I'd just like to say thanks to Anson for being so gracious and working with us around National Signing Day which we still haven't recovered from. Flyers13 in the bold, and Anson underneath. Love to hear what you folks think about the game in the comments below. Per usual, I reciprocated by responding to a Q&A wih Cardiac Hill of my own, which will be up on their site http://www.cardiachill.com/ at some point before the game. You should head over and check that out. Enjoy, unfortunately for VT the conversation is all we have left.
1) Just four losses, and all to upper echelon teams, are Pitt fans satisfied with this season thus far? With the lone game against Syracuse, to an outsider it looks likely PItt might finish the season with just five losses all to top 15 teams. Is this what you expected in your first year in the ACC?
AW: By and large, I think most fans are pleased. The fact is that, starting a true freshman, moving our power forward (Talib Zanna) to center, and playing a total of three true freshmen and two sophomores in significant roles, this was really expected to be a rebuilding year. So 20-4? I'll take it.
What most fans are angst-ing about these days is the lack of a signature win. Pitt has failed all of their major tests so far against the likes of Duke, Cincinnati, and Syracuse. Going 0-3 against those teams that are all now in the top 11 is hardly that embarrassing. But the hope was that Pitt would win at least one of those. I've tried to talk some of our readers from off the ledge and point that Pitt has many 'good' wins, but that's still an area of concern for some. Fact is, though, that this isn't an elite team. They're more Top 25 than they are Top 10 and overall, I'm really pleased with how the season has played out.
2) Jamie Dixon just completed his 10th year at Pitt. He averages 26 wins and 8 losses. He certainly started his career fast with NCAA records for wins after his first six seasons (162), and seven seasons (188). While I don't know what happened in year 8, Dixon is remarkably consistent. Is he at Pitt to stay, or are your fans constantly looking over their shoulder when an NBA job or equally prestigious college job opens up? Can VT talk to him and perhaps drive up to Pittsburgh with a Brinks truck to convince him?
AW: That 2011-12 season was the perfect storm of injuries, players leaving, etc. Just not something we care to revisit. The funny thing is that even in that year, his worst ever, the Panthers still won 22 games. Things were bad (okay, horrible), but if nothing else, it kept Dixon's 20-win streak alive.
In Dixon's case, there's never really been the NBA talk. The question has always generally been if he'll leave to go to the west coast where he's from. Programs like Arizona State, USC, and Oregon have made overtures in the past and Pitt has generally fended them off and given Dixon extension after extension.
At this point (and I actually just wrote about this), it looks less and less likely that he'd leave. He talks about his kids really only knowing Pittsburgh, how he considers it home, etc. If he keeps winning and makes it a lifetime job, Pitt will probably name the court after him. He's just got a good thing going for him here and while you never say never, I imagine he's here for the long haul.
3) With several high seedings in the NCAA tournament, but never having advanced to a Final Four, is the Pitt crowd growing restless?
AW: Yeah, I think that's safe to say ... and it's been that way for several years now. Those of us that went to the school before the program was much of anything appreciate things a little more, but heck, we still want to see Pitt go farther.
The extremists (and trust me - they exist) would like to fire Dixon and bring in someone who, presumably will automatically win 30 games every year and take them to a national title. The realists, though, are even getting a little antsy. I don't know - there's obviously value in keeping Pitt in the Top 25 nearly all the time but yeah, a Final Four or even another Elite Eight would be nice.
4) Can uber-efficient F Lamar Patterson beat out CJ Fair for player of the year? Make his case for me.
AW: It really depends on how the voters see it. I made this point recently, but while Fair may be a slightly better player (and I'm not convinced that's the case), Patterson is more valuable. Pitt would really be a far more mediocre team this year if they didn't have him than Syracuse would without Fair.
But I think you can even argue that Patterson's the better player. Patterson averages one more point and three more assists than Fair. Heck, he leads the team in assists. How often do you see a player lead the team in points and assists that isn't a point guard? Patterson also shoots better (48% to 44%) and is significantly better at the foul line (80% to 70%). In my mind, he's the better player.
