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Bulls Recon: Cardiac Hill Talks Pitt Basketball

Welcome back to the latest edition of Bulls Recon. Today we have the guys at Cardiac Hill helping us out today in preparation of the game tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. In this edition, we talk Tray Woodall, the Curious Case of Khem Birch, and Big East ACC Expansion.


1. This is a completely different team now that Tray Woodall is finally healthy. What has he brought to the team that was missing when he was injured?

The biggest thing to point out that his loss didn't just affect the team in terms of just missing one player. His absence forced Ashton Gibbs to play the point - somethng he's not really meant to do. That also caused a domino effect and Pitt was forced to play some young guards more than they wanted to. Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright are two freshmen guards who Jamie Dixon probably didn't anticipate playing as much as they did. True freshman John Johnson also got some starts and while he had been playing before, moving him to the starting lineup meant the bench took a small hit. The big thing is that those three freshmen weren't able to nearly account for Woodall's ability - and it showed.

2. Does Coach Dixon like to run a lot of zone defense? Please tell me he's running a lot of man to man. Please?
The old days of strictly man to man may be over. Pitt has actually been playing quite a bit of zone and mixing it up in games. The thing I give Dixon credit for is the fact that he switched to the zone when he realized man to man wasn't working. Not sure what Pitt will roll out there on Wednesday, but we might see a bit of both - especially if he starts out in a zone and South Florida is able to knock down some shots.

3. What's the deal with Khem Birch's transfer? Has Coach Dixon been forced to go small with the lack of depth in the post?
The Birch transfer was really befuddling. Birch is probably the only one who really knows what went down as even Dixon seemed really confused when it happened. Factoring in tweets from a few ex-players, it sounded as if he was expecting to play more than he had. Birch chalked some of it up to teammates possibly being jealous of his stature as a top recruit and also said it was about Pitt's style of play as he was told it would be more up-tempo. That may be true, but if you've watched the program over the past decade, that's just not been their style. And even if that was the plan, he shouldn't have expected to happen overnight.
The fact that he wanted out didn't upset me - players have the right to go where they want. What bothered me was that he left after only ten games and really put his teammates in a bind. It would have been nice to see him stick around for the remainder of the year if he was truly unhappy.
Because of that, Dixon has had to play smaller lineups as you mention, but the other thing that's happened is true freshman Malcolm Gilbert is seeing time as a backup center. He's the only player taller than 6'9" on the roster and an already thin frontcourt has gotten even thinner. Worse yet is that Gilbert was expected to redshirt and Pitt was forced to burn it. He's looked okay at times, but really could have benefitted from having the year to learn and grow in practice.

4. How do you feel about being assigned to the Coastal Division when you switch over to the ACC?

I haven't seen many Pitt fans complain about it, to be honest. Everyone seems swept up in the fact that we 'get' to play Virginia Tech, Miami, and Georgia Tech every year. Fun. I would have preferred to see Syracuse have that honor instead because that's clearly the tougher of the two divisions if you ask me. There will be years when Pitt wins some of those games, but the program isn't going to be able to win that division right away if you ask me. While fans might think it's fun right now, I think their tune will change after a few 6-6 (and that might even be a little generous in some years) seasons.

5. What's the word on new football HC Paul Chryst? You feel confident in his ability to finally push Pitt to the next level?

Generally the Chryst hire is accepted as a good one. Personally, I love the hire and think it was the right way to go. I wasn't impressed by Todd Graham when his hire was first announced and was even less so with Michael Haywood. I'm not saying Chryst will definitely fix everything, but I think the program is more stable now. I give the hire a B+/A- ... it's about as good as they could have done.

His 'problem' is that he's entering a slightly more competitive league now than what Pitt's been accustomed to. In the Big East before the new additions, I think he would have been able to win the conference. But starting over as a program and playing a bit of a tougher schedule will be a bit difficult to start.

6. Finally, how do you see this one finishing?

What a difference a player makes, right? A couple of weeks ago and I'd have probably leaned towards USF. I'd be lying if I said playing South Florida on the road didn't scare me. The Bulls have only lost once at home this season and that was to UConn. But I don't think the other teams USF has beaten quite match up to Pitt with a healthy Woodall. And the fact that the Panthers went on the road to beat West Virginia this week was huge. They've also played well on the road in all of their games except at Notre Dame ... and that was Woodall's first game back the first time around when he clearly wasn't healthy (since he sat out several more games after that). Pitt has been winning games, but not blowing teams out of the water, winning by no more than 12 in their recent streak. I'll take the Panthers, but only by about six points or so. Let's make it 70-64.


Thanks again to Cardiac Hill for helping us out today, and make sure to head over to CH to see my answers to his questions on the site.