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February 12, 2013

Taking Care of the Ball By Three

Filed under: Basketball,Numbers — Chas @ 8:13 am

So the theme in today’s stories for Pitt basketball is sharing the ball and assists.

One time it was Pitt power forward Talib Zanna zipping it to a cutting Lamar Patterson from the right corner; the next, center Steven Adams was slipping a bounce pass to Zanna from the high post.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin called it inexcusable that Pitt players dunked on the Bearcats’ zone defense.

Jamie Dixon finds it inconceivable that the Panthers’ passing isn’t discussed more, given their propensity for finding open players and for those passes leading to points.

“We’re not tops in the country in assists for nothing,” Dixon said. “We do it year after year. It’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough, except for (Pitt radio color analyst) Dick Groat. He’s the only guy that seems to talk about our passing.”

The Panthers rank among the nation’s leaders in both assists (sixth, 17.2 a game) and assists-to-turnover ratio (second, 1.57). They have averaged at least 15 assists a game every season since Dixon became coach in 2003-04, ranking as high as fourth (17.4) in 2010-11 and sixth (18.0) in 2008-09.

Good team numbers.

It’s what Coach Dixon wants. A team that doesn’t waste too many possessions and tries to get the best shot. Offensive efficiency is what the cool kids call it.

Pitt does not have a prolific scorer, but Dixon boasts one of the most efficient offenses in NCAA Division I. According to, which tracks adjusted offensive efficiency, the Panthers are ninth among all Division I teams.

Adjusted offensive efficiency is points scored per 100 possessions. Pitt plays in a lot of low possession games, so though the Panthers might not be scoring a lot of points (66.2 ppg in Big East play), they are making the most of their possessions.

“We had balance, nine guys scoring,” Dixon said of his team’s performance at Cincinnati. “We take what’s available. That’s what we do. That’s why our offensively efficiency is so high year after year. We’re at the top of the country. You can’t rely on one play, one set or one player.”

I kind of disagree. Pitt does not rely on one player, per se, but they rely so heavily on the backcourt to keep the offense in rhythm. Those beautiful A/TO numbers. That’s really just three players: James Robinson, Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson. Here are the assists and turnovers by player:

If you look at that, Cam Wright is the only other Pitt player to have more assists than turnovers. The other six players are all below 1:1 A/TO.  It is a measure, though, of Zeigler’s improvement from the start of the year that he is inching closer to 1:1. Moore is actually improved from last year when it comes to taking care of the ball (16:37)

We saw it last year when Tray Woodall went down. Not enough guys who were able to take care of the ball. It’s better this year on that front with Robinson instead of Gibbs.

This isn’t necessarily uncommon. The frontcourt generally has more turnovers than assists. It’s that Zanna and Adams aren’t even close to 1:1. Wing players like Zeigler, Johnson and I’ll lump Moore in there as well. They aren’t far off the pace, but should still be slightly above 1:1.

Next year, the overall numbers will be better. With Josh Newkirk coming and the increased experience and skill from the frontcourt players — to reduce their turnover numbers. Of course, when players finish their shots, it tends to help those assist numbers more. That is also something I expect to see improved next year. Pitt’s overall shooting percentage.

Very nice post. Over the last 10 years when people have criticised Pitt’s offense, I wondered what they were looking at. It was hard for me to watch other college teams just run and shoot. I’ve long felt that Pitt’s passing sets them apart from other teams. Just like I loved watching the back door cuts of Pete Carill’s Princeton teams. I loved the interior passing and the defence that had become a Pitt trademarks. Pitt teams work the ball. Just watch how Pitt cuts up Syracuse’s zone whenever they play.

Comment by Justinian 02.12.13 @ 8:33 am

It’s funny, when I watch other teams play, especially ACC or Big 12 teams, I am struck by their impatience and poor decisions on offense, because it is in such stark contrast to watching Pitt play. That said, I do wish this particular team would run a little more, they have the quickness, especially in the front court to do it.

No team passes better on the interior than Pitt. And Patterson is such a good passer, he may be the best non-PG passer Pitt has had.

Comment by Iron Duke 02.12.13 @ 9:16 am

JJ Moore got an assist last game

Comment by wbb 02.12.13 @ 9:45 am

I really want to be wrong, but I the tourney you need “that guy” to carry the team and I think that’s where PITT has fallen short. Maybe this will be the team to prove me wrong.

