Pittsburgh: 2011-12 Post-MortemPosted by mlemaire on May 18th, 2012
Our apologies for
plagiarizing borrowing the ideas of our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite, but we liked their post-mortem team breakdowns so much that we decided to replicate them with our conference. So over the course of the next two weeks, we will break down each team’s season, starting from the bottom of the conference standings. Next up is Pittsburgh.
What Went Wrong
For a team that began the season in most pundits’ Top 10, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Pittsburgh’s season an unmitigated disaster, especially given the consistent high level of play we have grown accustomed to from Jamie Dixon’s teams. It started with a casual loss to Long Beach State at home in the third game of the season, and after a disappointing loss to Wagner a month later, the free fall began. Shortly after the loss to The Beach, star point guard and offensive catalyst Travon Woodall got hurt and missed the next two months of the season.
Two weeks later, prized freshman Khem Birch left the program just as he was showing signs of putting it together and blasted his teammates on the way out. Forced to play the point position with Woodall out, star guard Ashton Gibbs suffered through the worst shooting season of his career and neither Talib Zanna nor Dante Taylor developed into the consistent post threat Dixon had hoped for. The most obvious reason for their decline was the sudden absence of defensive intensity from the Panthers. They had never finished worse than 53rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency under Dixon. This season they finished 151st in the category. If you are looking for what went wrong, that is a good place to start.
What Went Right
To be fair, the team did go through a mini-resurgence down the stretch, but it was too little too late. The emergence of Woodall as a multi-faceted scorer and distributor was a blessing and he should be even better next year assuming he stays healthy. Senior workhorse Nasir Robinson was his ultra-efficient self, and increased playing time for sophomores Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore helped them become effective role players who will be counted on to play an even bigger role next season. he number one bright spot for folks on the Main Line was the emergence of Pinkston in conference play. I guess if you want to count winning the College Basketball Invitational Championship as an honor, then you can add that to the list of what went right. To be clear, we don’t count that.
Picking an MVP for this team was easy, all you had to do was look at the team’s record while Woodall sat to see his impact on the team. Woodall’s return from a groin tear conveniently coincided with the end of the Panthers’ eight-game losing streak, and while the team still lost a few games after that, it was obvious they were a different squad. The junior improved drastically in every meaningful category and it’s unfortunate that fans were deprived of his electric style of play for a good portion of the season. He was always lightning-quick off the dribble and a solid distributor and floor general, but this season he became a multi-faceted offensive weapon thanks to his improved long-range shooting and decision-making.
It’s certainly true that Gibbs was having a rough season even when Woodall was healthy, but losing the team’s best playmaker and a guy who deserved constant attention from opposing defenses definitely did not help Gibbs’ numbers. The senior was forced to play a much larger role on the young squad and opposing defenses were able to focus their efforts on Gibbs because the Panthers lacked other reliable scoring options without Woodall on the floor. Woodall had surgery in April to repair the injury that forced him to miss 11 games and if he can stay healthy and continue to improve next season, he will easily be one of the conference’s best point guards. If he can put it all together, he could even challenge for Big East Player of the Year.
The bad news for the Panthers is that even though they could be considered a young team last year, the two graduating seniors were integral parts of the team this season. Gibbs had his worst season as a collegiate but he was still a dangerous scorer and excellent three-point threat. Robinson wasn’t a particularly dangerous threat offensively and he was slightly undersized defensively, but he was also the heart and soul of the Panthers and was a reliable rebounder, scorer, and decision-maker. His toughness, physicality and grit will absolutely be missed. The good news for Dixon and company is that Gibbs and Robinson are the only two players who aren’t returning. There is no doubt that their abilities and veteran leadership will be missed on a team that figures to be very young again next season, but Dixon has built up enough depth that Pitt will find players to fill their roles adequately.
Players Coming In
He doesn’t count as a recruit, but guard Trey Ziegler may be the best recruiting coup Dixon has had in years. Ziegler transferred out of Central Michigan after the school fired the head coach, who also happened to be his father, Ernie. The younger Ziegler will have to sit out a season, but he averaged 15.8 PPG and 6.7 RPG as a sophomore for the Chippewas and he will be an immediate contributor for Dixon in two years. As for players who can actually impact this season, the Panthers got a pair of key recruits.
One year after landing Birch out of Notre Dame Prep, the Panthers mined the Massachusetts prep powerhouse for another potential frontcourt stud in New Zealander Steven Adams. At 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds, Adams already has NBA size. And his incredible athleticism and touch made him a consensus 2012 Top 10 recruit. Just because they attended the same prep school doesn’t mean Birch and Adams are similar, but Dixon will still need to make sure that this Notre Dame Prep product sticks around for more than just a month or two.
The other impact recruit is feisty point guard James Robinson from Washington, DC. Robinson isn’t a polished offensive product, but he is a hard-nosed, max effort kid who will get plenty of chances to make an impact given his athleticism and defensive potential. The third recruit, New Jersey native Chris Jones, held a bunch of offers from mid-majors, but chose Pittsburgh, which will hope to use his versatility, just probably not this season.
F. They were hardly the worst team in the Big East, but given the expectations that accompanied this team in the preseason and the amount of talent on their roster, it is impossible to give the Panthers anything but a failing grade. After starting the season as a Top 20 team nationally, Pitt finished the season by missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, and no amount of CBI championships will be able to get rid of that bitter taste in their mouths. Woodall’s injury didn’t help, but this team never really played particularly well at any point in the season. They were still efficient on offense, but their defense was atrocious and Birch’s departure left a glaring hole in the post that neither Zanna nor Taylor could fill. Given the level of talent that will be on campus next season, it isn’t a stretch to think that the Panthers will be back in the tournament next season, but I don’t think anyone would argue that this season wasn’t an abject disappointment.