Huggins came out with a perfect game plan last night (say what you want about the man off of the court but he knows his way around the game of basketball) when he decided to have the ‘Eers turn the game into a slow-ball slugfest in the first half. With his bench largely nonexistent these days and a real absence of offensive firepower in his starting lineup (*ahem* Cam Thoroughman) Huggy decided to bank on his still excellent defense, an extraordinarily slow pace and this Pitt team’s surprising willingness to play what the media assumes to be “Panther basketball”. And for the first half that plan absolutely worked, the game was played at an absolutely glacial 25 possessions in the first half and WVU went into the locker room with a 31-30 lead on a last second tip in…likely precisely how Huggins drew it up pregame on the whiteboard.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the second half was a different animal however, as for the first time in weeks Panther Basketball v2.0 made an extended appearance and we got to see the team that romped through the early part of the Big East schedule. And no single factor was more important to the return of the Panther offense than they play of Brad Wannamaker as the lead ball-handler. The lack of a true, experienced point guard does occasionally mean that the Panthers lose control of the tempo of the game…this is not to say that Ashton Gibbs and Tra Woodall do not do an admirable job at the position, because they do, but neither of them are a maestro of controlling pace and they tend to play at whatever speed that the game around them is flowing (largely Gibbs) or attempt to move faster without bringing their teammates along (largely Woodall).
When Wanamaker is running the show it is a different animal altogether. One thing that I didn’t realize about Gibbs’ absence until last night was just how little of the ballhandling chores that Wanamaker was involved in but, outside of the Villanova game, Woodall was keying the offense 83% of the time when he was starting, leaving Wanamaker a far smaller slice of the pie than he had been handling earlier in the year. Conveniently enough that was also the part of the year when the Panthers were at their most efficient. Last night in the second half Wanamaker finally got back to being the primary decision maker and when he did the Panthers stopped waiting around for the fierce Mountaineer defense to set up. Pitt squeezed 32 possessions (matching our season average pace) into the second half of a game that only featured 25 in the first half and, in doing so, turned a 1 point deficit into a 13 point win.
Ortg: 124.6 Drtg: 101.8 eFG%: 62.8% FTR: 42.6 A/TO: 2.88 OR%: 30.8%