Gorman: Panthers need not overreact
Now that Pitt has suffered successive losses, and in forgettable fashion, there is sentiment that it should make major changes to its style.
Reduce the rotation to seven or eight players. Switch to a zone on a regular basis. Shoot the ball more and pass it less. Win with scoring, not defense.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon understands the temptation to go back to the drawing board after a disastrous defeat.
Fortunately, he resists it.
“That's something you're challenged with,” Dixon said. “You don't want to overreact to a win. You don't want to overreact to a loss. That's something you monitor, that you're well aware of. We've got to learn from our mistakes. You learn from your wins, and you learn from your losses. We know we've got to do something about it.”
This might be a good time to remind you that prior to the defeats at Marquette and against Notre Dame, Pitt had won seven of its past eight games.
The Panthers have reached the 20-win milestone and need one victory in their final four games — against St. John's, USF, Villanova and DePaul — to clinch a .500 Big East record.
The lapses in defense and rebounding against Marquette and Notre Dame should be alarming, given that those are the hallmarks of Pitt basketball. And Dixon has harped on their importance, to the point of sounding like a broken record.
Dixon also has been adept at playing to the Panthers' strengths and identifying and correcting their weaknesses.
This might be a good time to remind you that Pitt also lost its first two games in Big East play, to Cincinnati and Rutgers. The Panthers were outrebounded, by five and 12, and allowed an average of 68.5 points, 13.3 above their opponents' average this season.
There was concern they could be headed for another disappointing campaign, after finishing 16-15 in the regular season and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Dixon in 2011-12.
This might be a good time to remind you that Pitt won eight of its next 10. That included road victories at Georgetown and Cincinnati and a home win over Syracuse, at the time respectively ranked Nos. 19, 17 and 6 in the national polls.
“You're constantly trying to perfect your game and be the best you can,” Dixon said. “It's not like we were satisfied when we won those number of games and had that stretch. It's not like we had it all figured out. We're constantly trying to get better, to improve some things.
“But the things we came up short on the other day were things we have come up short on before in some other games, too, so they weren't news to us.”
If Pitt has a problem, it's whether these Panthers can live up to the physicality of their predecessors. They have blamed being beaten on the boards on a lack of desire and toughness.
Especially when it counts.
The Panthers failed to show a sense of urgency at Marquette with a chance to move into first place or a killer instinct against a Notre Dame team with which they were tied for fifth. They need to do both now, with their Big East and NCAA tourney seeds at stake.
“I think it's a minor step back. We're going to bounce back,” Pitt forward J.J. Moore said. “We're trying to get a good seed in the NCAA or even make the NCAA. It's important for us to do well the last four games.”
This might be a good time to remind you that this could be the most impressive job by Dixon in his 10 seasons as Pitt's head coach, and the final four games will be a great indicator.
Consider: The Panthers don't have a consensus All-Big East performer on their roster, let alone an All-America candidate. In Steven Adams and James Robinson, they are starting two freshmen for the first time since Brandin Knight and Donatas Zavackas in 1999-2000, when Pitt finished 13-15. And they are winning without any player averaging more than 10.9 points or 6.4 rebounds
Which is why Dixon should resist making major changes. The 10-man rotation can be confusing at times, especially when Pitt pulls its best players, Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson and Adams, off the floor for stretches at the same time. But the depth played a pivotal role in Pitt's three most impressive Big East games: the 28-point win at Georgetown, the 38-point win against DePaul and the stunner over Syracuse.
“It's unusual what they do with their depth,” Sporting News college basketball analyst Mike DeCourcy said. “They play hot and cold guys more so than set rotations. It's not a dance. You don't change positions every three minutes because that's what the rotation dictates.
“I don't think Pitt has seven guys who are so consistently effective to this point to where you'd say, ‘If we play these seven guys, we're better.' I think it's better if they ride what they think is going to help them on that particular night.”
That involves winning with its man defense and rebounding while practicing patience and precision on offense, where it relies on bunches of scoring instead of scoring in bunches.
It's a challenge for which Pitt needs no reminder: Now is the time to act, not overreact.