Tonight is the final exhibition game. This one against Slippery Rock. Coach Jamie Dixon is suggesting that the first exhibition playtime is over.
That’s why tonight, when the Panthers play their second exhibition game against Slippery Rock at Petersen Events Center, he expects them to put forth a much better performance, especially the three returning starters — James Robinson, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna — and starting shooting guard Cameron Wright.
“I didn’t think any of those four played their best games and all know they need to play much better for us to be successful,” Dixon said. “Those are four good, smart, versatile players, and we expect a lot more out of them than what we got the other night, but they know it.
“I think the other thing is, they all four did a lot of good things, too. And we saw some things in that first game from UC San Diego that we really didn’t work on or prepare for because it was just an exhibition.”
Dixon said he is treating the game tonight against Slippery Rock as more of a regular-season game and has prepared for it, watched film and game-planned for the Rockets since the season begins next week.
Back-up center Derrick Randall is healthy, so Mike Young will get more work at power forward in this game.
Cam Wright definitely struggled with his shot in the opening exhibition game. Now, based on last year, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to type or read that. But coming into the season, the drumbeat has been that Wright has taken a significant step forward in his game. Dixon referenced it at ACC Media Day. Wright was hitting his shot in the first Blue-Gold Scrimmage.
Redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright sank an off-balance, 3-point buzzer-beater to capture the Blue-Gold Scrimmage crown for the Blue team, 68-67, at Peterson Events Center.
Wright stole the show, leading all scorers with 27 points, and was followed by redshirt senior center Talib Zanna, who scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
“Every year we’ve had a guy that, all of a sudden, everybody says is a lot better player,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s in better shape. He’s shot the ball with more arc. He’s just playing really well. It’s pretty evident he’s going to have a really good year for us.”
And it would be nice to see. He lost his father at the beginning of the season. Rumors swirled at the end of the season that he too would be transferring. Instead, it appears he worked that much harder on his shooting and his game.
Wright has been a defensive specialist for the early part of his career but said he knew that in order to take the next step and be able to fill a starting role, he would have to work on his shot and his overall offensive game.
He said the biggest change in his game is his shot but he has also worked hard on every aspect and has made sure he has paid attention to the details and little things, as well.
“Defense is definitely still a big part of my game and I make sure to continue to take pride in my defense,” Wright said. “I definitely worked on my jump shot and handling the ball in the offseason. As a unit, we all take pride in our defense but I feel like my shooting has improved.”
Wright said the best part of this preseason so far has been the competition for playing time as he battles with Chris Jones and Durand Johnson for the starting job.
And it would appear that in practices, he has earned the starting job. A kid like Wright who clearly grinds to improve is someone I want to see succeed. Add in the fact that he would completely flip/contradict the perception of him by most fans, and that’s a good story. The issue now is doing it in the games. Otherwise, nothing really changes.
Now for the rest. Ex-UCLA and Pitt coach Ben Howland stopped by to watch Pitt’s second scrimmage. Sitting with Coach Dixon the entire time. That got some attention.
Howland sat courtside Friday night for the Oakland Zoo Blue/Gold Scrimmage, a 74-67 victory for the Gold team, as a sideshow reminder of the radical transformation the program — and the entire Pitt community — has undergone in the past decade since Dixon took over for Howland.
Howland applauded chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletic director Steve Pederson for the development projects around campus that have culminated in Pitt’s current standing as the newest member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which Howland called “arguably the best basketball conference in the country.”
After taking in practice and the scrimmage, Howland was impressed with the Panthers’ perimeter play and speed at the dawn of the 2013 season, Pitt’s first in the ACC.
Howland is hoping to do a bit of studio work this year, and then get back into coaching.
A little more Ryan Luther, because P-G HS beat writer Mike White seems really excited that he’s coming to Pitt.
In a way, Luther is like some Eurpoean players — long with a variety of skills.
“I guess the way I play, I can play a couple different positions,” Luther said. “Coach Dixon never said ‘You’re going to play this position.’ He just thought I was a good, versatile player with skill who could play a couple different positions.”
There is a chance Luther could end up maybe 6 feet 10 by the time he is finished at Pitt. He grew more than an inch over the past year or so. On a recruiting visit to Dayton, he was measured a little over 6-8 — and he might not be done growing.
Hampton coach Joe Lafko has mentioned often that versatility is one of Luther’s best attributes.
If Luther grows a little more and has another big season, then Pitt might find itself with a bit of a steal. Remember the recruiting of shooting guard Jon Severe last spring. Severe was lightly recruited with little more than A-10 offers, before a big season and less options for other teams at SG. Then he got the slew of late offers.
Finally, a Pitt preview from ESPN.com by John Gasaway (Insider subs).
Praise of Pittsburgh’s offense has often struck me as somewhat forced. Observers will grant that the Panthers score efficiently at their deliberate tempo (only South Florida, Notre Dame and Cincinnati were slower in Big East play last season), but the thinking seems to be that Jamie Dixon’s men get all those points by simply throwing the ball up on the glass and grabbing the rebound.
It’s true that Pitt has long been outstanding when it comes to offensive rebounding, and, last season, Dixon did have two of the best performers on the offensive glass in all of Division I with Steven Adams and Talib Zanna. Then again, in Big East play, Marquette, Louisville, Syracuse and Providence were all better than the Panthers on the offensive boards. If offense were merely a contest to see which team can grab the highest percentage of offensive rebounds, Pitt’s offense would have ranked No. 5 in the Big East in 2012-13.
Instead, Dixon’s offense ranked second only to Marquette’s, and a major factor in that performance was the fact that the Panthers made 36 percent of their rare 3s in Big East play. That figure might not sound all that stellar, but in a league in which the average level of marksmanship was just 32.3 percent, Pitt’s perimeter shooting in fact set it apart.
Unfortunately, the Panthers also set themselves apart with a foul rate that jumped suddenly, unmistakably and rather inexplicably in conference play….
Pitt as a program and Dixon as a coach have built well-deserved reputations for consistency, but this is a really unproven rotation. Viewed in the simplest terms, the Panthers lost Woodall, Adams, Moore and Zeigler. They have gained Mostella (maybe), Young, Newkirk and Uchebo. And even assuming that Patterson, Zanna and Robinson all develop and improve, that exchange of personnel is still a net loss. Dixon’s team will take a step back on offense and finish around 9-9 in the ACC.
Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 7th
A little low, but right in the expected range of predictions.