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September 27, 2013

Morning Madness tomorrow. Local press conference/interviews yesterday.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Pitt plans to be more up-tempo on offense and try to score more in transition.

“I definitely think we can do more in transition this year,” point guard James Robinson said.

“We have a lot of great athletes on the team, a lot of guys who are interchangeable at times. But you look at Talib Zanna, he is one of, if not the, fastest player on the team.

“I don’t know how many teams can say their big man is that fast, so with Talib’s ability to get out and run with our guys on the wing we should definitely be running the floor and out running the lanes.”

Zanna added: “I think we are more athletic. People say we are small, but I don’t think that is going to be an issue because everybody is running up and down the court. Even when we play bigger, we can run and we have good point guards who push the ball and have good court vision.”

Those sentiments were echoed by just about every player Thursday at Petersen Event Center, strange talk from a team that historically has been defensive minded.

It’s not that I don’t believe them…

It’s just that I’ve heard this song before. And I understand the players’ optimism. Heck, I even understand Coach Jamie Dixon being optimistic about playing faster.

“Josh [Newkirk] brings a real extra higher gear to us offensively that we have never had,” said Dixon, who made it clear the core principles of defense and rebounding will still be the team’s foundation.

“I think he is probably the quickest guy that we have ever had. It doesn’t mean he is the best guy we have ever had, but [speed] is a good thing to start with.

“Talib is really going to be a factor and I anticipate him putting up good numbers for us at that position. We will have big wings, big guards; we will have good size and we will run a little better, and I think we will be a little more skilled on the floor.

“The thing about being able to run is it isn’t about your guards usually, it is can your big men get down the floor ahead of things, and with Talib and some of the other guys we can do that.”

Honestly, I can see Pitt doing more in transition and being able to play more uptempo in spurts. But it will require someone being able to step-up  as a shooting guard.

“I think that was our deficiency last year, I thought, at the two,” Dixon said. “We didn’t get what we needed. We could’ve won the league instead of finishing in the top four. We had young perimeter guys last year. Now, we’re looking at having an experienced group. That’s funny. You go from young to old very quick.”

Dixon mentioned Patterson, Wright, Johnson and redshirt freshman Chris Jones as candidates to play shooting guard, although it’s also possible that Robinson could play there if speedy freshman Josh Newkirk is at point guard.

“He needs to be a guy that knocks down shots,” Dixon said of Robinson. “He does a lot of good things, but he needs to be a guy that’s a knockdown 3-point shooter, no question.”

In the offense, I think Patterson would be the best bet as the shooting guard. Patterson is a hard worker, and I like him, but he is not comfortable — or particularly good — when the pace picks up. He is much more deliberate and careful. That’s why I think he’d be better in the offense essentially as the shooting guard. His size would allow him to shoot over a lot of other guards. And he would get the time he needs to find a spot and be ready to shoot.

I guess Pitt is making one big concession for the ACC. How much they are NOT bulking up.

One noticeable thing about the Panthers is that they are visibly leaner. Patterson, for example, lost 18 pounds in the offseason. Robinson trimmed body fat while training with USA Basketball. And the 6-foot-7 Artis, who arrived at 243 pounds, is now 225.

“We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us, especially moving to a new league,” Robinson said. “One thing as a team that we’ve really been trying to work on is our bodies. As you can see, a lot of us having been aiming to change our bodies and get quicker, faster and more athletic. That’s all going to help us playing to the style we hope to play this year.”

As for the incoming freshman class, it looks increasingly like Pitt won’t have Detrick Mostella. His academics are still not cleared, which leaves him in limbo at the moment. The other freshmen are all expected to play this year.

“I think we really have guys who are seasoned and good, good players, and able to pick up things quickly. And talented at the same time,” Dixon said. “The three guys, the true freshmen, those guys have really played well, really picked things up.”

That leaves Artis, a 6-foot-7 Baltimore native whom Dixon compared to former Panther Nasir Robinson as the type of undersized forward the program has succeeded with in the past.

“I think he’s really a great teammate. I think he really wants to please, wants to do what’s best for the team and wants to do the right things,” Dixon said, adding that Artis lost 18 pounds to hit the staff’s target weight for him of 225.

