Panthers atop offensive officiency rankings

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A few reporters were fishing for a quote from Pitt coach Jamie Dixon Saturday night. Tray Woodall had surpassed 1,000 points for his career in Pitt's victory at Cincinnati a few minutes earlier, and he made some of the biggest shots in the game. Woodall was the natural and most obvious storyline.

But Dixon would not oblige. When asked directly about Woodall, Dixon first mentioned the assist that led to an important Woodall 3-pointer late in the contest. Then he talked about the screens his teammates set that got him open for his game-changing shots.

It was vintage Dixon, who never forgets the Panthers succeed because of their team-first approach to the game.

"Lamar [Patterson] made the pass on the 3," Dixon noted. "That was great execution there. The pass makes that play. I put a lot of importance on the guys making the screens. A lot of different things happened in addition to the shots. It's everything involved."

Pitt does not have a prolific scorer, but Dixon boasts one of the most efficient offenses in NCAA Division I. According to kenpom.com, which tracks adjusted offensive efficiency, the Panthers are ninth among all Division I teams.

Adjusted offensive efficiency is points scored per 100 possessions. Pitt plays in a lot of low possession games, so though the Panthers might not be scoring a lot of points (66.2 ppg in Big East play), they are making the most of their possessions.

"We had balance, nine guys scoring," Dixon said of his team's performance at Cincinnati. "We take what's available. That's what we do. That's why our offensively efficiency is so high year after year. We're at the top of the country. You can't rely on one play, one set or one player."

Pitt's top scorer is Woodall, but he averages only 10.9 points per game. Talib Zanna is second with 10.6 per game and Patterson third with 10.1 per game.

Dixon could not care less about who is leading the team in scoring or how high the averages are. His favorite offensive statistics are assist-to-turnover ratio and assists per game. He believes that because those two statistics measure qualities he desires in players -- unselfishness and the ability to take care of the ball.

Pitt ranks among the nation's leaders in both categories:

• No. 3 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.56).

James Robinson is No. 4 in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.33) and Tray Woodall is No. 23 (2.62).

• No. 6 in assists with 17.3 per game.

• Woodall is ranked 33rd among all Division I players with 5.5 assists per game.

"We've been doing it year after year," Dixon said. "It's something that doesn't get talked about except for Dick Groat. He's the only guy who talks about our passing because it's such a positive. There's no question, we have bigs that can pass and obviously guards that can pass."

Groat, the college basketball Hall of Famer, is the color commentator on Pitt's radio broadcasts.

Moving up the seed line

Two weeks ago, Pitt was projected as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Now the Panthers are projected as a No. 5 seed and can climb higher with a strong finish over the final six games of the regular season.

Jerry Palm of CBS moved Pitt up from a No. 6 seed last week to a No. 5 seed Monday in his most recent NCAA tournament bracket projection.

The victory at Cincinnati boosted Pitt's RPI up to No. 30. The Panthers can trigger their RPI even higher by winning Saturday at Marquette. Before its game Monday night at Georgetown, Marquette was No. 16 in the RPI. Teams can boost their RPI most by winning road games against other high RPI opponents.

In the polls

Pitt moved up to No. 16 in The Associated Press poll that came out Monday. No. 16 is the highest Pitt has been in the AP poll since December of 2011.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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