Pitt is 3-0 and hasn’t exactly been pushed by its opponents in the early part of this non-conference season. The Panthers have enjoyed easy wins against the likes of Savannah State, Fresno State and Howard.
And tonight the Panthers presumably will continue that trend when they welcome Lehigh to Petersen Events Center in the second of four games in the Progressive Legends Classic.
Lehigh is 1-3, and though the Mountain Hawks have played decent competition — their losses are to Minnesota, Houston and Fordham — they certainly aren’t close to the same level they were a few years ago when they upset Duke in the NCAA tournament.
After tonight, things will get tougher for the Panthers as they head to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for Games 3 and 4 of the Legends Classic.
Pitt will play Texas Tech Monday in Brooklyn and then, depending on whether they win or lose, will play in the championship or consolation Tuesday against Stanford or Houston.
The Panthers then return home but play a third consecutive game on a neutral court Nov. 30 in the annual City Game against Duquesne at Consol Energy Center.
But all of that will have to wait until next week, and for now the Panthers are focused on Lehigh.
As senior forward Lamar Patterson said, even though some of these early games have been lopsided, they aren’t easy, and he and his teammates don’t overlook anyone on their schedule.
He also said the team is learning and growing from each of these games and getting prepared for the heart of its season, which will come soon enough.
“We don’t look at anyone as weak competition,” Patterson said. “We want to go into every game and try to dominate the game from the jump ball to the end of the game. We have the ACC coming up, that is in January and that is a tough conference, so we will be playing a whole lot of good competition.”
One thing Pitt did well Sunday in its 84-52 win against Howard was shoot, and coach Jamie Dixon hopes that is a trend that continues because he believes the Panthers have the players to be a good shooting team.
Pitt was so good early in the game that the Panthers set a school record for field-goal percentage in a half, making 17 of 21 (81 percent).
But Dixon said people shouldn’t be surprised when the Panthers shoot the ball well because good shooting is a product of a team running good offense and taking open shots.
And the more open shots the Panthers create for themselves by running their offense, the better chance they have of making shots. That “efficient offense” is a staple of the program.
He then pointed to the fact that 13 of the Panthers’ 17 field goals in the first half Sunday came off assists — a great example of how important it is to be unselfish and run good offense.
“It is execution,” Dixon said. “It is good decision-making, passing — sometimes you can shoot well and it is just a matter of guys making shots. But this was offensive execution. We end up with 20 assists, that’s a good number. But we have to take the right shots.
“We get penetration kicking it out, inside touches kicking out — those are the ones that you shoot a better percentage.”
Against Lehigh, Pitt will have to guard the perimeter as the Mountain Hawks shoot the ball well from the outside. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will line up in that 2-3 zone they played the majority of the Fresno State game.
For one thing, that was a special circumstance against a team that is a bit unique personnel-wise. For another, Dixon has said the bread and butter of the program will always be man-to-man defense and the younger players need to learn how to guard.
That was welcome news to Patterson, who said playing zone may be a necessary evil for the Panthers at times but that it isn’t the defense they have made their name with over the years.
“We’re a man team,” Patterson said. “We really like to get after it in man defense.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.