Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has identified one of his team's deficiencies. His players are ratting too much, and he wants it to stop.
Not ratting on each other. Ratting against the other team.
Ratting is Dixon's terminology for hanging around in the backcourt and looking for a steal instead of getting back on defense. The metaphor being the ball is the cheese and the players, or rats, chase the cheese.
Dixon's teams previously have been good at stopping transition offense, and he is stressing a return to some old fundamentals this week after the loss Saturday to Tennessee, when the Volunteers scored with ease on their fastbreak opportunities.
"If the other team has the rebound, we need to get back on defense," sophomore point guard Travon Woodall said. "Don't hang around. The other team isn't going to pass us the ball. If one guys rats, or two guys rat, the offensive players will sprint his [butt] off to get down the court to try to get a layup. We just have to make sure we get back."
The Volunteers had 17 fastbreak points against the Panthers, far too many in Dixon's estimation. Woodall said a lack of communication among players has contributed to the poor defensive play.
"We found that we gave up a lot of easy transition buckets, and, normally, we don't give up transition buckets because we usually do a good job of communicating," Woodall said.
"But, lately, we haven't been communicating well enough, and we haven't been covering every area we need to. Right now, we need to focus on communicating and getting back, guys getting matched up in transition. That has hurt us. We can't give up layups. It has to start with transition defense."
The transition defense has been one component of a subpar defensive effort by Pitt standards all season. Opposing teams have been finding it easier to score against the Panthers than in previous seasons.
Six of the first 11 opponents have shot 40 percent or better from the field. Two of the past three have shot 50 percent or better, including a season-high 56.3 percent by the Volunteers. Dixon sets a goal before every game to hold the opposing team to below 40 percent.
Rider, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, shot 50 percent in a Dec. 1 game at the Petersen Events Center. Maryland shot 48.2 percent, Texas 42 percent, Penn 44.2 percent and Rhode Island 40 percent.
Pitt is 12th in the Big East in field-goal percentage defense, allowing an average of 41 percent for opponents per game.
Dixon said he didn't learn anything new from the Tennessee game. He said it only reconfirmed that his team needs to pay more attention to detail on defense.
"I don't think I've ever been fully satisfied with our defense in December," he said. "It's one of those things you have to be cognizant of. We need to improve and we have in the past. It was just a reconfirmation of that. We know we have to defend better, but we knew that beforehand."
Dixon has been stressing defense during practice in the days leading up to the game Saturday against Maryland-Eastern Shore, the second-to-last non-conference game before Big East play begins.
"We've been giving up too many easy baskets," redshirt freshman Talib Zanna said. "Coach Dixon was disappointed with that. All we're doing in practice is stop transition and get ready to play defense. He said whoever plays good defense will play more."
NOTE -- The Big East and Southeastern Conference announced Thursday that the annual interconference competition between the two leagues will have a new format starting next season. The Big East-SEC Challenge will include 12 games every year. The games will be played Dec. 1-3 at home-court sites and will be televised on the ESPN family of networks. Because the Big East has 16 teams (17 in 2012) and the SEC has 12, some teams from the Big East will not take part in the event every year. Dixon said he does not yet know if Pitt will play in the event next season.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.