Know Thy Opponent: Pittsburgh Panthers

  • 12/07/2009 10:30 am in

dixon120709

Based on its final AP ranking — No. 4 — and NCAA Tournament seeding — No. 1 in the East region — you can argue that the 2008-2009 version of the Pittsburgh Panthers failed to reach its own expectations. Jamie Dixon had the horses to reach Detroit, but a brilliant regional final performance by Villanova sent Dixon, DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young back to Pittsburgh a weekend early.

Dixon’s nine tournament wins in the past six seasons are tops for any coach who’s yet to reach a Final Four. His ability to teach defense and rebounding makes him one of the more respected coaches in the country. And until he landed freshman Dante Taylor in the 2009 class, all of his success at Pitt has come without the help of a single McDonald’s All-American.

So it should be no surprise that despite the losses of Blair (2nd round pick by the Spurs), Young (2nd round pick by the Grizzlies), Fields and Tyrell Biggs, Dixon is having early season success with this year’s team. Pitt is 7-1, with its only loss coming to No. 2 Texas back on November 24. Even more impressive is that they’ve done it without the services of senior guard Jermaine Dixon, the team’s lone returning starter who is recovering from a foot injury and Gilbert Brown, who was suspended for the fall semester for academic reasons.

It’s a new cast of characters, but the basic principles remain the same: defend, rebound and most importantly, be tougher than your opponent. It’s the formula that has placed Dixon atop the wish list of many an athletic director the past few off-seasons. But still he remains at Pitt, where he’s won 170 games in 6+ seasons and holds an impressive 70-30 record in Big East games.

Sophomore Ashton Gibbs, a 6-2 guard, has emerged as the go-to-guy offensively through eight games. Gibbs is averaging 16.1 points and is hitting 90 percent of his free throws. Junior guard Brad Wanamaker is arguably Pitt’s best rebounder (6 per game) and their second leading scorer at 12.5 per contest. Both players will likely see their scoring numbers decline upon the returns of Dixon and Brown.

The rest of the cast, with the exception of Taylor (more on him in a minute), is largely composed of role players from last year’s team. Gary McGhee, a 6-10 forward from Anderson (IN), is the leading rebounder after scarce minutes a season ago. Nasir Robinson, a 6-5 forward, has been thrust into a starting role after playing just five minutes per game in 2008-2009. And their point guard is Travon Woodall, a 5-11 redshirt freshman who played in only 10 games last year before suffering a season-ending injury.

Taylor, for all the hype that surrounded his arrival, has yet to scratch the surface of his potential. Dixon has limited him to 16.4 minutes a contest off the bench, but his numbers (5.4 points and 6.1 rebounds), suggest he’ll supplant McGhee from the lineup sooner rather than later. The team Indiana will see Tuesday is likely a shell of the one Dixon hopes he’ll be able to mold into his seventh consecutive tournament team. Once Taylor blossoms and the combination of Dixon and Brown returns, Pitt will be well one it’s way to another 20-win season and a likely NCAA berth.

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  • Bryan

    I love the photo of Chris Dixon doing the tiger impersantion…. RAAWWRRR!

  • Bryan

    I love the photo of Chris Dixon doing the tiger impersantion…. RAAWWRRR!

  • cooper

    out rebound and more made free throws and IU can win

  • JerryCT

    Dixon has had good success with Blair his only 5 star recruit ever , until Taylor. Dixon is a 2 star and there are 3 players who are 4 stars the remaing players are 3 stars. This man can coach. He has steadily inched his way up to several 4 stars in the next class. I feel like this is the pattern we can also expect from Crean……..3 & 4 stars until the break out season when we begin to attract the 5 stars.

  • tberry

    Let's hope it doesn't get ugly early.

    It would be great to finally see our team come together and play like they can!!!

  • I just checked out the boiler sports page and it was horrible. They have more stuff on there knocking notre damn and Iu than about purdue. Typical Purdue fans. They posses all the bad qualities of a fan….fair weather, rude, and uninformed. Can't believe a fan base lives and dies by the misfortunes of others. Thank god for Inside the Hall. I'm glad to see this site created by IU fans for IU fans in the fasion we want to be represented. This is a very tasteful site and I think it represents hoosier nation well. Thank you guys for all your hard work and time!

  • BaseballBuc

    You said it all my man.