While Young might be the most touted addition to the roster – the type of player who impresses with a combination of size and offensive ability – Dixon spoke highly of Artis’ skill set and natural talent, as well. Artis said those skills allow him to play just about any position, a sentiment echoed by multiple teammates, but primarily he envisions himself and Young subbing in and out for each other at the power forward spot.

“I think you’re going to see two guys, Jamel and Mike, yes they’re freshmen but I think they have great instincts, they have great skills that we really haven’t had in a couple years at that position – ability to pass, ability to shoot, stretch the defense a little bit more,” Dixon said.

“I think it’s going to be a nice addition to our team, especially on the offensive end. Defense, they have some work to do but that’s to be expected.”

Defense is what made Robinson a staple in the backcourt early in his career, Dixon said. In Newkirk’s case, it’s a different trait that will make him hard to keep off the court despite his inexperience.

“Josh brings a real extra, higher gear to us offensively, I think, that we’ve never had,” Dixon said of the 6-1 guard from Raleigh, N.C. “I think he’s probably the quickest guy that we’ve ever had. Doesn’t mean he’ll be the best guy we’ve ever had, but it’s a good thing to start with.”

A lot of new pieces once more this year, and there wasn’t even much discussion of the transfer and JUCO to help in the front court. Or how it’s a make or break year for Durand Johnson. And plenty of other issues in question.





let me start with ‘Hope I’m wrong’

But I think this uptempo style may be a big mistake. You don’t have a team made up of 3 classes who were recruited for a different style playing uptempo against the better teams (who will have better athletes.) No way can Pitt outrun UNC.

PG James Robinson didn’t show me anything last year that he would do well in an uptempo style. Again … ‘hope I’m wrong’

The younger players may do well .. they do seem to be the types that can play the uptempo but that is just conjecture.

Once again, I’m afraid we Pitt fans are going to have to show quite a bit of patience.

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 7:55 am

@Frankcan, Dixon starts the year singing your tune. It must be music to your ears. It occurred to me that Zanna will be a way more productive center in that type of offense. I heard Dixon this morning and he was saying a lot of nice things about Newkirk, Wright, and the new leaner Patterson. Looks like we will see a first year player at the 4.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 8:14 am

No redshirts this year, is that good or bad?

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 8:16 am

Dixon was on 93.7 raving about Newkirk. He repeated his comments about Josh’s quickness but also talked about how well he is shooting. After seeing him a couple times in Greentree, I am very optimistic about his ability to contribute right away.

He also talked about Cam Wright, the presumptive starter at the two. Wright is really good in transition, not so good at half court offense. A lineup with Zanna, Young, Johnson, Wright and Newkirk could really go…..but I will believe it when I see it. And Patterson and Robinson are arguably Dixon’s favorites, and they play slow……

What is up with Mostella? Is he enrolled? No one is talking about him.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 09.27.13 @ 8:48 am

Uchebo???

Comment by isnore 09.27.13 @ 8:51 am

according to the Trib … Uchebo is part of the team and will begin as back-up center.

Mostella still has clearinghouse issues and, at the earliest, will be eligible 2nd semester.

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 9:00 am

Glad we’re geting more athletic. We’ll need it in the ACC.

Comment by Pittastic 09.27.13 @ 9:11 am

**getting

Comment by Pittastic 09.27.13 @ 9:18 am

@Boubacar, Zanna is slow in the slomo motion offense Pitt usually runs, and particularly at the 4. Don’t be surprised though when he does well in a faster paced game at center. I think he might start to reach some of the potential he had shown in his redshirt freshman year. He is at his best when he plays without having time to think about it and he can run with anybody on the team.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 9:40 am

Zanna is a hustler who will beat most centers down the court …. and will be (of course) much better in transition than in the post, where he has faltered against the better competition in the past.

The team has a handful of players who should do well in the transition game … it remains to be seen how the team as a whole adapts.

What I’m interested in the most is the half-court offense — will they take the first available shot? Do we have quick enough handlers who can beat the opposition on the dribble drive? etc

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 10:13 am

“The thing about being able to run is it isn’t about your guards usually, it is can your big men get down the floor ahead of things, and with Talib and some of the other guys we can do that.”

Huh, Both Steve Adams and Dante Taylor could run,
along with Zanna last year could ALL outrun most opponents downcourt last year.

Did we take advantage it ?

Nope !

