Friday, March 20, 2009

WHY COACHES GET GRAY HAIR: PITT BUMBLES PAST E. TENN ST. 72-62












Left: Jamie Dixon reveals how his hair changed several shades during the course of Pitt's horrible first round showing in the NCAA Tournament. Right: Dixon as he formerly looked before his team's 72-62 win over 16th seeded East Tennessee State in a contest that was much closer than the final score.

If you ever thought that you might be interested in being a division one basketball coach, the performance yesterday by the Pitt Panthers should have been enough to convince you that a different career path might be in order.

The Pitt Panthers added plenty of anxiety into the coaching career of Jamie Dixon, aging him about ten years in the process. It looked for a long time that Pitt might become the inevitable first number one seed to ever lose to a #16. Several times during this contest, CBS would flash onto the screen (for obvious dramatic purposes) that "#1 seeds are 98-0 all time against #16 seeds." It wasn't like the Panthers were watching the game and would press even more than they already were.

This game was very troubling on many fronts. First off, the entire team looked slow and rusty. Passing was poor, shooting was worse and turnovers were off the charts. In particular, Levance Fields had a terrible shooting night, committed several uncharacteristic turnovers and in short looked very much like a player who is struggling with a groin problem. Fields' trademark quickness was also clearly missing in action and Sam Young wasn't on top of his game either. Far from it. Young actually looked lethargic at times missing even a trademark slam dunk. His rebounding was less than encouraging too.

You found yourself wondering what the Pitt team was waiting for to get started? After all, isn't this what they had worked so hard all season to achieve?
East Tennessee State started the game off with a full court press and alternated this defense many times during the game. The Panthers had a lot of trouble dealing with this and with the groin problem that is plaguing Fields, they can be certain to see a lot more press from Oklahoma State on Sunday. The Panthers threw the ball away on several possessions trying to deal with breaking the Buccaneer's pressure.

In fact, with the notable exception of DeJuan Blair who had carried the team with 27 points and 16 rebounds, the rest of the Pitt team had almost a hypnotized appearance. They were out-rebounded badly on the defensive boards and had an incredible 18 turnovers, 13 in the first half. The team's overall effort was so bad that it almost made you wonder what was going through the team's collective mind. The Panthers had a completely out of focus appearance and looked just as bad as they did losing to West Virginia a week ago. It led this writer to wonder if Pitt may have already peaked two weeks ago when they defeated Marquette and UConn in back-to-back home games.

Above: Sam Young dribbles through East Tennessee State traffic.

East Tennessee State gets an "A" for effort as they never quit in this game, however, their own shooting was so bad (30.7 %) that it kept Pitt from losing the lead except for a couple brief moments. They went a dismal 4-22 from beyond the arc. The Buccaneers, a season-long 71% free throw shooting team also left at least five points at the line as they shot just 50%. These were points that could have won this game for them. Virtually any other team that has appeared in this tournament so far would have beaten Pitt today...that's how bad the Panthers, now 29-4, looked as a unit.

But if you're Jamie Dixon, what do you do? Staring you in the face is the Oklahoma State Cowboys team that barely outlasted Tennessee 77-75. That team would have beaten Pitt by 20 had they played them today. But they didn't, which is why Pitt is still playing. Because they had such a great season, as a number one seed, they got to play one of the very weakest teams in the field. All that can be hoped for is that the Panthers can somehow shake themselves out of this fog that's enveloping them now and put this horrible game behind them. Jamie Dixon is going to have a hard time getting this team's confidence back, as they looked nothing like the team that entertained us so well all year.

This is not to say that Pitt can't or won't beat Oklahoma State, however, I can't imagine this team ever looking worse than it did today. That's the good news, they can't look any worse.They have their #1 seed to thank for them not being on a plane already heading home for Pittsburgh. That and the fact that DeJuan Blair wasn't out looking to set a record today for collecting the fastest five fouls ever.