Comment by Pittastic 02.12.13 @ 9:52 am

Pittastic, we don’t have a Dwayne Wade, Kemba Walker or Anthony Davis so (this year at least) we will need a team effort to advance.

Now next year if Adams stays, this could change.

Comment by wbb 02.12.13 @ 10:20 am

I also worry that Pitt’s lack of a go-to scorer will eventually be their downfall, but the efficiency stats are really interesting. The thing that is really setting Pitt apart this season (and hopefully continues to do so) is their defensive efficiency. Pitt is one of two teams (Florida being the other) that are currently rated in the top 10 of the Pomeroy ratings in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Historically, teams that have made deep tournament runs have been rated highly on both sides of the ball. Contrary to popular belief, for most of the Dixon era Pitt has been more efficient offensively than defensively. I believe event he highly successful Blair/Young/Fields team was much better offensively than defensively (2nd in adjusted offense, 35th in adjusted defense). Statistically, the way this Pitt team is playing should be very encouraging for Pitt fans.

Comment by Pantherman13 02.12.13 @ 10:53 am

I hear a twinge of defiance in Jamie’s quotes in this post. Maybe he’s getting tired of getting beaten up being a “system” coach. I like it.

Comment by Iron Duke 02.12.13 @ 11:32 am

I think my comment got eaten by the spam detector, so I’m going to try again. Luke Winn posted an article recently about correlation between O and D Eff and tourney success. It’s an interesting read.

sportsillustrated .cnn. com/college-basketball/news/20130118/college-basketball-early-warnings/
(Remove the spaces)

Comment by Brendan 02.12.13 @ 11:43 am

Iron Duke, agree, Jamie does sound edgy and I like it also

Comment by wbb 02.12.13 @ 12:04 pm

I think everyone agrees that this team has improved as the conference schedule progressed.The question as I see it is will we continue to improve?The great thing about the Cincinatti win in my oppinion is that we didn’t play our best and still won by 10.We have a half dozen more games to hopefully climb another notch of the improvement ladder.Foul shooting,finishing inside,and boxing out are all areas where we need to get better.With continued improvement this team could beat anyone and with a couple breaks could do anything.There isn’t any team in college basketball this year that we have to fear playing.With improvement why can’t Pitt win it all?

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 12:21 pm

I, too, agree with the sentiment that you need a go-to guy in the tournament. The only teams that survive without one are those teams (a la 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats, back-to-back Florida Gators) that are absolutely stacked at every position.

Comment by MikePITT 02.12.13 @ 12:43 pm

But, of course, I hope that Pitt can realize some success. I expect one to two wins in the tournament and I will be completely satisfied given where we were last season.

Comment by MikePITT 02.12.13 @ 12:43 pm

My opinion: if this Pitt team makes 65+% of their free throws they will win out going into the BET and get a low seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of how they do in the BET.

Comment by MariettaMike 02.12.13 @ 1:07 pm

I think if Pitt gets past Marquette, then looking at a record of 26-5 or 25-6, which would be a 13-1 or 12-2 run to close the regular season. Win a game or two in the BET then we are talking a 2 or 3 seed. With such a high seed then anything can happen.

A go to guy is nice. But there have been plenty of teams lately without a go to guy that have gone far in March. I think if you don’t have a go to guy you need tons of depth, which the team clearly has. Plus, I think Adams might have enough go to in him this year.

Comment by Wardapalooza 02.12.13 @ 1:41 pm

Excluding conference champions–in this case, they’re picking Syracuse–Pitt is ranked #7 in all remaining at-large bids, by USAToday.

link to

Comment by Lou 02.12.13 @ 1:52 pm

Right now, Lunardi has us as a 5 seed going to San Jose to play Belmont (ugh) in the Midwest Bracket (Indy) with Indiana (1), Gonzaga (2), Louisville (3) and K State (4).

Comment by Pitt Dad 02.12.13 @ 1:58 pm

Lou if you look at that list I think there is a few possible national champs on it.Proves the point that we are starting to look like a contender.Early in the season we looked like we might not even make the dance.Anymore improvement and we won’t just be dancin’, we will all be doing the bad boogaloo!!!

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 2:02 pm

I have Pitt as automatic bid, for winning the Big East Tournament.

Comment by Justinian 02.12.13 @ 2:20 pm

I want Pitt in Austin dammit.