Until I see it I won’t believe it.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:16 am

In order to run successfully, you have to have players that can finish (meaning finish the play & SCORE)

Newkirk might be one (if he’s allowed to push the ball)

Mostella was certainly going to be one. But his status is up in the air.

As for the rest of them, that is a huge question mark.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:22 am

@Emil, This morning on the radio Dixon was gushing over what he thinks will be the improvement at the 2. Is it possible that he felt he didn’t have the guards to push things last year. Otherwise I think you could be right, just noise. The team is way thinner, with a trimmer Patterson and Robinson. Newkirk is supposed to be fast and athletic. Maybe he is serious.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 11:33 am

“No way can Pitt outrun UNC.”

That is probably true, but we only play them once.

Question is can we outrun Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia, VT, GT, BC, FSU, Miami, NCSU, Maryland, ND and Cuse.

Outside of Cuse, who we seem to have their number and ND who seems to have ours and maybe running against them would certainly be a good idea. None of those other teams have been exceptionally good over the last several years.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:36 am

@ sos22

JD had Trey Zeigler at 2G, a guy that could finish in an uptempo offense and didn’t take advantage of that.

Zeigler had 11 points in a 80-48 win
He had 18 points in a 93-55 conf. win.

Those were 2 of our highest scoring games which suggest they were at a more uptempo pace.

Also I don’t like the idea of Young & Artis splitting minutes at PF(which the article suggests). Young is the jewel of the class coming in and only 4 star. He should be on the court as much as possible.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:49 am

Emel, I mostly agree with you, but I believe we have Cuse’s number mostly because of the methodical offense we played against them … I think overall that they have much more atleticism than Pitt

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 11:50 am

Especially if Artis’s upside is that Nasir Robinson.

At 6-7 let’s get him acclimated to SF now, not PF.

Also what is the status of Uchebo’s knee ?
Is this guy going to contribute this year or not ?

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:53 am

@ wbb

Agree with you about Cuse, I was more referring to possibly running against ND, a team who seems to have OUR number playing our game (half court slow methodical).

Don’t think we shouldchange at all the way we play against Cuse, which has been very successful in the regular season. Not so much in BigEast Tournament.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 11:57 am

Although I seem to remember us blowing Cuse out a few times, playing an uptempo game.

Or maybe they(Cuse) were just shooting horribly.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 12:01 pm

@Emel, That brings to mind one of the most baffling things about last seasons mediocre team. We handled the Orange at the Pete as usual and despite them shooting lights out from the 3 we had them in our sights as Zanna went to the foul line late in the Garden. Of course he missed but we were that close to beating a real good team when it counted. Zanna had played some of his best minutes all season in an uptempo frenzy down the stretch. He even was outplaying Adams. If this pace change is more than lip gloss he could be the biggest benefactor.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 12:16 pm

Emel, the uptempo game sure as hell can’t do any worse against ND

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 12:22 pm

The more I think about it Dixon is probably just blowing smoke. Why would he announce to the world what to look for? He is just trying to create an interest as that is what this kick off crap is all about. Were likely to see us run a little bit against Howard and the like, then it will be back to the same old game we always play.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 12:32 pm

Emel, re Uchebo. I’m going NCIS on you.

If you look at the picture linked below, you’ll see him at the left #50 .. and note that he doesn’t have a brace on … but it’s only a media session. It also says in the story that he will provide depth at the post so I assume he is OK … just not ready to start

link to triblive.com

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 12:34 pm

if it’s ok to interject a football comment in this otherwise quite interesting basketball discussion, there is an interesting stat about Virginia

from today’s ESPN.com ACC Blog:

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers have faced Pitt five times, but this is their first meeting since the Panthers joined the ACC. Virginia is 0-5 when facing a new ACC member for the first time in conference play, dating to when Georgia Tech joined the ACC in 1979. Virginia lost to Georgia Tech (1982), Miami (2004), Virginia Tech (2004) and Boston College (2005).

PITT: The Panthers’ 58-55 win at Duke last weekend marked their highest-scoring game in 18 years. Pitt has totaled 107 points over its last two games, as it scored 49 against New Mexico a week earlier. It had not scored as many points in consecutive games since tallying 121 points in 1977 when it beat Temple 76-0 and Boston College 45-7.

