The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 29, 2013

Pitt basketball to adapt to ACC style

PITTSBURGH — Jamie Dixon means it this time. No, really, he does.

The Pittsburgh coach insists he’s not kidding when he says it might be time to loosen the reins as the Panthers move from the bruising and brutal Big East to the more wide open ACC.

“We’ll run a little better and be a little bit more skilled on the floor,” Dixon said. “I think we’ve got a good group and I think we’ve got a versatile group.”

One Dixon hopes can still bring the intensity on defense. Just because he’s more willing to let the Panthers get out on the open floor doesn’t mean he wants them entirely abandon the formula that made them perennial contenders in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, including a 24-9 mark last year.

The ACC figures to be just as tough, if in a slightly different way. The question, sophomore forward Durand Johnson said, might not be whether Pitt is ready for the ACC but whether the ACC is ready for the Panthers.

“We’re just used to being tough and having that mindset going into every game compared to teams that haven’t been coached like that, that haven’t been through the battles we have,” Johnson said. “That just gives us the upper hand.”

Maintaining it, however, is another matter entirely. The Panthers are going to have to score at some point if they want keep pace with ACC super powers Duke and North Carolina.

Where that scoring will come from is among the five big questions Pitt is pondering as it prepares for its season opener against Savannah State on Nov. 8:

Talib’s time: More than a few eyebrows were raised when center Steven Adams left Pitt after one uneven season with the Panthers. The move was validated when Oklahoma City made the 7-footer a lottery pick. His absence will force the Panthers to rely more on the athletic Talib Zanna. The 6-foot-9 senior from Nigeria lacks Adams’ physical presence but possesses long arms and loves to run the floor.

The key, however, will be how Zanna performs when the competition ramps up. He dominated nonconference play last season but disappeared when the calendar flipped to January. He only reached double figures in scoring in three of Pitt’s final 17 games.

Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood: Point guard James Robinson proved to be every bit the calming presence the Panthers needed to run Dixon’s motion offense last year. Now Dixon needs Robinson to do more than distribute the ball and be his team’s best perimeter defender. Dixon needs Robinson to score.

It’s something he did only sporadically as a freshman, but if Robinson wants to create space for the likes of Durand Johnson and Josh Newkirk, he knows he’ll have to make defenses step out to defend him. Robinson spent most of the summer working on his jumper. Dixon praised it for being more free flowing and less mechanical. Robinson is more concerned about whether it’s effctive.

Jumping Johnson: While Dixon had to practically beg Robinson to shoot the ball, there were no such problems with Johnson. The freshman was practically fearless last season, a trait that both endeared the athletic 6-foot-6 swingman to his coach and exasperated him at the same time.

Dixon would love for Johnson to become more than a spot-up shooter, and Johnson has the build and the athleticism to get to the rim. The Panthers have needed a slasher for years. Johnson might be the answer.

“He’s got to make good decisions and it’s something I think he’s improved at,” Dixon said. “I like where he’s at. He’s going to be a good player for us.”

Freshman frenzy: Cracking the lineup as a first-year player can be difficult at Pitt. Dixon puts a premium on defense, something it can take a full season or two to learn. Freshman Josh Newkirk, however, may be the exception. The 6-1 guard, who is from the same Raleigh, N.C., high school as NBA star John Wall, has wowed his teammates with his blurring speed and quick hands.

There’s a chance Newkirk could spend time on the floor alongside Robinson, a strategy that worked well at times last season when Robinson and senior Tray Woodall worked as co-point guards.

Selfish Patterson?: Senior forward Lamar Patterson might be Pitt’s best all-around player. It might be time for him to become one of its most selfish. Patterson is a stat box filler, averaging 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists over the last two seasons. He showed a flair for the dramatic last year, often finding the ball in his hands late in tight games.

It’s likely to happen again this winter as Pitt tries to establish its own identity in a crowded conference. Patterson has spent most of his career deferring to teammates. He’ll need to be the one deferred to if the Panthers want to make a splash.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Penguins 0419 Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT

    Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
    Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0419 Brewers rally to clip Pirates

    Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
    Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon

    The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897.  Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.

    April 19, 2014

  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014