  • Kelin Blab

    Jerry….that is something IU fans need to remember, where this program was and where it is going and what it will take to get there. Sure we want to continue to recruit Irving, Teague, Selby etc. but to land one of those kids it will take that assurance of a possible NCAA berth to make it happen. I think you can see the pattern upward from last year's class to this years class……

  • Kelin Blab

    My expectations for this game are a little different.
    – This team is similar to the physical teams we saw in PR. Will we get outmuscled again
    – Can we start making jumpshots
    – I want to see Mo Creek play a complete game for TWO halves
    – This may sound crazy, but I want J.Rivers to control this team more like Jordan Hulls. We seem more settled with Hulls than J.Rivers in my opinion.
    – Can we maintain our ability to get to the basket and draw fouls.
    – Will we get any inside play on the offensive end from our post players?
    – Finally I have conceded Tijan is a mainstay in the rotation

  • IUDan

    Agree with you on all counts – I think it'll be interesting to see what we have accomplished in the last week. I think we saw some decent improvement between PR and Maryland, so hopefully we have another productive week.

    I think Jobe will provide good minutes this season . . . call me crazy . . .

  • Disco_Briscoe

    Crazy!

  • JerryCT

    Crean was secretive about injuries and what they worked on in practice in his interview. I smell a surprise for the Pitt game.

    Could it be a full court press early and often ?
    Could it be Elston and/or Hulls start w Rivers and TP on the bench ?

  • cooper

    I've thought they should press all along especially against teams we don't match up well with. If they do so starting Elston is a no brainer and even if they don't press Elston deserves to start over Pritchard.

    I'd think twice about Hulls over Rivers. It would be a huge mistake in my mind. He isn't strong or athletic enough yet to start

  • JerryCT

    Agreed except you are assumign Rivers is healthy enough to play. Crean was elusive on injuries so it makes me wonder

  • My P-T-Click is Christian Watford

  • cooper

    you're correct, i did overlook injuries. If healthy Rivers should start. I will say Hulls is improving and I think Crean is being smart with his minutes by taking out Rivers and letting Hulls run the team for a couple of minutes, and then bringing back Rivers but leaving Hulls on the court. Its a great way to slowly build Hulls game, confidence, and overall knowledge of the offense. Playing him too many minutes or starting him could cause him to regress.

  • hoosier07

    anyone else going to the game? i may have extras available if anyone needs. 7th row center court

  • ace132

    define good minutes. it might sound bad but we dont expect alot from tijan. he comes in for an emotional boost but he doesnt bring much else to the table. which is disappointing

  • JD

    Dixon is three times the coach Crean is, and that’s a fact.

    Crean is not a good coach, and not a good recruiter.

    I originally thought we’d win 13 games this season, but now 9 wins might be a stretch.

    Hulls is way over-rated, Rivers sure ain’t like his daddy, Elston is soft, Teehuhwanna Joe needs to stay on the bench in my opinion. The only two real players on this team will be gone this year or next.

  • JD

    Dixon is three times the coach Crean is, and that’s a fact.

    Crean is not a good coach, and not a good recruiter.

    I originally thought we’d win 13 games this season, but now 9 wins might be a stretch.

    Hulls is way over-rated, Rivers sure ain’t like his daddy, Elston is soft, Teehuhwanna Joe needs to stay on the bench in my opinion. The only two real players on this team will be gone this year or next.

  • SB_Hoosier

    Good points Kelin. I'd like to see improvements in our defense. Our man to man has been pretty suspect this year, and our zone has been even worse. Some would like to see us press. I'd like to see us be able to press, but if we can't defend in 25', I don't think extending to 94' would be a good idea. I'd also like to see improvements in our zone offense. We haven't really had one yet, and if we don't learn how to do something other than chuck 3's, we're going to get zoned every game and struggle. Playing a good team, but I have faith in the team and I expect we'll see noticeable improvements.

  • I hear ya, and you have way more knowledge of the program than I do, but I don't see what the big deal is. How can this not be fixed with Crean just going in and showing Keefer some love and saying, “Hey, I know previous coaches sucked as far as paying attention to Indiana, but I want to change that and I value you input into how I can do that. You're a historic coach in this state and I want to draw from your experience, we'd love to have come out to some practices and to camp this summer.”

    As long as Crean follows through, then I don't see what the big deal is.

  • JerryCT

    Last night at ESPNZONE in NY Crean said Elston is banged up……..not good news. He did not elaborate. He and Glass both gave good speeches and seem to be completley on the same page.

    Crean also answered questions and one of his best answers had to do with keeping Indiana kids in state. He said he will meet with any 3-4 grader and will recruit as young as 8-9 graders to make sure Indiana is their #1 consideration. He said he felt we as fans actually donot know the damage done to the program ( referring to in state recruiting ) after Knight left.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Not having Elston would be a big blow for this game. We could really use his rebounding tonight.
    I don't think we knew the damage at the time but I think those that follow it are well aware now. Crean is having to rebuild a lot of bridges that were burned by Mike Davis and he-who-must-not-be-named and he is having to do it a couple of years behind Matt Painter.
    I was a member of the Lawrence North program for a few years (04-06) and I can tell you that the LN coaching staff despised Mike Davis. Apparently they weren't the only high school coaches that were turned off. Crean has made it a priority which is the first step.

