Like the exchange almost a month to the day ago, Chas from Pitt Blather has kindly answered a trio of catching up questions on the Pittsburgh Panthers prior to Saturday's afternoon matchup in Madison Square Garden, so we know a little more about what has changed since the January 26 meeting at the Petersen Center in Pittsburgh.
1- So, what's Pitt's current postseason status - seeding, potential, etc?
Right now Pitt is playing for a top-4 seed in the NCAA and Big East Tournaments. Both are achievable. The thing about this Pitt team, is that their margin of error seems very small to me. They play very well, and they are coached very well but I don't see any game as a gimmee.
Especially once the NCAA Tournament gets underway. It will be very hard for me -- or most rational Pitt fans -- to see this season as anything but a huge overachieving season exceeding all expectations if Pitt makes it to the Sweet 16.
2- What's changed since last time the teams met?
Well, Jermaine Dixon is healthy. He was already missing practice time with a sore ankle -- that he further aggravated in the last meeting. That adds defensive intensity. Also, guard Travon Woodall has found his confidence and is back in the rotation, creating more depth and taking some pressure off of Ashton Gibbs.
Really, it just seems to be players still improving. Gary McGhee has displayed noticeably more confidence in games lately. Calling for the ball. Better passing back outside.
3- What happened against Notre Dame, and what flaw did the Irish expose?
It seemed to me to be a combination of things. On the Pitt side, the effort was off on defense. They were a step slow. Whether it was just a combination of fatigue (ND hadn't played since the previous Wednesday while Pitt played Thursday and Sunday) and the letdown after the big Villanova game. The general lethargic play of Pitt -- too willing to settle for jumpers on offense, being outhustled for looseballs and rebounds, -- was not the norm. Plus road games in the Big East are never easy.
Credit ND. They played a fantastic game. They were knocking down 3s -- open and contested. They had some fantastic ball movement last night. It was a very efficient and impressive offensive performance. Especially since it was never an up-and-down game. ND showed a patience I did not think they had in them.
Between them hitting their shots and a defense that packed it inside, they goaded Pitt into settling for jumpers and not getting it inside or driving to the hoop.