Pitt men's coach Jamie Dixon was excited Friday night after his team defeated Delaware in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. He liked how his team responded after a narrow loss to No. 4 Michigan two days earlier and was especially impressed with the Panthers' offensive efficiency.
But Dixon also walked away with an understanding of where his team has to improve over the next five weeks before the start of the Big East Conference schedule. He identified two areas -- rebounding and transition defense.
Michigan outrebounded Pitt by 11 in the 67-62 loss Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, and the Panthers only enjoyed a six-rebound edge Friday against Delaware. For the season, the Panthers have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 7.5 per game. Dixon's goal is to outrebound every opponent by 10.
"The rebounding was not where we wanted it to be," Dixon said. "I thought this was going to be a good rebounding team. But we haven't rebounded well enough from the beginning -- even in our big blowout 35-point wins. Against Michigan, we got beat on the boards point blank, and that's why we lost. No question about it.
"Our rebounding is something we're known for. It's something we've probably done among the best in the country over the long haul. Right now, we're not. So, when you lose a game and get outrebounded by 12 in the second half, you can point to this and that, but, at the end of the day, that's what we do. When we don't, we come up short."
Michigan also hurt the Panthers with its fastbreak. The Wolverines scored 19 points in transition.
"We saw it in the game against Michigan," he said. "We were back. They scored on three-on-five situations a number of times. It's just not knowing what we need to do and understanding that guys are going to keep going. Those are the two things we really learned this week."
Pitt's bench is averaging 31 points through the first six games. The reserves have scored 186 of the team's 463 points, or 40 percent.
Junior forward J.J. Moore is the top reserve, averaging 11.6 points per game. He is followed by junior Trey Zeigler (6.1 ppg), redshirt freshman Durand Johnson (5.8 ppg), senior Dante Taylor (5.0 ppg) and redshirt sophomore Cameron Wright (4.4 ppg).
Wright was the top reserve in the two games in New York. He scored 11 points and was 3 for 3 from 3-point range. Overall, he was 3 for 4 from the field with three assists and no turnovers in the two games.
The reserves' production has allowed Dixon to rest his starters more than usual with the added benefit of everyone on the roster feeling like they are a part of the team's success.
"I do feel we can play 10 guys out there that are really good," Dixon said.
"It's been interesting playing with these guys. I think they know they're going to play and get minutes. I think it's a good feeling.
"You can see it by the way we're passing the ball."
Even though Pitt only got to play one team from a major conference in the NIT Tip-Off, Dixon was pleased with the event and what it provided for his team.
The Panthers faced a top-five team in Michigan and had the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden, where they have played 44 times in the past 11 years.
Pitt will return to the Garden twice more this season -- Feb. 24 against St. John's and the final trip to the Big East tournament a couple of weeks later.
"We do everything we can to play in this building," Dixon said. "It's great for our fans, great for our families."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @rayfitt1.