1. The biggest problem for Indiana basketball this season has been our interior defensive play, as opponents have been easily. Will 6-9 forward Michael Young be able to exploit our defense on Tuesday night, and what other big men might be a problem for us?
Jim: Michael Young is a very good basketball player, and one that has improved over the course of the off-season. He grew an inch, and lost about 15 pounds so he is very athletic in the paint, but strong and enough to be a problem for teams that struggle with low post defense. Young entered the program as a four-star recruit and was a starter his whole freshmen season, but did not have a huge impact. He appears to be a much better player as a sophomore and we are finally starting to see that talent I think he would be Indiana's only true worry down there, as Pitt's center situation is as bleak as can be for a power five team.
Anson: If interior defense is a issue, Young could indeed give Indiana some trouble. He's really emerged this year as a sophomore and has provided the offensive boost needed with the leading returning scorer, Cam Wright, out to this point. The Hoosiers should also be wary of Young because he can also play on the perimeter and knock down jump shots. His game is an interesting one and even if he is contained I don't expect Indiana to shut him down completely.
Other than Young, Pitt is really lean when it comes to big men. Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo have legit height, but that's about it. Both are minor players and despite Randall's monster 21-rebound game against Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, he's generally just a role player. One guy that's emerged a little is true freshman Ryan Luther. Luther is a 6'9" forward that relies mostly on perimeter shooting. He was headed for a redshirt until Pitt lost Wright to an injury and also Durand Johnson to a suspension. He played a lot against San Diego State and Kansas State and should continue to get minutes.
2. Continuing with the theme of defensive struggle, IU let UNC-Greensboro shoot 14 3-pointers on Friday night. Though we won the game, it was the most threes ever given up to in opponent in Assembly Hall. Do the Panthers have any 3-point sharpshooters who could heat up in this game if the Hoosiers don't watch out?
Jim: Pitt's best three-point threat is actually suspended for the season in Durand Johnson, so that's a big plus Indiana. Pitt has two true freshmen that were expected to redshirt, but have come in and knocked down shots and look much better than anticipated. Ryan Luther is a "stretch-four" at 6'8" and he buried three triples against Kansas State. Cameron Johnson is a lanky 6'7" kid that has seven three-pointers in six games. It should be noted though, that everyone in Pitt's 10 man rotation minus the two centers, have attempted a three, even Michael Young. So Pitt has many guys with this range, even if they are not a great shooting team.
Anson: Pitt has several three-point threats. Chris Jones and true freshman Cameron Johnson are probably at the top of that list - they have made a combined 16 three-pointers and both shoot it fairly well, knocking down more than 40% of their shots from downtown. Jamel Artis, Josh Newkirk, and James Robinson are all capable of knocking 1-2 down per game as well, and the new guy is the aforementioned Luther. In those games against San Diego State and Kansas State, he shot 4-6 from beyond the arc. Overall, Pitt shoots pretty well there, making just over 39% as a team. With the exception of probably Robinson who isn't a good outside shooter, any one of those guys is capable of getting hot and knocking down a few in a game.
3. The team had a mixed performance in Maui, where they destroyed a Kansas State team (thanks in part to 14 points and six assists from guard James Robinson), but lost to San Diego State, and lost a warmup game to Hawaii. What were the Panthers able to take away from this early-season trip to the Aloha State?
Jim: I think Pitt took away that they have a lot of work to do in general, but with the Kansas State game - they are capable of playing at a high level. The Panthers have generally been a program that is built on the strength of seniors, and that is not the case this season. Pitt has seven freshmen and sophomores in the mix right now, so it's uncharted territory, and they are doing a lot of learning on the job right now.
Anson: Probably that it all starts for defense for them. There are some decent offensive players on this team, but Pitt doesn't yet have a bonafide go to guy. Young may be the closest to that but even he is still growing and isn't a guy that's going to give them 15 every single night - particularly as the level of competition gets better. If this team is going to get back to the NCAAs, it's all going to start with defense for them. Pitt played horrible defense against Hawaii but still nearly won because of an advantage in talent. They put out a similar effort against a very good San Diego State team and were, as you would expect, beaten pretty badly. The Panthers were far more aggressive on defense against Kansas State and the result was a lopsided win.
Pitt needs to keep up their intensity on the defensive end because they simply don't have the firepower to match most teams basket for basket.
4. Jamie Dixon has been coach at Pitt for over a decade now, and has consistently gotten Pitt to the NCAA Tournament. Does Dixon have the job for as long as he wants, or are fans becoming restless since he hasn't made it to the second weekend of the tournament in five years?
Jim: Jamie Dixon has been to the tournament 10 of his 11 seasons at Pitt. He has a lot of regular seasons wins, a few conference championships, and a few berths to the second weekend. Pitt is always highly competitive and the program is very stable right now. The Pitt administration probably will never get rid of him unless he really tempers off over the next few seasons. As far as the fan base, you have a few guys thinking he needs to be removed, but for the most part people are happy with him, and they believe in him. If it ever gets to a point where he continues to lose in the first round or he fails to make the tournament for a few years, or worse, if they stop believing in him altogether, he will be on the hotseat.
