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February 21, 2007

Hey there, lots going on today. Spam commenting exploded for whatever reason today. Seems like I spent half the morning dealing with that. Cinci football may still be building itself to BCS level, but good news, they can be accused of sex, recruiting and possible videotape scandals like the big boys.

Pitt is unbeaten in conference road games so far this year. I’m torn about how good that should feel. Part of me was ready to denigrate it because it included Cinci, Seton Hall and DePaul. But when you consider that DePaul has knocked off ND, Marquette and Kansas at home, that win looks pretty good. Even in a down year, beating Syracuse on the road is pretty good. Villanova was a nice win, and doing the Hoopies at the concrete toadstool always is a strong statement.

In a season where no one seems to win on the road very much, no matter what conference, this is impressive. Or as fellow fanhouse bloogger MJD (who is also the weekend editor at Deadspin) put it, “I don’t care who you are, in what conference … that is manly. It speaks to Pitt’s veteran leadership, and their ability to play a number of different styles.”

Of course, all that positive feelings about how Pitt did on the road can go right out the window if Pitt doesn’t at least get a  split in the final 2 road games.

Georgetown has a road game tonight at Cinci, so there isn’t much hype yet for the Saturday, 2pm CBS game. One thing is certain, Pitt will see more of DaJuan Summers then they did back in January.

Georgetown has been on a roll since Summers picked up on some of the Princeton-influenced nuances in the half-court offense and bought in to the urging of coach John Thompson III that he could be a defensive stopper.

Summers played a total of 44 minutes in Georgetown’s first three games. In Saturday’s win at Villanova, he was on the floor for 35. Nearly a 40 percent shooter from three-point range until he missed all four of his long-distance attempts in Philadelphia, Summers was nonetheless clutch at the free-throw line, where he made seven of eight, and he blocked a career-high four shots.

In Big East games, Summers is averaging 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and nearly 30 minutes. He defends bigs and smalls – see the clamps he put on Towson’s Gary Neal in December, and the possessions during which he checked 6-2 Scottie Reynolds at Villanova.

Summers may not have the numbers to crack the Big East All-Rookie team in this season of the freshman, but if Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Brandan Wright and Chase Budinger all take the money and run, he would be among the best sophomores in the nation next season.

In the G-town-Pitt game last month (PDF), Summers only played 21 minutes and scored only 4 points (1-5) and had 1 rebound.

I realize Pitt has played plenty of easy teams in the non-con in recent years. And that getting 20+ wins is no longer as hard as it used to be. Still, congratulations are in order for Coach Dixon in getting 100 wins and only 26 losses in just 4 seasons.

I know there is still a good amount of mixed feelings about Dixon, but there is a reason that he is considered one of the best young coaches out there right now. The only recruits left on this team that could be considered “Howland recruits” are Gray and Kendall, but they never played for him.

I agree Dixon is still learning some things — particularly with late game situations and putting a team away, but I also don’t see anyone doing a better job with this team over the past 4 years.

Dixon has been building this program as he keeps improving the recruiting. He has worked to improve the profile of the program in the community. The work he has been doing to develop and grow local basketball through the summer league and things like that. I don’t think that can be underestimated. It is the sort of thing that will pay dividends for years later for Pitt.  It’s a longview approach to helping Pitt improve the local basketball and recruiting base.





What Dixon has done can’t be discounted. But depending on where you sit there have been some major question marks regarding playing time. Degroat as a starter for the entire season? Krauser at the point??? Yuri Demetris over Mark McCaroll? Kendall over Young? What “good” coach would start Keith Benjamin in the Big East tourney after sitting him on the bench the whole year? Shouldn’t you have figured out who your best players are by then?

Many of these, again depending on how you view it, are moves that no high level coach would make. However, his regular season record speaks for itself, and even if he was handed those players on a silver platter, they still developed and did well (in the regular season) under his watch. But you also do have to ask yourself what coach in the Big East couldn’t win with this talent.

I think Dixon is improving, this year he finally found a consistent rotation and he sorta figured out that Krauser can’t run the point by the end of his tenure, but we do need to keep an eye on him. He’s too loyal to his seniors and makes reactionary decisions.

The next couple years will be the first true test as I see it. Having very good regular season records with talented teams that were handed to you and then flaming out in the NCAAs has not totally sold me yet.

Comment by J-Maile 02.21.07 @ 2:15 pm

Dixon has been doing a great job. To me, the biggest
sign of a program that is moving from building to power is a consistent increase in talent. I believe we are seeing that now, in this years recruiting class and the early commits we are seeing for 08.

Comment by dan 02.21.07 @ 2:42 pm

I’ll be at the game this wkend with about 6-8 other alumni rooting our boys on…let’s go PITT!

