Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is used to having his big men be the centers of attention for opposing defenses. In his first six seasons as head coach, Dixon had Chris Taft, Aaron Gray and DeJuan Blair, each for two seasons apiece as starters.
All three provided the Panthers with an inside scoring presence. In his final season at Pitt, Taft averaged 13.3 points per game. Gray averaged 13.9 in his final season and Blair 15.7 last season.
That type of offensive post presence is something Pitt is sorely lacking this season.
Junior Gary McGhee and freshman Dante Taylor, who are sharing the center position, are averaging 11.9 points per game combined, but their numbers have been on a steady decline for the past six weeks.
McGhee, who averages 6.8 points per game, has scored in double figures four times in 19 games. He has not reached double figures in the past 12 games and has not had more than three field goals in any of the first seven Big East Conference games.
Taylor has reached double figures three times but only once in the past 10 games. Taylor, a highly touted McDonald's All-American, has nine points in the past four games. Dixon only used him seven minutes against Seton Hall because of his ineffective play.
Not only are McGhee and Taylor not matching the offensive output of Taft, Gray nor Blair, but they are much less a part of the offense than their predecessors.
• Blair took 17.5 percent of Pitt's shots last season.
• Gray took 17.7 percent of the team's shots in his final season in 2006-07.
• Chris Taft took 17.4 percent of Pitt's shots during his final season with the team in 2004-05.
McGhee and Taylor are accounting for only 13.1 percent of the team's shots.
"Gary and Dante are giving us some production, but not as much lately," Dixon said. "I don't know if it's a natural [progression], but it's the situation we're in. Our experience was with the returning guards. We haven't been in that situation, but we are because [DeJuan Blair] left early [for the NBA]. It's something we've talked about. Hopefully the big guys have developed. And their production has been good until recently. I still think it comes down to turnovers. When you're not getting shots up there are a lot of guys who won't get shots."
Dixon was speaking of the season-long problem the team has had with turnovers. The Panthers committed 20 Sunday in a loss at Seton Hall.
It's not news that leading scorer Ashton Gibbs is leading the team in shots attempted with 252. But the fact that Jermaine Dixon, who missed the first eight games with a foot injury, and little-used reserve Travon Woodall have more shot attempts than the centers illustrates how the offensive dynamic has changed from inside-out to perimeter-oriented.
McGhee is sixth on the team in field-goal attempts with 74 and Taylor is seventh with 57. Dixon has taken 106 shots and Woodall 100.
Veteran forward Gilbert Brown played with Gray and Blair. He said the offense has not changed significantly, but he said feeding the post more might create better shot opportunities for the guards that have been experiencing some tight defense on the perimeter.
"We set a lot perimeter screens trying to free up our guards like Ashton, Jermaine and Brad [Wanamaker] to get shots," Brown said. "We still run the same offensive sets. I actually think we need to get more touches down low. We need to get it down there so we can work out of it. There hasn't been any real change to the offense because we're more perimeter-based. The guards are just more assertive now."
McGhee scored in double figures in four consecutive games against Wichita State, Texas, Youngstown State and Duquesne in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but he is not scoring much in recent games. He concurred with Brown that the team might benefit from the centers getting more touches on the interior.
"It's just how the games have been going," McGhee said. "Some teams have zoned us. We're playing more outside. I think that's the reason my touches have gone down. If we got it inside it could open up easier shots for our guards if they drop in and double the post player."
NOTES -- Jamie Dixon said freshman Lamar Patterson likely is headed for a redshirt. Patterson played in 10 games, but he is still eligible for a medical redshirt under NCAA rules. ... Dixon reiterated how he must limit the minutes of his starters and play his reserves more, starting Thursday against St. John's. ... Gibbs came close to setting another school record against Seton Hall. He was 14 for 14 from the free-throw line and came two shy of breaking the record for consecutive free throws in a game. Jerry McCullough holds the record with 15 in a row in a game against Marshall in 1992. Gibbs previously set the school record for consecutive free throws made with 46.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 27, 2010 5:00 AM