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SIX MONTH SEMI-ANNIVERSARY FEBRUARY ONLINE SPORTS EDITION
SPECIAL FEATURE 1
SPECIAL FEATURE 2
Panthers visit 1974 Basketball
The Pitt basketball team is in the midst of a very good season, but it is only beginning to become more difficult. Coach Ben Howland has led the Panthers to their best start since 1974. In the process Pitt garnered the attention of the national media, but they must still play well to stay in the limelight.
If Pitt intends to have more than a cup of coffee in the NCAA tournament then some things are going to need to continue the same way, some things will need to improve, and some will need to totally change.
The most important thing Pitt must do is to keep playing defense the way they are. For nearly all of the season the Panthers have led the nation in scoring defense and that could continue. Pittís quick guards on the perimeter and itsí physical interior play has been a successful defensive combination. Their scoring defense can partially be attributed to the fact that the Panthers consistently win the battle on the boards and deny opponents easy second chance points. Another key factor in the Panthers tremendous scoring defense is their prevention of opponents getting easy fast-break opportunities. Barring injuries the Panthers should be able to continue their tremendous defensive play. Pittís success is most attributable to the consistency of the defense.
However, the offense has had a tendency to be ineffective and simply off on occasion. The Panthers are not a tremendous outside shooting team, especially since they only consider themselves to have three outside threats.
Junior point guard Brandin Knightís three point shooting has been great this season especially considering his struggles the last two years from behind the arc.
Junior forward Donatas Zavackas is shooting the ball fairly well for Pitt, but in Big East play he has been struggling from the outside.
The other three-point threat is sophomore Julius Page. Unfortunately the show-stopping shooting guard has been far from a good outside shooter for Pitt this season. If Page starts consistently hitting his three pointers, defenders will
be forced to tighten their defense allowing the sophomore to take them off the dribble or go backdoor for a big-time flush.
Pitt fans may get to enjoy many more of Pageís crowd-pleasing acrobatics above the rim if he regains his shooting touch.
Sophomore Toree Morris and junior Ontario Lett have been relatively pleasant surprises in the post for Pitt.
Lett is arguably the Panthers most effective scorer and has been a pretty good shot blocker for the Panthers. However, the junior has been prone to foul trouble and that could cause the Panthers plenty of problems down the stretch of games when they need a consistent scorer.
Morris, the starter at center, is nicely rounding into a solid big man for Ben Howland. Morris continues to make big strides in his development and combined with Lett, Pitt can body up with any team in the conference. The center position was believed to be the Pantherís weakness heading into the season, but Lett and Morris have made it one of the teamís
weakness heading into the season, but Lett and Morris have made it one of the teamís strengths. It will be interesting to see if Howland ever decides to play Morris and Lett at the same time. It seems unfair that these two players are only getting about 20 minutes apiece each game.
The biggest thing Pitt needs to improve before postseason play is their foul-shooting. A need for improvement at the foul line is especially necessary for Knight. Knight, brother of Memphis Grizzly Brevin Knight, is the teamís best ball-handler, team leader, and penetrator. Knight may end up leading the team in free-throw attempts, but he is currently on pace to finish under 50 percent from the line. To offset Knightís struggles, Page and Zavackas have shot very well from the free throw line this season so the Panthers do have players they can feel confident with on the line.
Senior Chad Johnsonís play of late has been solid and he is beginning to see more and more minutes. Johnsonís athleticism makes him a very good defender who seems to always be able to get his hands in passing lanes or on shots. Also, Johnson, the son of former NBA player Clem Johnson, can sometimes cause havoc on the offensive glass and is starting to become a consistent jump-shooter. Johnson often makes terrific plays to put himself in position for good opportunities around the hoop, but he does not consistently finish. If Johnson begins to complete those plays then he could be a very important player because of his versatility.
The most versatile player for the Panthers this season has been sophomore Jaron Brown. Brown is definitely the teamís "glue-guy" because he does plenty of the little things for his team. Along with playing three positions, Brown is a force on the court because of his physical play. Brown often gets to the hoop of the dribble or gets himself open under the basket. In both cases Brown nearly always finishes. Besides on offense Brown also uses his physical strength to be a great defender. If Brown is off on a given night then the Panthers could be in trouble. For example when the Panthers lost 56-53 to Notre Dame, Brown scored 2 points. Brown can and should be a consistent double-figure scorer so 2-point nights cannot happen.
Brownís play is important to the team, but the fate of the team rides most with Knight. In Pittís double-overtime loss to Miami, Knight finished 1-10 from the field with 7 turnovers. Those numbers spoiled his terrific 11 assists and 8 rebounds effort. Knight is the teamís best player and he must come through down the stretch in games if the Panthers are going to win close games against the top teams in the Big East. Also, Knight has been injury prone this season and if he is not in full strength, the Panthers will need to find some Willis Reed in Knight.
If Pitt wins 21 games and finishes 9-7 in the Big East they should make the NCAA tournament, but this is a team that could win 25 or more games after the Big East tournament is played. Last seasonís run in the Big East tournament could be matched this season, but it will not be easy. All you Pitt fans out there donít forget that Johnson is the teamís only senior so this success should continue past this year. But forget that thought because Pitt is going to finally go back to the NCAA tournament this season.