Comment by TX Panther 02.12.13 @ 2:29 pm

Pitt Dad, Lunardi isn’t too keen on Pitt. He has us at 18 in his power rankings.I respect him as a brcaket expert but thinkl his projection would reflect a current worst case scenario.I hate that projection and sure hope our path avoids Indiana in Indiana and would prefer to avoid the Zags altogether.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 2:43 pm

@Spirit – I agree and, in addition, I don’t put too much stock in any of these “if the season ended now” projections. If the season really ended now, that means there’s probably no tournament (and we may not have to worry about a new Pope either).

By contrast, Jerry Palm also has us as a 5, playing the winner of Iowa State/St. Mary’s in Kansas City. He also has us in the Indy bracket but with Michigan (1), Arizona (2 – hello Sean), Butler (3 – ugh) and Kansas.

It’s still too early for any consensus to develop.

Comment by Pitt Dad 02.12.13 @ 3:05 pm

KenPom says we’re ranked 5 behind Florida, Indiana, Louisville and Michigan. I’ll take that at this point in this season particularly afer what happened last year.

Comment by Pitt Dad 02.12.13 @ 3:06 pm

Pitt Dad, I think it is time for those on this site to take the approach that last year didn’t happen.I certainly can’t remember it and I find this self induced amnesia to be a very healthy alternative.Why,what happenned last year?

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 3:37 pm

Lunardi mostly uses RPI because it is what the selection committee uses. It is a horrible computer system from the 80s that has Pitt at 30th while the good modern ranking systems have us between 5th and 7th. Hopefully winning the last few games gets our RPI up to where our real ranking is so that we get a good seed from the committee.

Comment by Patric 02.12.13 @ 3:42 pm

It is much more important to have great guard play, than it is to have a “go to guy”.

In the last 25 years there have really only been three champions that have had that one dominant player;

1988 Kansas – Danny Manning
2003 Syracuse – Carmelo Anthony
2011 Connecticut – Kemba Walker

All the rest had multiple go to guys and all had GREAT guard play.

Teams can stop one guy, best example 1984 #1 ranked UNC team got beat by Indiana, Dan Dakich took Michael Jordan out of the game, held him to 13 points.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 02.12.13 @ 3:56 pm

Boubacar, You’re absolutely right. It’s a very different game today. The 3 point shot has totally changed the way the game is played. In the 60s and 70s they would say, “the game is won in the paint’ and it was. Teams would play a lot of zone and make you take outside shots. The teams with the dominant centers Lew Alcinder, Bill Walton, Hakim Olajuawan, etc. were the teams to beat. Today the game is won “between the foul lines” and the guard play matters more. If you control the middle of the floor, you can contol the game.

Comment by Justinian 02.12.13 @ 5:53 pm

Am I correct that if Pitt so wishes they can add 2 more recruits for next year? Because of Johnson and Gilbert leaving?

Comment by marcus of schaumburg 02.12.13 @ 6:44 pm

Is anybody else shocked at how far and how fast JJ Moore’s game has fallen off the map?

I was looking forward to see what he’d do with more playing time, but he doesn’t play much … and looks like a shell of his former self when he does. Like maybe he’s sick or something.

Anybody know what’s wrong with him? Just a slump?

Comment by Imma Man! Im 40! 02.12.13 @ 7:24 pm

Marcus, I would certainly think so. You have a total number of scholarships. Maybe someone out there can offer clarification on the total number.

Comment by Justinian 02.12.13 @ 7:31 pm

Imma Man! Im 40!, I think it’s a relative thing. I don’t think he’s regressed from last year. It’s just that everyone around him is better.

Comment by steve1 02.12.13 @ 7:48 pm

1, yes, they have 2 schollies available. Yyou are allowed 13 schollies. They have 10 active, 1 redshirt (not counting walk-ons), and 2 seniors … but 2 commits so that leaves 2.

Trouble is that almost all the good ones have signed LOIs, but I would have to believe Jamie will go after a JUCO center since they sorely will need frontcourt depth next season.

2. Speaking of frontcourt depth, I don’t think JJ Moore is meant to play the 4 but is forced to play there. Even though he oftn plays on the perimeter, I would have to think it is affecting his play.

Comment by wbb 02.12.13 @ 8:21 pm

Great guards can take you far come tourney time. Pitt has some good ones and they may just catch fire in time. A dominant big guy is also needed and Pitt has at least one. Two others have been known to show up as well. No pure shooter however. That could be the achilles.

