PITTSBURGH — Why does Pitt keep getting out to slow starts? Is it because of lack of depth, not enough mental focus, not enough leadership? Warming up in Wednesday’s game against Syracuse, many of the Panthers didn’t seem to have the pregame energy of a hungry team that had just lost four straight games. After they got embarrassed on their home court on Senior Night, freshman Justin Champagnie and senior walk-on Anthony Starzynski both attributed the sloppy start to the lack of energy leading up to tip-off.
“It probably starts with the warmups,” Champagnie said. “We’ve got to go through the warmups harder and stop (going) through the motions, and just pick up our energy from the start.”
Pitt coughed up 12 turnovers and made only seven field goals in the opening half. Syracuse didn’t necessarily come out of the gate on fire either, but Pitt’s lull lasted almost the entire half and found themselves down 16 at the break.
At this point in the season with only two conference games remaining, sure, legs are tired out there, but for a team with nothing to lose, as they are pretty much out of postseason contention, Pitt should be coming out balls to the wall, with the mindset of ruining someone else’s season. You can’t use fatigue as a significant excuse when your opponent has played the same number of games as you have.
“I think everyone’s tired, in the whole league,” Champagnie said. “It’s the end of the year. I wouldn’t say we are completely tired. I think we just start off games slow, that’s our main problem. We come out of the gate, and sometimes it’s just not how we anticipate, and we, as a team, have to change that around.”
TALK, TALK, TALK
There are little things, like having better warm-ups, and there are bigger problems like communicating on defense and keeping the guy your defending from getting a straight-line drive to the cup.
“I think recently, we’ve warmed up slower than we should,” Starzynski added. That’s one of the many things we have to change about what we do, but we’re trying to turn it around. It’s a process.”
Syracuse shot over 51 percent in the second half and over 46 percent for the game. Whether it was Elijah Hughes taking one of Pitt’s defenders to school off the dribble, or the Panthers defense breaking down and it is resulting in freshman guard Joe Girard knocking in one of his four practically wide-open 3-pointers, Capel’s bunch just never really could lock-in.
“It’s been everything,” Capel said of his team’s lack of quality defense. “I think it’s been a mixed bag. Sometimes the energy is there, but the communication’s not there. The execution is not there. Sometimes the first shot defense is pretty good, but we don’t rebound the ball. The communication is key for any good team. I’ve always felt like you can always hear a good team, especially on the defensive end. Talk unites. Talk connects, and we haven’t done a good job of that over the past month or so.”
When this Pitt team has only nine transition points, you know its defense isn’t playing up to par. They got caught reaching, and just standing watching for rebounds, far too many times on Wednesday.
Syracuse big man Bourama Sidibe seemed to do and get whatever he wanted in the paint throughout the 26:36 that he was out on the court. He finished the game with 13 points and ten rebounds.
“He should probably come (play) for Pittsburgh,” Boeheim said of Sidibe. “This is the only place he plays like that.”
That probably says more about Pitt than it does Sidibe.
CAN SHOOTING WOES BE EVENED OUT?
Pitt just isn’t making enough shots to win games against above-average teams, are they? It sure doesn’t seem like it, but if a team like Virginia can win consistently, why can’t a team like this Panthers squad be at least near that level?
They have the athletes, at least on the perimeter, to be able to get better offensive looks and defensive consistency. But shooting 29.1 percent will never cut it. They currently rank 14th in conference play in scoring the ball and don’t have one guy shooting over 33 percent from beyond the arc.
But, go back to Virginia. They are dead last in scoring, but No. 1 in scoring defense and Pitt is No. 5 in defense.
It all goes back to starting with the required energy but also carrying that energy throughout the 40 minutes.
“I didn’t think we had the required and necessary energy to start the game, and throughout the game, that’s necessary to win,” Capel said. “And especially for a team that’s just lost four games in a row.”
One positive takeaway from this game was the fact that Starzynski and Samson George were able to see some minutes, during their senior night. George played just under four minutes, but Starzynski was the star of the show.
“It was exciting, to say the least,” Starzynski said. “I wasn’t really expecting it to be honest, but I’m just more than appreciative for coach Capel and his staff to give me the opportunity and to have the confidence in me to get in there and get a little more burn tonight than usual. I wish I could’ve knocked down more shots, but you know that’s just the way the game goes sometimes.”
The Baldwin High School alum played 11:27 and got the crowd back into the game in the latter half of the second half.
With 9:27 left in the game, the senior stepped into a three at the top of the key and sank it. The Pete went nuts, and Starzynski’s face couldn’t hide his excitement for what was just the second made bucket of his final season.
“The crowds pretty much empty out by that point,” Starzynski said of his made 3. “Either were up by a lot or the other team was up by a lot. So that roar in the crowd kind of behind me was pretty surreal when that went through.”
Change has been the word that has surrounded the Pitt basketball program since head coach Jeff Capel – in his second season – has taken over.
But how long do fans and this city have to wait?
“It just does not happen overnight,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said about the process Capel and Pitt are in. “To say they were rock bottom is not even a close approximation of where they were when Jeff took over.”