What To / Where To: Providence vs. Pittsburgh Game Preview

dave@friarblog —  January 25th, 2012 9:36 AM —  Comments
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Despite Pittsburgh having their typical strong teams, the Friars have been able to inexplicably play the Panthers well over the last several years. After upsetting them at home when ranked #1, PC lost two tough games the last two seasons early on in conference play before the wheels completely fell off both seasons. Ashton Gibbs beat Providence on a buzzer beater in 2010, and a Gerard Coleman miscue helped Pitt escape late at the Dunk last year.

Tonight is quite different, as the Friars will face a reeling Piitsburgh team that has yet to win a BIG EAST conference game. We’ve been there old conference mate, and it’s no fun. Instead of trying to get a win over a ranked team to bring some excitement to the season, PC will be surprisingly playing Pittsburgh for something more important — the battle for the BIG EAST basement! Oh It’s on. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

WHAT TO: KNOW

Game Time: 7:00PM EST

Opponent: Pittsburgh (11-9, 07)

Location: The Pete

Spread: Pittsburgh -9.0

ESPN Accuscore: Pittsburgh 70.4, Providence 64.3 (Pitt wins 68.7% in over 10,000 simulations)

CBSSports Daily Picks: Providence 74, Pittsburgh 73

Four Factors

Hit up the rest of the preview after the jump.

WHAT TO: LOOK FOR

Tray is back: Point guard Tray Woodall missed 11 of the last 12 games with an abdominal injury before returning to play on Saturday against Louisville (he shot 0-5 from the floor, so he’s clearly rusty). He puts up similar assist numbers as Vincent Council (6.9 assists per game, 44.6% assist rate), but doesn’t exactly help Pitt’s turnover problems (21.2% TO%, ranked #128). In 9 games this year, he has turned the ball over on almost 30% of his possessions. Also of note, Woodall hit the go ahead three with 40 seconds left against the Friars last year to help spoil the upset at the Dunk.

Not the same Gibbs: Ashton Gibbs is the team’s leading scorer, but doesn’t look like the player who drilled that ridiculous game winning three to beat PC at the buzzer two years ago at the Pete. Expectations were high for the Preseason BIG EAST POY, but his shooting has been inconsistent during Pittsbugh’s losing streak. Last year he was the 17th most efficient player in the nation, but his 14% dip in effective field goal percentage (from 60.8 to 46.9) has dropped his offensive rating to a 115.7 so far — still really really good, but not what was expected.

Gimee a 2nd chance, Pitt!: Despite the poor shooting nights and losses piling up, the Pittsburgh Panthers are still churning out their usual offensive rebounding dominance. Their 44.0% offensive rebounding percentage is the best in the country. The team doesn’t shoot well from behind the arc, but has a decent 51.4% (ranked #68) two-point percentage thanks to easy putback attempts from controlling the glass. The Friars are going to need to contain forwards Nasir Robinson, Talib Zana, and Dante Taylor (more in him below), who pull down almost a combined 9 offensive boards a game.

Dante Taylor’s back: According to CBS Pittsburgh, “power forward Dante Taylor injured his back in practice and was unable to return. The injury occurred when Taylor fell to the court, and he was expected to see a doctor Monday. There has been no further update to Taylor’s status.”  Taylor is a big part of their rebounding success, grabbing 6 per game — 3 offensive. If he can’t play the Pitt front court would be even more thin.

A 180 in pace: Remember the last game against Marquette at the Dunk when all their players flew down the court off steals and rebounds at a breakneck pace? Yeah, expect the total opposite from the Panthers. They play at one of the slowest paces in the country, with an adjusted tempo of 62.4 (ranked #317). To give you an idea of that pace, picture a 5 on 5 game with 10 Ray Halls. But oh, the hustle!!

WHAT TO: READ

StatSheet.com: Pregame

Friars.com: Gamenotes [PDF]

Scouting The Panthers: Pittsburgh has posted an 11-9 mark overall and a 0-7 record in BIG EAST play. Head Coach Jamie Dixon’s team is led by senior Ashton Gibbs. He is averaging 16.4 points per game. Senior Nasir Robinson is the team’s top rebounder (6.8 rpg). He also is second on the team in scoring (12.0 ppg).

PittsburghPanthers.com: Men’s Basketball to Host Providence on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Pitt recently concluded a three-game stretch against nationally ranked opponents. It is coming off a 73-62 loss to No. 23 Louisville. Three Panthers reached double figure scoring including Lamar Patterson (14 points/seven assists/five rebounds), Ashton Gibbs (14 points, four 3-pointers) and Nasir Robinson (12 points). Louisville took advantage of 18 Pitt turnovers and 70 percent (14-20) second half shooting in registering the win. For the second time in school history, Pitt hosted ESPN College GameDay at the Petersen Events Center. Tray Woodall made his first appearance in five games and second since he suffered a groin/abdominal strain vs. Duquesne on Nov. 30, 2011. He had been sidelined for 11 of Pitt’s last 12 games.

ESPN: Conference power rankings: Big East

16. Pittsburgh: What else can be said about the Panthers? With “College GameDay” on campus fueling the energy in the Pete and Travon Woodall back in the lineup, Pitt still lost to Louisville. The Panthers host Providence on Wednesday in a Big East battle of the basement.

ESPN: Pitt hits the skids in Big East

After an early setback against a good Long Beach State team, Pittsburgh appeared back on track. Then came shock city against Danny Hurley’s Wagner team and the Panthers have not been the same since. There have been a number of close losses this season, Three point losses to Marquette, Cincinnati and DePaul have been the difference between respectability and the wheels coming off of the tracks.

