Originally written on Pitt Blather  |  Last updated 8/21/14
Pitt is off for the week. Taking those darn finals. Something about responsibility, education and schooling. I don’t know, seems odd. In a previous post, I mentioned how the RPI and SOS numbers for Pitt’s non-con were rather bad. That plays a role in Pitt not being ranked. The other part of why Pitt isn’t getting ranked. Not only didn’t Pitt start the season ranked, last year happened (Insider subs.). That being said, I can’t help feeling that Pitt, as so often happens with early-season rankings, is to some extent paying for the mistakes that we the voters committed all by ourselves in the preseason. Coming off a 5-13 season in the Big East, the Panthers were nowhere to be found in any of the various preseason top 25s for 2012-13. Throw in the fact that Dixon’s team has played only one ranked opponent to this point — they lost to Michigan 67-62 in Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving eve — and you have a situation where our preconceived preseason notions with regard to Pitt have been more or less frozen in place. I believe that’s a mistake. The Panthers are better than most observers expected in the preseason, and data point No. 1 here is losing by only five on a neutral floor to a team as good as the Wolverines. That’s John Gasaway, most known for his work with Ken Pomeroy on the Basketball Prospectus. He’s very good with advanced basketball stats. He explains a bit more: If there’s one thing fans in Pittsburgh can set their watch by with this program, it’s outstanding offensive rebounding. Even last season, when the Panthers took a very uncharacteristic trip to the CBI (which, by the way, they won), this was still the No. 2 offensive rebounding team in Big East play (second only to West Virginia). That tradition has continued this season, as Pitt has hauled down 41 percent of their missed shots. With Talib Zanna, Steven Adams and Dante Taylor, Dixon has the luxury of rotating three of the nation’s preeminent offensive rebounders on and off the floor as fouls and fatigue warrant. What has changed dramatically this season, however, has been the Panthers’ ability to hang on to the ball. Last season this was Dixon’s largest single problem on offense, as his team gave the ball away on 23 percent of its possessions in 18 Big East games. This season that figure has dropped all the way down to 15 percent. Granted, the opponents haven’t always been particularly strong, but I’m not forecasting a huge jump in turnovers once Big East play begins. Pitt’s three top players in terms of minutes are Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson, and James Robinson, and all three of them appear to be very reliable with the ball. With Woodall and Patterson my characterization is based simply on their histories. (Woodall’s a senior, and Patterson’s a junior, and while Woodall did commit a few turnovers last season, I’m giving him a small evaluative pardon for playing the better part of 2011-12 while overcoming an abdominal injury.) As for Robinson, my expectations for his performance the rest of this season are based in part on my history looking at freshman point guards in December. Freshman point guards routinely pile up turnovers very early in their playing careers. Robinson, conversely, has shown no such inclination, and Dixon has rewarded him with starts and playing time accordingly. When your team minimizes turnovers, maximizes offensive rebounds, hits 38 percent of its 3s and 55 percent of its 2s, you’re going to have an outstanding offense. And, even adjusting for the competition, Pitt’s offense has indeed been outstanding. There have been slow starts and some sputtering in some of the games, but there has only been one truly offensive clunker. And even then, Pitt managed to win that game against Oakland. Time to touch on a few more players. Lamar Patterson: Remember in the exhibition games and the first few games of the season. Patterson was struggling on offense and you had questions popping up about how he was handling his role this year. Seems like months rather than weeks ago, huh? He’s found his 3-point shot. He’s as selective as ever taking his shots, but his eFG% is up to 56.5%. He’s taking care of the ball with a 3.8:1 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio. Even as the 3d leading assist man on the team. He’s continuing his steady improvement from last year. A little better on defense. A little better shooting. Everything is just a little better. J.J. Moore: There are certain truths with regards to Moore, that must be accepted. Then and (most of the time) only then can you find peace with his game. The first is that he is a streaky outside shooter. He hasn’t made a 3 in the past four games. He is 1-11 in the past five games. Then he has games like against Oakland where he went 3-4 to make you want to believe he’s got his range and consistency. He is shooting nearly 31% on 3s. He shot nearly 31% as a freshman. Last year he “upped” it to about 33%. So there does seem to be a sort of consistency in the broader scope. The second is that his nickname as a freshman was “clone.” As in being so similar to Gil Brown. Unfortunately that often applies to his consistency from game-to-game. He is such an athletically gifted player, that it is excruciatingly frustrating when he struggles. He is just so much more effective inside the arc. But he falls in love with his jumper. That said — and I have essentially written the above two paragraphs seemingly over-and-over regarding Moore — he is making a pretty good adjustment to playing more at power forward. Especially with the effort on defense and rebounding. He’s averaging 4.5 rebounds per game and playing 20 minutes/game. He’s showing a lot more fearlessness in going inside for the basketball. He is willing to take the charges when an opposing player penetrates. He’s scoring over 9 points/game and his turnovers are down. The latter can also be ascribed to playing less in the backcourt. But he is definitely making some better decisions with the ball than in past years. Durand Johnson: Still something of a blank slate. In no small part because he is one of the last off the bench and into the rotation. He has an average of nearly 11 minutes/game, but it can vary wildly. He has a nice stroke. He is over 35% on 3s. Over 80% from the free throw line. He definitely will see his playing time increase… next year.     There is no question that J.J. Moore is more willing to play defense than he was the first two years at Pitt. It also remains
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