  • Kelin Blab

    I often wondered why 'some schools' like LN….would not produce ANY Indiana recruits. I now see why and I know Davis was not big on recruiting in-state. He didn't even recruit Gordon or Conley very hard……….

  • CreamandCrimson

    Davis was at a few of our practices but he never believed that Conley or Oden would go to college. As long as Keefer is coaching at LN, there won't be any LN players going to IU. I don't know what happened but Mike Davis did something to anger the staff and they haven't gotten over it. Rick Pitino and Thad Matta have taken advantage!

  • HoosierSmitty

    He looks like Bo Ryan in that pic !

  • HoosierSmitty

    I know it's still early in the season, but I can't help but be “tired” of the feeling that no matter how well we play, how close we make the game, we're just not going to win games against quality opponents.

    We're spoiled as IU fans and expect more than what is probably possible, and I know patience is a virtue, etc., etc., but it is just painful to go through this misery night in and night out.

    I want to see a signature W somewhere, somehow this season. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening against Pitt or Kentucky, so I just have to grin and endure for a few games.

    Regardless, I'll get pepped up by game time!

    Go Hoosiers!

  • Kelin Blab

    Smitty….I went through this after the Maryland game….a game IU could have won. Now with Pitt, according to Dakich IU could very well win this one….but I don't expect it. There is something about the KY game and playing at home against other Frosh. Hang in there, this team is better than last year, and thus far they are having more 'good moments'…..If anything I want to see someone take over this team and become that leader….

  • You don't think Crean can/is repairing that? Would love to hear your thoughts since the “As long as Keefer is coaching LN, there won't be any LN players going to IU” comment is a strong one. That's pretty frightening to think Crean can't repair that.

  • JerryCT

    After a little examination of Pitt I , like Dakich, think we have 50/50 chance of winning:

    1. Coach knows how to game plan Pitt
    2. We can maintain guard pressure if Rivers/Dumes share duty on Gibbs
    3. Watford can stalemate Wannamaker
    4. In general we have played much tougher schedule so far

    Crean said last night we had good practices and he can see the development. He said he was the most upset he has ever been at IU losing to MD, a game he thougth we were capable of winning. Taken at his word I believe both he and the team believe they can win this.

    Winning in NYC would be huge for future recruiting

  • I'm hoping IU can pull this out Jerry! I really think the kids need a confidence boost and the belief that they can really win against a good (at least by name) opponent, as we head into the Big Ten schedule.

    It's going to be tough heading into the Big Ten with all the wins being over Howard, USC Upstate…etc. I think with the improvement we've seen since PR and with a confidence win over a program like Pitt at MSG, the team can feel more confident in surprising some people in the Big Ten.

    Long story short, I'm saying I think the players could really use a confidence/pick-me-up win and Pitt seems like the best chance for that.

  • Kelin Blab

    I could not agree more, this group needs a 'good/big' win for themselves and the program as a whole. If they win tonite, KY is in trouble……

  • Kelin Blab

    I think Crean can repair it but it will take some time. The red carpet is NOT rolled out for IU and I am sure alot of things have been said about the IU of old (MD and KS) so Crean has his work cut out for him.

    The encouraging sign is, Crean is still heavily involved in Pike and North Central schools two basketball factories for the next few years. Good news on that front is…..Crean was watching Teague play last friday night so he is still going after him…AND….Pike has some STUD underclassmen coming up witht the 2013 and 2014 classes

  • Kelin Blab

    I agree with JD and let me add this too….

    – The invention of the wheel was so overrated and thats a fact
    – I originally thought we would win all of our games but now I am not sure if that will happen
    – Crean's recruiting is not good because he was not able to land the top 10 players in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 classes.
    – Mike Davis was a far better coach than Knight and Wooden
    – the 1976 team was NOT that good as they probaly would have lost to the Laker or Celtics
    – Jordan Hulls should give back his Mr. Basketball award, as his team barely went undefeated

    Thanks JD from Purdue……

  • CreamandCrimson

    BGleas, I don't really have much contact with the LN coaching staff anymore. The two coaches I was closest with, Joe Leonard and JR Shelt, now have head coaching jobs at Fishers and LC respectively. That being said, I think Crean can repair the relationship. However, I don't see Keefer pushing any kids to stay in state and play for Indiana schools. Lawrence North has produced a lot of D1 players over the past five or six years and there has only been one to stay in-state (Brandon McPherson at Valpo). Jeff Robinson committed to Purdue but didn't qualify.
    These are just the guys I can think of:
    Chaz Spicer- Utah State
    Tyler Morris- Boston University
    Greg Oden- Ohio State
    Mike Conley- Ohio State
    Stephen Van Treese, Michael Chandler, Ryan Taylor, Justin Martin- Louisville
    Dominique Ferguson- FIU
    Crean appears to have very good relationships with Pike and North Central (DSR looked great in his return) and I think he could repair the relationship with LN but it will be very tough. I won't guarantee anything but I would be surprised if an LN player committed to IU anytime soon. Always enjoy your guys thoughts!

