The Pitt men's basketball team, coming off an upset loss at home to Long Beach State, will have had a six-day layoff by the time they see the court again. The Panthers are getting set for a 7 pm tip with the LaSalle Explorers on Tuesday night.
There were many disappointments from last Wednesday night's loss. The two biggest themes coming out of that game were how badly Pitt was outworked on defense, and the other—which kind of goes hand-in-hand—is how Pitt was outworked on the rebounds. It may have only been a rebounding edge for 3 for Long Beach State, but it was more about the lack of an inside presence.
"We've spent the last couple of days just trying to get better," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "I don't think we're where we want to be, or where we need to be. Defense has been the most important focus of what we're trying to do."
Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor combined for 10 rebounds in 39 minutes. That's something that Jamie Dixon talked about on Monday, heading into this game. He's not concerned about the number of rebounds any player gets—specifically those big men inside. He's more concerned about the number of rebounds per minute, which he feels is a better gauge of a player's production.
Dixon hopes as the season goes along that both players are able to split minutes—in other words sharing the center position—and be able to boost that rebound per minute number. The hope is as long as the two players can split the minutes at the five position, the result will be a better production. Of course, that's been the plan all along—until both players get in foul trouble. Taylor sat most of the first half after getting an early foul. He picked up a quick second before returning to the bench, and being replaced by Zanna. Zanna picked up his third late in the first half, which resulted in freshman Malcolm Gilbert getting in the game for the last minute of the first half.
"They've been rebounding pretty well," Dixon said. "They're going to be splitting minutes, so I don't see their numbers being as high as an Aaron (Gray), who played most of the minutes, or a DeJuan (Blair) or anyone else we've had. Between the two of them, the minutes will be split.
"We need to get more rebounds, but it's rebounds per minute. Everybody looks at the total number, but it's based on rebounds per minute, and the rebound per minute wasn't very good."
Again it is only after three games, but it's small forward Lamar Patterson who leads the team with an average of 6.7 rebounds a game. From the team-leader in this category of concern, he said the team went right to work on rebounding, starting with practice on Thursday.
"I don't think (rebounding) is a problem," Patterson added. "I think everyone's thinking the next person will go get it. We're going to get that straightened out. We do a block-out drill. We did that as soon as the game was over, the next day in practice. That's a point we want to focus on right now."
Patterson said he wouldn't mind it if he ended up leading the team in rebounding when the season ends. He did say there's room for someone else stepping up and taking some of those rebounds away from him.
"I'm always going to go after the rebound," Patterson said. "Nothing is going to change. Coach wants me to rebound, play defense, that's what I'm going to do."
One player who isn't comfortable with his rebounding total is Travon Woodall. Woodall, surprisingly, is second on the team with 5.3 rebounds a game. That's not to say Woodall isn't capable of rebounding, but when the 5-11 point guard is second on the team in rebounding, that's a concern—especially with the kind of post presence that Dixon's teams have become known for. Woodall hopes that much changes.
"The ball has just been bouncing my way," Woodall said. "I'm probably not going to end the season being second on the team in rebounding. I'm not going to slack off and not get rebounds, but right now the ball has been bouncing my way."
In regards to that defense, Dixon also feels the offense can help in that area. Look no further than how Pitt played offensively in the second half. The Panthers had six field goals in the second half—not a good number when you begin the half, down by nine. Of those six field goals, three were three-pointers. Pitt's been shooting pretty well from three-point range to start the season—34-of-76 three-pointers made this season, or 44.7%. That's nice, according to Dixon, but he would like to see more of the inside-to-out scoring from his team.
"Too many bad shots, or quick shots or guarded shots," Dixon explained. "Leaving us in some unbalanced situations that hurt us on the defensive end. That's the biggest thing we have been tending to, and have been talking about the last couple days. There's something we can do better offensively. We can't have any wasted possessions."
The other thought is that in addition to lack of an inside game, it's also led to problems in the transition game; or as Dixon says, has created problems in the transition game. Long Beach State outscored Pitt 25-5 in fast break points, which more than made the difference in the 10-point win for the 49ers.
"I think our offense had had something to do with that—some bad shots, some turnovers, layups in transition," Dixon said. "It's a combination of things. I think our offense in the last game, let us down, as the game went on. That was another problem with how we finished."
But, as Dixon and his players are aware of at this point, the season is only three games old and there's a lot of room to improve. If there's any silver lining at this point, it's that Pitt has time to improve and they know the areas they need to improve on. Now, they just need to do it.
"There's a lot of things that we can do better, and we know that, and we have to do it," Dixon said. "I have to get the message across."