Comment by TX Panther 02.12.13 @ 8:21 pm

My it’s my inherent pessimism as a Pitt fan, but I don’t see this particular team making much noise in the tournament. Not enough talent, offensively. This scoring by committee approach is what they have to do because they don’t have anybody who can consistently give them 14-16 points a game. It’s a weakness masquerading as a strength.

Comment by Jeff 02.12.13 @ 8:41 pm

wbb, I was going to echo your commments. J.J. Moore is a 3 guard playing the 4 spot, because Khem Birch left Pitt in a bind. When Birch decided to come a to Pitt a year early, that put Pitt over the limit and they pulled the scholarship from a gritty Pitt style power forward, his name escapes me, who they had recruited. So when Birch left they got doubly burned. J.J. is filling in as needed in the 4 spot to spell Zanna.

Comment by Justinian 02.12.13 @ 8:41 pm

jeff,You are right except you overlook our D.We score 65 we win.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 8:47 pm

Moore has been drawing charges with regularity and has made effort towards being a better rebounder.He isn’t shooting well though,and I don’t think that will continue. He is due to have a good game.Hope it is Saturday

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.12.13 @ 8:50 pm

Jeff our offense is just fine, we have the 9th most efficient in the country. We just also have the third slowest pace so it makes the offense look bad but it really is quite good. Points per game is meaningless, points per possession is what matters and we are scoring 1.05 in Big East play which is tied for fourth in the conference.

Comment by Patric 02.12.13 @ 8:54 pm

I’m a believer in moneyhoops, authored by Ken Pomeroy.

He has us 5th in the galaxy.

I’m livin’ in the moment.

Comment by steve1 02.12.13 @ 9:00 pm

Michigan is getting trounced by Mich State. It’s at MSU, but still. I have to believe that were the Panthers to play the Wolverines again, the outcome would be different.

Comment by Lou 02.12.13 @ 11:05 pm

The old fashioned ass kicking administered by MSU is further proof that improving during a season is the true test of coaching.
MSU consistently exceeds others in that category and is why Izzo ain’t afraid of scheduling tough games in December.
IMO, it is Jamie’s only flaw.
I suspect and hope that as soon as he takes a team to the Final Four, he will have gained enough clout to internally convince himself, and others, that henceforth his teams will be given the measure of respect that ALL other teams with final four coaches get.
Therein is the significance of getting to a final four. A very important prop from the Wizards bag.
As for Michigan…toast? No, but the way to beat them is common knowledge and they have reached their peak.

Comment by SFPitt 02.13.13 @ 12:58 am

I think the reason that Jamie’s teams peak early than the others is because he usually has more returnees than the others with his 4 year players, plus not as steep a learning curve

Comment by wbb 02.13.13 @ 7:44 am

wbb,You theory makes sense,and I would add that we haven’t ever had depth at guard.Late in the season we seemed to have tired at the position after too many 35 minute games.I think this team sees Jamie taking a diferent approach and I am all for it.I think one of the reasons Mcgee struggled in both the BE and NCAA tourneys his senior year was because he was used to playing about 30 minutes until Zanna broke his thumb and couldn’t spell him.That makes a big diference in both 1 point losses.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.13.13 @ 3:13 pm

I am pleasantly surprised that Patterson’s assist to turnover margin is so favorable. Shame on me!
Only Adams’ stats are poor and I would love to those stats over the last 10 games.
But you are only as good as your next game and the Warriors are next. They are going over the game film from the G’Town game ad naseum. We will not catch them by surprise and not giving anything but their best.
As far as I am concerned, this is the biggest game of the year.
Will our Panthers be ready? All hands on deck for this one! Let us win or let no man come back alive!

Comment by SFPitt 02.13.13 @ 5:32 pm

I think this game looms as easier than Cincinatti as although marquette has done well and exceeded expectations,reality is starting to set in.They are good not very good and we aren’t the same team without Woodall.I think we will handle them even though it’s a tough place to play.Zanna and Adams should be way better inside this time and I bet Woodall brings his A game.

Comment by spiritofsection22 02.13.13 @ 7:30 pm

I did not see the first game, but I did see the game against G’Town. Marquette did not play poorly. The Hoyas are a different team too. Hope you are right.
Am watching WVUlgar play Baylor. Huggins looks like a giant blue pumpkin. Better get the cardio crew at Pgh international.
Man o man, the travel they have to contend with is brutal. Thank God we aren’t in the Dust Bowl conference.

Comment by SFPitt 02.13.13 @ 9:53 pm

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