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Sleeping with the Enemy: The Panthers of Pittsburgh

What's this? Actual content relating to Georgetown Hoyas basketball? Your Hoyas finally get back to the grind and take on the Pitt Panthers tomorrow, and since we've had little aside from epic Open Threads and Casual Investigations in Haiku on THE GLOBAL PHENOMENON all week, we're bringing you not one but TWO inside looks at the Panthers. Special thanks to both Cardiac Hill and Pitt Blather, two of the most stupendous spots on the internet for all things Pitt for bringing the noise with answers to our hard-hitting questions. Gents, this Bud's for you. After you're done reading this delightful exchange, check out our answers to Cardiac Hill's questions HERE, and our answers to Pitt Blather's questions HERE.

Pitt is 1-7 in the Big East. via

Bringing it strong with Pitt after The Jump:

What the heck is going on? Any shot you guys turn it around or is 4-14 calling your name?

Got an hour or two? Seriously, though, there are a few problems as I see it. First, Pitt has been without their starting point guard, Tray Woodall, much of the season. He played the first seven games and was arguably the team's best player, so losing him really hurt. Pitt also lost freshman Khem Birch who, while he wasn't putting up huge numbers, was really getting better and providing the team with quality minutes in the frontcourt. Both of those guys were out at the same time and really cost Pitt in terms of having to play guys that weren't expected to contribute much such as Malcolm Gilbert, Isaiah Epps, and Cameron Wright.

The other issue is that this team is really young. Junior Dante Taylor is now coming off the bench, but before he was removed as a starter, the reserves were comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Earlier this season, Jamie Dixon was starting two freshmen at times and the team is also starting a couple of sophomores now.

Pitt has always found a way to battle through youth before, but they've never had so many young guys playing big minutes that I can recollect.

I just don't know. I have to think that at this point 4-14 looks closer to reality. I'm trying to work on a post, but basically this season is the first time in the Dixon era where players didn't step up to the opportunity and develop.

At this point, it is fair to call Dante Taylor a bust. Khem Birch quit, and there is no question Pitt could have used him in the Big East. J.J. Moore would rather take jumpers than use his athleticism to attack the basket (and don't get me started on his unwillingness to play defense).

Then it is a mix of freshmen or bench/raw players who are being asked to do more than they should.

Guys like Nasir Robinson, Ashton Gibbs, Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall (before getting hurt) are all solid players who you want on your team. But they aren't really centerpiece guys. They definitely are not guys who should all be playing north of 30 minutes. Pitt has made it work before with just solid, cog players -- like last year. But last year there were 6-7 cogs. This year there aren't enough cogs to do that.

What does the future look like for this program? Are you excited or mournful about moving to the ACC?

The future in terms of the program succeeding is still very bright. All programs suffer down years and I expect things to be different in a year or two. Pitt is also starting to land some blue-chip kids as they did with Taylor and Birch in the past few years. Next year, they've got a kid named Steven Adams coming in - an international center who's now at Notre Dame Prep. He's already being touted as a high lottery pick and maybe even a one-and-done player.

About the ACC, personally, I'm a bit excited. I've got to admit that playing in the Dean Dome and having North Carolina and Duke visit the Pete is intriguing. That effect may wear off over time, but it's a nice change that's going to feature some marquee games. I hope Pitt can find a way to continue rivalry games against teams like Georgetown, UConn, Syracuse, and West Virginia, though. Because Pitt hasn't been as successful as either UNC or Duke, Pitt-UConn isn't the same as UNC-Duke. But the games have been huge rivalry games over the past few years and it's really turned into a rivalry watched by fans outside of the Big East circle.

I understand why Pitt did what they did, and to be honest, I think accepting an ACC invite was what they had to do to ensure their relevance. There's more money and stability to be offered there and Pitt didn't want to miss out on that. I certainly get the anger of other member schools, but I really believe that it could have been avoided if John Marinatto put his foot to the pedal a bit sooner in terms of adding new members.

I'm still upbeat. Lots of quality and potential star players on the team in Durand Johnson, John Johnson, Malcolm Gilbert, Talib Zanna and even Moore has time. Plus two studs in Steve Adams and James Robinson for next year.

