Assist-to-turnover ratio, field-goal percentage defense and rebounding margin are the statistics Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon likes to tout. Those are the staples of Dixon's program and important factors in the team's success over the years.
With a third of the season in the books, the Panthers rank first in Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio, 29th in rebounding margin and 79th in field-goal percentage defense. Dixon beams when addressing the assist-to-turnover ratio, but the rebounding and field-goal percentage defense numbers are lower than Dixon would prefer.
The Panthers have been making up for their shortcomings in an area where they have not traditionally thrived. They are 11th in Division I in turnover margin, a measure of the team's turnovers against turnovers forced.
The Panthers are forcing 15 turnovers per game and committing 9.2 per game for a 5.8 margin. Last season, their turnover margin was 1.6 and ranked 269th in Division I.
"We're forcing more turnovers," Dixon said. "We've tried to do that, but we've tried to do it in past years, too. Maybe it's the personnel and maybe it's a better emphasis of it. I don't know what it is, but it seems like we're doing a better job in certain things we've emphasized earlier in the year that will cause some turnovers."
Some of those things are double teams, ball pressure by the guards and a more aggressive approach to defending ball screens. They are subtle changes, but those tweaks have allowed the Panthers to force 80 steals through the first 10 games and are on pace for 240 in the regular season. Last season, they forced 183 in 39 games, which included eight postseason games.
The change in philosophy came because of the personnel Dixon has at his disposal. He has a deep roster that can be effective in transition offense, quick guards and athletic post players who are more adept at creating turnovers than some of the previous post players in the system.
Dixon does not believe the newfound success in creating turnovers will cover up what he perceives as issues on defense and rebounding, but he does think it can be a positive for the team because the Panthers have shown an ability to excel in transition offense.
"Steals and the layups are probably the best shot you'll get," Dixon said. "It will only lead to a couple [baskets], two or three layups you might get. It will get talked about more than it should."
Dixon still prefers the Panthers to win with their more established formula, but he and the players realize they are playing to their strengths. Freshman center Steven Adams has struggled to score in the half-court offense, and counting on low-post scoring production does not appear to be part of the long-term game plan. And even though the Panthers have shot well from 3-point range in recent games, there is no telling how long it will last once they begin to face better competition.
Getting a few easy baskets in transition can help bridge the gap for the Panthers in games when the offense struggles.
"Being aggressive on the defensive end is creating easy transition points for us," freshman point guard James Robinson said. "We'll have to continue to force turnovers with our defense and get easy buckets on the offensive end."
Sophomore guard Cameron Wright said the players are prepared to continue playing in an up-tempo manner for the rest of the season.
"We've been working out since April, running hills, getting ready for this," Wright said. "Our bigs can run. We can all run. Because of that, that allows our guards to get out in transition."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.