10 THOUGHTS ON THE PITTSBURGH GAME
Rutgers (6-5, 0-1) opened its Big East season with a 66-63 overtime loss to Pittsburgh (11-2, 1-1) Saturday at the RAC. Pittsburgh opened an early 11-2 lead and the Scarlet Knights spent the rest of the half playing catch-up. Rutgers would narrow the deficit to two points and Pittsburgh would push the lead back to high single-digits. The Panthers led 35-29 at halftime in a game being played at a slowwww tempo using much – and sometimes too much – shot clock. The seesaw trend continued early in the 2nd Half. But an 11-0 run gave Rutgers its first lead, 44-41 at 12:30. The Scarlet Knights pushed the lead to six points with five minutes remaining. However, the Panthers closed with a 13-4 run before Sr SG Ricky Shields hit a 3-pointer to send the game into OT at 58-58 with 0:00.4 remaining. The experienced Panthers closed out the Scarlet Knights with more efficient play in the final minutes of OT, executing their offense while Rutgers struggled for good shots. Here are ten thoughts on the Pittsburgh game.
1. Welcome to the Big East. Fr PF Ollie Bailey has been a tremendous surprise this season. With a huge void of nearly 80 mpg to fill in the frontcourt and no proven player available, Bailey's emergence has mitigated this deficiency. He has added low post scoring and offensive rebounding to give Waters an inside presence. He is playing nearly 30 mpg to plug the hole. His defense is improving with each game. Ollie has physically overwhelmed his mid-major opponents. But that won't work in the Big East. Ollie needs to learn how to use his body and the rim to protect the ball. He needs to learn a jump hook off a quarter turn. Because when he half turns and tries to shoot over his defender, he gets rejected because the ball is right in front of the defender. Bailey had an awful stat line while shooting 2 of 10 on FGAs. Consider this growing pains. And lessons to be learned.
2. Interior Defense. Entering the season, the interior defense was obviously a concern. So C Byron Joynes, the only returning player, was foul prone. Bailey and PF Dan Waterstradt were freshmen and Waterstradt was too light. And JUCO transfer C Jimmie Inglis was out of shape and rusty after a year away from basketball. It was a recipe for disaster and Rutgers struggled terribly early in the season with its interior defense as opponents routinely shot 50% against the Scarlet Knights, aided by easy baskets in the paint. The deficiencies forced Waters to employ a 2-3 zone defense to protect his big men from foul trouble and to better defend the middle. Pittsburgh posed the biggest inside threat Rutgers has faced this season. C Chris Taft and PF Chevon Troutman are big, physical, and athletic scorers averaging a combined 27 ppg.
Waters employed both zone and man-to-man defenses against Pittsburgh. Although the Rutgers defense forced Pittsburgh to work the shot clock for good shots, the patient Panthers were able to do so effectively. Taft and Troutman combined for 27 points (on 11 of 19 FGA and 5 of 8 FTAs) as well as 22 rebounds (6 offensive). Furthermore, they forced double-teams that freed perimeter players for open 3PAs or dribble penetration. The inability to defend the interior completely unhinged the Rutgers defense as Pittsburgh shot 53% from the field. Unheralded PG Ronald Ramon scored 21 points on 7 of 11 FGAs and 5 of 9 3PAs.
3. Perimeter Offense. Rutgers' offense has not changed appreciably since Kevin Bannon was the head coach. The guards dribble or pass around the perimeter. The ball moves perpendicular to the basket, not towards it. Shooting off a perimeter pass is much less accurate than shooting off a pass originating from the interior, where one is stepping into the shot. The Scarlet Knights get minimal offense going towards the basketball. Whenever the guards attack the basket, the resulting shots are usually much better. But the forays to the basket are too infrequent. As such, the Scarlet Knights are reliant on unconscious 3-point shooting by its guards.
4. Over-Penetration. When the Scarlet Knight guards attacked the basket off dribble penetration, their shots were often blocked. This was not a failure to attack the basket aggressively. Rather, it was attacking the basket too aggressively. If the dribbler has cleanly beaten his defender, he can elevate strongly and challenge a rotating frontcourt defender. However, if the dribbler has not shed his defender, he will not be able to elevate strongly and frontcourt defender will be able to jump cleanly, swatting the shot. The Rutgers guards must learn when to attack the rim and when to pull up and take the mid-range jump shot. The mid-range jumper, taken sooner rather than later, will pull the opposing big men further away from the basket and open up the baseline for the Rutgers big men on the dribble-dish.