Anson: It really depends on who you ask. I think the majority probably want to keep Dixon but there are more complaints about him than you probably think. Simply put, the early exits are definitely wearing thin on people and there are some fans out there that wouldn't hesitate to replace him. As with any hire, though, you have to find a replacement that's better than the current option and Dixon is a pretty good coach. Not only that, but he loves it here and has run a clean program.
Personally, I'm not on the crazy train. I realize what Pitt has and while the early exits are frustrating, a team that makes the tournament every year and is often in the Top 25 is nothing to sneeze at. Pitt rarely even has rebuilding years and for as much as they have underachieved in some years, they've also overachieved in others.
5. Who does Pitt consider its biggest in-conference rival ever since moving to the ACC two years ago? And will you guys ever play West Virginia again?
Jim: Syracuse is Pitt's biggest rivals within the ACC, and Pitt and Syracuse are lucky to have joined the league with each other. Since Pitt basketball came to life back in the early 2000's, the two teams have played in countless close battles and memorable games. Notre Dame and Louisville being in the league also helps. It's hard to describe, but people really loved the Big East, and it felt like everyone was your rival, so it's like the old band is getting back together in a new league. I could see Pitt and West Virginia playing again, and it is way more likely they meet in basketball than in football in my opinion.
Anson: Has to be Syracuse. UConn was arguably the team's biggest rival from the Big East, but the Orange are the only ones that have moved with them. Pitt will have some good games with Duke and North Carolina down the line, but those guys aren't rivals on any level yet. Pitt has been playing Syracuse for a very long time and have had some really competitive games with them.
If athletic director Steve Pederson has his way, Pitt probably won't be scheduling West Virginia any time soon. The Mountaineers have expressed an interest in re-opening the series in both football and basketball, but Pitt doesn't appear to hold that same interest for whatever reason. None has officially been given, so it's difficult to say why the Mountaineers are basically being pushed aside. In football, there are fewer non-conference games available, but there's really no reason to play each other in basketball. Fans would love that game much more than those against any one of the various cupcakes on the non-conference schedule.
6. Two of my cousins went to Pitt and both have been very positive about their experiences. What are your favorite bars/restaurants/attractions nearby or on Pitt's campus?
Jim: Right on campus you have one of the famed Primanti Brothers restaurants, with the giant sandwiches that Pittsburgh has become famous for. There is also a quick stop right down the street for the arena called Peter's Pub, nothing special but it's a hopping on game days. One of the more iconic restaurants in Oakland is called The Original Hot Dog Shop, or simply "The O" and they have good dogs, just don't order a large fry by yourself - seriously. Pitt is a cool little neighborhood in itself, but the city has tons of great areas to eat and drink, definitely worth a trip if you have never been there.
Anson: Been about 15 years since I've been in school and so much as changed. One great thing about Pitt is that they give students free bus passes and you can travel anywhere relatively easy - downtown, the Zoo, professional games, Station Square (restaurants/bars/shopping), Strip District (large outdoor type market), the Cultural District, museums ... it's all within reach.
I was always a dive bar kind of guy so Gene's (formerly Denny's) and Uncle Jimmy's were my favorite Oakland hangouts back in the day. And the legendary O (short for Original Hot Dog Shoppe) is a must for cheap, greasy pizza at 3:00 a.m., even if the food isn't technically all that great. My favorite restaurant overall may have been Sorrento's - amazing pizza.
7. Football talk: After some turmoil a few years ago, Paul Chryst has brought stability to the Panthers, but the results have been mediocre. What's the word on Chryst after three straight 6-6 seasons?
Jim: Chryst's job is safe for another year or two, but he needs to deliver soon. Pitt actually had the youngest roster in the country this season, and they have a good bit of the starters returning on both sides. Pitt should see a jump next season in wins given the experience returning, and they have some pretty talented stars like James Conner and Tyler Boyd.
Anson: Much like Dixon, it's somewhat divided. But the calls for Chryst's head are understandably louder considering he hasn't won anything or even come close yet. Chryst, though, is working with a really young team (the youngest in the FBS, actually) and next year is kind of a make or break year. A lot of the young talent they have will become upperclassmen and quarterback Chad Voytik now has a year of experience under his belt. Another 6-6 year might not be enough for him to lose his job but he'll be on some sort of hot seat if they again fail to get over .500.
8. Prediction time: Who wins Tuesday night and by how much?
Jim: I think Indiana does actually. Pitt has a lot to figure out yet on both sides of the ball, and they are still really missing injured senior guard, Cameron Wright. I have a hard time thinking Pitt can go into Assembly Hall and stealing one from the Hoosiers. Also, I believe Crean has Jamie Dixon's number dating back to Marquette days. I'll say Indiana 72-64.
Anson: If Indiana had a spotless record and had beaten Eastern Washington, I think they'd be the easy pick. But that loss along with the defense makes me think Pitt can win this one. Officially, I'll take the Hoosiers by seven since they get this game at home but I don't think a Pitt win would surprise anyone, either. If this were a traditional Pitt team with tough defense, I might feel otherwise. But with what we've seen so far in a few of their games, I think the IU offense is too much to overcome.
Thanks to both Anson and Jim for their answers. Funny sidenote: in my Q&A with Cardiac Hill, I predicted the Panthers to beat Indiana, even though both these guys picked the Hoosiers. The game tips off tomorrow night from Assembly Hall at 7pm on ESPN2.