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Panther Hollow: Less Is Moore Up Front

J.J. Moore

(File Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — There are players on Jamie Dixon’s bench who, conceivably, could start for a number of Division I teams, and conventional wisdom says J.J. Moore is one. Should Dixon shake things up at forward?

It’s no secret Talib Zanna has regressed in Big East play. Averaging 10.9 points per game overall, he remains barely ahead of Tray Woodall as Pitt’s leading scorer, but Zanna is shooting just 30.3% (10-of-33) from the field over his last four outings, and hasn’t topped ten points since netting 15 in the Panthers’ dominant win at Georgetown Jan. 8. That was only the second time he reached double figures against a Big East foe.

However, the 6’9″ redshirt junior still serves a purpose. He’s grabbed a combined 22 rebounds in the last two games, and if you scrutinize numbers the way Dixon does, he’s been generally more active off the defensive glass lately.

Moore, listed at 6’6″, is averaging 6.5 points per game in Big East play, which may look like a sharp contrast to Zanna’s 7.9, but the argument to give him starting minutes is understandable when you consider he’s shooting 44% (11-of-25) from the field over that same four-game stretch. Plus, he leads the team with an 86% clip at the foul line–a recent bugaboo for the Panthers–and has made 11 of his last 12 free throws entering tonight’s 9:00 P.M. contest between No. 23 Pitt (6-4, 18-5) and Seton Hall (2-7, 13-9) at the Petersen Events Center.

Having said that, I would resist the temptation to swap Zanna for Moore if I were Dixon, at least now that the team is coming off a signature victory, and maybe its most complete effort all season. Fellow frontcourt member Steven Adams, the target of much greater scrutiny, has picked up the offensive slack on some level, and Zanna is the first to admit he’s a marked man. As he himself said, if there is calmness and simplicity in his approach, the offense will come back organically.

While we were chuckling from a distance at Pitt’s “CBIncredible” postseason journey last spring, a light bulb seemed to go on for Zanna during that tournament. Who’s to say it won’t come on again before the gaudier tournaments commence?

That is not to say Moore didn’t also benefit from playing those extra games. But if there is a hole in his game lately, it’s shot selection. Statistically, he looks like a three, but if I’m looking strictly at bottom line, he might be better off playing like a four. Too often he tries to shoot around defenses instead of attacking them, and part of why Pitt upset a team of Syracuse’s caliber is, as Dixon noted, it didn’t attempt to use long-range shooting as a crutch.

Pitt’s M.O. has been to play respectable defense for as long as it takes the offense to find its rhythm, and to pull away from opponents in the second half. All things constant, I want Zanna, one of my most capable defenders, to get those early minutes, and I want Moore out there in the paint and on the line late in the game when the other team’s interior is running out of gas.

Panther Preview with Andrew Fillipponi and Julius Page gets going at 8:00 P.M. tonight on your flagship home for Pitt men’s basketball, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

For more check out the Panther Hollow blog at 937thefan.com.