Well, not in a competitive way. Just, you know, the second straight year of having them come to the Pete. Once more in the guise of an arranged game in the Progressive Legends Classic. Last year it was for the NIT Tip-Off Classic. The common thread for Pitt is that these preseason tournaments put Pitt in the NYC area. Something that Coach Jamie Dixon wants every year. Both for alumni support in that area and recruiting.
Lehigh is not as good as they were last year with C.J. McCollum graduated. Sporting News picked them for 3d in the Patriot League, and honestly, they haven’t looked that good. They lost to Minnesota, Fordham and recently to potential Legends Classic opponent — Houston.
It’s hard not to look past Lehigh. Next week Pitt will be at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn playing Texas Tech and either Stanford or Houston. Still, the team has to focus on Lehigh. A team that will be more Fresno St. than Howard in offense.
Against Lehigh, Pitt will have to guard the perimeter as the Mountain Hawks shoot the ball well from the outside. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will line up in that 2-3 zone they played the majority of the Fresno State game.
For one thing, that was a special circumstance against a team that is a bit unique personnel-wise. For another, Dixon has said the bread and butter of the program will always be man-to-man defense and the younger players need to learn how to guard.
That was welcome news to Patterson, who said playing zone may be a necessary evil for the Panthers at times but that it isn’t the defense they have made their name with over the years.
“We’re a man team,” Patterson said. “We really like to get after it in man defense.”
I don’t think Coach Dixon wants to do too much zone against a team like Lehigh, because of the risk of falling into bad habits. Pitt wants to use a more active zone, which means the players moving more to cut off lanes, prevent penetration. Plus, there is still the expectation of going hard for rebounds. Something that is harder in a zone because of where you are positioned.
Against weaker teams, playing zone can get soft. You don’t have to be as active because the opponent is not as skilled at beating a zone. They usually aren’t as big, so you can still get rebounds even if your effort is a little less.
I expect the zone for stretches, but not as much as used against Fresno State.
Here’s a nice piece on Derrick Randall being something of an early surprise for Pitt.
“He’s getting the basics right now,” said Dixon. “He still has to learn about getting up on the ball screens and rolling off of those and finding his position out there. I’m happy with him, and he is going to continue to get better as we move along.”
Randall, despite getting into early foul trouble Sunday in an 84-52 win over Howard, still had seven rebounds and made some solid awareness plays, including a nice screen at the top of the key, opening up Lamar Patterson for an and-one lay up.
“He’s getting it,” said fellow frontcourt mate Talib Zanna. “He is a good rebounder, and he has good awareness on the defensive end. It’s still a time to learn right now.”
Any offense he gives is bonus — and he’s shown a surprising touch. But he’s still doing what he was expected. Eat some minutes and grab rebounds. He is fitting comfortably into the role.
Finally a piece on Cam Wright not simply more comfortable on the court, but enjoying playing shooting and point guard.
When Pitt coach Jamie Dixon gave James Robinson a breather against Howard Sunday without putting in backup Josh Newkirk, Wright got to run the offense.
“He gets rebounds and he can take it up, so he’s playing point guard in a lot of ways, and our guys are interchangeable in most of our sets,” Dixon said.
“He’ll be guarding the point, so that’s pretty much a lot of point guard play right there when you talk about it in many facets.”
Never mind that Wright, a redshirt junior, still is settling in as the Panthers’ starter at shooting guard.
“As much as I love playing point guard,” Wright said, “I also love shooting guard.”
There were many concerns about Wright being in the starting line-up this year — primarily with his shooting. But the other major issue was his ball-handling. So far, both have been much sharper than we have seen from him in his first couple years of playing.