NEW YORK -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said on multiple occasions in the preseason that the starting five he selected to begin the season might not necessarily be permanent. Certainly, no one would blame Dixon if he pulled the trigger on a lineup change for Pitt's game today against Delaware in the NIT Season Tip-Off consolation at Madison Square Garden.
Not after a lackluster second-half performance Wednesday night against No. 4 Michigan that had Dixon and his players taken aback by the way they lost. The Panthers were taken to the woodshed by the Wolverines, who earned the victory by physically dominating a team that is used to being the aggressors.
The only problem for Dixon is the most obvious choice to get the hook is freshman center Steven Adams, the Big East Conference preseason rookie of the year and the highest-ranked recruit Dixon has landed.
Adams does not have an ego and is a team player. That's not the issue. The issue is the delicate process of bringing along a talented player who is struggling to adapt to major college basketball. Adams, a 7-footer from New Zealand, has little confidence right now and is having a hard time making many positive contributions. His production through five games has been marginal (6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game), and he bottomed with a zero-point, 1-rebound effort against Michigan.
- Matchup: Pitt (4-1) vs. Delaware (2-2), 2:30 p.m. today, NIT Season Tip-Off consolation, Madison Square Garden, New York.
- TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
- Pitt: Lost , Wednesday night to No. 4 Michigan, 67-62. ... Allowed Michigan to shoot 46 percent from the field after Oakland shot 47 percent in the previous game. ... Also lost the rebounding battle, 37-26. ... First game against Delaware. ... Led by junior F Talib Zanna (12.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), senior G Tray Woodall (12.2 ppg, 6.4 apg) and junior F J.J. Moore (12 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
- Team: Coming off 66-63 loss to Kansas State. ... Other loss came at La Salle. ... Led by junior G Devon Saddler (20 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and sophomore G Jarvis Threatt (12 ppg, 5 rpg). ... Coach Monte Ross is in his seventh season with the Blue Hens.
- Hidden stat: Pitt was 6 for 11 from the free-throw line against Michigan and is shooting 65.5 percent this season.
Adams has yet to grab more than five rebounds in a game and he has scored in double figures once. He also lacks awareness and has not shown the ability to stay out of foul trouble. He played only 10 minutes Wednesday night after picking up some early fouls.
"It's hard to play when you're in foul trouble," Dixon said. "He's a big body. I think everyone knows he has to stay out of foul trouble. That's really what has hurt him the past two games. He'll be fine."
Dixon has two options: He can let Adams play through his mistakes and hope the light goes on sooner rather than later. Or, he can insert senior Dante Taylor into the lineup and take some pressure off Adams by temporarily putting him in a reserve role.
"A lot of freshmen have a hard time adjusting," junior Lamar Patterson said. "I feel like Steve works hard. He hasn't been playing basketball very long, but he works so hard I think he'll definitely pick it up soon."
Taylor has played well in spurts. He was a key factor in the comeback victory against Oakland with two baskets in the final minute to force overtime. But he also has limitations. With the opportunity to play 22 minutes against Michigan, Taylor could only manage four points and two rebounds.
It wasn't the type of performance Dixon was hoping for when Adams was on the bench because of foul trouble.
Whether Dixon decides to stick with Adams or turn to Taylor, the fact remains the Panthers will have a hard time becoming a consistent winner in Big East play without better overall play from both.
The Panthers want to defend and rebound first and foremost. They can't win games against ranked teams -- or unranked teams for that matter -- when they receive a combined two rebounds from their centers. An unlikely display of outside shooting masked the problem for a while against Michigan, but the Panthers can't rely on that.
This is not one of Dixon's better outside shooting teams. They were shooting 30 percent from 3-point range before hitting 8 of 20 from behind the arc Wednesday night. The Panthers will win more often by being the stronger team -- mentally and physically. That's what made the loss so distressing for the players.
Michigan dominated from a physical standpoint. The Wolverines outrebounded the Panthers, 37-26. It was 23-11 after halftime. The Wolverines had 10 offensive rebounds.
"When you get outrebounded like that, it's about heart right there," Patterson said. "Obviously, they showed they wanted it more than us."
Freshman point guard James Robinson added: "I definitely feel like we can play harder, play tougher."
Patterson and Robinson were speaking about the entire team, of course. But their remarks might as well have been directed at Adams and Taylor.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.