ESPN: Bottom 10: Reach for the stars

2. Pitt
Offense: Big East badness
Bottom 10 judgment: “Going Nowhere.” Remember when Pittsburgh used to be one of the most consistent programs in the country? It shouldn’t be hard because it was the case just last season. And the season before that. And the season before that, and the season before that, and — well, you get the idea. Strangely enough, it is not the case this season. After Saturday’s home loss to Louisville (the “College GameDay” on-location game of the day — scheduled before the season, of course), the Panthers are officially 0-7 in Big East play. Pitt, like many of the teams and players on this list, has struggled on the offensive end this season, but its main defect is defense: As of Monday, the Panthers rank No. 195 adjusted points per trip allowed to opposing offenses (per kenpom.com). Two weeks ago, this season might have been redeemable. Not anymore.

“I can’t think straight/Help me now before it’s too late/Now what do I care?/’Cause we’re going nowhere”

Rivals: All about the Big East: Do you Bull-ieve?

Pittsburgh: We seemingly touch on the Panthers in some negative manner every week. Their offense and defense has been lacking. The Panthers are shooting 39.3 percent from the field in league games, 14th in the league, but also are allowing their foes to hit 46.1 percent, which is 15th in the league. Hey, there’s a reason Pitt is the only team winless in conference play.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Dixon frustrated by Panthers’ inability to defend better

This season, they are giving up almost seven more points per game and opponents are shooting almost six percent higher than last season. They rank 13th and 15th in the conference (among 16 teams) in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. They are allowing 66.6 points per game and opponents are shooting 44.5 percent from the field.

Putting Pitt’s defensive performance into a national perspective is even more eye-opening. Out of 338 Division I teams, the Panthers rank 239th in field-goal percentage defense and 169th in scoring defense. Last season, out of those same 338 teams, they were 21st in field-goal percentage defense and 20th in scoring defense.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Woodall’s return promising after loss

If there was one piece of good news after a 73-62 loss to the No. 23 Cardinals — the eighth consecutive for the Panthers — it was that Woodall did not experience any setbacks with the injury.

That was not the case Dec. 27 at Notre Dame when Woodall played 18 minutes in a 72-59 loss. Woodall noticeably was hobbled in that game and said afterward that he did not believe he could help the team by playing through the injury.

On Saturday night, Woodall did not play well, but it had nothing to do with the injury. Now, it appears it’s only a matter of knocking off the rust in his game.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Many causes responsible for Pitt’s downfall this season

“It’s a combination of events,” Bilas, an ESPN analyst, said Friday. “It’s not an issue of effort. … Once some shots start going in, I think you will see a different team. But the one thing that can be more consistent and be better is their defense.”

Said Davis, GameDay host, “They lost so much from last year’s team. Combine that with the loss of (point guard Tray) Woodall and it has really put them in a tough spot. I think they will finish the season a lot better than they started it. It’s not going to be a typical Pittsburgh season, but I think it will be closer to the norm by the time it’s over.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Pitt sophomore forward Moore tries to emerge from shooting slump

Moore’s 3-point woes are just one of the flaws — and one that seems destined to improve. The former Hoop Scoop All-American at South Kent (Conn.) Prep shot 46 percent from 3-point range (11 for 24) in the first nine games, but is stuck at a 16 percent clip in the past 11 games (5 for 32).

“My team always tells me to stay with it,” Moore said. “(Senior forward) Nas (Robinson) always tells me to stay with it. He says I’m a good shooter, and don’t try to make something out of nothing.”

Dixon said Moore, an 83 percent free-throw shooter, has taken mostly quality shots, but he just needs to work through the slump.

CBS Sports: Rapid Report

“They’ve got a lot of size, but at times they like to play small, too. And they’re relying on their perimeter scoring with [PG Vincent Council] and [Bryce] Cotton… They’ve played some man, played some 2-3 zone… a little bit of press. They are a good team that’s got a really good point guard.”

Friar Basketball: What to Watch For: Pitt Looks to Snap Eight Game Losing Streak vs PC

Pittsburgh’s faltering defense.  These are numbers you just don’t expect to see from a Jamie Dixon club: they are 13th in the Big East in points surrendered, giving up over 66 per game (a shade more than PC’s 66.3), second to last in defensive field goal percentage (.445), and last in defensive three point percentage (.348).

Unlike in year’s past, this club lacks much of an interior presence defensively.  Junior Dante Taylor has been a disappointment throughout his career, Talib Zanna isn’t giving them much more in his third year on campus, while freshman Malcolm Gilbert is trying to find his footing after forfeiting what looked to be a redshirt season after McDonald’s All American Khem Birch transferred to UNLV.

WHAT TO: WATCH

The last few years there have been some highs

Aaaand some lows.

College basketball highlights from Louisville vs. Pittsburgh on January 21, 2012

After being down by 9, Marquette came back to beat Pittsburgh, 62-57. Freshman Todd Mayo was key for the Golden Eagles, sparking the comeback in the second half before fouling out.

DePaul men’s basketball highlights from win over BIG EAST opponent Pittsburgh at Allstate Arena.

Pitt’s losing streak continued with a 62-39 loss to Rutgers, their 5th straight defeat and 4th in a row in Big East play.

WHERE TO: FOLLOW

Friars.com: Gametracker

Twitter.com: I’ll probably be live tweeting the game @friarblog. Also be sure to follow the #pcbb hashtag as always.

WHERE TO: WATCH

Cox

ESPN3.com

FriarTV: PC vs. Pittsburgh

WHERE TO: LISTEN

Friars.com: All-Access

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