It’s true, there’s not a Jerome Lane on this Pitt squad, in truth, there may be three of them as far as cleaning the glass is concerned. Talib Zanna, G. McGhee, and Dante Taylor give the Panthers plenty of brawn inside to handle the paint. These are big, physical cats that want to play volleyball on the glass and dunk on garden gnomes taking charges. Not much skill away from the bucket, so we need to play sound ball-you-man post defense, do our positional work way before the shot is taken, and block someone’s ass out. Otherwise it’ll be Karch Kiray time.
Pitt has the perimeter dynamic duo Brad Wannamaker and Ashton Gibbs to do their thing. They bring in 5-11 Travon Woodall for a 3 guard 3-some to spice things up. They can get away with it because the power they have inside can control the glass with just two posts. Gilbert Brown may be their most underrated player because he has the size and versatility to play in the backcourt or the frontcourt. He’s a true small forward who should draw Jordan Hamilton.
Ashton Gibbs is their sniper and he has to be chased off his jumper and guarded on the catch. Woodall and Wannamaker are credible shooters, but I’d be from Missouri on them before I go crazy closing out to them. Brown is a streaky shooter who has struggled the first 3 games of the season, so I’d roll the dice with him and invite him to shoot especially if Hamilton is guarding him. The extra cushion will come in handy by getting Jordan on the defensive glass quicker as well keeping the Texas bell cow out of foul trouble.
Pitt's Style And Substance
Jamie Dixon won’t be lured into an up tempo, open floor game with the Horns like Bruce Weber was. I don’t think he could do it if he wanted to because it’s not in his coaching DNA. If Texas is going to make this an up and down affair, they’re going to have to do it by turning over the Panthers by pressuring as well as controlling the glass to the start the break. More on that in a minute. Pitt is going to try to play half court to half court and bludgeon the Longhorn interior with size, depth, and strength. When they’re not playing volleyball on the glass for offense, the Panthers will lean on perimeter playmakers Gibbs, Wannamaker and Woodall to generate points.
Keys to the Game
Big Small Short or Tall?
Jamie Dixon has the pieces and the depth to dictate Texas’ personnel decisions because the Panthers’ lineup is more balanced from offense to defense. In other words, Coach Dixon can roll out a traditional two guard, two forward, 1 center look and not lose much on either end. His three man, Gilbert Brown, can guard a small forward or a third guard.
If the Panthers want to go small by replacing their lumbering center McGee with either the electric Woodall or the G/F hybrid 6’5" Nassir Robinson, there really isn’t much downside either, other than increasing pace. It’s not like Barnes can bring Hill or Wangmene in the game to pound the Panthers into submission with a height advantage magic bullet.
Dixon is going to be able to pick Texas’ poison, so Barnes needs to either come to grips with that and just try to match what the Panthers are doing, or Texas should roll the dice with some gimmicks so they're able to get who they want on the floor. You do that with zone or pressure, or both. Texas is playing with house money so why not press and fall back into zone with your small lineup for stretches against Pitt’s big group. It’s a good way to speed up Pitt and get the pace to your liking. And be sure to pray for good bounces off the rim in this scenario because it’s likely the only way we will beat them inside on the glass.
Shot Selection vs. Pace Selection
Pace is going to be really important for the Horns, especially when Pitt has its big group in. Texas can’t walk the ball up and hope to compete in that matchup because they’ll be smothered on offense and pounded inside on defense. Instead, Texas needs to have an open floor when attacking the goal and hope the quick pace entices the Panthers into some bad shots early in the clock. It’s a trap Texas has to continue to set because it’s really our only hope for an upset.
To that end, however, our kids have to understand what constitutes a good shot at a frenetic pace and when to pull back on the reins and run motion. A lot of that is going to be on Balbay because again he’ll be asked to check a premier guard in Gibbs, so he’s getting 25 plus minutes. Aside from Balbay, Hamilton needs to understand this nuance as well since a lot of our secondary break and early shot clock offense comes through Hamilton. Unfortunately, the early shot clock offense is a chicken/egg thing when it comes to our talented winig. Pass and pick away ain’t a bad move, Jordan. Learn it. Live it. Love it.
Any way you slice it, if we take early bad shots and Pitt works for good ones on the other end we’ll lose by double digits. If we take good early shots and are successful in enticing Pitt to take any kind of early shot good or bad then we have a solid chance at the upset.
Whistles, Fatigue, and Depth
This a mine field of competing, almost mutually exclusive, outcomes we’re going to have to navigate. We need a quick whistle, tightly officiated contest, but our lack of depth makes us susceptible to foul trouble. We also need to play up tempo, full court basketball but we don’t have the bench to run for 40 minutes without getting tired. So the answer here is to steal minutes and fouls as much as we can.
Matt Hill, Jai Lucas, Wangmene, and Mr. Zone (at times) should get a lot of run to ward off tired legs and that crucial 4th personal foul call.
This team has a different feel to it. What's going on? Chemistry? Togetherness? Cancer-free? I don’t know, so I predict ...
I’m going to be surprised. Hopefully pleasantly: 71 to 70 Texas. But my head says we'll lose by 10.
Keys To The Game