One year after fielding an uncharacteristically high-scoring team that averaged nearly 78 points per game, that age-old question concerning Pitt's offense entering the NCAA tournament is surfacing again: Do the Panthers have enough firepower to advance deep into the tournament?
It's the same question Pitt faced in 2004, Jamie Dixon's first season as head coach, and most of the ensuing years. And it appears to be a timely question heading into an NCAA first-round game Friday against Oakland at Bradley Center in Milwaukee considering Pitt scored a season-low 45 points in its previous game, a Big East Conference tournament quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame.
Pitt is averaging 68.1 points per game. That is the lowest scoring average of any of the eight Big East teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament. Of the six major conferences, the only other team to qualify for the NCAA tournament with a lower scoring average is Wisconsin (67.5 ppg).
Against Notre Dame, Pitt only managed 16 points in the second half and shot just 38.6 percent from the field for the game. The Fighting Irish also held the Panthers to 53 points in a Feb. 24 loss at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has morphed into a team that likes to hold the ball on offense and bleed the 35-second shot clock. Almost all of its recent games have been low scoring as a result. But NCAA tournament opponents could copy that game plan because it had so much success against the Panthers, especially a No. 14 seed such as Oakland that has struggled to score against NCAA tournament teams this season.
"We have to cherish every possession," Pitt senior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "Notre Dame slowed the game down big time. They would hold it for 35 seconds and then we would take quick shots. We have to take better shots.
"If the game is fast-paced and we can run, we can score 70 or 80 points. But if a team is slowing the game down it's hard to get easy transition baskets. I think we have to do a better job of playing in a slower-paced game."
Pitt's scoring problems have not come solely against Notre Dame. Pitt has not scored more than 70 points in regulation in a game against a Big East team that made the NCAA tournament since Jan. 2, when the Panthers beat Syracuse, 82-72, at the Carrier Dome.
Junior forward Gilbert Brown said playing a team that is not as familiar with the way the Panthers run their offense could help the boost the scoring production in the NCAA tournament.
"It's a fresh start in the tournament," Brown said. "There are different teams from out of conference. They don't have a set scouting report on you like the Big East teams do. It gets tougher as the conference schedule goes on. We could probably put on a good performance offensively against these teams because they never faced us before."
Pitt was the top defensive team in the Big East in the regular season, holding its opponents to 61.4 points per game. The Panthers were able to win many games because the defense shut down the opposing team.
But the Panthers also realize that in order to advance in the NCAA tournament the offense has to be much better than it was in their previous outing against Notre Dame.
"We have to execute more with our shot selection," said sophomore Ashton Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer. "That means taking a quality shot each and every time. We need a quality shot every time down the court."
Junior guard Brad Wanamaker believes the problems on offense will be fixed by the time the Panthers take on Oakland.
"There are no concerns," Wanamaker said. "We had good possessions [against Notre Dame]. We got away from things. We have to do things for a whole 35 seconds. Notre Dame would hold the ball and make us wait, and then we'd come down and rush a shot. That's something we're working on."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published March 16, 2010 4:00 AM