Comment by Pitt Dad 09.27.13 @ 12:39 pm

one last comment: ironically, Pitt’s two best transition players from last year transferred … Zeigler (as noted by Emel above) and JJ

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 12:39 pm

lol that is a hoot wbb.

If JD had plans to run after recruiting Newkirk, etc. he should have been able to tell JJ & Zeigler who wanted to play in an uptempo game.

Find it kind of hard to believe that a HC that wants to control, just about each & every possession, shouting from the sidelines pretty much immediately as the game starts (ie. a control freak). Is suddenly going to go 180 on us and unleash the control reins.

Hey if it happens, I’ll be thrilled, as everyone knows I’ve been hoping for a more uptempo offense for years. Seems that would be real beneficial and make recruiting a lot easier.

Get Mostella’s grades in order, he could really help a lot.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 12:52 pm

Dixon doesn’t play freshman. Right?

Comment by velvil 09.27.13 @ 12:54 pm

never will happen Dixon wouldn’t know up tempo if it hit him on the head. Full court pressure? have to be quick up front (Pitt is NOT) or have a big guy erase mistakes (DO NOT Have)
simply can’t handle well enough to do it. Cripies they average 15 To a game walking it up, can u imagine JD watching 20 TO? need that difibulator early & often!!!

Comment by Punxy Panther 09.27.13 @ 1:07 pm

Funny, I remember a number of fast-break opportunities in Big East play, and maybe in the Witchita State game, where Zielger bricked it. I would say he’s fast down the court but a good finisher? A little too out of control for that.

Comment by KeyboardKev 09.27.13 @ 1:16 pm

Zeigler was hardly on the court against Wichita St., 5 minutes or so.

However after reading the Trib article, they plan to play Zanna in the post. We already know that he can’t play with his back to the basket. He was at his best hitting mid-range jumpers last year.

With that being the case, We BETTER RUN.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 1:26 pm

Concur Punxy

They’re going to have to get a lot better handling the ball, if they have any chance of succeeding on the break in an uptempo offense.

Although turnover machine Woodall is gone, if Newkirk is a quick as they say and can handle the ball well. Maybe it will work. Read where they’re considering playing Robinson at the 2.
His outside shooting has to get considerably better for that, but I don’t see Robinson being great pushing the ball upcourt in an uptempo as the PG. Unless he evolved some from last year.

Durand Johnson is only a redshirt sophomore, so don’t know if it’s a make or break season for him. It certainly is for redshirt junior Cam Wright, imo. If he’s playing 20-30 minutes, I think we’re going to be in trouble.

Guess we should get back to football.

Huge game it is against the Wahoo’s.

Must beat these bottom tier programs to establish ourselves as in the next pecking order, only below FSU & Clemson & maybe Miami.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 1:34 pm

I agree … this is definitely under the category of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’

YOu may see it in the pre-season but come January ….

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 1:53 pm

We still dont have a SG who can shot the 3
same SG as last year.
is he blowing smoke i dont get it i do like a running team but will he really let them run i dont think he will.

Comment by FRANKCAN 09.27.13 @ 1:59 pm

The best we can hope for is a tweek, there will be no transformation.

Dixon is not going to scrap his whole basketball philosophy and go to a run and gun style, even if he did have the horses, which he does not.

What is reasonable, possible, and what I’d like to see, is just a little more OPPORTUNISTIC running. Be a little more aggressive in going to the hoop once the press is beaten. Go a little harder at the rim after a turn over. Look to push it a little more off a miss. If that leads to 3-5 more transition buckets a game, that would be a huge win.

Baby steps people.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 09.27.13 @ 2:08 pm

Last year the mantra was “with Adams we can go “back to” playing an inside outside game.
Pitt never played inside outside, with Dixon, despite having Adams, Young and Blair, always been a “one guard” oriented team.
At least this year Pitt has good guards.
As far as Zanna (way overrated) who cannot play center and proved last year was to soft to play the 4. When you have a dominant center as Pitt did with Blair the 4 needs to use his body to keep the oppents forwards off the center (Tryonne Biggs used his big body). Adams was triple teamed on the boards both sides of the court because Zanna would not or could not make space for him.
the troll.

