Basketball: Exhibition reveals flaws Panthers must correct


By Jeremy Tepper | Staff Writer

As history has shown, college basketball exhibition games mean very little. They’re a time to work on weaknesses, try different lineups and plays and match up against different playing styles. 

But if Pitt’s 72-59 victory Friday over University of California San Diego showed anything, it’s that head coach Jamie Dixon’s team needs quite a bit of work.

“I can tell you that nobody in that locker room feels good about how we played tonight, and that’s good,” Dixon said. “We are definitely not going to be overconfident after this, that’s for sure.”

Ideally, Dixon’s team would have played like a well-oiled machine, running crisp offensive sets, finishing high-percentage shots, being in the right spots on defense and dominating the boards like Pitt should against a much smaller team. 

This was the team’s first game, though, and first games often reveal more kinks than anticipated.

These kinks were apparent from the very start. The ball handling was sloppy, the defense struggled with its switches, and the offense aimlessly passed around the perimeter until settling for poor-quality shots at the end of the shot clock. 

For most of the game, it appeared as though the Panthers would put away their opponent. But UC San Diego stayed in the game and fought back from small deficits. 

With 3:48 left in the game, the Tritons even had a chance to take the lead on a wide-open 3-pointer. The shot missed, though, and the Panthers went on an 11-0 run to seal the game. 

One who didn’t watch the game might assume that the Panthers won easily just by looking at the final score. The stats, however, tell the story of Pitt’s struggles. 

A quick glance at the final stats reveals a number of statistics that will surely make Dixon angrily run his hands through his hair: 10-for-27 (37 percent) shooting in the first half, 20-for-32 (62.5 percent) free-throw shooting and a mere 33-to-29 rebounding advantage over a team whose tallest starter is 6-foot-6.

“Obviously we should win and out-rebound them by more than we did, and that’s the thing that really stands out to us,” Dixon said.

Part of the Panthers’ struggles can be attributed to injuries. Because of junior center/power forward Derrick Randall’s injury, senior Lamar Patterson was forced to start at power forward, while freshman Mike Young logged significant minutes at center. 

Both played out of position, as Young is a natural power forward and Patterson is a natural small forward. Dixon acknowledged that this was one of his team’s issues.

“The game just didn’t flow for us, and we didn’t seem to sustain it,” Dixon said. ”We played guys at different spots, so that probably didn’t help. The lineup we had out there we kind of did out of necessity with Derrick being out. It’s been how we’ve practicing lately with Mike playing the five.”

For the most part, the game served as a learning experience, especially for Pitt’s freshmen. Out of the 11 players who logged minutes for the Panthers, four were freshmen. Of those four, Young was the only one who impacted the game positively, finishing with 11 points while looking quite comfortable bodying his opposition in the post. 

Meanwhile, Young’s backup, Jamel Artis, struggled on both ends of the court, guard Josh Newkirk played tentatively, and redshirt freshman guard Chris Jones just looked completely out of sorts. 

Despite the growing pains of Pitt’s freshmen, Patterson was impressed with their efforts, especially those of Young.

“Mike, he did a great job today, especially at the end of the game,” Patterson said. “The other two, they did good today, but like every other freshman they had minor mistakes that they can grow from. They’ll be good, they’re in good hands, so they’ll learn.”

Pitt’s two most tenured players — seniors Patterson and forward Talib Zanna — performed steadily throughout the game. Zanna scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Patterson scored 16 points. 

As a player who knows his coach’s system inside and out, Patterson was confident that his team’s issues are minor and correctable.

“If we get the defense down pat, they don’t get those threes, and the scoring margin’s a lot bigger,” Patterson said. “Just little stuff, that’s all we’ve got to work on. I think everything else is pretty fine. Those are definitely things that are fixable, and we’re definitely going to be right at it.”