ATB: Notre Dame Sets Pitt on Fire With Its Burn OffensePosted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011
The Lede. On paper it didn’t appear to be much of a Big Monday, but Notre Dame’s visit to Pittsburgh tonight changed all that. The lesson from the last eight days in the Big East might just be that nobody is safe in this exceptional basketball conference.
Your Watercooler Moment. Notre Dame Burns Pitt. Perhaps Notre Dame caught the Pitt Panthers in a post-celebratory Steelers hangover tonight, or perhaps the Irish are just a very good team that has had the Panthers’ number the last two seasons. Whatever the case, Notre Dame’s win this evening at the Peterson Events Center, a venue where Pittsburgh has only lost eleven games over the last nine years, is the kind of win that can catapult a team to great things. Pitt, ranked #2 in the AP poll and #3 in the RTC poll that came out earlier today, was stymied by the same offensive strategy the Irish employed last season on its way to two wins versus the Panthers. Notre Dame calls it the “burn,” as it is designed to slow down the Panther attack and force its defense to play 35 full seconds and respond accordingly. It almost sounds counterintuitive, right — slow down Pitt and force them to defend? Yet this year’s version of Panthers are actually an incredibly efficient offensive team (#1 according to Pomeroy), and while defense and rebounding are always a Jamie Dixon staple, the best way to defeat Pitt this year is to limit their offensive possessions. The fewer they have, the less opportunities they’ll have to score. Notre Dame slowed the pace down to an unrelenting crawl, ultimately topping out at a Division I season-low of 48 possessions (for context, an average Wisconsin game has 58 possessions, or ten more than tonight’s molasses-induced game at Pitt). The game’s slow tempo and Notre Dame’s patience never allowed Pitt to ignite a major run that would set the Oakland Zoo on fire, so that in the last nine minutes of the game the margin was close enough for Ben Hansbrough to do his work off the bounce (13 of his 19 points in that period). Psycho-T’s little brother utilized simple ball-screens to come off for several open jumpers and forays to the rim for easy layups down the stretch. Pitt couldn’t seem to figure it out, and as a result, the Panthers lost for only the second time in 53 games at home (but its third in a row to ND). Carleton Scott’s timely three-point shooting throughout the game (5-6) was also instrumental for in the big upset. With the win, the Irish, who have already lost road games in the Big East to Syracuse, St. John’s, and Marquette, may want to consider running the burn more often — with four winnable games on the immediate horizon, Mike Brey’s team could be sitting at a strong 10-3 going into the last dash of the Big East schedule. No matter how the rest of the season turns out for Mike Brey, this was a season-defining win the Irish should be proud of. Now that both Pitt and Kansas’ long home court winning streaks have come to an end this season, is Duke next? The Devils host dangerous BC at home Thursday night.
Tonight’s Quick Hits...
- Did Kansas State Save Its Season? Well, it’s a start. What we do know is that if Frank Martin’s team couldn’t see the gigantic eight-ball in front of them coming into tonight, then they had some serious 3D shades on. A loss tonight would have dropped K-State to 1-5 in the Big 12 with a trip to Lawrence pending next weekend. This was as close to a must-win as we’ve seen this season for a team at this point in the year. The game tonight was ugly, boring and in many ways comical in the two teams’ ineptitude, but it was a key win for Kansas State regardless. Who knows, maybe now the Wildcats will start putting things together, but the truth is that this team has every earmark of a season-long disappointment rather than a late bloomer.
- Charles Jenkins Rallies Hofstra. When you’re the best player in the CAA, as Charles Jenkins is, you’re going to have some games where you’re asked to carry your team to a victory where your team otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. With sixteen minutes remaining and Hofstra down fourteen points tonight in Hempstead, Jenkins turned on his scoring abilities and dropped seventeen points in a variety of ways to bring his team back, sending the game to overtime at 79-all. He then scored six more of his team’s thirteen in the overtime period to lock up a key win that keeps the Pride in a tie for first place in the CAA with VCU at 8-1. Jenkins 35/3/5 assts/2 stls wasn’t his most impressive performance of the season — he dropped 40/5/6 assts on Binghamton in December — but it was right on cue tonight. Jenkins is having a phenomenal year — 24/4/5 APG while shooting 56% overall and 45% from distance — we really hope that he finds his way into the NCAA Tournament so that some first round BCS opponent will sweat bullets trying to figure him out.
… and Misses.
- And Lots of Them. As in misses. Tonight in the craptacular second half of the Big Monday slate in Manhattan, preseason All-American guards Jacob Pullen and LaceDarius Dunn combined to brick their way to 8-30 from the field and 5-15 from three. Their poor performances tonight are indicative of the struggles that both teams have had with the burden of big-time expectations this year. Baylor is still seeking its first quality win of the 2010-11 season while K-State is hoping those Washington State and Virginia Tech wins back in the first few weeks of the season wear well into the late winter.
Tweet of the Night. Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.