Monday, March 21, 2011

Deja Lose for Pitt. This is on Jamie Dixon

Flash Back: March 21, 2010 Jordan Crawford and sixth-seeded Xavier knock third-seeded Pitt out of the NCAA west regional in round two 71-68. Crawford's line in his 36 minutes:

27 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist. He goes 9-15 from the field and 5-5 from the foul line. He finishes 4-7 on 3pt. attempts. As a team Xavier shoots 24-50 from the field, 48% and 8-16 on 3pt. attempts.

Replay: March 19, 2011 Shelvin Mack and eighth-seeded Butler knock top-seeded Pitt out of the NCAA southeast regional in round two 71-70. Mack's line in his 38 minutes:

30 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists. He goes 10-16 from the field and 3-4 from the foul line. He finishes 7-12 on 3pt. attempts. As a team Butler shoots 24-52 from the field, 46.2% and 12-27 on 3pt. attempts.

Pitt loses in the second round for the second consecutive year. Virtually identical game scores and line scores for the winning teams' high-scoring guards. Throw in UConn and Kemba Walker beating Pitt at the buzzer in the first round of the Big East tournament and it starts to look more like a trend than a coincidence.

Sure players win and lose games, but coaches prepare those players to perform in games and implement schemes to take advantage of their own team's strengths and exploit the other team's weaknesses. Pitt hasn't done this well enough. In fact, I would say Dixon has failed on the defensive end.

While the Panthers unquestionably play hard, they have proven time and again to be ill-prepared to play quick, good-shooting guards. In December Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson scorched them for 27 on 10-13 shooting as the Vols easily beat the Panthers in Pittsburgh. In January Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame continually beat Pitt by dribbling off a series of screens to get to the basket as he went for 19 on 8-14 shooting. He also added 7 assists. St. John's Dwight Hardy also went for 19, beating Pitt at the buzzer with a one-on-one move on the baseline. And Walker of UConn caught Gary McGhee of Pitt in an ill-advised switch on a high screen to get an open look at the buzzer as he scored 24 in UConn's Big East tournament win.

The problem? Jamie Dixon's reliance on his man-to-man, no-help defense. While Pitt rarely loses to inferior opponents, we have now seen repeated occasions where well-coached teams know how to get at the Panthers. Pitt's athleticism is its biggest strength, but also the problem. Dixon's defense relies on guys to make good decisions when switching on screens and to recover quickly. Very rarely do the Panthers help out and when they do it is never on the outside. (Ironically it was McGhee leaving his man with 2 seconds left that gave Butler an uncontested lay in and the lead.) But it is a reliance on this singular system that continues to be Pitt's downfall.

Pitt almost never plays zone and because they play it so infrequently early in the season they are ill-prepared to rely on it in crunch time late in the season. While Dixon did go to a zone with some success against UConn in the Big East tournament, he didn't do it until late in the game and then on only two occasions. Similarly, he didn't use it against Butler until late as Mack continued to get open looks against the Panthers man defense.

Pitt's defense seems helpless when it comes to denying a potent scorer the ball or getting it out of his hands when he has possession. In virtually every loss this season, there was one clear guy on whom the other team was going to rely. Yet Pitt rarely plays ball denial and never double-teams opponents and they continue to get beaten as a result.

Pitt shouldn't lose to Xavier and they shouldn't lose to Butler. Those two teams aren't bad teams, but they aren't nearly as talented as Pitt. The defensive game plan shouldn't be hard. Here is the one guy on the other team who can beat us. Let's come into the game and focus on not letting that happen. If we need to adjust, we will, but that is our focus.

For Dixon it seems to be out of focus. His inability to develop a scheme to slow down high-scoring guards has to be cause for concern. No question Pitt players did a bunch of things wrong over the course of the game that can be pointed to as reasons for their loss. But after last year's loss to Xavier, seeing it happen five more times over the course of the season, and then watching a Xerox of the Xavier game Saturday night, there is no doubt this one is on the coach in my book.


Phil said...

I love Jamie Dixon (and I loved Howland before him), but I'm tired of hearing that other programs would kill for the number of appearances and Sweet 16s Pitt has had over the last 15 years. The measure of your success in the NCAA Tournament is: Did you perform to, or above, your seeding? Pitt, to my knowledge, has NEVER outperformed their seeding and has often grossly underperformed it. March Madness is all about upsets. When was the last time Pitt was on the right side of one of those?

PeteA13 said...

Hammer, Excellent, spot on analysis as usual. I would add that Pitt needs to recruit a big time guard on offense that can break down the opposing team's defense. They have not been solid with the basketball and do not create opportunities with confidence.

The Hammer said...

Yep, they really haven't had a go to scorer in the last ten years.