Comment by MoE 02.21.07 @ 4:07 pm

@J-Mail

I agree Dixon has made some questionable decisions at times and that his true test is yet to come. I hesitate to second guess on some playing time issues because we have no idea what goes on at practice.

Comment by Shablinky 02.21.07 @ 4:11 pm

That’s an interesting point about what goes on in practice and I wonder it myself. However, I’d rather see players be suspended briefly than have their playing time constantly limited. No matter how difficuly Mark McCaroll may or may not have been, he’s still light years better than Yuri-D.

Comment by J-Maile 02.21.07 @ 4:40 pm

Dixon has struggled considerably with substitution patterns and game strategy the last few years. The problem with the substitutions has been a general one — his choices never seem to fit to what is dictated by game strategy and match-up situations. He’ll stick with the same substitution pattern no matter who Pitt is playing and what style game it’s going to be. The best example of it this year is when Cook plays major minutes against certain zone teams, despite the fact that his perimeter game is limited and he can’t get much done when the lane is packed and he can’t post or penetrate.

On to the game strategy — Dixon refuses to adjust defensively when the game situation calls for it. There have been several games recently when Pitt was giving up constant penetration (I thought Eugene Harvey was going to have lunch in the lane), and going zone even for a couple possessions would have slowed down the slashing to the hoop. He doesn’t have to give up his defensive philosophy to throw a zone up for a couple trips to change the rhythym of the game. It’s not a sign of weakness and great coaches all over the country employ this strategy when they need to.

But he’s running a great program. My complaints are all game-based. I like the kids he’s recruiting and I like the fact that I don’t think we’ll see these kids embarrass the university.

Comment by tiger paul 02.21.07 @ 4:43 pm

I agree with most/all of what you’re saying paul. I actually am happy though that he’s keeping a consistent subsitution patern. It’s not ideal, but at least it beats when he’s play 11 guys in the first half of a game for no ryme or reason or put a player in for a 15 second interval. Baby steps…

As to the zone issue, I go back and forth on that one. Yes, it would be ideal if he could do that but is he, as a coach, capable of mixing defenses yet? I think there’s something to be said to perfecting what you do, especially if you are having trouble getting players to listen and enforcing principles to begin with. Of course it baffles the mind why he wouldn’t just put Gray in the middle of a 2-3 zone instead of letting him be pulled away from the hoop.

But again, I’m thrilled with the overall results so far. I just don’t know how responsible for them Dixon is.

Comment by J-Maile 02.21.07 @ 5:03 pm

only mixed feelings I have for Dixon are joy and elation. he is not perfect in substitutions, etc, but his teams consistently play hard, are a credit to the university, and have given me great joy over the last several years. He never attacks his players in print, and I think he has come a long way since he was the top assistant. I would like to see us try a match up zone next year, and we need to work on attacking the press more–but 20 wins a year in the BE, with the best % of all the teams over the last few years, and several top ten finishes, is a great achievement.

Comment by tph60 02.21.07 @ 6:23 pm

re J-Maile

I think what you say regarding practice speaks to what was a larger problem in Dixon trying to make it his team. Not that I discussed the situation at length with the players on campus, but I heard the same story over and over that Dixon couldn’t control Krauser. He represented the Howland players who were still around, and to a certain extent, Dixon owed them because they lobbied for him as a players coach. Given the fact that Knight, and now Krauser, still hang around campus and influence the younger players, I can sort of see why Dixon may have struggled in making it his own team until this point.

i’ll be at gtown on saturday. let’s go pitt!

Comment by pitt42 02.21.07 @ 7:20 pm

I frankly like the fact that Dixon is loyal to the seniors. If the goal is to build a program, that has to be the consistent goal throughout. Pitt’s plan has been, bring guys in, let them develop, and they know they’ll get rewarded. That’s allowed them to have an experienced team, and avoided the transfer bug that bites too many teams.

Comment by fred 02.21.07 @ 7:45 pm

I’m amused by the back handed praise for Dixon on this site. I wasn’t sure he was the right pick after Howland, but he has more than proven himself. He is doing an excellent job and i would extend his contract. He is sustaining a level of excellence, represents the university well and is a genuinely “nice person” to be around. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a coach. I hope he is around for a long time. Too mnay commenters think they know more about college level basketball than he does and the fact is they know very little.

Comment by TMGPanther 02.21.07 @ 8:52 pm

RE: pitt42

I’d never heard that suggested before but it makes sense. I’d say that’s all the more reason to hold off on putting him in the hall of fame yet. We’ll see in the next 4 years. I look at Dixon like a player coming off a strong freshman season. He’s got potential but there’s a lot of work left to do.

Also, Krauser’s still hanging around campus??? Keep him away from the players please!