5) Even if Pitt makes it to the rest of the way with just another loss to Syracuse (i personally think Pitt spoils their undefeated dream), will the selection committee respect their five loss campaign or undervalue it? The money wins according the Real-Time RPI, include a non-conference win against a slightly above average Stanford team and some league wins against expected NIT teams NC St and Maryland. Not a lot to hang your hat on is it? Why the weak out-of-conference schedule?
AW: If Pitt beats Syracuse and loses only one more the rest of the way, the committee would respect it. Pitt actually climbed in the polls after their close loss to the Orange and I think a win there would bring a lot of value. In terms of the OOC, Pitt has often underscheduled a bit there. I think some of it has to do with Dixon not wanting to beat his team down in the past with a rugged Big East schedule, but some of it could also have to with wanting to make sure the team has some success.
Dixon was lauded a while back by CBS Sports for his shrewd scheduling. Essentially, he has scheduled teams that will finish at or near the top of their smaller conferences at home. Pitt almost always wins those games and it often shows up as a quality win in the RPI since those teams go on to a lot of success. But that hasn't been the case lately and many of the mid-major types of teams haven't really held up their end of the bargain. In the end, I don't think they need to go gangbusters with the schedule, but Pitt is going to have to try to schedule one or two better games. Games against former Big East teams like Georgetown, UConn, etc. are some I've tried to advocate for that would be a good way of improving the non-con ... assuming they'd play Pitt after the messy Big East divorce. Sorry not sorry.
6) When I look at Pittsburgh statistically, they seem to take very good care of the ball (6th nationally in asst-TO ratio) and play excellent defense (14th in points-per-game allowed). The one drawback, and it seems to be a concerning one: The lack of three point conversions (#322 in the country). Does Dixon discourage them, or does Pitt just not shoot it well from distance? Will this be an Achilles heel come March?
AW: The three-point shooting has really gone downhill. Pitt's shot it well at times, but overall, the best answer I can give is that this just isn't a sharpshooting team. Patterson has done some damage back there making 43% of them, but other than him, it's been brick city. There isn't one guy on the team that you'd call a sharpshooter and that really hurts a team like Pitt that thrives on effective ball movement and finding open men. Plenty of good looks, but just no one that can knock them down. Pitt's two starters at guard, James Robinson and Cameron Wright, are both efficient scorers and can get to the basket. Neither, though, is a particular good shooter outside of 15 feet.
Given the way the offense has struggled at times, it definitely has the potential to be a downfall for the Panthers.
7) What could VT possibly implement strategically to remain competitive in this game?
AW: Pitt's biggest problem is that they've not shot well lately. In the last three games (two losses and a near loss against Miami), Pitt shot only about 35% combined. If The Hokies play solid defense and force Pitt into bad shots, there's a chance that trend could continue. If it does, it'll be closer than expected.
8) What's your prediction for the game?
AW: I actually think Pitt comes out in this one and takes care of business. They're back home and Dixon will use the trap game mentality against them as they prepare for Syracuse. If the game were on the road, I'd be a little more concerned but I think this is the game Pitt uses to get back on track. Virginia Tech hasn't just been losing, they've been getting throttled. I expect a 15-point win for the Panthers.
BONUS: Will Pitt fans ever live down Charles Smith missing five consecutive layups for the Knicks and ruining the Knicks best chance to take out a Michael Jordan-led Bulls team?
AW: :Haha, well considering that 80% of Pitt fans in the City barely know what the NBA is, my guess is that they're not losing a lot of sleep over it.
DOUBLE BONUS: Can you guys take it easy on us at Heinz on Thursday night this year? We're um trying to win the Coastal and stuff.
AW: After Virginia Tech came in and took Shai McKenzie out of our backyard, I'd say the Hokies were the ones who owe Pitt the favor.
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