The move to the ACC depends on the season. No question that during football season, I can't wait. More than the teams in the conference, it is the way the Big East has treated football over the years that has built such antipathy towards Big East football for me.The thing they tolerate because they have to.

But during basketball season, there is no question I feel more than a little bit of sadness. It really hit me watching the Pitt-Syracuse game last week. That the days of Pitt playing on Big Monday are going to end. Yeah, there's the Super Tuesday stuff. Plus those Sunday night games. But no Big Monday? The idea of no MSG? Brooklyn would not be the same. Yeah there's some sense of loss.

Now that some time has passed, talk to us about that Butler-Pitt game from last year. If possible, walk us through your mindset in those waning moments. Did Butler making the championship make you feel any better? (VCU making the final four likely prevented some Casual suicides)

Man, Pitt just does this type of stuff - that's about as best as I can sum it up. I know all schools have had their moments of frustration, but for us, it seems like it happens all the time. There was that game, Villanova in the Elite Eight a few years ago, all of the other early NCAA exits, the Cincinnati football game a couple of years ago, losing to UConn in football in 2010 to keep us from the BCS ... I could go on and on. I don't remember what I was thinking at the time, but I remember being not all that surprised when it did. This is simply what Pitt does and as a Pitt fan, I think I've gotten used to it.

Butler advancing that far did nothing to make me feel any better. I felt that of all the years that Pitt's been in the tournament in the past decade that last year was their best shot to get to a Final Four. Not because it was the best team, but I thought the path was the easiest. It was the only year I actually predicted the team would get to a Final Four and when they didn't make it, it hurt regardless of the team that beat them.

Working backwards. No, seeing Butler (and UConn for that matter) in the NCAA Championship did little to assuage the pain. I don't buy into luck, breaks or destiny. But the way Butler kept scraping by in every game tested that belief. Every game. Just enough to gut out a win. Somehow. Someway. Fuckers.

As for the Butler game. To happen so soon after the UConn game at the Big East Tournament. It is all a bit of a blur. I do know I dragged my wife downstairs to rewind and watch the last few seconds. Why? So she understood, fully why I would be downstairs for a while with a significant amount of bourbon -- and please keep the kids upstairs. It was for the best.

If Ben Howland leaves UCLA, any fear that Jamie Dixon takes his job there?


Nice tie. via

That scenario hasn't really crossed my mind ... color me clueless, I suppose. But here's what I'll say: Dixon has flirted with other jobs in the past and while he's made it clear he likes Pittsburgh, it wouldn't totally surprise me to see him leave. He's definitely underappreciated here and now that Pitt is having a down season, he's taking a lot of criticism (which, of course, mostly he doesn't deserve).

Another factor is that Dixon has seemingly tried to distance himself from Howland. Not in the sense that it sounds, but in the sense that he's made it clear he doesn't want to play against him. They haven't scheduled each other in the season and Dixon made it clear that he didn't want to play against his teams in the tournament. I think the respect is so great there that Jamie might really think hard about taking that job immediately after Howland.

Not really. It really seems that if Howland leaves UCLA, it will be involuntarily at this stage. I don't see Dixon willing to step over the corpse of his friend to take the job.

Which was worse - Ashton Gibbs being named preseason Big East player of the year this year or Austin Freeman last year?

I don't know, but Gibbs was my pick for this season. Not because I'm a homer, but with Pitt losing three starters last year, I assumed he'd challenge 20+ points a game. And if Pitt were as good as they were supposed to be, that would have given him a good shot at it. He's definitely had his fair share of shots, but no one envisioned he'd miss as many as he has. And when Woodall went down, Gibbs had to assume point guard duties. That hampered not only his scoring, but the team's ability to run the offense as well ... which makes it harder for him to be effective. But even despite the Woodall injury, Gibbs simply has shot the ball poorly this season.

Uh, um. I'll go with Freeman by a nose simply because that still makes no sense to me. Gibbs was silly, but when you looked at the players in the Big East coming into the season who else was there other than taking a flyer on a freshman? Herb Pope?

Besides Gibbs, who are this year's best scorers? Rebounders? Who has been the biggest disappointment thus far?