Comment by misshome 09.27.13 @ 2:17 pm

Frankcan, No, he isn’t kidding, we now have the new improved, almost transferred , Cam Wright. Maybe Dixon will switch to a full court zone trap D now that we are up tempo. You might as well skip this season there won’t be anything left to complain about. He has finally figured things out. Too bad he didn’t listen to you sooner.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 2:20 pm

One more thought about Pitt running. If you were going to run last year was the year, As hearlded by every NBA scout Adams was the fastest big man they have seen in years.
This is not a question this is a fact Zanna is not a strong rebounder without Adams on the court and no team can run if you can not control the boards.
I can not see Pitt as a dominant rebounding team this year.

Comment by misshome 09.27.13 @ 2:23 pm

Misshome, Zanna has shortcomings but he has always been a decent rebounder and prior to breaking his thumb as a sophomore played a significant if not impressive role as backup center.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 2:29 pm

I would be happy if they quit stopping at the 3 point line & letting every player on the court pass them after a rebound or turnover.

Comment by Nick 09.27.13 @ 3:15 pm

My sources say watch out for Joshua Ko.

Comment by steve1 09.27.13 @ 3:53 pm

If you listened carefully and read between the lines at the Dixon Presser: Defense and rebounding as the core values will not change. The hope is to run in transition. That means running off of turnovers, blocks and defensive rebounds when the opportunity presents itself and a numbers advantage is gained at the scoring end. It does not mean pressing and forcing tempo and pushing when there isn’t a numerical advantage or taking shots early in the shot clock unless they are high percentage wide open shots! There is no plan to play a Shaka Smart VCU type of “Chaos” style.

Comment by pitt1972 09.27.13 @ 5:12 pm

I hear Dixon talking to his Freshmen in these interviews. He is telling them that they will play and might even start:

When he says that Newkirk is the quickest player he has ever coached and in the next breath that James Robinson should work on his 3 point shot, he is telling Newkirk that he will play point guard and could even start.

When he says he is pretty sure a Freshman will start at the two and Artis could be the next Nasir Robinson, he is telling Artis that he will play a lot, and perhaps even win the starting job.

He is encouraging his Freshmen to work as hard as they can. They will all get playing time, if they learn to play Dixon’s brand of defense.

He didn’t talk about Wright, Patterson, and Johnson. He doesn’t have to. They wouldn’t have hung around this year if they didn’t think they would play a lot.

Comment by Howard Richman 09.27.13 @ 5:51 pm

lol Joshua Ko.

Yes he’s our new secret weapon 6-1 walkon from Hawaii.

Aloha !

Comment by Emel 09.27.13 @ 5:59 pm

Only way we control the boards is Mike Young better be the beast ppl says he is.

They do say that…..don’t they .

Never mind !

Comment by Emel 09.27.13 @ 6:01 pm

Zanna has one HUGE shortcoming.

He disappears pretty much as soon as conference games start.

One can only hope being in a new conference, that all of those games will appear as non-con games to him.

Either that or Jamie needs to find a good hypnotist or shrink for him. haha :-)

Comment by Emel 09.27.13 @ 6:05 pm

well, here is your Uchebo update and he still isn’t ready

link to pittsburgh.rivals.com

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 6:35 pm

Joshua Ko is kind of an intriguing walk-on. He seems more like a recruited “preferred” walk-on in football rather than some kid who showed up and tried out. It seems Jamie k new the kids HS coach and the kid was a lights-out shooter in HS (made 49% of his 3-pt shots) and was the Hawaii State Gatorade player of the year as his HS was State champ for the 2nd consecutive year.

Link: link to pittsburghpanthers.com

Comment by pitt1972 09.27.13 @ 8:45 pm

I don’t think Jamie is blowing smoke because Pitt is one of the only teams in the nation that lifts weights year around, even during the season. Hence, often when national broadcasters would see Pitt in person their most used line was “is this Pitt’s basketball team or football team?” For the first time Jamie has them not bulking up but slimming down, IMO this can only mean he is changing his strategy – and I for one am ready for this change.

Comment by pittman4ever 09.27.13 @ 8:59 pm

pitt1972, He is 6’1 and 150 lbs. so don’t expect to see him unless we are up by 40. Hawaii is a hotbed for surfers and ping pong players but all state hoopers there can’t get in a game in NY or Philly.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.30.13 @ 12:47 pm

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