Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Pitt Legit? + Plus More Thoughts on Adams

Pittsburgh just finished up beating Lehigh in an impressive fashion and it begs the question of just how good Pittsburgh is. Expectations were tempered after last year's struggles, but Jamie Dixon has a history of winning and winning his way. This team is back to the mold of the past, with strong interior play and aggressive guards who know how to score. They are back to controlling the boards, bullying their opponents  and doing the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet.

The poster boy, or should I say manchild, for their reemergence is Talib Zanna, a junior who has shown flashes in the past but seems like he's ready to be a consistent performer. He gives Pittsburgh scoring inside and teams with Adams on defense to form a tough lane to penetrate. Zanna plays with a great motor and has been able to score efficiently simply by outhustling the opponents down the court. He's showcased an improving jumper as well. Also sporting a slimmed down frame, he is able to give the Panthers more hard played minutes than in the past.

While Zanna provides post scoring and defense, Steven Adams is the shot blocking presence on defense. Together, the form one of the best frontcourt defenses in the country. With the frontcourt depth they are able to bring off the bench - Durand Johnson, JJ Moore, and Dante Taylor - they can control the glass against just about anyone. Dixon has been able to keep everyone fresh and Zanna and Adams have rarely committed fouls.

The frontcourt does all the little things and you can add small forward Lamar Patterson into that mix. Ever since I saw him in high school, I pegged him as a swiss army knife type of role player. He doesn't need the ball but gets after it on defense and passes well for a forward.

Zanna and Adams have been able to fit well together. There may have been a lingering concern that they could have went the way of the Oriakhi/Drummond situation in UConn last year. Instead, they play off each other. Adams likes to occupy the low post and set screens while Zanna has been able to step out to the high post thanks to his improved offensive game. They have proven early on that they can be on the court at the same time. That may have not been true if Zanna was at the same weight and skill level as in years past.

The biggest concern was how Pitt was going to score and the frontcourt isn't the answer for that. Transfer Trey Zeigler is a known scorer and should have his moments, but senior Tray Woodall has been huge for them so far. He's going to need more help from Zeigler and they lack the depth, although freshman Robinson has shown a steady hand on the ball. Scoring has been good thus far, but it will remain their biggest issue. Can they knock down threes? Thats another issue.

For now, their frontcourt has been the reason why they are cruising to victories. And really, should that be a surprise from a Jamie Dixon team? It seems as if the Panthers are back to their old tricks.

Notes on Steven Adams:

Adams chipped in 6 points on 3-7 shooting, but only came up with 4 rebounds. He was the weakest rebounder statistically among their big men but was able to tip a few balls to keep them alive. He has to do a better job being strong with the ball after he gets it. He got stripped at least once tonight.

Offensively, Pitt tried to work him the ball more than they did in the first half last game. He was able to get deep post position and he does a nice job presenting himself as a target. He shows nice touch around the rim and Im sure more aggressiveness will come. He already looked better than last game. He's gonna improve. On few occasions though, Adams has looked to pass the ball before even thinking to score - this when he gets good position. Adams just needs to go up and finish strong in those situations. He did make a few solid passes to go along with a bad forced pass to Zanna. He even stepped out and took a 15 foot jumper that almost went in. Good form.

Defensively, he was a force yet again. Early on he was able to step out of pick and roll defense and hedge on McCollom well. He sent one shot hard into the stands and got a piece of another one. He does a real good job maintaining position down low and not biting for fakes. He has a big body and allows it to do the work for him.

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