This is What Elite Looks Like
“This is what elite looks like,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said he told his squad after the game, “and it’s what we aspire to get to. And it’s not just their defense, or just their offense, or their good players. They don’t take a play off. Every possession — they understand that every possession is important. There’s accountability enforced by the players, not just the coaching staff.
“The screening, the movement, the connection defensively. That’s what makes a good defense. You talk, you’re connected, everyone’s on the same (page). Playing against them is very difficult. Watching them — it’s beautiful to watch them defensively. To watch the movement, it’s like an elite level — if you had someone choreograph something.”
Jeff Caple should know: he played at Duke for four years and was an assistant there for seven. His current team, the Pitt Panthers, had the misfortune of getting caught in a ruthless UVa meat grinder and the Cavaliers mangled the Panthers 73 – 49 on Saturday at the JPJ Arena. On the night, Virginia shot 58% overall and 56% from 3 as the Big Three of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter scored 17, 12 and 13 points, respectively, on a combined 14 – 20 from the floor. This ball movement typified our day:
If you are keeping score at home, that was 5 passes, a dribble penetration, and a wide open 3 point shot in 10 seconds.
At the 5:20 mark in the first half, Hunter converted the front end of a one and one. It gave him 10 points for the game. At that point, Pitt only had 10 points. The game was over, for all intents and purposes, at this juncture.
1st year guard, Kihei Clark, who just two weeks ago looked like he was hitting the dreaded “freshman wall” chipped in with a superb performance of his own: 6 points on a perfect shooting day where he was successful on both his drives into the lane and he converted both of his free throws. He also 3 boards, 4 assists, a pair of steals, and he drew two charges, all while completing his fourth game in a row without a turnover. Oh, he also flummoxed the closest thing Pitt has to a star, freshman Xavier Johnson who leads the team in scoring, into a 0 for 7 shooting performance. Although Clark has trouble defending the 3 point shot, despite his stature, no one has been able to post him up, and his on-ball defense must be game-planned by opposing coaches. Clark may prove to not be an adequate one-for-one replacement for Ty Jerome, should Jerome leave for the NBA’s greener pastures next season, but Clark’s contributions to this team, as a freshman, rival what Guy brought to the table for his freshman season.
Jerome mentioned in his post-game comments that senior, and nominal starting, big man, Jack Salt has been experiencing back pain which could account for the marked drop in his minutes. Salt did not start, for the first time in forever during ACC play, (against Georgia Tech), and he was limited to 8 minutes versus Pitt. The two-headed hydra of Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff continued their long-hoped for progression towards a Two Towers threat. (For about a minute and half, late in the second half, we ran a lineup of Clark, Hunter, Braxton Key, Diakite and Huff. Now that is a big lineup.) Huff logged 17 minutes, and while he didn’t electrify the crowd offensively as he done so frequently over the past 5 – 6 games, he still had 6 boards, 3 steals and he showed an attacking aggression in the paint. For Diakite, the silly fouls of last season and this year's out of conference slate seem to be long gone. He logged 20 minutes and committed only a pair of fouls and both of those were defending the rim. In other words, just what you want your pogo-sticking big man to do. In addition, for the second straight game, he got isolated on an ACC-starting point guard on the perimeter. In neither case was either guard able to penetrate into the lane. Like just about every Wahoo that Coach Bennett has trusted on the pack line perimeter, Diakite moves his feet and doesn’t reach in. For those of us in Cavalier Nation who’ve grown to love, love, love Bennett ball, the growth of Diakite as an on-ball defender has been a joy to watch.
Positive and Negative Takeaways
Positive: Our free throw shooting on this day. Jerome has struggled a bit from the line this season, to the point that I no longer consider him “automatic.” But he was 4 for 4 vs Pitt. Clark and Diakite were perfect with their free throws and Huff and Hunter were each a respectable 3-4.
Negative: Key is really struggling with his finishing around the rim. He moves well in traffic and has been getting good shots, even if they are mostly contested, but he’s just failing to convert. Against Georgia Tech, he was 2 – 3 from 3-point territory, but he’s not been a reliable long-range shooter and he went 0 – 3 from deep on this day. He is a worthy pack line perimeter defender, and he’s a fine rebounder. If he can somehow flick the switch on his conversion rate of bunnies in and around the rim, we will be near unbeatable. But for now, Key’s gut-wrenching.
Positive: For the third time in four weeks, we’re featuring on ESPN’s Big Monday. It is great exposure as befits our status as one of the very best teams in the nation over the past 5 years. But it means we’ve got a short turnaround, same as Syracuse, to be fair, but for the third time in those same four weeks, we’re the traveling team for Big Monday. It was good to see that Jerome, Hunter and Guy all played less than 30 minutes, which would minimize their recovery time.
Positive: These guys are still hungry. Many have written, that as of this point, we have a tough road toward securing the ACC regular season title, closing out with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and Louisville at JPJ. Hogwash. Duke and UNC still have to face each other, and that one game alone will be harder, and possibly have more riding on it, than our pair. We can win out and bring home the fourth regular season title in the past six years. Kyle Guy’s post game comments included this: “You win the ACC championship, and everything else will fall in. So, we take care of our business. We’re absolutely hunting for three championships this year.” I want the title. We win our last two games and it won’t matter what UNC or Duke do. And it seems like Bennett and they Boys want the same.
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