. The likelihood of the ball caroming off far enough to be tipped in by a Pitt player standing behind Butler's rebounders — and not get called for over-the-back — is about 0.7 percent. Just remove the Pitt players, which tells Brown that Jamie expects him to make that free throw.

But this is what is so devastating. Pitt can't just lose games. They have to lose big games — and they have to lose them in the most excruciating ways possible.

2009 Elite 8: Scotty Reynolds scores on a frantic coast to coast one-pass, "hook-and-lateral" play to keep Pitt's best team in decades (Fields, Young, Blair) out of the Final Four.

Football: Losing Cincy game late that would have put them in the BCS two years ago. Pitt's complete choke jobs in every big game under Wannstedt. (Not to mention the embarrassing 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl a few years ago.)

Going back to the last year of Ben Howland in 2002, Pitt has lost to a lower-seeded team in the Tourney an amazing seven times in 10 years: ('02 Kent State, '03 Marquette, '06 Bradley, '08 Michigan State, '09 Villanova, '10 Xavier; '11 Butler).

Here are some of the programs that are (on paper) inferior or equal to Pitt, but nonetheless reached the Final Four in the Jamie Dixon era: Butler, West Virginia (unforgivable!), Michigan State (Pitt is no worse), Memphis, Georgetown, Florida, George Mason, Louisiana State, Illinois, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Marquette, Texas.

You'd think Pitt could get lucky, get some breaks, just once in a decade and reach the Final Four. Get a hot player to carry them. Nope. That's not how Pitt rolls.

Pitt builds up hope and optimism of success, and when it's at its peak — when the fans and alumni allow themselves to hope that this year will be the year — Pitt crushes them in ever-more creative and devastating ways.

I'm never getting over this loss. I will think about it for decades, even if Pitt somehow manages win a title before I die. And it's hard to get over because the pile of devastating losses for Pitt athletics is just so damn big.

Pitt's basketball and football programs are cursed. I think we just have to accept it.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Tony77019 said...

I agree with Jim. I never really bought into this year's team after the freakish loss to Tennessee. The end of the 2009 Pitt-Nova game is still etched in my brain. Thrilled to be a #1 seed yet knowing it was probably overkill, I expected to lose last night. Sounds bad, I know. Here's my question, Chris: Is the news cycle for college football expanding? It seems like college basketball is slipping into an entrenched 2nd place. The only time it really counts is exactly the time Pitt craters. Todd Graham's interactions with the Pitt football team seem to gaining news traction over basketball even at a championship program like Pitt's.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Ryan44 said...

I'm not giving up on Dixon yet, but I feel like his destiny is to be a good mid-major coach. He seems to excel at teaching and get the most out of marginal talent. That would be perfect at places like George Mason, Old Dominion, etc. where you get the talent that the big schools have passed over.

Pitt also seems to play better when they are the underdog and not expected to win. Again I think this would be perfect for a mid-major that is always considered to be the underdog in the tournament. An example of this would be last year's team that was picked to finish something like 9th in the conference, and then overachieved all year with marginal talent. Then once they got to the Big East and NCAA tournaments, they were expected to win and folded under those expectations. Even the last time they won the Big East title, they were the seven seed, so there were no real expectations.

Dixon's teams rarely get blown out, but they rarely blow out teams. I don't know if that is the system, the talent or both. It just makes me wonder if Dixon's system is built to lead elite programs or if he is better suited to lead overachieving mid-majors.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Jackagain said...

Just like the Tennessee game Pitt always gets their opponents best game of the year.

As for Howard the flopper, he's just as bad as his idol Greg Paulus.

The Matt Howard flop film....


Some Pitt fan with the game recorded needs to do a vid on his flops and upload them to Youtube.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Jackagain said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Jim Lakely said...

Thanks for reading my overly long comment, everyone. I just had to vent — and my best Pitt friend was so mad last night that he could not come to the phone. His basement "rec room" full of Pitt stuff is now a "wreck room," to recount what his wife heard going on downstairs.

It's just so disheartening to lose like this year after year. I've much enjoyed seeing the likes of Duke and North Carolina and UConn and Syracuse and Michigan State behind us in the AP and ESPN polls for long stretches of the last few regular seasons. I never thought I'd see that day (let alone many, many days of that). But there is no joy in that anymore. Not when we keep choking away opportunities to get to the Final Four — something even Butler and George Mason and West Virginia and LSU have managed to pull off in the last 8 years.

What really makes me sad is a sense of dread that we've now missed our chances. If not now, when? Pitt's basketball team is the Brooklyn Dodgers — but at least those lovable, blue-collar bums managed to win one. I don't think we ever will ... at least I can't let myself believe we can until we finally do it.

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Kai said...

Re: Howard and flopping: As a Pitt fan I'm pissed because the refs didn't pick up on some of his flops which led to getting that game changing non-charge charge call against G. Brown. At the same time, as a competitor I understand how you want to win at any cost.

The other thing is that people from Indiana know the nuances of bball like W. PA folks know football, and even more to the point, like Italians know soccer. In other words, they how to use whatever they can to gain advantage. Howard couldn't out-physical Pitt so he flopped like an Italian forward to get over, and to some extent it worked. My problem is that Pitt still had the opportunity to win and couldn't execute smart plays. Alot of that goes to strategy and adapting through gametime decisions. Didn't happen.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I'm now hearing from a source even higher up that Epps started badly this season but he made enough progress that Dixon wants him to stay. So from what I'm hearing, Epps will probably not be transferring. The only other person I can see transferring is JJ Richardson, but Pitt wants him around, too. Even so, he now seems like the most realistic possibility.

I'm also hearing even more that John Johnson is a strong candidate to prep because of grades. He still has a whole year to right the ship but he has a long way to go.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Pitt said...

Chris, great insight as usual. Any ideas on what our lineup up would like next year. I know it's early but it's always fun to speculate.

From what you say about Birch I have to assume he will be in the starting lineup. Especially if Dixon wants to keep landing that high profile of a recruit. So, I would assume you have Gibbs, Robinson, Birch and Taylor starting. Who do you think that 5th starter would be? Woodall? Or is it between Patterson and Moore for some size?

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Jim Lakely said...

I'm guessing it will be Woodall starting at point and Gibbs at #2.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I'm assuming Woodall starts at the point and Gibbs at the two. After that, it's all a guess but I would say that Robinson could move to the three and start there while Taylor, Birch, and Zanna will see the most action down in the post.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Jim Lakely said...

Knowing that Taylor will be our starting center is pretty depressing. Man that guy's soft. I'd rather he grow a pair than grow another three inches.


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