Pitt doesn't have a lot of great scorers or rebounders on this team, which is part of the problem. The next biggest threat is Nasir Robinson - he's an undersized power forward and can take advantages of mismatches and can go off for 20 if teams let him. He's also really aggressive in getting to the basket. He takes charge and is also the leading rebounder as well. The Panthers rebound well as a team, but this isn't like past years where they've had big men capable of dominating.

Biggest disappointment is probably J.J. Moore. Dante Taylor hasn't played well and isn't looking much like a McDonald's All-American, but I'm resigned to the fact that he simply isn't a great player. Moore was expected to come in and help replace some of the offense that Pitt lost, but that hasn't happened. He's shown glimpses and is a tremendous athlete, but like much of the team, has been plagued by horrific shooting. Last I checked, he was only at about 37%, which is horrible for a scoring small forward.

"Best scorer" being a relative term for this team. Before he got hurt, Tray Woodall was a huge lift for the offense. Really looking good on 3s and being able to penetrate. I suppose it would be Nasir Robinson or Lamar Patterson by default.

Rebounding it has to be Robinson and Talib Zanna.

The biggest disappointment? Just one? There's Khem Birch transferring after 10 games. Dante Taylor probably gets the most votes for disappointment among the Pitt fans. I find myself leaning towards J.J. Moore, though. Tremendous potential. So athletic and strong, but hates contact and won't play defense.

If you were starting your own university, who is the coach from the Big East you want starting your program? Who is your last choice?

I don't follow all of the programs enough to make an educated guess on the worst coach, but because I'm a bit biased, I'll take Dixon as my pick to start. Calhoun, Pitino, Boeheim, and Huggins have all done more, but are getting up there in age. Thompson and Jay Wright would probably be my other two guys I'd consider for the top spot.

Well if you are just starting out, then I'd eliminate Calhoun, Boeheim, Pitino and Purnell simply because of age and drive.

Mike Rice would be my first pick. Young, lots of energy. Able to recruit. And can get kids to play defense. What he is doing so quickly with Rutgers has impressed me. Everyone liked him at Pitt and thought he could do good work at Rutgers, but to have turned around that program so fast is really something. If he can do that at Rutgers, then I would assume he could do it anywhere.

When all is said and done, predict the top 4 Big East finishers.

Georgetown has a slightly more manageable schedule than Syracuse, but not sure they can make up the 1.5 games they're behind at the time I'm writing this. They also have to travel on the road to play the Orange. If I had to take a stab at it, though:

1. Georgetown
2. Syracuse
3. Marquette
4. Cincinnati

Cuse, Marquette, Cinci, Georgetown. Unless Ryan Boatwright gets cleared to play for UConn soon. Then I might swap Cinci or Gtown out for UConn.

It's your last meal in Pittsburgh. Where are you going and what are you ordering?

Easy - Morton's and having the biggest filet mignon they can find with several glasses of red wine - probably a Shiraz.

Probably just the mood I'm in today. But I'd head to Tessaro's and get one of their burgers.


Bacon. via

I have a really bad feeling that you guys are going to beat us, tell me why that won't happen.

Pitt has been competitive against some good teams and I think they can give Georgetown a game. But at this point, there are very few teams I'd feel comfortable with saying Pitt will beat and the Hoyas certainly aren't one of them. Georgetown's defense has been pretty good this season and with Pitt's inability to score against almost anybody, I think that will be the difference.

Have you seen how Pitt plays? Basically Pitt has played well enough lately to lose respectably. I'll put it this way. You have guys that can shoot on the perimeter. Plus Hollis Thompson inside. Pitt has yet to stop a team with an inside-out threat.

Are you familiar with Boston College? Are you familiar with their record after leaving the Big East for the ACC? Cool, just checking.

No comment.

Whatever. Enjoy that burgeoning SMU rivalry game.

How does this game end up? What is the final score?

Pitt has been fairly competitive in their last three games against Marquette, Syracuse, and Louisville, so I think they play respectably ... especially since Georgetown's offense has struggled at times. But I don't expect Pitt to win and I think they lose something like 68 - 60.

I'd love to predict a Pitt win. I'd also love to predict numbers for the Mega Millions lottery. Given the way things have gone, I'll stick with pessimism and say Pitt loses 73-68.