  • CreamandCrimson

    Bingo, this would be a big confidence booster. Just think about the guys who have been with the program for two years. They haven't beaten anyone that you would say “Good win”. This team needs a tangible result that lets them believe all of their hard work is paying off.

  • Hahahahaha…that's great Kelin!

  • Seriously? You're not just giving them out I assume. I'm going to the game with a friend, I think we're some thing like 30 rows up behind the basket. If you really do just have extra to give out though, send me an email – psvirsky@gmail.com. Otherwise, enjoy the view!

  • Incorrect

  • CreamandCrimson

    You're right, it should not be a big deal. For whatever reason, LN players end up going out of state. Todd Leary was the last good LN player that went to IU and he grew up loving the Hoosiers.

    Crean will do what he can and it might be really easy. I am just guessing that Keefer will keep pushing them out of state. There are so many good players from other schools that it doesn't really matter much.

  • valpohistory

    This is laughable.

  • JerryCT

    Good answer Kelin……….but is anyone wanting the facts ?

    Going back to 2003 the beginning of Matt Painter recruiting at Div 1 here are the stats :

    Dixon => 9 four stars, 20 three stars, nobody below 3
    Crean => 8 four stars, 20 three stars, 1 two star
    Painter=> 9 four stars, 14 three stars, many two stars and unranked

    The case for Crean not recruiting as well as Dixon or Painter is not true. Furthermore his 2 star , Cubillion is now their star at Marquette

  • BaseballBuc

    Valpohistory, are you from valparaiso?

  • HoosierSmitty

    Yep, I agree. All a young team needs is a “surprise” victory and the confidence level shoots through the roof.

    I don't know what stat would prove it, but I'm convinced that this year's team has played competitive basketball for longer stretches than last year's team.

    I feel like we've started off well in just about every game, and mainted a winning competitiveness throughout. We're 3-4 with two close losses to Boston and George Mason, started off well against Mississippi, and had our chances against Maryland. We have held our own in every game.

    We need finish the 1st half well tonight and start the second half well. To me, those final 5 minutes of the first half and first 5 minutes of the 2nd half are going to be key to this team's chances to win the game.

  • IUDan

    Shame on you, Jerry . . . using facts to interrupt a perfectly good argument. Can't we just go back to talking out of our rear ends?

    Great stuff

  • cooper

    I'm hoping to see one of two things tonight:
    1) I'd really like to see the team start out in the press and go with it for the first 10 minutes or so of the first half. Starting lineup would be Rivers, Dumes, Watford, Creek, and Elston(if he is hurt and can't go I'd put in Jobe since he is more athletic than Pritchard) The press can be the great equalizer when going against a tough team.

    If they don't press then:

    2) Start Pritchard and the first 3-5 possessions post him up and feed him the ball. He must start to produce and realize if he is not producing he is going to get yanked. If he keep gets the ball and goes strong then keep going to him, if he still looks lost I'd bench him and keep him there. Put in Elston, Jobe and Capo and let them get a chance.

    3) (I really hope this doesn't happen but) If the game is a blow out or IU goes down by more than 15pts at any time put in Bawa. Crean keeps saying he wants to get him minutes, well thats his chance. This team isn't coming back from 15 down. Let Bawa play and give him the ball until he fouls out or can't get up and down the court anymore.

    Sometimes its a trial by fire and its the best way for him to develop.

  • HoosierSmitty

    Let's not forget we're playing in a game that's for a good cause – The V Foundation!

    This should get you to the speech if you haven't seen it plenty already.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePXlkqkFH6s

  • Pitt grad in Hoosierland

    Actually Blair was only a 4 star…. and outside of Taylor not a single member of the Pitt squad was a top 50 recruit. Tonight should be a great battle of two teams with great tradition (in Pitt's case recent tradition) that are looking to reload and get back into the national equation. Crean had good success against Pitt while he was at Marquette and ranks right up there with Boeheim, Calhoun, and Huggins (aka Thuggins) as villian opposing coaches.

  • Anyone hear if Knight and Crean are meeting at all in NYC. Knight is doing the first game tonight, right? I'm surprised this hasn't come up at all. Might be a good chance for Crean to speak with him and continue to mend fences.