5. Feeding the Post. Waters' wing players simply refuse to feed the post. The unwillingness to feed to the post has been a four-year problem under Gary Waters. How many times is a big man open in the post and the guard simply ignores him? Only to dribble and pass around the perimeter. Some more. Getting the ball into the post allows you to attack the defense from the inside. It creates opportunities for the guards to cut to the basket. Or, if their defender is watching the ball, to drift to an open spot on the perimeter. An inside-out 3PA is usually a much better shot than one set up by perimeter passing because the shooter is stepping into the shot, square. The unwillingness to feed the post is a contributing factor to the lack of offensive development by Waters' big men. It's tough to refine your moves when you don't get the ball.
6. So SG Quincy Douby. Douby played poorly. Though he scored 17 points, he needed the equivalent of 16 shots (FGAs and FTAs). He made only 6 of 15 FGAs and 2 of 8 3PAs. Without his outside shot falling, Douby was more reliant upon dribble penetration. However, he "attacked" off the dribble at a leisurely pace and did not explode into his pull-up jump shorts, which repeatedly resulted in his face getting tattooed with "Spalding" after his shots were returned to sender. Douby's shooting woes were compounded by soft defense. He was responsible for defending Ramon for much of the game. Ramon, a role player, outscored Douby – Rutgers' leading scorer. Waters eventually pulled Douby off of Ramon. Antonio Graves, scoreless for much of the game, made the game-winning basket with Douby defending.
7. Fr PF Dan Waterstradt. Waterstradt could have gotten more time against Pittsburgh. He was not a defensive liability, from my perspective. Waterstradt has a mid-range game. Which is sorely lacking among the Scarlet Knight frontcourt. Put Waterstradt on the baseline and let the guards drive the lane. If Waterstradt's defender double teams, bounce pass and mid-range baseline jumper. Put Waterstradt in the high post and let him create – shoot, kick-out, or find cutter. Waterstradt works hard on defense. He fights for position. He moves his feet. He boxes out. His lack of size may mean he tires quickly. So, spot him for four minute bursts.
8. Turnovers. Rutgers was outshot 53%-39% from the field, 43%-32% from behind the 3-point arc, and 12-7 from the FT line. Pittsburgh outrebounded Rutgers. And the Panthers committed only 11 TOs. Yet Rutgers led by six points with five minutes remaining. Unable to offset the shooting differential from the 3-point line, from the FT line, or with offensive rebounding, Rutgers nearly managed to offset the Panthers' shooting advantage with a TO margin of +8. Rutgers tied the Big East record by committing only three TOs. Had Rutgers merely matched Pittsburgh's meager 11 TOs, Pittsburgh would have won comfortably by 10 points.
9. Defending Carl Krauser. Pittsburgh was supposed to miss former PG Brandin Knight last year. However, Carl Krauser blossomed into quite possibly an even better player than the heady Knight. With Taft as an imposing center, Knight gives Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon a formidable PG-center combination that few college teams possess. Krauser, capable of shooting from the perimeter or driving to the basket, was averaging nearly 17 ppg. Not surprisingly, So PG Marquis Webb drew the defensive assignment on Krauser, who was suffering from the flu. Sr backup PG Juel Wiggan also took his turn defending Krauser. Webb and Wiggan suffocated the ailing Krauser, holding him to 7 points on 2 of 6 FGAs and forcing 9 TOs (to six assists). Krauser's struggles gave Rutgers a chance to steal a win but Ramon picked up the scoring slack for Krauser.
10. Defensive Rebounding. Rutgers again struggled on the defensive glass. Pittsburgh collected 73% of the rebounds available on its defensive glass. Rutgers grabbed 63%. Some might claim that Rutgers won the offensive rebounding battle 10-8. But the margin reflected the greater number of opportunities (37 vs 24) that the Scarlet Knights realized because they took – and missed – more FGAs than did Pittsburgh. The Scarlet Knight frontcourt combined for three defensive rebounds while Taft and Troutman collected six offensive rebounds. Not good. Pittsburgh outscored Rutgers 9-7 on second chance points. Largely as a result of Taft and Troutman converting opportunities inside.
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