Comment by J-Maile 02.22.07 @ 12:30 am

RE: pitt42

That makes a lot of sense if it’s true. I guess it just goes into

What’s amazing about Dixon is that in some areas the fans really are more perceptive than his is. Wow, how did the fans know John Degroat, Yuri, etc. should have had their ass on the pine, that a zone makes sense, etc.

Comment by J-Maile 02.22.07 @ 12:33 am

is it only in Pittsburgh that fans can be critical of a guy that averages 25-4 over his first four years? LOL.

The nice aspect about the criticism leveled at Dixon though is that it’s constructive criticism – pointing out areas where he could do a better job in certain aspects of his game calling. That’s being good fans really. And, its nice that local HS BB players are looking PITT’s way first now it seems.

Down here in the MD/DC area the papers are finally starting to believe Georgetown is for real. The problem here is that everyone compares any current team to the early ’80s Hoyas when Ewing was taking them to NCAA title games.

Here’s hoping PITT finishes out the regular season on a roll and has a good BE tourny….

Comment by Reed 02.22.07 @ 4:39 am

J-Maile

1. Carl Krauser told me that he thinks you suck. 2. Jamie Dixon is doing more then anyone could ask for with this program. He has been the head coach for 4 years and it dosn’t take that long to turn a winner into a loser just look at our football team.

Comment by Tony in Harrisburg 02.22.07 @ 7:41 am

TMGPanther: I think people who have played organized basketball and/or watched it closely for many years are fully capable of commenting on a college basketball coach’s performance.

Dixon has done well. It’s hard to dispute his record. But I think it’s obvious from the many lackluster performances or 10-15 minute stretches of subpar play that Dixon has problems controlling his players and getting them to play hard for an entire game. Anybody can dispute tactical decisions during a game, but, for instance, when you watch Florida play, rarely do you see a lack of energy or 5-10 minutes stretches where players routinely make dumb decisions or don’t seem to know what they should be doing (Louisville press anyone?). And Billy Donovan has no more coaching experience than Dixon does.

Dixon has done a good job, but, IMO, he still has some serious shortcomings as a coach.

Comment by Carmen 02.22.07 @ 8:26 am

I agree with a lot of what you are saying RE: getting the players to play hard for 40 minutes and the mental lapses from time to time. However, I don’t agree with you that Florida doesn’t go through them or any team for that matter. Florida routinely goes through 5-10 minute stretches of lackadaisical play and suspect effort. I think it is something that is going to happen in college basketball. You can’t help it, these are kids.

Also, Donovan has been the head coach at Florida for 11 years, Dixon has been a head coach for only 4. Big difference in experience.

I think Dixon is excellent and believe he is only going to get better. Just look at how much his public speaking has improved. He has also developed a rapport with the media and is generally well liked in the community and college basketball circles. I was very impressed with his choices for assistants. If he continues to surround himself with young and hungry coaches that complement his strengths and weaknesses the program is only going to get better.

Comment by Omar 02.22.07 @ 10:23 am

“But you also do have to ask yourself what coach in the Big East couldn’t win with this talent.” I really don’t understand where J-maile is coming from in concluding that Dixon isn’t getting the most out of the players’abilities. IMO, the exact opposite is true. If anything, he is getting good, but not great, players to overachieve. There are plenty of coaches out there (including some in the BE) who wouldn’t have won 20 games with Pitt’s overall player talent level the past several seasons.

Comment by Pitt72 02.22.07 @ 1:19 pm

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that guys not being NBA players means they aren’t talented. Who would you rather have than the players Pitt has right now? Not what team is going to have the best pros 3 years from now. You can’t really think that there are coaches that would have taken that team from Howland and not won 20 games.

Comment by J-Maile 02.22.07 @ 2:54 pm

J-Maile–Obviously we live on different planets. I absolutely do believe that at least half the coaches in the BE would not have won 20 games with the talent Dixson has had to work with. The primary reason for that is they would not have gotten these guys to buy into a team first system and to all be unselfish contributors since they generally don’t accomplish that with their own guys. Lots of teams, including BE teams had, and have, just as much or even more talent than Pitt and have not had the same W-L success simply because their coaches don’t get their guys to play hard nosed defense and unselfish team offense.

Comment by Pitt72 02.22.07 @ 7:23 pm

I wouldn’t say they were unselfish in the past… some of that might have just been Krauser’s ball-hogging though. This is the first year I really like the way the ball moves around on offense. That’s fair that every coach can’t get theri team to be unselfish or play defense. However, talent wise, Cook, Graves, Fields, and Young could start for any team in the conference (except maybe Marquette) and Gray is an enormous difference between them and everyone else. You put Gray on Seton Hall and they’re dancing.

Comment by J-Maile 02.22.07 @ 8:44 pm

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