Tag: Talib Zanna


Pittsburgh’s margin for error shrinks with third straight loss

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Since shooting 51% from the field in an 83-79 win at Maryland on January 25 Pittsburgh has struggled offensively, shooting no better than 41% in any of the seven games that followed. Game number seven in that dubious streak came on Sunday night, with the Panthers shooting 37% in a 71-66 home loss to Florida State.

Lamar Patterson (eight rebounds and five assists) scored 21 points but he needed 21 shots to do so, making eight of those attempts. Much has been made of Patterson’s shooting struggles and that’s understandable as he is Pittsburgh’s most versatile offensive option. But the fact of the matter is that the senior wing wasn’t the only Panther having issues against a Florida State team that has the size and athleticism needed to perform well defensively.

Talib Zanna, the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 12.2 points per game, scored just seven points on 1-for-4 shooting against Florida State’s deep and athletic front court. Zanna did grab 14 rebounds, but after shooting 2-for-11 in Pitt’s loss at North Carolina last weekend he needed to bounce back and it didn’t happen. In Patterson, Zanna and Cameron Wright (12 points) the Panthers have three players who are asked to carry much of the offensive load on a nightly basis, and when any of those three struggle Pittsburgh will have issues scoring.

Also of note on Sunday night was Florida State outscoring Pittsburgh 27-18 from the foul line, with the Seminoles’ free throw rate (67.4) well above the rate allowed by the Panthers in ACC play (39.9). With the Panthers not being an explosive offensive team points from the foul line and points off of turnovers (14-10 FSU edge) can be the difference between winning and losing close games.

Does Sunday’s loss mean that the Panthers are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament? No. The selection committee has to take 68 teams, and it’s difficult to think that there are 36 at-large teams better than the Panthers regardless of their non-conference resume. And it should be noted that Pitt’s best non-conference win gained some value on Saturday as Stanford knocked off No. 23 UCLA.

But Sunday’s defeat does mean that with four games remaining before the ACC tournament the Panthers’ margin for error shrinks ever so slightly. Three of those four games (Boston College, Notre Dame and Clemson) are on the road, with N.C. State visiting Pittsburgh on March 3.

Take care of business in those games and Jamie Dixon’s team will be fine. But a couple missteps could leave the Panthers with work to do going into the ACC tournament.

Even in defeat, No. 22 Pittsburgh has look of ACC contender

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While there were no questions regarding the validity of No. 2 Syracuse as a contender in the ACC, with the Orange picked in the preseason poll to finish second behind No. 23 Duke, the same can’t be said of No. 22 Pittsburgh. While Jamie Dixon’s Panthers entered the game undefeated in ACC play and 16-1 overall, there were some who wondered just how good Pittsburgh was.

Why? It likely had a lot to do with their non-conference slate, with Pittsburgh’s best win coming against Stanford and the majority of their wins coming against teams with triple-digit computer rankings. But to focus solely on that would be a mistake, as players such as Lamar Patterson, Cameron Wright and Talib Zanna have improved since last season and have shown themselves to be formidable talents in the ACC.

If anything¬†Pitt’s 59-54 loss at the Carrier Dome showed a national audience that, even in defeat, the Panthers are without a doubt a contender in the ACC. Pitt attacked the Syracuse zone well, using good ball movement to hit the high post and short corner, but the issue for them was the number of missed opportunities close to the basket.

Syracuse, which entered the game ranked fourth in the country in block percentage, finished the game with seven blocked shots and Pittsburgh made just four of their ten layup/dunk attempts. According to hoop-math.com the Panthers entered Saturday shooting 54.3% at the rim and while that 14-percent margin may not look like much, against a team as good as Syracuse those missed opportunities can prove costly.

That was the case for Pittsburgh, who can also take positives such as their effort on the boards away from the loss. The Panthers rebounded 44.4% of their misses, scoring 19 second-chance points as a result, and limited Syracuse to just three fast-break points. While the Orange aren’t the running team we’ve come accustomed to seeing over the years they have the ability to bury teams if allowed to get out in the open floor. Pittsburgh, due in part to their ability to crash the offensive glass, took that away.

No team as good as Pittsburgh has much interest in “moral victories,” and that’s how it should be. Under Dixon the Panthers have accomplished too much over the years to think that simply hanging tough at the Carrier Dome is cause for celebration. With options such as Patterson, Wright, Zanna and point guard James Robinson they’re more than capable of winning a game of this magnitude despite falling short on Saturday.

Pittsburgh likely needed no convincing of that even before Saturday afternoon. If anything, they showed others what they already knew themselves: they’re a contender for the ACC title.