Behind Enemy Lines: Pittsburgh
The Opponent: The 5-3 Pittsburgh Panthers of the ACC. Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses during each of their last five games after starting the season 2-0, beating Niagara and Samford. Most recently Pitt beat city rival Duquesne 76-62. They have been off since the 6th and thus have had ample time to prepare for this contest on Saturday. This game starts a five game home stand.
The Rundown: Well, here we are. After winning five straight games and just steamrolling through a murder’s row of competition, the Bonnies are now faced with their biggest challenge of the season. Pitt is a real basketball team, in a major conference and has a chance to be…really good. Pittsburgh is considered a middle of the table/upper half team in the ACC. Blue Ribbon previews picked them to finish 6th in the league behind such teams as: UNC, Duke, UVA, Louisville and Syracuse….yeah. The Panthers won 26 games last year and lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament. This year, the Panthers appear to be a deep and balanced team with nine players averaging 12 minutes a game or more. Pittsburgh shoots 45% from the field, 70% from the line and 36% from three. In the scoring department they are led by Michael Young, former Texas Ranger 2nd basemen at 12.8 points on 54% shooting. Second, James Robinson scores at 12.6 points but just shoots 38% from the floor. Robinson, the PG, sets the tone for the Panthers and is dishing out a very impressive 5.6 helpers a game. Pitt is playing without would-have-been best player Durand Johnson who is suspended for the entire season. Pitt has a top 25 rated offense in terms of efficiency, and they are best at hitting the offensive glass where they grab boards on 41.5% of their possessions. They play slow and deliberate, taking almost 21 seconds per possession which is 326th slowest in hoops…They’ll want to take the air out of the ball and slow this thing down whenever they can. There is no doubt this is a massive test for SBU and I cannot wait to see how we come out and compete. Jamie Dixon and Pitt are a perennial power and have won the following amount of games over the last five seasons: 25-28-22-24-26. Big time. If the Bonnies are going to win this game they are going to have to play “A” basketball. Not “B” hoops, A basketball. We can do it, but it won’t be easy. This is a great game to watch, the Bonnies are playing with nothing but house money in this one. We lose, and no one freaks out. We win, and people start talking all sorts of crazy about winning 24 games and who the hell knows what else. You can’t get too up or down after these games but I will say this much: if we do win Saturday I will start to believe this team could finish in the top five of the A10 (I know I’m slow to come around, I graduated in 2008 so I saw a lot of bad basketball that jaded me).
Starters returning from last season: 3 back, 2 lost. 6th man suspended for the whole season.
Their best player(s): Cameron Wright, a 6-5 senior wing is making his second appearance of the season this weekend after being out for all of the Panthers’ games. Wright is the team’s returning scorer (10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds) and was out two months with a broken foot. While he may not be the best player on the floor this weekend, his return is important and gives Pitt a big shot in the arm. Michael Young, a 6-0, 235 pound sophomore has been really good this season for Pitt raising his scoring from four a game to 12.8 to go with 7.8 boards. He’s been their best player.
Their glaring weaknesses: Pitt really isn’t bad at any one thing. They’re balanced across the board. I’m honestly not listing anything in this space because if their “biggest weakness” is their inability to turn people over (315th in the country) then they’re doing just fine. Their desire to play slow could be a weakness if the Bonnies run and exploit it as best they can. Really it’s just a different style but I’m trying to be optimistic here.
Their bad stats: Stated above, they don’t turn people over, instead, they just play good defense, get misses and grab rebounds.
Their good stats: Pitt has a top 25 offense, and a borderline top 100 defense. They rank 12th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (41.5%). Pitt is top 130 in shooting from 3PT, 2PT and FT. Not really a good stat, but Pitt also throws a lot of size at you. Their starting lineup goes 6-3, 6-6, 6-7, 6-9 and 6-9…they are not MAAC team. They’re deep and come at you in waves with “guys” who give them something off the bench…something we need to gain eventually.
How Pittsburgh can win: The Bonnies have been doing a really good job defending people this season but Schmidt’s club has been vulnerable to the three point shot (36% against). Pittsburgh would be wise to make some deep jump shoots early and force the Bonnies to think about extended their zone a bit. Pitt has an experienced back court and will likely pressure our young guards and try to force turnovers. Jay Adams has been great, but has hasn’t shown that he could handle big-time pressure just yet. Pitt may test him in that area. SBU has shot only 45.8% from 2PT, so Pitt will try to force us to beat them inside, hoping we force the ball into Ndoye and Wright and pressure them. After watching the Ohio game, I’d expect the close-outs on Jay Adams to be much longer and Pitt to really pressure us in the half-court.
How the Bonnies can win: The recipe for the Bonnies success this weekend should come from nowhere else other than last weekend. What did we do well? Shot 22-28 from the line. Held Ohio to 41% shooting and 26% from three. Took only 13 three pointers…and made six of them. Played even on the glass and had a respectable nine turnovers. Give me that game again this weekend and I’d be SHOCKED, shocked if we aren’t in this game with four minutes left. Yes, we’re going to need a slightly better game from Ndoye and Wright (18 points) and some more bench production (I think…) also, if Jay and Posley went off for another 46 points we’re going to be in this thing…that’s only asking for borderline back to back career games from our 1 and 2 guards…no big deal. As Schmidt says, “defend, rebound, take care of the ball”….in some games we do one or two of those things and we win…in this game we may need to do all three to win, and even that may not be enough…such is life on the road against an ACC team, and a good one at that.
X-Factor: I’m really hoping Denzel Gregg can gives SBU some big minutes and production off the bench this weekend. Gregg got 21 minutes off the wood last weekend and had a few nice buckets and displayed his athleticism. This is the type of game where his athletic body/frame is needed. Gregg could be a nice defensive piece against this Pitt team and could give us some baskets in the lane if he’s aggressive. Schmidt clearly knows Gregg is the Bonnies’ best bench piece right now because of the 31 bench minutes on Saturday, Gregg had 21 of them. Odds are, Jay, Posley, Batch and Dion aren’t all going to score in the double digits…this bench has got to come in and get some buckets and Gregg seems the most likely guy.
Three keys to victory:
- Hold Pitt to under 43% shooting.
- Play even on the glass.
- No more than ten turnovers.
Staff predictions: Don’t ask. Not good. Let’s all be wrong.